As he continues to gain steam in his bid for a maiden BNP Paribas Open title, Carlos Alcaraz crossed off another first on Thursday night in Indian Wells. For the first time in four ATP Head2Head meetings with Felix Auger-Aliassime, the Spaniard emerged victorious with a 6-4, 6-4 result in the desert.
In a thoroughly entertaining quarter-final, two of the brightest young stars in the game delivered a non-stop reel of highlight points. The power, athleticism and shotmaking on display kept the stadium crowd enraptured for two hours, with both players producing magic from all parts of the court.
"Today, the goal was to stay there," Alcaraz said, noting that he faded in the final set of their Basel meeting last October. "I knew that I was going to have my chances. [I had to] try to take it. Probably I played one of my best matches this season, in 2023. I'm really happy and [want to] keep going."
The victory, Alcaraz's first against a Top 10 opponent since he beat Casper Ruud in the US Open final, moved the Spaniard within two wins of a return to the top of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. Into the Indian Wells semi-finals for the second straight year (l. to Nadal in 2022), he will next meet Jannik Sinner, with Daniil Medvedev or Frances Tiafoe potentially beyond that in the final.
While the top-seeded Alcaraz dominated early and late, Auger-Aliassime matched him blow for blow for much of the match. The Spaniard fought off the first break point against him to serve out the opening set, but could not deny his opponent's charge as the eighth seed broke to level the second set at 1-1.
With drop shots, lobs and bruising winners galore, it was a deft drop volley that brought up the decisive break point late in the second set for Alcaraz. After a seven-minute game — one of many marathons on the serve of Auger-Aliassime, who saved nine of 12 break points — Alcaraz converted his third break of the match before confidently serving out the win. Prior to Thursday, he was 0 for 11 on break chances against the Canadian.
"This is the first time I broke his serve and I'm really proud of that," said Alcaraz, who praised his opponent's big first serve. "I tried to attack the second serve, tried to dominate the points, tried to play from the baseline and tried to be aggressive, taking the opportunity when he is serving the second serve."
The 19-year-old Alcaraz, who is now 13-9 against Top 10 opposition, is seeking to become the second man to win at least three ATP Masters as a teen, having won Miami and Madrid last year. His countryman Rafael Nadal won six.
Auger-Aliassime, 22, fell short of his third ATP Masters 1000 semi-final. Despite his best Indian Wells run drawing to a close, his success moved him up four places to No. 6 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings. He will match his career-high Pepperstone ATP Ranking on Monday, unless Sinner wins the title.
Alcaraz and Sinner are level at 2-2 in their ATP Head2Head series, with the Spaniard winning a record-late five-setter in the US Open quarter-finals on his way to his first Grand Slam title.
"I'm really happy to play against him again. Great battles," Alcaraz previewed. "I enjoy the matches against him. I would say it's going to be a really good match, for the fans as well, to watch that match. And for myself as well. I will try to show my best, to show my 100 per cent. Jannik is playing great. I'm going to enjoy that match."
Alcaraz has not conceded a set in Indian Wells, while Sinner lost his first set of the tournament in his Thursday quarter-final victory against defending champion Taylor Fritz.