Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. @bnpparibasopen
Bees in Paradise? Yep. Plus the Alcaraz/Sinner rivalry revs up, Iga Swiatek steamrolls the competition, and some top players go undercover.

The Grand Slams may beg to differ, but the best all-around tournament in the biz may be the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. Also known as Tennis Paradise.

Start with the location: the mountains, palm trees, and sunshine. Add a premiere tennis facility (the premier facility?) with two phenomenal stadium courts and top-tier dining options.

Everything about it is fun. The setting, the colors, the full cast of characters from both tours.

Considered the “fifth Slam,” it benefits from not being a Grand Slam. The players are able to have more fun because it lacks the extra heft of a major.

There isn’t as much history on the line, and the men don’t have to play best three out of five sets, so they stay fresher throughout. That means there’s less drama, but what it lacks in drama it more than makes up for in all-around delightfulness.

Top players play soccer on a little pitch right out in the open. The practice courts get more crowded than the stadiums, it seems like.

Did we mention the weather?

If all that wasn’t enough, this year they threw in a swarm of bees. Who can compete with that?

Alcaraz Defends Title

After spending a few months in the desert (pun intended), Carlos Alcaraz finally returned to his winning ways. He had not reached a final since August in Cincinnati, and this was his first championship since thrilling everyone at Wimbledon with his five-set win over Novak Djokovic.

We had gotten used to him losing, frankly.

It gave us time to get used to Jannik Sinner winning.

That’s what we needed. The Alcaraz hype had to wear off, and someone else needed to enter the stage as his worthy foe. It couldn’t be Djokovic. The generational gap is too big for that to be a viable long-term rivalry.

Sinner did his part, becoming near-invincible in the last half-year. These two guys are the torch-bearers for the next generation of tennis stars, and the sport has been salivating at the chance for them to square off now that their storylines are merging.

We got our wish in the semifinals, and to make it even better, the No. 2 ranking was on the line. This was the first truly seminal moment in their rivalry, and Alcaraz needed the win more than Sinner. He got it with a comeback win 1-6, 6-3, 6-2.

The rivalry will really heat up when they start meeting in finals, which has only happened once in their eight meetings to date, back in 2022.

Alcaraz consolidated his win over Sinner with a championship performance against Daniil Medvedev in the finals, scoring a convincing 7-6(5), 6-1 win.

That’s back-to-back titles in Indian Wells, and now he heads to Miami to try to complete the sunshine double.

Swiatek Reclaims Title

After Elena Rybakina claimed the crown last year, Iga Swiatek took it back by defeating Maria Sakkari 6-4, 6-0. Unfortunately, Rybakina was unable to defend her title, having to withdraw due to illness.

Crazy stat time: Swiatek only lost 21 games the entire tournament. That’s 3.5 games per match. The most games anyone won against her was four. There was one second-set retirement in there, to be fair, but that set might have just gone through her bakery. You see, she had three bagel sets this fortnight, and that might have been a fourth. She rolls ’em off the line.

Dominant is the operative word for Swiatek. She’s as clear of a world No. 1 as it gets.

Maria Sakkari has to be happy with this result, too. This was her first tournament with her new coach, David Witt, who only became available since parting ways with Jessica Pegula.

To make the finals of a WTA 1000 right out of the gates, especially Indian Wells, had to feel invigorating. Exactly the shot in the arm Sakkari was looking for when she made this change.

It was no fluke either. She beat three seeds along the way, including No. 3 Coco Gauff.

Show Some Love for Medvedev

You gotta feel for Daniil Medvedev. All he does is make the finals of nearly every hardcourt event he enters, and he keeps bumping into generational talents and losing.

He’s made the finals in five of his last nine tournaments, where he lost to Novak, Sinner x3, and Alcaraz. Two of those were Grand Slam finals, including the gut-wrencher in Australia.

And if you’ve been paying close attention, he always seems to get stuck with the final night match. He does most of his work while everyone else is asleep. How many times has he finished after midnight? Heck, after 1:00 or 2:00 a.m.? That hardship makes his runs to these finals all the more impressive.

The second night match is for second fiddles. He is decidedly not a second fiddle, though. He deserves better. It shouldn’t always be him.

His attitude through the near-misses and late nights has been sterling, though.

This week he returns to Miami to defend his title from last year. Maybe the schedulers there won’t make him work past midnight every time.

Novak’s Surprise Exit

Three cheers for Luca Nardi, the 20-year-old world No. 123 (at the time) who took down Novak Djokovic in the second round. Many things boggle the mind about that victory, obviously, but perhaps the most eye-popping factoid is that it was only Nardi’s fifth ATP Tour-level win. In other words, zero experience. That’s stunning.

Moment of a lifetime for the youngster. Congrats to him.

And boy is Italy on a tear in tennis right now. Wow.

When Novak’s final story is told, this match will either be a blip on the radar or the first sign of his slow-down.

His dominance hasn’t gone away overnight. He isn’t in some sort of career freefall.

What is likely going on is that he is facing the dragon of fading motivation.

He has done basically everything there is to do in the sport. His greatest desire is the calendar slam, and for the first time in a long time that objective was dashed at the start of the year. He’s entering a new stage of fatherhood as his children grow older. His biggest rivals are all but gone from the game, and it’s easy to imagine he doesn’t feel the same fire to beat today’s upstart superstars.

The Nardi loss is a red herring. It may look like his game is declining when actually the heart of the matter is waning motivation.

To wit, he withdrew from Miami shortly after the loss.

In a statement, he said “At this stage of my career, I’m balancing my private and professional schedule.”

Less motivation. Other priorities.

It’s part of the process.

He’s physically fit enough to play another five years if he wants to.

The opponent across the net from him right now is disappearing motivation.

Reflex Volleys

Bees, bosses, burritos, and more.

The Indian Wells Social Media Game is Strong

The BNP Paribas Open puts out some of the best non-tennis tennis content around. This year was particularly good. Behold just two examples:

Tennis players go undercover as employees

The Blink Challenge

Sinner Train Finally Rests

We knew it couldn’t last forever. Sinner’s 19-match win streak and a 16-0 start to the year finally came to an end in the semifinals.

For most of the third set against Alcaraz, it looked like he was just ready for the Sinner Express to be over. Enough was enough.

Win streaks come with a lot of pressure, almost entirely from the outside. Sinner almost certainly didn’t care about the streak at all personally, but he couldn’t escape all the talk about it. He probably reached his limit.

It’ll do him good to release the pressure and have a little reset.

Heckuva run, fox.

Yuan Yue Backs Up ATX Open Win

Give credit to Yuan Yue for proving that her ATX Open title preceding Indian Wells was no fluke. She followed it up with a deep quarterfinal run before finally losing to world No. 3 Coco Gauff, who she pushed to the limit.

Yuan defeated No. 8 Qinwen Zheng and No. 11 Daria Kasatkina along the way. Those are not accidental victories. Her game is that good.

Yuan is going to be a player to keep an eye on this year. She jumped another twelve spots up to No. 37 in the rankings. Expect her to be a seeded player in majors soon.

Taylor Fritz, Burrito Boss

Taylor Fritz landed two sponsorship deals of a lifetime. Hugo Boss and Chipotle. Burritos for life in sharp threads ain’t bad.

Taylor Fritz, burrito boss

Tommy Paul is Close to Becoming the Top American

Tommy Paul surged to the semifinals before falling to Medvedev in three sets. The result moves him up three spots to No. 14, one spot shy of No. 13 Burrito Boss…er, Taylor Fritz.

Although Paul lost to Fritz in Delray a few weeks ago, it was in the finals and came on the heels of a title in Dallas.

Paul’s velocity is screaming toward the top ten. He may be the new American No. 1 soon, too.

Good to see him playing aggressive serve and volley tennis in Indian Wells, as well, after studying the serve and volley greats from the 1990s—Edberg, Becker, Sampras.

He’s thinking and experimenting and is motivated to squeeze everything out of his game right now. He’s may be on the verge of a big breakthrough this year.

Casper Ruud Returning to Form

Also good to see Casper Ruud returning to form after a slight dropoff in the second half of last year.

One thinks all his close calls in Grand Slam finals probably sapped his energy to some degree.

He appears to have recalibrated and found his winning ways again. Two straight runner-ups in Los Cabos and Acapulco preceded a quarterfinal run here before falling to Tommy Paul.

Bee Invasion

A match delayed due to a bee invasion? Sure, why not.