Carlos Alcaraz is making magic again. Careful.

It happens every time that boy, Carlos Alcaraz, takes the field. An outrageously bizarre spot where he does something that people who have been watching tennis for decades would swear on the life of their favorite doubles partner and have never seen before.

And they’re probably right because even though (for him) he’s been bumbling his way through the last six months or so, experiencing something of a sophomore slump, Alcaraz has never failed to produce a show.

On Sunday, in the final of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, the moment came just over halfway through the first set against Daniil Medvedev.

A perfectly high short-range lob found its way to Alcaraz as he approached the net. At first, she thinks she can backflip and hit him, but halfway through the maneuver, she realizes she has to turn, sprint, and chase him, which she does, just before he settles on the purple field for the second time.

And that’s when Alcaraz really takes over. At the last moment he realizes that, because of the way he is holding the racket with his forehand, he cannot pass under the ball. At this point, pretty much everyone else who has ever done this for a living takes a desperate slap and the ball skids across the ground into the net. Not so with Alcaraz.

In a split second, he does this little twist of his wrist and hits the ball with what is at that moment the back of his strings.

And the point continues and a few shots later, he hits a forehand down the line and Medvedev watches it blow the whistle.

And just like that, tennis was returning to where it was last summer, with Alcaraz staking his claim on the present and future of the game, leaving an opponent gasping with every shot, capturing a title while watching one final mistake float by off the field. , and then hugging his father and tennis coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, and his real father while thousands of fans bathe him in their roars of adulation.

Hours later, with a large glass trophy next to him after his 7-6(5), 6-1 triumph, Alcaraz could not explain what had happened with that little miracle of a point.

“Something happened to my feet and I couldn’t jump,” he said. “When something like that happens, you have to put another ball in and run to the next one.”

Alcaraz has said several times in the last two weeks that he has had a difficult time in recent months. Losing was strange, of course, but the main problem was that when he took to the court, whether to train or compete, he struggled to find the joy he had always felt when he had a racket in his hand. His family and coaches kept asking him what was wrong.

He had no answers for them, which, in a way, made things worse. When he strained his ankle in Rio last month, he was lower than at any time since the start of his career.

(Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

For almost 200 years, and probably even longer, people have been coming to California to start over, to relaunch their identity or to try to rediscover the old, true one. And that’s what happened to Alcaraz over the past two weeks in the Coachella Valley.

The boy returned, and when he did, the show took off once again and never more than in those crazy moments of sprints, wrist shots and line passes in the first set that sent a crowd of 16,000 into its first frenzy.

“Points like this give me extra motivation to put a smile on my face,” he said, with a smile on his face.

This would happen before long. Alcaraz is simply too gifted and too dedicated to the sport to let this eight-month titleless drought continue much longer. Why would his early career arc be any different from that point?

At the moment when the first doubts began to arise, when his dear friend and rival Jannik Sinner attempted to gain supremacy, Alcaraz came to life. Here he beat Sinner in the semifinals, ending the Italian’s 19-match winning streak, then took revenge against Medvedev, who had abandoned his attempt to defend his title at the US Open in September when this rest period had just begun.

Alcaraz is really resilient, especially when there is a first-rate crowd, like Sunday in the desert. There were Rod Laver, Maria Sharapova and actors Charlize Theron, Zendaya and Tom Holland. When Alcaraz is on the court, especially in the final, a tennis match turns into an event and for the first two years he almost always produced results. When that stopped happening over the last eight months, something seemed slightly wrong in the tennis universe.

Don’t dwell on it. The victory gave Alcaraz his second straight title in what many players and much of the sport consider the most important tournament other than a Grand Slam. It was the thirteenth title of a career that has just begun, although the next time he reaches the top of the sports rankings (it will happen soon) it will be his second attempt at number 1. In 2022, at 19 years old, he became the youngest player in always reaching the top of the rankings.

(Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Finally, Medvedev sat down with his coach, Gilles Cervara, in the locker room, told him he had no regrets about the afternoon and asked Cervara if he had any. A couple of shots here and there, Cervara said, but that was on Alcaraz’s racket.

Medvedev said that when Alcaraz raised his level in the first set, he “I was able to be there and try to get to his level, but I was just a little down. In the end, this down went down, down, down, and he went up, up, up.

Alcaraz wasn’t the only one putting the world to rights on Sunday. In the women’s final, Iga Swiatek beat Maria Sakkari to win her second Indian Wells title in three years. Swiatek won 6-4, 6-0, dispatching Greece’s most successful player with the brilliant efficiency that has become her trademark. And Swiatek being Swiatek, the victory came with at least one set of pure dominance – a second set ‘bagel’ in the scoring that so often adds an exclamation point to so many of her victories.

Swiatek, 22, already a winner of four Grand Slams but none since June, showed her resilience last fall after losing the No. 1 ranking she had held for 76 weeks. At the end of the season, she recovered, but she stumbled early at the Australian Open and, with Aryna Sabalenka catching up to her, Swiatek’s supremacy seemed in jeopardy. There was more reason to be nervous when things started for her in Indian Wells 10 days ago.

She opened against Danielle Collins, who had nearly beaten her in Australia. After her came Linda Noskova, the young Czech who sent her home to Melbourne. Collins got three games. Noskova got four. Both hardened a second set bagel.

When Swiatek won here two years ago and then completed the ‘Sunshine Double’ two weeks later with a victory at the Miami Open, it was a turning point for her. A master of clay tennis, she had suddenly proven to herself that she could win on hard courts.

“This time I’m just super happy with the work,” Swiatek said.

His opponents, not so much. They know he’s turned his dominance and efficiency into a strategy that has resulted in a 19-4 record in the Finals and six straight wins in his final game because he has so much energy in his reserves.

(Robert Prange/Getty Images)

“I’ve played great hitters, but at the same time it takes time away from you,” Sakkari said. “It took me a couple of games to get used to his timing.”

The scary thing for all the other women is that the highlight of Swiatek’s season, the clay swing, is still three weeks away. In years past, stepping foot on red clay felt like coming home and she looked forward to it.

“It doesn’t really matter now,” he said somewhat flexibly.

For Alcaraz, push-ups often come in the form of small miracles that he achieves more than anyone else. Medvedev, who manages to make a few every now and then, knows the effect they can have when you manage to manage one.

“You feel like, OK, you can always do more, hit harder, hit faster and be better,” he said.

And that’s what happened as the match approached the second set and its seemingly inevitable conclusion. At some moments, it seemed as if the balls coming off Alcaraz’s racket defied the laws of physics and lost no speed from the moment they fired from the racket to the time they bounced before Medvedev’s eyes or flew past him.

Medvedev beat the ball again and again and Alcaraz sent it back, unperturbed.

“He makes a good shot, I’m in trouble and I lose the point,” Medvedev said. “It’s tough. It’s not easy mentally to play against that.”

No one knows this better than Alcaraz. From 80 feet away, it is not at all difficult to see an enemy’s shoulders sag, his spirit broken, his head shake in shock and helplessness.

And nothing really helps things, in the moment or in the long term, like a little magic in thinking and hitting. That wild series of shots when the tension was rising is good for the game, both his and the broader one, he said, and above all it’s good for his soul.

“I always say I play better with a smile on my face,” he said. “Points like this don’t matter if I win or lose, they still make me smile. “I think it helps me continue to improve my game in matches and show my best tennis.”

Smart money says Alcaraz’s best tennis is yet to come.

(Top photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)