Rafael Nadal outlasts teenager Carlos Alcaraz in three sets to go 20-0 on the year
Rafael Nadal faced the future and emerged victorious, beating Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 on Saturday night to reach the BNP Paribas Open final and move to 20-0 this year.
The 21-time Major champion threw his head back, smiled and raised both arms in triumph after escaping an aggressive Alcaraz. The 18-year-old never looked shaken playing his much-vaunted compatriot, who had the crowd, a 17-year age advantage and plenty of experience in his favor.
Nadal’s perfect record is the third-best start to a season since 1990.
Nadal fended off three break points on his serve in the fifth game of the third set, then broke Alcaraz with a forehand volley winner to go up 5-3. Nadal served the match with a game of love, punctuating the 3 hour and 12 minute fight with a 95mph ace.
He will meet Taylor Fritz in the final on Sunday. Seeded 20, Fritz is the first American to reach the final since John Isner in 2012 and he will be looking to be the first to win the title since Andre Agassi in 2001.
Fritz ended No. 7 seed Andrey Rublev’s 13-game winning streak with a 7-5, 6-4 win in the other semi. The Russian had won 13 consecutive matches since February 14, including back-to-back titles in Marseille and Dubai.
After holding on to go 4-3 up in the third, Nadal called a trainer, who appeared to give the 36-year-old future star a chiropractic adjustment.
Alcaraz defeated Nadal in a second set that featured five breakouts, four of them in a row.
Tied 4-all, Alcaraz beat Nadal in a match that lasted 19 minutes and 42 seconds. Nadal’s errant forehand gave Alcaraz the lead on the match’s seventh break point. The teenager launched a topspin lob near the baseline that Nadal couldn’t catch and Alcaraz led 5-4. He served the set, 6-4.
Alcaraz caught Nadal’s eye early on, breaking him in the opener of the game. The teenager survived a six-point game on his serve to go up 2-0. Alcaraz was brave throughout, charging the net on break points and often coming up with winners.
As the match progressed, the wind grew so strong that it blew the players’ white towels almost onto the pitch and shook Nadal’s perfectly aligned drink bottles which he places facing the pitch. Ball children chased objects that were not anchored.
In the first semi-final, Fritz won in front of a supportive crowd at the tournament he’s come to since he was a kid from his home near San Diego. He served a love match to open the game, then quickly broke Rublev and again held for a 3-0 lead.
“I wasn’t the favorite in today’s game so I was able to play a bit more freely,” said Fritz, a semi-finalist here five months ago when the event took place in October. due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Everything was definitely flowing for me.
Fritz held on to like to go up 4-1. He had a chance to serve the first set leading 5-2, but the Rublev won the next three games to tie, 5-all.
Fritz took a 6-5 lead with a 112 mph ace. He broke the big hit Rublev after a seven-point game to win the set.
“He has a huge, huge serve, which gives him a lot of advantages,” Rublev said. “Besides that, he has good shots on both sides, forehand and backhand.”
The Russian reacted by hitting a ball in the sky and repeatedly hitting the strings of his racquet with his right fist. Rublev needed a medical time-out before the start of the second set to tend to a bloody hand. He later said he hurt his hand “a little”.
In the second set, Fritz hit a big hold at 5-4, firing an ace on the T after fending off two break points. The men stayed on duty until the 10th game.
Rublev saved eight of the 11 break points he faced, but missed an easy forehand volley over the net to give Fritz his first match point. Fritz hit a return serve from Rublev to take the decisive break and the game.
“I was so relieved and just couldn’t believe it,” Fritz said. “Those moments are why I wanted to be an athlete, I wanted to play professional tennis. That’s the best part of it all.