Alcaraz on Sinner SF: 'He's the best player in the world right now'

Pair will contest BNP Paribas Open semi-final on Saturday
March 15, 2024
Carlos Alcaraz trails Jannik Sinner 3-4 in the pair's Lexus ATP Head2Head series.
Peter Staples/ATP Tour
Carlos Alcaraz trails Jannik Sinner 3-4 in the pair's Lexus ATP Head2Head series. By ATP Staff

One of the ATP Tour’s hottest rivalries returns to the California desert on Saturday at the BNP Paribas Open. (Learn how to watch from 1.30 p.m. PDT/4.30 p.m. EDT/ 9.30 p.m. CET.)

Since their first Lexus ATP Head2Head clash in 2021, Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner have enraptured fans around the world with a series of thrilling matchups featuring bold, attacking tennis from both. The pair will aim to bring more of the same on Saturday in Indian Wells, where it faces off for a championship-match spot at the first ATP Masters 1000 of the season.

Both Alcaraz and Sinner will step on court for the semi-final at an intriguing moment in their respective careers. Alcaraz has struggled to consistently find his best level in recent months and is chasing his first title since Wimbledon last July. Yet the Spaniard could hardly have been more impressive in his title defence so far this fortnight in Indian Wells, where he has dropped just one set en route to the last four.

Sinner, meanwhile, is in the form of his life. The Italian has won his first 16 tour-level matches of the year, a tally which includes breaking his Grand Slam duck at the Australian Open. The 22-year-old’s recent form has left Alcaraz well aware of the size of his task on Saturday.

“Honestly, I don't know how I'm going to approach the match,” said Alcaraz after beating Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals. "He's the best tennis player in the world right now, without a doubt… He's playing unbelievable, no losses this year. I really enjoy watching him play. So, it's going to be a really difficult match. It's going to be a big challenge for me to see what my level is facing him.”

Alcaraz did not face a break point against Zverev, but Sinner will feel he has the return skills in his locker to enable him to extend his 4-3 Lexus ATP Head2Head lead against the Spaniard.

“Carlos, it's always fun to play with him,” said Sinner, who is bidding for his third straight tour-level victory against his rival. “We are good friends off the court. On the court, we just try to give 100 per cent. I think we have a good attitude on court. Usually, the matches are good… Especially when he's serving really well, it's tough to play against him. I'm looking forward to every challenge.”

As well as the right to take on Daniil Medvedev or Tommy Paul in Sunday’s final, Alcaraz and Sinner will also be playing for an extra prize on Saturday. Whoever prevails will wake up on Monday as the No. 2 in the PIF ATP Rankings, behind Novak Djokovic.

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“The past two matches that I have played against him I lost, so I have to adjust a little bit my game and let's see how it's going to be,” said current World No. 2 Alcaraz. “For sure it's going to be the most difficult match that I'm going to play this year.”

Both players have spoken about the way crowds react to their rivalry and how it spurs them on each time they clash. The Saturday atmosphere inside the Indian Wells Tennis Garden’s Stadium Court, the ATP Tour’s biggest arena, is unlikely to disappoint.

As the players and fans alike look forward to the duo's eighth Lexus ATP Head2Head encounter, reflects on five of Alcaraz and Sinner's past blockbusters.

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Wimbledon 2022, Fourth Round, Sinner d. Alcaraz 6-1, 6-4, 6-7(8), 6-3
Just hours after Wimbledon looked back to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Centre Court, Sinner and Alcaraz provided a glimpse of the future with their first Grand Slam meeting.

In the first Centre Court match for both, Sinner overwhelmed Alcaraz with his pure ball-striking and had two match points to wrap up a straight-sets fourth-round win before Alcaraz found his rhythm to take the third-set tie-break. After converting on his fourth set point, the Spaniard raised his racquet, soaking in the crowd's roar.

As the match grew more physical, Sinner stemmed the tide with two battling holds to open the fourth set, then scored the decisive break to edge ever closer to his third major quarter-final. After missing out on three further match points on return at 5-3, Sinner saved a break point as he served out one of the most entertaining matches of the Wimbledon fortnight. A forehand winner — Sinner's 35th of the match — completed the victory after three hours and 35 minutes.

“Carlos is a very tough opponent and a very nice person, so it is always a huge pleasure for me to play against him," said Sinner, who would fall to Novak Djokovic in five sets in the quarter-finals.

<a href=''>Jannik Sinner</a>
Photo Credit: Adrian Dennis/Getty Images

US Open 2022, QF, Alcaraz d. Sinner 6-3, 6-7(7), 6-7(0), 7-5, 6-3
In one of the matches of the 2022 season, Alcaraz and Sinner battled late into the New York night. Across five hours and 15 minutes of twists and turns, the only constant was elite tennis and tireless effort from both men. Alcaraz and Sinner took turns lighting up Arthur Ashe Stadium, flashing their tremendous athleticism and power in equal measures.

Sinner dominated the third-set tie-break to take a two-sets-to-one lead and carried his momentum into the fourth set as he scored an instant break. But the fearless Alcaraz erased a match point with Sinner serving at 5-4 and went on a run of four straight games to force a fifth set. Again trailing by a break, the Spaniard repeated that feat by winning four games in a row in the fifth set to claim victory at 2:50 a.m.

"Honestly, I still don't know how I did it," Alcaraz said. "You have to believe in yourself. I believed in my game. It was really difficult to close out the match. I tried to stay calm, but it is difficult in the moment.

“The energy I received in this court at 3 a.m., it was unbelievable. Probably in other tournaments, everybody [would go] to their house to rest. But they [stayed] in the court, supporting me. It was unbelievable.”

Alcaraz went on to claim his first Grand Slam title at Flushing Meadows and by doing so he became the youngest World No. 1 in the history of the PIF ATP Rankings.

BNP Paribas Open 2023, SF, Alcaraz d. Sinner 7-6(4), 6-3
In their first meeting since their five-set US Open epic, Alcaraz won a back-and-forth opening set at the 2023 BNP Paribas Open before pulling away early in the second.

The Spaniard started fast but was pegged back by Sinner, who won 11 points in a row and later brought up set point at 6-5 in the opener. But Alcaraz erased the opportunity with the help of a drop shot and powered through the tie-break before building a 3-0 lead in set two. He would see home the victory with relative ease from there.

In a matchup known for highlight-reel points, Alcaraz won the most enthralling exchange of the evening by curling a topspin lob onto the baseline after Sinner forced him to retreat following two tough volleys at the net.

"I'm really happy to get through this great match. Jannik obviously is a really great player with great shots," Alcaraz said after the victory. "I would say we're going to have a great rivalry over the years. We are playing in the best tournaments in the world. It's not over here. We are going to play a lot of great matches."

The Spaniard would go on to defeat Daniil Medvedev in the title match to lift his first Indian Wells trophy without losing a set and reclaim the No. 1 PIF ATP Ranking from Novak Djokovic.

Miami Open presented by Itau 2023, SFs, Sinner d. Alcaraz 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-2
Two weeks after their Indian Wells showdown, Sinner gained swift revenge with a comeback victory at the Miami Open presented by Itau. In a show-stopping semi-final, Sinner won one of the points of the year: an action-packed 25-ball rally that ended with a delicate, dipping passing shot to bring the crowd to its feet.

Despite that moment of magic — and early leads in all three sets — Sinner was on the ropes when he faced two break points at 3-4 in the second. But the Italian answered the bell with a match-changing surge, winning 19 of 21 points to take the set and build a 2-0 lead in the decider.

Alcaraz appeared to be struggling physically early in set three, but he willed his way to one final push. In the end, his 22 winners were not enough to overcome 28 off the racquet of his opponent.

"It means a lot. We both played a very, very high level of tennis again. I just tried my best," Sinner said after advancing to his second Miami final. "We both tried to play very aggressive tennis and today it went my way so I'm very happy."

Sinner was beaten by Daniil Medvedev in the Miami final but went on to win his first ATP Masters 1000 title later in the season in Toronto.

China Open 2023, SFs, Sinner d. Alcaraz 7-6(4), 6-1
After Alcaraz won 7/4 tie-breaks to open each of their previous two matches, Sinner claimed the opening-set tie-break by the same scoreline at the China Open.

In a marathon opening frame, Sinner twice came back from a break down. He began to take control by moving Alcaraz around the baseline and winning all 15 of his net points in the set.

After navigating a tense opening to the second set, fighting off five break points across his first two service games, Sinner sprinted through the finish line to move ahead 4-3 in his Lexus ATP Head2Head with Alcaraz.

"For sure in the very top [of the big matches I've played]," the Italian said of the win. "I would say every match against him is very tough. We always show great respect, we both play great. When we play against each other, we try to stay on our limits."

Sinner followed up the victory by beating Medvedev in the Beijing final to claim his fourth tour-level title of the season, equalling his personal-best tally from 2021.

View their Lexus ATP Head2Head series here.

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