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Indian Wells: Nadal Defeats Alcaraz In Epic Battle

Mar 20th 2022

Nadal outlasts Alcaraz 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 to reach Indian Wells Final

Rafa Nadal weathered the storm on court and swirling around him as the sand and trash began to blow as wind gusts approached 50mph.

The past, present, and future of Spanish tennis were on display in the desert. Nadal, a few months shy of thirty-six, is undefeated this season, winning three titles including a record-breaking twenty-first grand slam title down under.

Carlos Alcaraz, almost half his age at eighteen, is a few months shy of breaking into the top ten. Currently ranked at a career-high of #19, the precocious teen has two titles in addition to the 2021 season-ending NextGen Finals.

Nadal a former world #1, was down 2-5 in the third in the opening round against Seb Korda, survived two tiebreak sets vs Reilly Opelka and three tight sets vs frequent nemesis, Nick Kyrgios. Alcaraz defeated three seeded players en route to the semis including the defending champion Cam Norrie in the quarters.

Rafael Nadal

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Nadal served first and following two forehand errors faced double break point and dumped serve when Alcaraz crushed a crosscourt backhand short in the box. Alcaraz endured a double fault, six deuce, and five break points yet managed to consolidate the break with a serve and volley, crosscourt backhand, and overhead smash winner.

Nadal opened the third with a double fault and lost the next with a poorly executed drop shot yet held to 30 for 1-2. The 19th seed relinquished the lead as the unforced errors continued to accrue. Nadal level at 2-2, consolidated the break for 3-2 with an overhead smash and a monster serve on game point.

Alcaraz, despite hitting three potent winners, dropped serve following two outstanding forehands from his opponent. The 21-time grand slam champion, however, gave back the break following two consecutive errors.

Alcaraz serving with new balls missed 6/12 first serves and soon faced triple break point. Although he battled admirably to reach deuce, he faced two more deuce points and another break point before leveling at 4-4 with two consecutive well-placed serves. The 18-year-old phenom repeatedly employed the serve and volley successfully and after that miraculous hold, became more vocal as he urged himself on.

Nadal had a much easier service game, holding to 15 to lead 5-4. Alcaraz, serving to stay in the set, opened with a double fault as conditions deteriorated. Although he saved two break points with a let cord drop shot and a backhand volley, he donated five unforced errors and lost serve and the set 4-6.

Nadal served first in the second, made 4/4 first serves and held at love for 1-0 while Alcaraz made 3/4 first serves and held to 15 for 1-1. Nadal lost the opening point of the third game when his opponent pummeled an overhead but clinched the game with an incredible running forehand down the line.

Alcaraz made 3/4 first serves and held at love for 2-2 following four consecutive errors from his opponent. Nadal gifted four additional errors off the ground and dumped serve to trail 2-3.

Alcaraz had difficulty adjusting to the changing weather conditions and consequently, his shot selection suffered. Although he saved a break point with an exquisite forehand slice drop shot, he dumped serve when he whiffed a forehand.

The former world #1 faced double break point as the unforced errors continued to mount and dropped serve when Alcaraz unloaded on a forehand down the line. The teenager has no trouble breaking serve; it's holding to consolidate that confounds him, and the 8th game was no different. Although Nadal got caught in no man’s land on several occasions, he escaped adversity and broke back for 4-4 when Alcaraz overcooked a forehand.

The ninth game was epic as Nadal threw in another double fault and faced seven deuce and seven break points and dropped serve when Alcaraz threw up an extraordinary backhand lob winner.

Alcaraz served for the set at 5-4 and though he let a 40-15 lead evaporate, he reset with an exceptional crosscourt backhand stab volley and secured the set when Nadal’s return went wide.

Nadal served first in the decider and often took more time than usual between points due to the gale force winds. It looked as though the match might be suspended as the tournament supervisor made several appearances on court but play continued. Nadal held to 30 for 1-0 while Alcaraz held to 15 to level.

The world #4 struck an ace and a double fault and held to 15 for 2-1. Alcaraz continued to impress with the serve and volley and with another superb crosscourt forehand, held at love for 2-2.

As the blustery winds began to dissipate, the players took advantage of the improved conditions. Nadal, however, still struggled to hold as he committed a slew of unforced errors and faced four deuce and three break points. He seemingly had luck on his side as he escaped unscathed following three consecutive errors from his opponent.

Alcaraz was not deterred by his failure to convert as he struck three consecutive winners including an ace to hold at love for the second time this set. Nadal gifted another double fault and missed 3/8 first serves but held for 4-3 with a terrific backhand volley and a huge serve out wide on the last two points.

Alcaraz opened the 8th with a double fault and despite two remarkable inside-out forehands on consecutive points, dumped serve following two unforced errors and a crisp forehand volley winner from Nadal to convert.

The all-time grand slam title holder served for the match and a spot in the final and secured victory after 3 ¼ hours when his opponent’s return sailed long.

It was an amazing match despite the challenging and tricky conditions. Last year when they played on the dirt on Alcaraz’s 18th birthday, the teen won three games. Today, he earned more than enough chances to dethrone the king of clay on a sand-strewn hardcourt in the California desert.

What a difference a year makes. Carlos Alcaraz began last season ranked 141 and after today’s semifinal appearance, is projected to reach #16. I have no doubt that given his trajectory and ongoing improvements he will breach the top ten before Wimbledon.

Rafa Nadal is undefeated in 2022. With three new trophies added to his haul this season, he has the chance to add a fourth on Sunday when he takes on the young American, Taylor Fritz. Nadal won their only previous meeting two years ago on outdoor hard and will attempt to claim his fourth title in Indian Wells. While Taylor Fritz seeks his second career title and first at the Masters 1000 level, Nadal will attempt to equal Novak Djokovic’s haul of 37 Masters 1000 titles.