Carlos Alcaraz defeated Jannik Sinner in the Indian Wells semifinals

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Open Extended ReactionsLAS VEGAS — San Diego State’s unlikely run to the national championship game last spring opened the door for the Mountain West Conference to garner widespread respect.
New Mexico beating the Aztecs 68-61 in the conference tournament title game at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center Saturday afternoon allowed for more reverence on a national level.
As in a record number of Mountain West schools likely to receive bids to the NCAA tournament.
The most the Mountain West has ever received is five, in 2013.
“Obviously, we’re going to get six in the NCAA tournament,” said third-year New Mexico coach Richard Pitino.
“UNLV is as good as any of them, as well.
So it was just, made-for-TV every single night.
Great players, great coaches, fan bases that truly care.
“I remember coming [to New Mexico] thinking, Maybe it’s a little bit of a step down from the Big Ten.
Didn’t feel like it on a nightly basis.
It really didn’t.
I mean, packed houses, national TV, and there were just wars every night.
So, I know I got better as a coach going against some of these amazing coaches and programs and it was a long, long season.
But very rewarding.”
Entering conference tournament play, the Mountain West had six teams in the top 40 of the NET rankings and Mountain West schools boasted a combined record of 24-7 against Pac-12 and WCC schools.
Only the Big 12 and SEC are projected to have more bids.
New Mexico, which earned the Mountain West’s automatic bid and is 27-9, and San Diego State, which is 24-10 and has been projected as high as a No.
4 seed in the Big Dance, are assured berths.
Then there’s regular-season champ Utah State (27-6), Nevada (26-7), Boise State (22-10) and Colorado State (24-10).
UNLV, which is 19-12, swept the Lobos and split with the Aztecs, was the No.
4 seed but likely headed to the NIT.
“It’s incredible,” said New Mexico senior guard Jamal Mashburn Jr., who was named to the all-tournament team after scoring 21 points with four rebounds against the Aztecs.
“We worked so hard to get to this point.
… We had so many ups and downs this year and we all just stayed confident in ourselves and we all just stayed together.
And, I mean, it feels great to, I mean, it is not over yet, but it does feel great to get a championship on my way out for sure.”
6-seeded Lobos had to win four games in four days, the first team to accomplish that feat in the Mountain West’s 25-year history.
They beat Air Force 82-56, Boise State 66-56 and Colorado State 74-61 to advance to the title game.
5 seed Aztecs outlasted UNLV in overtime 74-71 and Utah State 86-70.
It is New Mexico’s first NCAA appearance since 2014 as the Lobos were just 6-16 three years ago.
It is their first conference tournament title since winning three straight from 2012 to 2014, the Lobos’ fifth overall tournament title.
The Lobos used a 15-4 run over the last seven minutes to pull away from the Aztecs, and New Mexico senior guard Jaelen House had a game-high 28 points, making three of seven 3-point attempts, and had three steals.
He was named tournament MVP.
San Diego State senior forward Jaedon LeDee led the Aztecs with 25 points and added six rebounds.
“Our guys never ever wavered from their confidence,” Pitino said.
And they came into this tournament truly believing that they could win it.
So it’s why I picked up my family and took a risk and it sure feels like it’s paying off right now.
I think [New Mexico is] one of the best fan bases of college basketball.
I truly, truly believe it.
They are as invested in this program, on a daily basis, as a Kentucky, where I grew up for eight years.
I don’t see a whole lot of a difference.
Truly, I’m very grateful and appreciative.”
To underscore that, the announced attendance for Saturday night’s game was 11,112, a passionate crowd that was a majority New Mexico fans.
Pitino, who coached at Minnesota from 2013 through 2021 and took the Golden Gophers to a pair of NCAA tournaments, was asked what his father, Rick, the coach at St. John’s, might say to him after winning the Mountain West tournament.
“Hopefully, very proud,” he said.
“Anytime you get fired, it’s hard as a young head coach and you’re Rick Pitino’s son and everybody’s comparing you to him and you do feel a little bit of a burden.
I’m probably not going to go into the Naismith Hall of Fame, like he is, and that’s OK.
But you’ve got to have a high level of belief in yourself.
And I wouldn’t be able to do this profession without being able to lean on my mom and my dad and the support because they’re always there.
“We’re far away from each other, but they’re always there.
And I’m the person, the husband, the father that I try to be every day because of my parents.”

Indian Wells, California. Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner will be working on this for a while.

The 20-year-old Spanish player and the 22-year-old Italian, barring some sort of unanticipated event or catastrophic injury, will spend a few years packing stadiums and competing in their heart-stopping, “can-you-top-this-yes-I-can” variation of a sport that combines drag racing, boxing, ballet, and tug-of-war.

promotion.

In an instant, they are violently slamming balls over the net. The next moment they are fanning them out with the deft touch of a summer afternoon lepidopterist capturing butterflies.

In the BNP Paribas Open semifinals on Saturday, the latest development in this story they are writing—Chapter 8, if you like books—took place.

Arriving on a 19-match winning streak, Sinner sought to complete the takeover of a sport that seemed to have been taken from the two-decade grip of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer by Alcaraz. Arriving without a tournament victory since July, Alcaraz was determined to reverse his recent trend and force a draw in his match against Sinner, the world’s top player for the previous four months.

After three intense sets of an unpredictable match that left Sinner diving dangerously across the hard court and both players scrambling in breathless desperation, the match finally ended, and Alcaraz raised his arms in triumph and relief for the kind of day he had not experienced in months.

Alcaraz recovered from what was essentially an uppercut to the jaw in tennis, using just enough of his magic and aggression to win 1-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Sinner and Alcaraz delivered a match as well as a string of impressive points, just like in each of their previous duels. Laughing at the ridiculousness of their shots, one had them both sprinting up and down the court as well as diagonally. Running forehands onto the lines, letting go of shots that are just inches shy of the net, and reflexively volleying off fast passes. These two operate in that manner.

Then, with one last chance to break Sinner’s serve in the fourth game of the third set, Alcaraz had everything going for him. The ball was dying and Sinner was racing to catch up, but how narrow was the margin—how many millimeters?—that allowed an Alcaraz forehand to tick the net? He arrived in time, for some reason, for a fast-paced exchange at the net in the middle of the court, which culminated in him diving to block Alcaraz’s quick backhand overhead volley.

Promoting something.

Sinner was only a little bit tall. Worse, he suffered injuries to his wrist and elbow. When he finally got back up, Alcaraz had already taken the lead in the match and sealed it with a whipped inside-out forehand from his kill zone, just a few feet inside the baseline.

When it was all over, he told the 16,000-strong audience at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, “Playing here is magic.”.

It’s about correct.

It all seemed so easy for Alcaraz just last summer.

Federer had retired. Due to hip surgery, from which he hasn’t fully recovered, Nadal was sidelined indefinitely. Alcaraz, a 20-year-old two-time Grand Slam champion, would dominate the sport and win the next 25 or 30 Grand Slams while Djokovic had been destroyed on Wimbledon’s Center Court and would probably be eliminated from contention before too long.

Sinner has destroyed all of that in the course of just four months, and a victory on Saturday would have made it abundantly evident to Alcaraz and the rest of the sports world that he is the man to beat at this time—and possibly for a very long while.

GO DEEPER: Is Jannik Sinner surpassed by anyone?

With a dominance that sends shivers down a locker room, Sinner, the red-headed Italian with the long arms and spindly legs that whip balls over the net with frightening ferocity, crushed Alcaraz in the opening set.

In the first three games, play was suspended with Sinner leading 2-1, primarily due to a three-hour rain delay. This made the beating start slowly. When play resumed, it happened incredibly quickly, with Sinner dominating with machine-like efficiency—that is, presuming there is a machine capable of running, swinging a racket, changing directions during a full sprint, and bending a live organism—like a tennis match—to its will.

Losses for Alcaraz, which have been happening more frequently since the summer, typically follow a certain pattern. Alcaraz is a little off on the day that the other guy plays one of his best matches ever.

Publicity.

The lethal forehand becomes erratic. His serve, which is his weakest weapon, is unsatisfactory and ends up in the middle of the box, leaving him open to attack. In a desperate attempt to save the day, he begins to perform miraculous shots. He makes a heroic attempt, but it is unsuccessful.

Initially on Saturday, that wasn’t the pattern. Undoubtedly, Sinner was superior to Alcaraz, which is why Alcaraz missed a lot.

GO DEEPER Carlos Alcaraz hasn’t appeared in the Wimbledon finals. What then isn’t working well?

Alcaraz pinned opponents 10 feet behind the baseline for almost the entirety of 2022 and the first half of last year, almost physically taking the racket out of their hands with his strength. Sinner performed just that during Saturday’s opening set.

The location is marked on the grassy area far behind the baseline at almost all hard-court tennis tournaments. Alcaraz found it difficult to position himself in front of the white letters that spelled out “Indian Wells” on numerous occasions, particularly when Sinner was unleashing what is quickly developing into one of the best serves in the sport. This allowed Sinner to take advantage of the situation and rip balls through the court, playing with Alcaraz like a bully tricks a young innocent.

He stormed ahead 4-1, sending Alcaraz into a sort of fog with a swinging forehand volley that he crushed a floater at the service line. After a careless half-volley a point later, he effectively gave up with the ball still in play, realizing at the last second that he had reached his current position by continuing to play. Before he knew it, another ball had already sped past him.

In order to avoid embarrassing himself, Alcaraz realized he would need to make some significant adjustments. He volleyed and served. Every time he saw an opening, he raced the net. He continued to go for the best drop shot in the game even after Sinner’s speed allowed him to catch up to all of the others.

In the fourth game, he finally broke Sinner’s serve for the first time, and he didn’t allow Sinner to break it again the rest of the match.

Publicity.

Sinner has predicted that his winning run would end for the past two weeks. The athletes are too skilled. Even when it appears like they won’t, tennis matches can quickly take a wrong turn.

Maybe the most important factor of all was left out by him explicitly.

Alcaraz, the man he talks to in the tunnel beneath the stadium prior to their battle, is a good friend and sometimes practice partner.

(Image: USA Today / The Desert Sun / Jay Calderon).

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