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Jannik Sinner And Carlos Alcaraz Are Squaring Up Again

Julian Finney/Getty Images

No man is on Carlos Alcaraz's level right now. We'll allow two big caveats to this statement. The unvaccinated Novak Djokovic was unable to travel to the U.S. for these two big hard-court events, despite Florida governor Ron DeSantis's blustery declaration that he'd "run a boat from the Bahamas here for him." And Rafael Nadal is still rehabbing a hip injury from the Australian Open. But the rest of the field did not manage to pry so much as a set from Alcaraz as he tore through Indian Wells and reached the semifinal of the Miami Open. The world No. 1 gets scarier with every passing match, machine-learning with every minute on the court. On Thursday, Alcaraz applied cruel and unusual pressure against quarterfinalist Taylor Fritz, even clocking a 111-mph rally forehand en route to a 6-4, 6-2 victory. Asked to compare his opponent to Djokovic, Nadal, and Roger Federer, Fritz went off: "I definitely felt like I had more breathing room against those guys than in this match."

When a player is earning favorable comparisons to the Big 3 before his 20th birthday, keeping pace with him is a brutal ask. Alcaraz's opponent on Friday night in Miami might be the most qualified player for that job. That is Jannik Sinner, a 21-year-old who is himself unlocking the best tennis of his career, and has won two of their five meetings to date. Sinner and Alcaraz clashed three times last season, with the Italian beating the Spaniard on grass at Wimbledon and clay at Umag, legitimizing the rivalry. Their third encounter was the men's match of the year: an eye-popping, lung-busting, five-hour-and-fifteen-minute U.S. Open quarterfinal. Sinner had match point on his racquet in the fourth set there but couldn't cash out. Alcaraz won and advanced to claim his first major title, grabbing one ahead of his rival, who made three major quarterfinals in 2022. Sinner has surely spent some time replaying that match point in his mind, wondering what hardware he might've lifted had that backhand not flown wide.

The two met again in the Indian Wells semifinal earlier this month and Sinner, once again, had an opening, lining up a set point in the first, but fell short 7-6(4), 6-3. These matches pit untrammeled aggression against untrammeled aggression. Sinner's baseline game is wholesale punishment; Alcaraz, the faster and more versatile of the two, seems to have more outs on any given point. Both are sorting out their respective serves, which might be the arms race that determines the course of their rivalry. "I learn many things from him. I feel like he makes me a better player for sure. He pushed me to the limit, no? Which I'm trying to do with him," Sinner said before the start of Miami. "Obviously at the moment he's a little bit on a higher level, everything is a little bit higher than my tennis. But still we both are very young."

Sinner is 20-4 on the season. Alcaraz is 18-1. Neither one has lost a set in Miami. If they played 10 times a season, it wouldn't be enough. Vamos! Forza! You pick.

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