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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Sunday, March 10, 2024


Reigning champion Carlos Alcaraz outclassed Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-2, 6-3 charging into BNP Paribas Open round of 16 for the third year in a row.

Photo credit: Michael Owens/Getty

The Indian Wells Tennis Garden is one of Carlos Alcaraz’s favorite sites on tour.

Today, Alcaraz spent 77 minutes remodeling the place.

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Shrinking the service box to the size of a sand box and carving out audacious angles, Alcaraz left big-hitting Felix Auger-Aliassime looking unsettled and overwhelmed at times on serve.

Playing his most complete match of the season, an oppressive Alcaraz outclassed Auger-Aliassime 6-2, 6-3 charging into BNP Paribas Open round of 16.

Reigning champion Alcaraz scored his eighth straight Indian Wells victory and played with the sustained energy, enthusiasm and creativity he displayed winning Wimbledon last July.

When Auger-Aliassime’s first serve is clicking, he can play decisive first-strike tennis.

Today, Alcaraz was reading the serve and ripping returns into all corners giving the 6’4” Canadian little safe space on court.

Alcaraz, who led the ATP in return games won in 2023 (31.81 percent), won 46 percent of points played on Auger-Aliassime’s first serve converted four of seven break points and persistently punished the former world No. 6 in forehand exchanges.

A dynamic Alcaraz won 15 of 18 trips to net and nearly tripled Auger-Aliassime’s winner total—15 to 6—beating the world No. 1 for the second year in a row in the desert following a 6-4, 6-4 quarterfinal conquest last March.

Questions swirled around Alcaraz, who suffered a sprained right ankle that forced him to retire from Rio last month. How would he respond to the pressure of defending Indian Wells? How would his gimpy right ankle hold up on the slow surface some players describe as sandpaper? And can the man whose last final was an epic loss to Novak Djokovic in Cincinnati last August navigate a demanding draw?

Alcaraz dropped his first set of the tournament to Matteo Arnaldi in a tiebreaker. Since that set, he’s played with power and purpose permitting just six games in his last four sets.

The second-seeded Spaniard will face dangerous Fabian Marozsan for a quarterfinal spot.

Last May, Hungarian qualifier Marozsan streaked through six straight points stunning Alcaraz 6-3, 7-6(4) to snap the Spaniard's 12-match winning streak on the red clay of Rome.

The world No. 135 joined Cameron Norrie (Rio) and Jannik Sinner (Miami) as just the third man to defeat Alcaraz through the first four months of 2023. Alcaraz had reached semifinals or better in all six of his tournament starts to star last season, but that run ended in Rome.

"I didn't watch too much about him before the match," Alcaraz told the media in Rome after falling to Marozsan. "I just follow a lot of results about him in the challengers and stuff. He did well. He was doing well before here.

"Of course, he surprised me a lot. I mean, his level was really, really high. Yeah, I'm sure he's going to break the top 100 very, very soon. It was surprising for me."

Once, Alcaraz got on top of Auger-Aliassime today, he kept the surprises coming. Alcaraz unleashed a 103 mph forehand blast at one point, tormented the Canadian with drop shots and controlled the center of the court for much of the match.

The defending champion jammed a backhand return back into the body earning double break point. Auger-Aliassime tried squeezing a forehand down the line, but missed it wide as Alcaraz broke for 3-2.

The Wimbledon winner came out cracking his forehand with ambition and accuracy. Alcaraz rattled a backhand error from Auger-Aliassime to confirm the break for 4-2.

The Alcaraz return game was dialed in and he was freezing the Canadian at times with his forehand strikes. Alcaraz rocketed a 103 mph forehand winner to open the seventh game.

Trying to change direction, Auger-Aliassime missed a backhand badly as the Spaniard broke again for 5-2.

The 20-year-old Spanish superstar dodged a break point then knifed a backhand volley for set point. Alcaraz closed a commanding set in 32 minutes. Alcaraz won eight of 15 points played on Auger-Aliassime’s first serve and nearly doubled the Canadian’s winner total in the set.

The 31st-seeded Canadian was going for the body serve, but Alcaraz was rifling returns, particularly from his forehand, breaking at 15 to start the second set.

Alcaraz was imposing his shots in baseline rallies. After another rally miss, Auger-Aliassime fell behind 1-3 and erupted in a primal scream of frustration.

When Alcaraz wasn’t blasting deep drives to back the Canadian behind the baseline, he was carving out clever drop shots.

Sprinting from near the back wall, Alcaraz raced up to a dropper and spun a backhand down the line for match points.

When Auger-Aliassime’s final forehand expired in the next, Alcaraz was through to his third consecutive Indian Wells round of 16 in 77 minutes.


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