Carlos Alcaraz said his unwavering self-belief helped him come through an injury-plagued start to the season and drove his return to the top of the world rankings following his triumph at Indian Wells.
The 19-year-old ended Daniil Medvedev’s 19-match win streak with a 6-3, 6-2 hammering on Sunday to leapfrog Novak Djokovic, who is not competing in the US hardcourt swing as he cannot enter the country due to not being vaccinated against Covid-19.
Djokovic had taken the top spot in the rankings by winning the Australian Open, with Alcaraz missing the year’s first grand slam due to abdominal and hamstring injuries.
The Spaniard returned to the ATP Tour in February at Buenos Aires where won his first title since last year’s US Open and made the Rio final before withdrawing from Acapulco with a strained hamstring.
“I began the season well but struggled a lot with injuries,” Alcaraz, who defends his Miami Open title this week, told Tennis Channel. “Two injuries in the legs in about four months, it was tough to stay strong mentally. I missed some tournaments I wanted to play, but I worked really hard with my team. I believe in myself and the work I’m doing right now and I’d say that’s the most important thing.
“It means a lot to recover the No.1 ranking. I’m not going to say it was easy, but it was easier because Djokovic was not playing.”
Victory over Medvedev meant Alcaraz became the youngest man to win the Indian Wells and Miami Open titles, a feat dubbed the ‘Sunshine Double’. “The thing that’s improved most is the mental game,” said Alcaraz, who lost to Medvedev in their first meeting in 2021.
“I got a lot of experience since that match. I was new on Tour but now I’ve played a lot of great matches and won great titles. That’s made me more confident,” Alcaraz said. “Now I know how to handle tough moments.”
Rybakina exacts revenge
Elena Rybakina kisses the winner’s trophy at Indian Wells on Sunday. AP/PTI
Indian Wells: Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina beat a misfiring Aryna Sabalenka 7-6(11), 6-4 on Sunday to claim the Indian Wells title and avenge her loss to the Belarusian in the Australian Open final.
Rybakina, playing in her first WTA 1000 final, saved three set points in the opening frame and was never really tested in the second where she cruised to a victory that will send her to a career-high seventh in the rankings.
The triumph in California was the fourth career WTA singles title for the 23-year-old Rybakina and her first against second seed Sabalenka in five attempts.
“It’s actually the first time it went my way (against her) so we’ll see, hopefully we are going to play many more finals,” Rybakina said during the trophy presentation before Sabalenka stepped in and joked: “I’ll make sure it was the last one.”
Rybakina, who beat defending champion Iga Swiatek to reach the final, dropped serve when Sabalenka landed a forehand lob just inside the baseline for a 3-2 lead followed by a routine hold that gave the Belarusian control.
But the Kazakh 10th seed immediately held at love to steady the ship before Sabalenka handed back the break with an untimely double fault that levelled the match at 4-4 from where the duo remained on serve to force a tie-breaker.
“It started to get windy and I didn’t adjust my serve,” Sabalenka said later.