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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Carlos Alcaraz's game face is now art work.

The reigning BNP Paribas Open champion was on hand to celebrate the unveiling of the mural of his face, a tournament tradition, adorning the side of the stadium.

More: Simona Halep Wins Appeal, Eligible to Return to Pro Tour

Meeting the media for his pre-tournament presser, Alcaraz says his mission is simple: Defend the title in the desert.

"I’m coming here to defend the title," Alcaraz told the media in Indian Wells. "It’s difficult, I know. I’m here with the best tennis players in the world; some are playing great tennis this year.

"I know it’s gonna be really difficult, but I’m here to do it. I’m here to try and defend the title."

Questions continue to swirl around the 20-year-old Spaniard.

How will Alcaraz respond to the pressure of defending Indian Wells after stumbling to a 6-3 start to the season, including suffering a sprained ankle that forced him to retire from his Rio opener last month?

The Wimbledon winner, who edged tennis hero Rafa Nadal in the Netflix Slam exhibition in Las Vegas on Sunday, has not reached a final in the eight events he's played since bowing to Novak Djokovic in a pulsating Cincinnati title match last August.

Though Alcaraz is seeded second in Palm Springs, he lost the world No. 2 ranking to Australian Open champion Jannik Sinner in the live rankings.

Still, Alcaraz says he's encouraged by his practices and aims to bring his best in his defense.

"I’ve been feeling well on the practice court," Alcaraz said. "Probably some people are thinking about my ankle, let’s see if I’m going to stay 100 percent or not, but I’m feeling better as well.

"Let’s see how the tournament’s going to go. I’m here to defend and I’m not thinking about anything else but that."

The two-time Grand Slam champion looked a bit flat and tense at the outset of his Australian Open quarterfinal loss to Alexander Zverev in January.

Alcaraz admits the pressure that comes stardom and fame can sometimes feel daunting. He's trying to shoulder stress by smiling and enjoying his time creating on court.

"I try to stay away from all the noises probably the people are getting on you. But it’s sometimes difficult," Alcaraz said. "Sometimes it’s really tough to stay away from all of that. Sometimes it’s difficult to deal with it.

"I try to enjoy my time on the court, my time on the tournament, but sometimes the bad moments come to you and you have to deal with it. Most of the time I stay focused on myself, focused on my team and try to smile all the time and making jokes outside the court that makes me stay myself."

At age 20 Alcaraz's face not only adorns the walls of the Indian Wells Stadium, it's recognized all over the world.

Though fame can be draining, Alcaraz says he's delighted by his prominent place in the game and his connection with fans.

"For me it’s good–-most of the time," Alcaraz said of fame. "It’s normal a lot of days you wake up with not a good mood and you want to hide or not be recognized for the people, not famous let’s say.

"But I’m a natural guy I try to take it as natural I can. I like that people know me and recognize me and I think that’s a good thing."

Photo credit: BNP Paribas Open Facebook