Tennis: Alcaraz still trying to have fun despite target on his back

Carlos Alcaraz in action in his Indian Wells semi-final against Jannik Sinner on Saturday. The world No. 2 won 7-6 (7-4), 6-3. PHOTO: AFP

INDIAN WELLS, California – Teenager Carlos Alcaraz said he is unfazed by the pressure of being perceived as a favourite after his meteoric rise to the top of tennis, adding that he is not distracted by the lure of being world No. 1 and simply trying to enjoy every match.

The 19-year-old Spaniard, ranked second in the world, became the youngest No. 1 after his US Open win in September. He can supplant Novak Djokovic and return to the summit with victory over Daniil Medvedev in the Indian Wells final on Sunday.

He could have a second shot at top spot, as Djokovic will miss this week’s Miami Open after the Serb was denied an exemption that would have allowed him to enter the United States despite not being vaccinated against Covid-19.

Alcaraz beat Jannik Sinner 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 on Saturday to reach his third final of 2023, having won the title in Buenos Aires and finish runner-up in Rio de Janeiro in February, after more than three months out due to abdominal and hamstring injuries.

“It doesn’t change too much for me,” he said. “I don’t think about that I’m the favourite in every match. I don’t think that I have to win every match.

“I just have goals in my mind, I have things that I have to do, and that’s all I think about. I try to enjoy every match. I’m not thinking about anything else.

“I know if I win tomorrow, I’m going to be the No. 1. I will try not to think about that. I have to make everything perfect. That’s all I’m going to think about tomorrow.”

Russian Medvedev, a former world No. 1, earned a 7-5, 7-6 (7-4) win over Frances Tiafoe to extend his winning run to 19 matches.

He is seeking his fourth title in as many tournaments after victories in Rotterdam, Doha and Dubai.

The 27-year-old, who is on a 19-match winning streak, is the first player since Andy Murray in 2016 to reach four finals in five weeks.

Medvedev said his second-round win over Alcaraz at Wimbledon in 2021 – the only prior meeting between the two – was no gauge for their showdown on Sunday.

“He was definitely not the same player as he is right now,” Medvedev said. “So in a way it’s going to be like a first match... in terms of how we’re going to go tactically or physically or tennis-wise.”

“He’s amazing, he has amazing skills which are tough to compare to anyone... It’s going to be great fun to play against him.”

Daniil Medvedev is seeking his fourth title in as many tournaments after victories in Rotterdam, Doha and Dubai. PHOTO: AFP

Sunday’s women’s final was between Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and Australian Open winner Aryna Sabalenka. The match began after press time.

World No. 10 Rybakina of Kazakhstan had upset top ranked Iga Swiatek 6-2, 6-2 to book her spot while Belarusian Sabalenka saw off seventh-ranked Maria Sakkari 6-2, 6-3 in the other semi-final.

Rybakina has lost all four career meetings against Sabalenka – but all of them have gone the distance. REUTERS, AFP

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