Rafael Nadal has faced down the future and emerged victorious, outlasting teenage countryman Carlos Alcaraz 6-4 4-6 6-3 to reach the Indian Wells Masters final and improve to 20-0 this year.
The 21-time grand slam champion raised both arms in triumph after fighting through against aggressive 18-year-old Alcaraz, who never appeared rattled playing his vaunted fellow Spaniard.
“He has all the ingredients to become an amazing champion,” Nadal said. “I don’t have many doubts that he will be great. He is already, by the way.”
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Nadal’s perfect record is the third-best start to a season since 1990 and already includes titles at Melbourne, the Australian Open and Acapulco.
Nadal will meet Taylor Fritz in the final on Sunday. Seeded 20th, Fritz is the first American man to make the final since John Isner in 2012 and he’ll try to be the first to win the title since Andre Agassi in 2001.
Fritz ended No.7 seed Andrey Rublev’s 13-match winning streak with a 7-5 6-4 victory in the earlier semi-final. The Russian had won 13 consecutive matches since February 14, including back-to-back titles at Marseille and Dubai.
Nadal staved off three break points on his serve in the fifth game of the third set and then broke world No.19 Alcaraz with a forehand volley winner to go up 5-3. Nadal served out the match with a love game, punctuating the 3-hour, 12-minute struggle with a 95-mph ace.
“Rafa has thousand lives,” Alcaraz said. “If he’s down, he’s able to play at a great level in the tough moments.”
Alcaraz hit 39 winners to 20 for Nadal. The teen saved 15 of the 20 break points he faced through the first two sets, but couldn’t stop the net-rushing Nadal who broke him to go up 4-3.
“If you are playing with Rafa, you have to be calm, you have to think well in the tough moments,” Alcaraz said. “That’s what I learned in this match.”
In the first semi-final, Fritz came out strongly in front of a supportive crowd at the tournament where he’s been coming since he was a kid from his home near San Diego.
“I was not the favourite in today’s match and so I was able to play a little freer,” said Fritz, a semi-finalist here five months ago when the event was held in October because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Everything was definitely flowing for me.”
In the second set, Fritz came up with a big hold at 5-4, firing an ace down the T after fighting off two break points. The men stayed on serve until the 10th game.
Rublev saved eight of the 11 break points he faced, but he missed an easy forehand volley on top of the net to give Fritz his first match point. Fritz bashed a return of Rublev’s serve to take the pivotal break and the match.