Carlos Alcaraz, tennis’ newest boy wonder, sat down at the podium in the press room after his latest electrifying victory at the BNP Paribas Open with a look of excitement in his eyes. The top-seeded Spaniard was all of us in that moment, swooning over Saturday’s impending tussle with his 21-year-old rival, Jannik Sinner.GET 2023 BNP PARIBAS OPEN TICKETS
“I love playing really tough matches, close matches, matches with high quality,” he explained when asked to look ahead to the fifth edition of tennis’ most engaging new rivalry. “I love playing that kind of match. Jannik is a great player. Great ball striker, as well. So I love every match that I play against him.”
A quick flick around social media to gauge excitement for Saturday’s clash of young guns reinforces the notion.
Tennis fans love it, too.
Though still in its formative state, the first four editions of Alcaraz v Sinner have been mind-blowing experiences (head-to-head: tied, 2-2). For some, it has come as a relief. Tennis fans have long agonized over the end of the Big Three era, fearing a lack of magnetic matchups that pique the imagination and leave fans perpetually on the edge of their seats.
Since late 2021, Alcaraz and Sinner have eased the collective worry, producing absurd, inconceivable tennis that passes the most critical of eye tests. If Djokovic and Nadal were tennis 2.0, buckle in and get ready for tennis 3.0.GET 2023 BNP PARIBAS OPEN TICKETS
Matching up two meteoric talents equipped with booming power, whipsmart counterpunching and maturity beyond their years makes for a delectable tennis treat.
But what really pushes Alcaraz v Sinner over the edge is the potential for spontaneous combustion. Painful as it sounds, it is something that these two gluttons for punishment seem to yearn for.
Alcaraz, for one, welcomes the prospect of being pushed to his limit by his rival. Last summer at the US Open, the Spaniard embraced that feeling first-hand as he dueled with Sinner, saving a match point to win a five hour and 15-minute instant classic that didn’t conclude until 2:50 AM.
“That’s why Jannik is such a great player,” Alcaraz explains. “Not only with a great serve, great movement, it is because he pushes the opponent to the limit… that’s why I love playing against him, that it pushes me to the limit. I have to be really, really focused. I love to feel that.”
The growing respect between the two is a key part of the narrative, but it doesn’t make the losses sting any less.
“I had some tough losses, for sure,” the Italy’s Sinner said after his devastating loss to Alcaraz in New York. “This is in the top list.”
What is so intriguing about watching Alcaraz and Sinner, both individually and collectively, is that each new edition of the rivalry gives us another opportunity to take stock of the rapid rate of development that each player is undergoing.
“For sure we have a lot of work to do, still,” Sinner said of his current physical status on quarterfinal Thursday, after grinding past defending champion Taylor Fritz in three sets. “I give my body a lot of time to develop. But for sure now I am in a much, much better position than I was in one year ago.”
For Alcaraz, the situation isn’t much different. Plagued by an abdominal injury in November and a hamstring tweak in December that reappeared last month, he had to miss the Australian Open and last month’s ATP event in Acapulco.
Like Sinner he’s very much learning how to produce peak tennis while still keeping his developing body in one piece.
That’s another reason to be ultra excited about Saturday’s tête-à-tête in the California desert.
Fans are getting a chance to get in on the ground floor of what could be the most iconic men’s tennis rivalry of the next decade.
Alcaraz, the top seed, wants nothing more than to send the fans away inspired.
“I try to make the people enjoy watching tennis, and I think the way that I play, they love it, or it seems like that,” he said.
2021 Paris Masters, Indoor Hard Court, Round of 32: Alcaraz d. Sinner 7-6(1), 7-5
2022 Wimbledon, Outdoor Grass, Round of 16: Sinner d. Alcaraz, 6-1, 6-4, 6-7(8), 6-3
2022 Umag, Outdoor Clay, Final: Sinner d. Alcaraz 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-1
2022 US Open, Outdoor Hard Court, Quarterfinal: Alcaraz d. Sinner 6-3, 6-7(7), 6-7(0), 7-5, 6-3