INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA — The BNP Paribas Open in the heart of the Coachella Valley attracts a fairly laid-back crowd.
Spectators soak up the sun. They wander the grounds looking out over the mountains. They drink expensive cheap beer. Sometimes they watch tennis. Often not.
Then came Saturday night, when nearly every seat in Stadium 1 was filled on a desert breeze night.
Carlos Alcaraz was at home with a sore hamstring and all trying to deliver this tournament and indeed the sport itself. Especially with Rafael Nadal out through injury and Novak Djokovic banned, he’s trying to give the juice that only he can. Denied entry to the United States for refusing to be vaccinated for Covid-19.
But that would require 19-year-old Spanish star Alcalaz to take to the court, something that hasn’t been done much since he won his first Grand Slam title and No. 1 ranking in the United States. Opened in New York last September.
The effort required a series of marathon races, including one that lasted until nearly 3:00 in the morning. Since then he has mostly limp. He battled his abdominal injury through the fall. Then, in the final practice before his scheduled trip to the Australian Open, he sprinted and pulled a hamstring as he stretched to reach a short ball.
Like compatriot Nadal, Alcaraz, whose foot-on-the-gas style can make him injury-prone, returned last month to play two small tournaments in South America. bottom. He then reached the final in Rio de Janeiro, but suffered a sore hamstring en route to a three-set loss to Cameron Norrie of Great Britain. took the Tournament organizers were concerned about the loss of Nadal and Djokovic, but hoped Alcalaz would recover in time.
“Tennis insiders knew we had this new kid, maybe the next Rafa,” said former German pro Tommy Haas, tournament director here, during the tense days before the start of the tournament. , said about Alcalaz. “And all of a sudden he’s had an explosive year, the youngest ever and he’s number one. You think, ‘How is this possible and how great a player is he?'”
There are a handful of players who can make an early-round match feel like a big event, and Alcalaz ambushed Australia’s Tanasi Kokkinakis on Saturday night to win in straight sets.
Poland’s Iga Swirtek, the women’s number one, played in a near-empty stadium in the afternoon. Defending his champion and top American, Taylor Fritz, and fellow American, Ben Shelton, who was the brightest surprise of his young season, occupied most of the seats at Stadium 1 in his tight three-set run. I had a duel in a tough battle. However, it was nothing compared to the sold-out crowd that Alcaraz drew for the final game of the night.
Even Jimmy Connors, who has some knowledge of putting on a show, was stuck sitting in the high media seats of the stadium. Alcaraz headlined again on Monday night, when the Dutchman faced Tallon Griekspoor. Dirk Nowitzki, a basketball great and tennis obsessed, was courtside.
The crackling forehand sound sounds different to everyone else. It sounds more like an ax splitting a log than a polyester string hitting a fuzzy ball. There’s all that frantic sprint after a nearly out-of-reach ball that so many players ignore. He has the most subtle and deceptive drop shots and stabbing volleys.
He writhed in anguish as a willowy drop shot cut the tape and dripped just over the sideline. How daring the desert air’s gravity and subtle currents go to thwart his attempts at perfection.
“I try to make people enjoy watching tennis,” Alcalaz said after his first win. “And the way I play, I think they like it.”
He will take on England’s Jack Draper in the Round of 16 on Tuesday night.
The game is worn by many young players. Expectation pressure, constant attention, and a relentless schedule have put top talent at the mercy of Nick Kyrgios, either temporarily or permanently. A year ago, Ashleigh Barty retired as world No. 1 at the age of 25.
Some players are a few years older than Alcaraz before fans can jump on the bandwagon.
Daniil Medvedev won the US Open in 2021 and climbed to the top of the rankings early last year, but has only won two minor titles. He is currently on a 16-game winning streak. Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the Grand Slam final on his two occasions, but strain and Djokovic beat him on both his occasions.
The Alcaraz-era player knows that his early success set an unrivaled standard.
Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti, 21, who grew up playing junior tournaments in Alcaraz, shook his head in disbelief after losing in the second round here over the weekend.
So far, Alcaraz appears to be free from its usual angst. his approach?
“Live in the moment, go into the game, give it your all,” he said.
Alcaraz has done some help this week in generating the kind of buzz the sport has always been looking for. England’s Emara Dukanu, who won the 2021 U.S. Open in qualifying, has gone on well, winning three games in a row for the second time since breakout his grand win at the Slam.
Success came almost out of nowhere. His Raducanu, who deleted his Instagram from his phone last month to focus on himself, has been battling injuries and illnesses, most recently with wrist problems. She did little preparation for this tournament, and she didn’t practice for four days before her first match.
But on Monday afternoon, against No. 13 seed Beatriz Haddad Maia (Brazil), Raducanu was again rolling a deadly forehand into the corner and a free, windmilling backhand that has been lacking for most of the past year. rice field. And she was doing it in front of a raucous field-court crowd just like she did not too long ago at the 2021 U.S. Open. She was scheduled to face Swiatek in the Open Champions matchup.
“I did a really good job mentally, which is to keep hitting shots and trying to commit to everything even when it’s tight,” she said after winning three sets.
In other words, the player everyone calls Carlito now is scheduled to take on the 21-year-old Draper on Tuesday night.
“I enjoy it,” said Alcalaz.
Most people are probably watching.