Tennis: Loss to Nadal whets Alcaraz appetite for game's best

AFP , Sunday 20 Mar 2022

Spanish 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz was far from downhearted after a battling three-set loss to childhood idol Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals of the ATP Indian Wells Masters.

Spanish superstar Rafael Nadal and compatriot Carlos Alcaraz meet at the net after Nadal s victory in their ATP semi-final at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells (AFP)

Alcaraz went toe-to-toe with the 21-time Grand Slam champion, taking the second set before succumbing, and the experience only increased his belief that he's poised to take his place among the game's elite.

"I think I'm more mature than last year," Alcaraz said. "Now I know how to play against these kins of players. I played a lot of matches against great players. Second time against Rafa. I feel like I'm part of that level.

"I think I'm going to play against Rafa or the best players this year a lot."

Alcaraz said going into the semi-final that he expected it to be a much different match than his only prior meeting with his superstar compatriot, when Alcaraz won just three games in a blowout in Madrid.

"As I said yesterday, this is going to be a different match than the first one. Now I think that I'm ready for the others."

Alcaraz has been filling his resume with precocious achievements.

Last year he became the youngest man to reach the US Open quarterfinals in the Open Era and last month he won his second ATP Tour title at Rio de Janeiro.

So Nadal said he went into the match as he would any other high-level semi-final.

"I treated it like I played against a top-eight player. In terms of level, that was my feeling," said Nadal, who believes Alcaraz has "all the ingredients" to become a champion.

"He has all the shots. He can play very aggressive. He can play defensive because he's super fast," Nadal said. "He can defend amazing balls. Of course, when he's playing aggressive, it's difficult to stop him because his quality of the ball is very high."

Alcaraz was quick out of the gate on Saturday, breaking Nadal in the opening game and holding in a marathon second game to take a 2-0 lead.

But nevertheless he said he felt early-match nerves something he thinks he'll be able to control better next time.

"In the next time I will play more calm, more relaxed," he said. "If you are playing with Rafa, you have to be calm, you have to think well in the tough moments. That's what I learned in this match."

After Alcaraz took a second set in which whipping winds affected both players, Nadal went on the attack.

Although the level was high from both players, Alcaraz, like plenty of players before him, ultimately couldn't find an answer as Nadal forced the action at the net.

"I thought that I'm able to beat Rafa in some moments. But Rafa has a thousand lives."

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