Indian Wells: Alcaraz and Rybakina dominate in the desert

By defeating Aryna Sabalenka and Daniil Medvedev, the two champions won more than just a title in Indian Wells.

Carlos Alcaraz / Finale Indian Wells 2023©Antoine Couvercelle / FFT
 - Alix Ramsay

No matter what the surface, no matter what the venue, talent will out. As the BNP Paribas Open drew to a close on Sunday night, the current US Open and Wimbledon champions packed their crystal trophies into their kitbags and headed for Miami (their excess baggage charges will be eyewatering: those trophies weigh a ton). Carlos Alcaraz and Elena Rybakina had won their maiden titles in the Californian desert.

Carlos is back

Move over Novak Djokovic: Carlos Alcaraz is back in town. The 19-year-old Spaniard added the Indian Wells title to his ever-growing collection (it was his third Masters 1000 tournament win) and by beating Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 6-2, he reclaimed the world No.1 ranking.

The two finalists had only met once before. It was at Wimbledon in 2021, back when Carlos was a 17-year-old rookie taking his first steps on the ATP tour. He was ranked No.75 in the world (Medvedev was No.2) and everyone had high hopes for the young lad from Murcia – and Medvedev walloped him in straight sets. But he was impressed with Alcaraz, nonetheless.

Carlos Alcaraz & Daniil Medvedev / Wimbledon 2021©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Fast forward two years and Medvedev went into Sunday’s final as the world No.6, Alcaraz as the No.2. They were the US Open champions of 2021 and 22 and they both spent 16 weeks at the top of the rankings last year.

With the wind getting stronger and stronger and the rain clouds moving menacingly down the mountainside (when the tops of the mountains disappear into the gloom and the murk, you know filthy weather is on the way), Alcaraz was playing like a man in a tearing hurry. He was aggressive, he was brave and he was not to be stopped – not by Medvedev at any rate. Nothing was going to distract him. He was blisteringly good and Medvedev was helpless against him.

“Honestly, I didn't expect that [to play that well],” Alcaraz said. “I expect a match, toughest match. But, yeah, I played perfect, let's say. Against Daniil you have to play your best, and tactic at your best level, as well. Against him is always a tactic match, and I did perfect today. That's why it looks easy, but it wasn't!” 

Medvedev outclassed

Medvedev tried everything he could think of to counter the soon-to-be No.1. From trying to keep pace with his tormentor (and failing) to welting the ball for all he was worth (the hit-and-hope approach) nothing was working. Everything Alcaraz touched turned to gold; unlike Medvedev. After 71 minutes, it was over and Alcaraz was crowned. Better still, he was now – officially – the very best player on the planet.

Riding a 19-match winning streak, Medvedev was ready for the final; he was ready for a battle and he was ready to take it to his rival. And then Alcaraz flattened him.

“I feel like he was serving well today,” he said, taking his loss with good grace. “Serve and volley was good. I knew that it's never easy to finish a match, especially a final and I was thinking about my match with Novak in US Open final, and, you know, try to do the same, put pressure on him.

“But it's not easy to play him. I don't know if it's his game that didn't let me play my best level today or just, for whatever reason, I didn't play my best level. Mentally I was ready for the match. I don't feel like I kind of took it too easy before the match. I was ready for a fight. I knew that I have a tough opponent on the other side.

“He played well. Good dropshots in good moments, some good winners to break me. So not much more to add.”

Daniil Medvedev / Finale Indian Wells 2023©Antoine Couvercelle / FFT

And the new world No.1? He was just looking forward to meeting up with his brother and a couple of friends in Miami and having a couple of days off before the work begins again in earnest on Wednesday. When you are on top of the world, there is precious little time to relax.

Daniil Medvedev & Carlos Alcaraz / Finale Indian Wells 2023©Antoine Couvercelle / FFT

Revenge for Rybakina

Elena Rybakina must have been sick of the sight of Aryna Sabalenka when she walked out on to Stadium 1 on Sunday. Four times she had faced this opponent in the past and four times she had pushed her hard for three sets. And four times she had been sent home empty handed. Would Sunday be a case of fifth time lucky for the Kazakh? Who knew?

Sabalenka was the newly crowned Australian Open champion (she beat Rybakina in the trophy match) and the champion of Adelaide. Like her rival on Sunday, she had dropped just one set on her path to the championship match and she had barely broken a sweat as she moved through the draw. This was her third final of the season and she was the woman to beat.

So Rybakina beat her 7-6 (11), 6-4.

In truth, it was anything but a classic, especially compared to their thrilling final in Melbourne. Points were won with either a thumped service return or a grimace-inducing error. Now and again, a rally broke out but the match was won and lost on the simple principle of keeping the ball in court. Rybakina was considerably better at that than her opponent.

Elena Rybakina / Finale Indian Wells 2023©Antoine Couvercelle / FFT

Double trouble

Sabalenka’s serve has been the centre of attention for the past couple of years. Suffering from a serious case of the yips on the shot, she took her courage in both hands and redesigned the action to eliminate any weakness. It was a move that, potentially, was fraught with danger – if the new shot didn’t work either, she would left with no confidence in her serve at all – but she did it. And the revamp worked.

Or it did until Sunday afternoon. Over the course of the 76 minutes of the first set, Sabalenka served 10 double faults. From being a break up at 3-2, everything started to unravel and while she stopped donating free points with those doubles in the second set, she was always playing catch up. Rybakina was accelerating towards her first WTA 1000 title and her first trophy since winning at Wimbledon last summer.

“Compared match in Australia, it was different, especially this first set, because she did couple of double faults, which gave me an advantage,” Rybakina said. “Of course I felt the difference, because in Australia she served really well. The second serve was, I think, same speed as the first one. So kind of really aggressive. Here I had some chances in the first set, and then I think in the second I started a bit more aggressive.”

She is not one for fuss and celebration, is Rybakina. With no more than the promise of pizza back at the team house, she already had her eyes set on the second half of the Sunshine Double: she was off to Miami first thing on Monday morning to see if she could do it all over again next week.

Elena Rybakina & Aryna Sabalenka / Finale Indian Wells 2023©Antoine Couvercelle / FFT