A packed day of sporting action saw Arsenal extend their lead at the top of the Premier League table, Barcelona inch closer to the La Liga title with a late El Clasico win against Real Madrid, and the Indian Wells winners crowned in Carlos Alcaraz and Elena Rybakina.
Here’s a look at the key stories from international sporting events through the day for 20 March, 2023:
Alcaraz back to No 1
Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz swept past Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 6-2 on Sunday to win the Indian Wells ATP Masters 1000 and secure his return to number one in the world.
US Open champion Alcaraz ended Medvedev’s 19-match winning streak, denying him a fourth title in as many tournaments to ensure he will supplant Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic atop the rankings.
“It feels amazing to lift the trophy here, to recover the No. 1,” Alcaraz said. “I would say this has been the perfect tournament.”
Serbia’s Djokovic, barred from entering the United States because he hasn’t been vaccinated against Covid-19, sat out Indian Wells and will miss the Miami Open starting this week, where Alcaraz is the defending champion.
Alcaraz, 19, who became the youngest world number one ever after his triumph at Flushing Meadows last year, claimed his third Masters 1000 title and joined compatriot Rafael Nadal as the only players to win at least three as a teenager. Nadal won six before turning 20.
He was unstoppable on Stadium Court, breaking through what he’d called the “wall” of Medvedev’s formidable defenses.
Medvedev, coming off titles in Rotterdam, Doha and Dubai, could find no answer as Alcaraz fired winners from all over the court, defying the windy conditions.
“Daniil obviously didn’t play at his best level, but I’m very happy for my performance and how I played this tournament.”
He said the big change in him since a semi-final defeat to Nadal last year at Indian Wells was his comfort level on the game’s biggest stages.
“I think my tennis didn’t improve so much since last year. What I improve a lot is to not take the pressure, just to play relaxed. That, for me, is the most important thing.
“That’s why I show a great level, because I feel like I have no pressure. I enjoy.”
Medvedev certainly wasn’t able to ratchet up the pressure on him.
A stinging backhand winner gave Alcaraz an early break in the opening set as he raced to a 3-0 lead.
He gave himself a set point with a sharply angled forehand volley and sealed it with an unreturnable serve, then won the first 10 points of the second set on the way to a 4-0 lead.
He didn’t face a break point as he polished it off in one hour and 11 minutes, a diving volley winner giving him match point that he converted with another service winner.
“I expected a tougher match,” he said. “Against him is always a tactic match, and I did perfect today. That’s why it looks easy – but it wasn’t.”
Alcaraz has returned to number one despite a late start to the year. Injury forced him to miss the Australian Open, where Djokovic claimed a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title.
“The week was amazing,” added Medvedev never a fan of the slow hard courts of Indian Wells.
“I had a pretty toxic relationship with the courts here,” he said during the trophy ceremony as he reeled off a long list of those to thank. “I would like to thank this court. I was giving a hard time to it, so it gave me a hard time also, rolled my ankle, but it gave me the chance to finish the tournament so thanks a lot to this court.”
Rybakina beats Sabalenka
Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina edged Aryna Sabalenka 7-6 (13/11), 6-4 on Sunday to win the Indian Wells WTA title and avenge her loss to the Belarusian in the Australian Open final.
Kazakhstan’s Rybakina, the world number 10 who ousted top-ranked defending champion Iga Swiatek in the semi-finals, followed up with her first victory over second-ranked Sabalenka in five career meetings.
Rybakina, projected to rise to seventh in the world, handed Sabalenka just her second defeat of the year, denying her a third title to go with a win in Adelaide that presaged her first Grand Slam triumph at Melbourne.
“It’s actually the first time it goes my way,” Rybakina said as she accepted the trophy, a smiling Sabalenka leaning to the microphone to interject, “I will make sure it was the last one.”
“We’ll see next time,” Rybakina laughed.
The banter belied another tense battle between the two, who had gone to three sets in all four prior encounters.
“It was a rollercoaster,” Rybakina said. “With all these double faults, I think we were both so tight, because we both knew that it’s not easy with our serves to hold it but also to try to break. It’s been just a rollercoaster and I’m happy that the first set went my way so the second was a bit easier.”
“I think I was super disappointed with myself after the first set, especially coming back, and then she had a set point, then you kind of hold it,” said Sabalenka, who was kicking herself for going for bigger serves than she needed on her set points.
“There is no pressure on me, why would I go for bigger serves? Just serve to the body and just play the point,” she said. “I was over-hitting.”
She admitted that her failure to convert set points on her own serve was discouraging and affected her early in the second set.
Rybakina has now won her past four matches against top-two opponents. She beat then No. 2 Ons Jabeur at Wimbledon and has beaten Swiatek twice this year – including a stunning fourth-round upset at the Australian Open.
She’s the first Indian Wells WTA champion to beat both the No. 1 and No. 2 players on the way to the title.
Results on Sunday in the WTA and ATP Masters 1000 hard court tennis tournament at Indian Wells, California (x denotes seeded player):
Carlos Alcaraz (ESP x1) bt Daniil Medvedev (RUS x5) 6-3, 6-2
Elena Rybakina (KAZ x10) bt Aryna Sabalenka (BLR x2) 7-6 (13/11), 6-4
Arsenal cruise against Crystal Palace
Arsenal surged eight points clear at the top of the Premier League as Bukayo Saka’s brace inspired a 4-1 rout of Crystal Palace on Sunday.
Gabriel Martinelli opened the scoring in the first half at the Emirates Stadium to put the leaders on course for a sixth successive league victory.
It was redemption for Martinelli, whose missed penalty condemned Arsenal to Europa League last 16 defeat in their shoot-out against Sporting Lisbon on Thursday.
Mikel Arteta’s side needed just 45 minutes against struggling Palace to erase the bitter taste of that loss.
Saka followed Martinelli’s goal by doubling Arsenal’s lead before half-time.
Granit Xhaka netted the third after the interval and Jeff Schlupp’s reply was no consolation as the influential Saka’s second capped Arsenal’s stylish display.
Arsenal now have a substantial eight-point lead over second placed Manchester City, who took the weekend off from Premier League duty to thrash Burnley in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Saturday.
With a game in hand on Arsenal and a crucial clash with the Gunners looming on April 26, Pep Guardiola’s champions will still believe they can win a fifth title in six seasons.
But heading into the international break, Arsenal have ensured the fate of the title race will be in their hands in the final 10 games.
“I’m really pleased with the way we reacted after the Sporting game. We showed a lot of determination,” Arteta said.
“It feels very good, especially with the way we have played and the results we have picked up.
“The desire and energy impressed me. They must come back from the international break with the same mindset they had before.”
Arteta reserved special praise for Saka, who is the first player to reach at least 10 goals and 10 assists in the Premier League this season.
“The whole team did really well but Bukayo was really good today, affecting the result with his contribution,” he said.
“That is what we need. We need our front players firing and making the difference and today they did that again.”
Barca triumph in El Clasico
Barcelona snatched a 2-1 Clasico win over Real Madrid with Franck Kessie’s late goal Sunday to move 12 points clear at the top of La Liga.
The victory dents Madrid’s ambitions of retaining the title and leaves the Catalans close to lifting the trophy for the first time since 2019.
Carlo Ancelotti’s Madrid took the lead through a Ronald Araujo own goal but Barcelona pulled level when Sergi Roberto tucked home just before half-time.
Both sides had chances to win the game and Marco Asensio struck for Madrid, but the goal was ruled offside by VAR, before Alejandro Balde set up Kessie in the 92nd minute.
“It’s not definitive but it’s a very important step,” Xavi told reporters.
“Twelve points clear at the top of La Liga, we are having an extraordinary league campaign, I am very happy for that and proud to watch the team play.”
Barcelona had significantly more possession than in their cup win over Madrid and significantly more chances, but Madrid nearly won it.
Madrid substitute Asensio fired home but the goal was ruled out for offside after a nervy wait for VAR instruction.
“We did not win because of an offside that we’re still doubtful about,” complained Ancelotti.
“I was not so sure. We have doubts about it, and we go back to Madrid with this doubt.”
Barcelona seemed content with the draw but Kessie’s last-gasp strike sparked wild celebrations at Camp Nou.
“I don’t have the feeling (the league is won) but I understand the fans singing ‘campeones – it’s a considerable advantage but we can’t relax,” added Xavi.
“The atmosphere was extraordinary, how the fans supported the team.”
United progress in FA Cup
Manchester United set up a FA Cup semi-final against Brighton in remarkable fashion as Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic was sent off for pushing the referee in a 3-1 defeat at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Mitrovic was shown one of three Fulham red cards in a matter of seconds as he barged into Chris Kavanagh for awarding United a penalty after a VAR review for Willian’s handball on the line.
The Brazilian was also dismissed, along with Fulham manager Marco Silva on the touchline.
United took advantage as two goals from Bruno Fernandes and Marcel Sabitzer’s first for the club kept Erik ten Hag’s men on course for a treble of cup competitions.
“Mitro should control his emotions a bit,” said Silva. “If he wants to give me the red card I have to accept it because he didn’t listen to me at all. As I left my area I have to accept it.”
Fulham’s fury was partly born out of a penalty appeal for a foul on Mitrovic in the first half that VAR did not intervene to award.
“It is a shame the ref wasn’t shown VAR for the first-half moments,” added Silva. “It is difficult to be Fulham at Old Trafford, the VAR feels the pressure too.”
“This team has great character,” said Ten Hag after his side shrugged off the fatigue of playing away to Real Betis in the Europa League on Thursday.
“We are mentally and physically fit, and I’m happy with our progress as a team.”
Earlier, Brighton dashed League Two Grimsby’s dreams of a trip to Wembley with a 5-0 thrashing.
Fourth-tier Grimsby had made history on their way to the quarter-finals by beating five sides from higher divisions. But Paul Hirst’s men were caught out by the class of in-form Brighton, who are eyeing the club’s first ever major trophy.
Sheffield United will face Manchester City in the other semi-final after a City loanee Tommy Doyle scored a stunning stoppage time winner to beat Blackburn 3-2.
City booked their place in the semi-finals on Saturday as Erling Haaland scored his sixth hat-trick of the season in a 6-0 thrashing of Championship leaders Burnley 6-0.
Perez leads Red Bull sweep in Saudi Arabian GP
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez flexed his street circuit muscles with dramatic effect on Sunday by storming to victory ahead of team-mate Max Verstappen at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
While the top two were clear cut, the next two places remained in confusion long after the race had finished with Fernando Alonso first stripped of third place and then reinstated in the early hours of Monday morning.
Perez, a 33-year-old Mexican, came home 5.355 seconds clear of the defending double world champion as Red Bull reeled off a masterful one-two triumph, the Dutchman having stormed through the field from 15th on the grid.
Verstappen also clocked the fastest lap of the race on the final lap to retain his lead of the embryonic drivers’ championship, snatching it back from Perez as they duelled at high speed.
It was Perez’s fifth career win having previously triumphed in Monte Carlo and Singapore to earn his reputation as a ‘street fighter’.
Two-time world champion Alonso finished a stirring third on track for Aston Martin to claim a 100th podium finish on his record-extending 357th start.
That place was initially taken from him. He had received a five-second penalty for starting outside his grid position. When he tried to serve it during a pit stop, stewards ruled a jack had touched the car too soon and they hit Alonso with a 10-second penalty.
George Russell rose to third for Mercedes.
But Aston Martin requested a review and showed stewards videos of similar incidents that went unpunished. Stewards accepted that it was not clear the offence had broken Formula One rules and lifted the punishment.
Alonso was back to third followed by the two Mercedes cars of Russell and Lewis Hamilton.
Next were the Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, who started 12th. Esteban Ocon and his Alpine team-mate Pierre Gasly occupied the next two places.
New Zealand sweep Test series
New Zealand claimed victory against Sri Lanka by an innings and 58 runs on Monday, securing a 2-0 Test series whitewash despite a late fightback from the visitors.
Sri Lanka notched just 164 in their first innings and were asked to follow on after the Black Caps declared at 580 in Wellington. They were then bowled out for 358.
Dhananjaya de Silva had launched a fightback on Monday, passing 3,000 Test runs before being caught on 98, missing a 10th Test century.
New Zealand’s seamers had already sniffed victory when they broke his 76-run partnership with debutant wicketkeeper Nishan Madushka, who was caught just before the tea break.
The loss of De Silva signalled the end of the resistance – Sri Lanka lost their last three wickets for 40 runs as the tailenders were picked off.
New Zealand skipper Tim Southee and seamer Blair Tickner did most of the damage with three wickets apiece.
That also brought an end to the current cycle of World Test Championships:
Final WTC standings
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With text inputs from AFP
Updated through the day