WATCH: Alcaraz moves into the Indian Wells final

INDIAN WELLS, Calif.—Whenever I attend a tennis tournament, one of my favorite rituals is to arrive early and stroll around the grounds while listening to my various music playlists. Most times, the songs provide figurative inspiration, a lyrical and melodic affinity with venue, weather, sunshine, tennis time past, present and future dancing and singing in their own random way.

But today, as I watched Carlos Alcaraz beat Jannik Sinner in the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open, 7-6 (4), 6-3, the music carried literal meaning. The song I’d heard was Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better,” from the James Bond movie, The Spy Who Loved Me: “The way that you hold me/Whenever you hold me/There's some kind of magic inside you.”

Pro tennis teems with competence and excellence. But magic? Who knows where it comes from or how it happens? Take in what Alcaraz did to win the first set. Further, credit what Sinner did to push Alcaraz into the place where nothing less than magic would suffice.


Less than two years older than Alcaraz, Sinner is unquestionably a formidable long-term rival. His powerful, flat drives are reminiscent of Juan Martin del Potro, a forcefulness that makes any match Sinner plays extremely physically demanding for his opponent. Down 2-4 in the first set, Sinner won 12 of the next points to take a 5-4 lead. Two games later, Alcaraz served at 5-6, ad out.

“It was a tough moment for me,” said Alcaraz. “I didn't make the right things. I'd say it was everything too fast and, yeah, in that moment you have to be slow, think well, and it wasn't my case.”

Then came the magic. The rally began with a 130 m.p.h serve down the T. Next, one of many Alcaraz standards, an inside-out forehand drop shot. In dashed Sinner, poised to close out the set with a backhand passing shot. Making a sound guess and executing if flawlessly, Alcaraz moved to his right, read the pass perfectly, and clipped a crosscourt forehand volley winner.

“I had wanted to go crosscourt,” said Sinner, only to change his mind, strike the easier shot—and, alas, pay the price.


Credit what Sinner did to push Alcaraz into the place where nothing less than magic would suffice.

Soon came the tiebreaker, an 11-point showcase of each man’s exceptional movement and power. But at 4-4, an hour into the set, Sinner was the one who blinked—a netted backhand and then another error, extracted by Alcaraz’s superb court coverage skills. On his first set point, Alcaraz torched an untouchable crosscourt backhand.

From there, the match was largely in Alcaraz’s control. He broke Sinner’s serve at 0-1 in the second game and never faced a break point throughout the second set. Serving for the match at 5-3, Alcaraz began the game with a 137 m.p.h ace down the T. Next, Alcaraz’s beloved drop shot, the rally terminated with a crosscourt forehand winner. At 40-30, on his second match point, another crosscourt forehand that Sinner couldn’t reach.

“This is a tournament that I love playing,” said Alcaraz. “I have great memories, my first semifinal for a Masters 1000 here against Rafa. It was really special for me. Coming back this year and making final is really special moment for me.”


Djokovic won the Australian Open, and Medvedev has ruled ever since. But after Sunday, it could all be about Alcaraz again.

Djokovic won the Australian Open, and Medvedev has ruled ever since. But after Sunday, it could all be about Alcaraz again.

But 12 months ago on this semifinal Saturday in the desert, Alcaraz had only recently cracked the Top 20. Now he stands one victory away from reclaiming the world No. 1 ranking. In a battle of the past two US Open champions who’ve each also held the top spot, Alcaraz will play Daniil Medvedev.

“He's a wall,” said Alcaraz. “He return every ball, impossible shots. I talk with my team that the returns are almost, you know, in the corner of the court and still winning the points. He's an amazing runner, he's an amazing player. I probably hit my best shots to, you know, hit winners against him.”

The two have only played one another once. In the second round of the 2021 Wimbledon—Alcaraz’s All England Club debut—Medvedev won easily, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2.

“Right now is totally different,” said Alcaraz. “I'm experienced guy. Well, or at least I'm more experienced that match. I know how to play against him. You know, I practice with him a few times, as well, so is not new thing for me right now. So it's gonna be, I think, a totally different match.”

Tennis matches are usually decided by errors. But currently, there’s no one in tennis who generates more sizzling and different placements than Alcaraz. Consider the magical way he leaped ahead in the second set today. Serving at 2-0, 40-30, Alcaraz channeled his inner John McEnroe with an exquisite backhand half-volley, fielded a forceful Sinner forehand pass to punch a deep forehand volley down-the-line, then pirouetted skyward to carve a high backhand volley crosscourt. That shot having failed to end the rally, Alcaraz scurried back to the baseline and whipped a forehand topspin lob that jumped over Sinner’s head and landed just inside the baseline.

Per Carly Simon: “makes me feel sad for the rest.”