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Carlos Alcaraz wins a set against Rafael Nadal for the first time on Saturday, but falls short in the Indian Wells semi-finals.

Alcaraz: 'I Was Playing Against Rafa & Against Me'

Spanish teen reflects on thriller against Nadal

Carlos Alcaraz fell short of ending Rafael Nadal’s perfect start to 2022 on Saturday evening at the BNP Paribas Open, but the 18-year-old is departing Indian Wells with his head held high.

The #NextGenATP star admitted that he began the match nervously, before going blow for blow with one of the best players in history.

“The first set I was playing against Rafa and against me. I was always thinking that I'm playing against Rafa,” Alcaraz said. “In the second set and the third set [I was thinking], ‘Okay, I'm playing against Rafa, but I'm going to show my level, I'm going to give my 100 per cent that I [could] be able to beat him or [come] close to beating him.’”

Come close Alcaraz did. So often Nadal is able to exert his will against his opponents, especially those who are new on Tour. But the fourth seed had to dig deep in their clash, which lasted three hours and 12 minutes, to make the final in the California desert. And even then, the match came down to a few critical points in the decider.

Alcaraz showed maturity well beyond his 18 years. Not only did he have to deal with Rafa, but there was a third opponent on the court: the wind. In the middle of the second set, the wind picked up significantly, leading to towels and garbage from the stands flying across the court.

“In the second set, [there was] a lot of wind. We survived,” Alcaraz said. “I think it wasn't a tennis match in the second set.”

Even so, Alcaraz managed to win that set. He maintained his composure like a veteran despite everything Nadal and the conditions threw at him on Saturday. The reigning Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals champion believes the experience he gained during his breakthrough 2021 season allowed him to perform this well on one of the sport’s biggest stages.

“I think last year [there] were a lot of first times for me. I mean, first win in a Grand Slam, first Masters 1000. A lot of first times,” Alcaraz said. “Now I played more matches against Top 10 players, big matches in big stadiums. I think now I'm more mature. I know how to control myself, the emotions.

“Now I know [this] is my level. [I] know how to play against these kind of players. That's the most important, [to] know your level and what you have to do.”

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The first time Alcaraz and Nadal met, last year in Madrid, it was clear Carlos had a long way to go. That day, he only won three games. This time in a Masters 1000 semi-final, there was little to tell between the two Spaniards.

“[It was my] second time against Rafa. I feel like I'm part of that level. I am part of these kind of players,” Alcaraz said. “I think I'm going to play against Rafa or the best players a lot this year.”

Throughout the world, Nadal is a fan favourite. While the California crowd showed its appreciation for the three-time Indian Wells champion, with plenty of cheering and supportive signs throughout the crowd, the fans also gave Alcaraz their respect.

“The atmosphere was amazing,” Alcaraz said. “In the third set, we played really good tennis.”

The teen said the biggest lesson he took from the match was to remain as calm as possible against a player like Nadal in order to be able to think through the tough moments. Not only did Alcaraz show why he is the future on Saturday — he learned while doing it.

“I was playing against Rafa. I think it was a close match. I leave the tournament happy. I left the court happy with the level, with the performance,” Alcaraz said. “[The] first time he destroyed me. Now we played [a] third set… I’m really happy.”

Did You Know?
Alcaraz is projected to climb to a career-high No. 16 in the ATP Rankings on Monday. That would move Alcaraz past Roberto Bautista Agut — whom he defeated in Indian Wells with the loss of just two games — to make him the second-ranked Spaniard.

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