INDIAN WELLS (AFP): Top-seeded Carlos Alcaraz can replace Novak Djokovic with a victory at the Indian Wells ATP Masters, and the 19-year-old Spaniard says he’ll give it all he’s got.
“I’m gonna go for it,” Alcaraz said Wednesday as first-round matches got under way in the California desert.
Alcaraz is chasing a third prestigious Masters 1000 title, and if he’s successful he’d be just the second player, after compatriot Rafael Nadal, to bag three as a teenager.
The young star will face stiff opposition in former world number one Daniil Medvedev, who rolls into Indian Wells having won three straight tournaments at Rotterdam, Doha and Dubai.
Some gloss is gone with Djokovic, who won a 22nd Grand Slam title at the Australian Open this year, absent because of US restrictions on non-citizens who have not been vaccinated against Covid-19.
Injury forced Nadal out, but eight of the top 10 men in the world are here, including third-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas — runner-up to Djokovic in Melbourne — and fourth-ranked Casper Ruud.
Defending champion Taylor Fritz of the United States is seeded fourth ahead of Medvedev.
Fritz beat Nadal in a dramatic final last year to become the first American to win the men’s title in Indian Wells since Andre Agassi in 2001.
His current No. 5 in the world rankings makes him the highest-ranked US man since Andy Roddick reached number five in September of 2009.
“Of course there’s a lot of great players in this draw who have a chance to win the tournament, but I say that I have my chances to win the tournament,” Alcaraz said.
“For me winning the tournament and being number one again is a really good goal.”
Alcaraz downplayed any lingering injury fears after pulling out of the ATP 500 in Acapulco last week with a right hamstring strain.
Alcaraz had been clearly hindered in falling to Cameron Norrie in the Rio Open on February 26, although he’d beaten Norrie seven days earlier in the final at Buenos Aires.
Alcaraz’s South American run followed a four-month injury layoff, during which he missed the Paris Masters with an abdominal tear and the Australian Open with a hamstring injury.
However, Alcaraz said he wasn’t overly concerned about the spate of injuries.
“I’m not worried about it at all,” Alcaraz said, adding that he thought it was largely a matter of “bad luck.”
“I’m doing the right things off the court,” he said. “I’m doing great work and I just had bad luck sometimes.”
While Tsitsipas downplayed his chances on Wednesday, saying he was still struggling with a shoulder injury he sustained after his run to the Australian Open final, Medvedev was understandably bubbling with confidence upon arrival in California.
Medvedev aims higher
“I feel great,” Medvedev said. “Of course, like always in tennis it’s a new week in completely the opposite side of the world, but the level of confidence is there.
“I never had three back-to-back titles, so feeling great.”
He’s hoping his current hot form can see him change his fortunes at Indian Wells, where he has yet to reach the quarter-finals in five prior appearances.
“Let’s see if I can do it better this year,” said Medvedev, who will take on American Brandon Nakashima in his second-round opener. Nakashima ousted veteran compatriot John Isner 7-6 (9/7), 6-3 on Wednesday.
The men’s field also features former champions in Cameron Norrie and Dominic Thiem. Norrie won the title 17 months ago when Indian Wells was held in the fall because of a pandemic rescheduling.
Norrie, whose 18 match wins in 2023 are second only to Medvedev’s 19, will open against Diego Schwarzman, a 6-1, 6-2 first-round winner over fellow Argentinian Federico Coria.
Thiem, meanwhile, is making his first appearance in Indian Wells since he beat Roger Federer for the 2019 title.