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Alcaraz rallies to subdue Arnaldi in Indian Wells opener

World number two Carlos Alcaraz got off to a stuttering start in his Indian Wells Masters title defense on Friday but turned the tables to beat Matteo Arnaldi 6-7 (5/7), 6-0, 6-1.

The second-round success served as a welcome fitness test for the 20-year-old Spaniard, who rolled his ankle a fortnight ago in Rio and retired from his first-round match there.

Alcaraz gathered his forces after dropping the opening set against Arnaldi, cutting his unforced error count from 23 in the first set to a mere eight for the remainder of the contest.

The reigning Wimbledon champion lost just one more game as he came through in two and a quarter hours, concluding with 22 winners.

Alcaraz said his ankle felt better than expected. 

“Honestly, it surprised me,” he said. “I felt great, moving normally without thinking about it.

“It was a really good match to realize that I am better than I imagined,” added Alcaraz, who next plays Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Jannik Sinner and Iga Swiatek swept into the third round with identical runaway scorelines.

But there was no joy for former number one Andy Murray, who suffered a 7-6 (7/3), 6-1 loss to fifth seed Andrey Rublev to exit the event where he lost the 2009 final to Rafael Nadal.

Australian Open champion Sinner dominated Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-3, 6-0 while women’s world number one Swiatek did the same to American Danielle Collins.

Italy’s Sinner, seeded third, backed up his debut Grand Slam title in Melbourne with a victory in the ATP 500 level tournament at Rotterdam last month.

He remains undefeated this season and completed a 13th consecutive match victory while improving to 4-0 over Kokkinakis.

Top seed Swiatek, the 2022 Indian Wells champion and last year’s Roland Garros winner who will start her 94th week on the top WTA ranking on Monday, broke Collins four times and wrapped up victory on her second match point.

Reigning Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova also advanced with ease, beating American Bernarda Pera with the loss of just two games. Vondrousova took just 64 minutes to dispatch Pera 6-0, 6-2.

But Elena Rybakina’s WTA title defense ended without a ball struck as she withdrew before her scheduled opener with a gastrointestinal issue.

Well-prepared

Sinner said both he and Kokkinakis had to deal with the variable desert wind in their early match.

“We both started off a little bit tight, it was a little bit breezy,” Sinner said. “But  when I broke him for the first time I felt immediately much better.”

After advancing in 80 minutes with 21 winners and just seven unforced errors, Sinner was pleased but far from over-confident.

“I’m not unbeatable, just well-prepared,” said the Italian, who won the final 10 games to advance.

Alex de Minaur, the 10th seed coming off a triumph in Acapulco at the weekend, regained some Aussie pride as he crushed Japan’s Taro Daniel 6-1, 6-2.

German sixth seed Alexander Zverev moved through with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Australian Christopher O’Connell.

His compatriot Angelique Kerber lifted the tempo of her maternity return as she upset fellow Grand Slam winner Jelena Ostapenko in a 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.

The 34-year-old German, who became a mum last summer and returned to the courts in January, won two consecutive matches for the first time since Wimbledon two years ago.

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