Carlos Alcaraz regains No 1 ranking with Indian Wells rout of Daniil Medvedev

  • Spaniard wins 6-3, 6-2 to claim first big title since US Open
  • Elena Rybakina beats Aryna Sabalenka in women’s final

Daniil Medvedev stepped out on to Stadium 1 at Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Sunday evening with a 19-match winning streak behind him, confidence flowing. He was the in-form player on the tour, a champion established as the best hard-court player of his generation. And yet, by the end, none of that mattered. Forty-five minutes into the final, he was completely out of ideas.

Such is the power of Carlos Alcaraz, a generational talent who at 19 continues to produce greatness seemingly every time he steps on the court. After a brutal few months of injuries, Alcaraz re-established himself at the top with a statement victory, demolishing Medvedev 6-3, 6-2 to win the Indian Wells title and clinch his first big title since becoming US Open champion.

Alcaraz’s victory followed a maiden WTA 1000 triumph for Elena Rybakina, who also won her first important title since her maiden grand slam triumph, edging out Aryna Sabalenka 7-6 (11), 6-4 in a tense, mentally exhausting tussle.

With his third career Masters 1000 title and eighth overall, Alcaraz will regain the ATP’s No 1 ranking, rising above Novak Djokovic, who is absent from Indian Wells and the Miami Open due to his vaccination status. This was the first time that Alcaraz has won a Masters 1000 title without dropping a set.

From the beginning, the Spaniard laid down a marker by stepping inside the baseline to obliterate the ball off both wings and easily pick apart one of the best defensive players in the world. As Medvedev returned and scrambled from close to the back fence, Alcaraz took advantage of his deep court positioning by pairing his destructive, relentless shotmaking with constant forays to the net, serve-and-volley attempts and drops.

Medvedev worked hard to find a solution but he was simply outmatched. When he tried to break Alcaraz down with his consistency, he could only watch as the ball constantly flew past him. When he tried to attack, Alcaraz’s own supreme defensive skills broke him down. A 19-year-old is supposed to have glaring weak points to their game but Alcaraz is already so complete that few players can stay with him.

After the euphoria of Alcaraz’s unprecedented breakthrough 2022 season, which culminated with a first grand slam title and the distinction of being ATP’s first ever teenage world No 1, he quickly faced the grim reality of professional tennis. His body crumbled, abdominal and hamstring injuries forcing him to miss the ATP Finals and the Australian Open. Yet he has been able to quickly recover both his level and aura, and this latest victory hints at a dominance only just beginning.

Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan poses with the Indian Wells trophy.
Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan poses with the Indian Wells trophy. Photograph: Robert Prange/Getty Images

Meanwhile, even after finally breaking through at the top of the sport by winning Wimbledon last summer, Rybakina’s path remained complicated. Her ranking was still low, she faced tough draws and dispiriting court assignments all while trying to come to terms with her new status as a grand slam champion.

This season, though, everything is coming together. On Sunday, Rybakina bolstered her status as one of the very best players in the world by winning her first WTA 1000 title. Two days after she dismantled Iga Swiatek, Rybakina remained composed in the face of suffocating pressure to overcome Sabalenka.

This marks her fourth career title, her first since Wimbledon, and the Kazakh will rise to a new career high of No 7. It also saw her clear a mental hurdle by defeating Sabalenka for the first time in five meetings, avenging her loss in the Australian Open final.

Although it lacked the quality of their spectacular battle in Melbourne, the first set was bruising. The tension peaked in an excruciating tie-break as both struggled to close out the set and Sabalenka’s serve, which has driven her success this year, capitulated. She struck 10 double faults in the set alone, including on her set point, and Rybakina eventually remained solid enough to take advantage. With the first set secured, Rybakina relaxed and eased to victory.

After many years of unpredictability on the tour followed by Swiatek’s singular dominance last year, the past 10 days in Indian Wells have further shown how the landscape has changed. Rybakina, Sabalenka and Swiatek are the winners of the last three grand slams and are the top three in the WTA race rankings. With the focus quickly shifting to the Miami Open, they are the three players to beat.

As they addressed the crowd during the trophy ceremony, both players acknowledged the significance of their matchup and the start of what feels like a new rivalry.

“It’s actually the first time it went my way, so we’ll see. Hopefully we’re gonna play many more finals,” said Rybakina. Sabalenka then stepped up to the mic and interjected with a smile: “I’ll make sure it was the last one.”


Tumaini Carayol

The GuardianTramp

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