For most athletes, endless training sessions and hours of practice are required from a young age to even think about becoming the best in their respective craft. For the next big name in Italian tennis, he was born to pick up a racquet.
Not taking up the sport seriously until the age of 12, Jannik Sinner has quickly risen to stardom that not even himself would’ve dreamed of all those years ago.
Born in the town of Innichen along the Austrian-Italian border, the 22-year-old officially burst onto the scene back in February 2019 by becoming the youngest Italian to win an ATP Challenger Tour title at 17.
Built somewhat of an unorthodox-like figure with a lanky and skinny stature, Sinner was no joke. In fact, his raw power and unique athleticism raised eyebrows from the very beginning.
Gradually climbing his way up the rankings, the new world number four would earn his first real breakthrough at the ATP Next Gen Finals in Milan at the end of 2019, a tournament comprising the top eight youngest players under 21 based on ranking points.
In a revamped format, Australia’s Alex De Minaur was on the receiving end of defeat in straight sets in front of Sinner’s home crowd.
The talent was and always will be present, but the next question, posed to many up-and-coming players who have vanished, would involve the ability to stay consistent.
Suffering from understandable growing pains early on, a win-loss record of 18-10 at grand slams until midyear of 2022 showed promising hope, including an astonishing quarter-final run at the French Open two seasons prior as a 19-year-old.
Despite two quarter-finals and three fourth-round appearances in majors up until that point, there was a feeling that the real Sinner was bubbling underneath the surface waiting to explode.
To uncover this, former Australian player and now tennis coach Darren Cahill was tasked with the responsibility of taking Sinner to the next level, commencing his role in June last year.
One of the most respected coaches in the game, the 58-year-old South Australian commented on the first impressions gained from working with the Italian prodigy.
“Jannik is one of the most interesting talents in tennis and so I have followed his evolution. And in person he confirmed the idea I had formed. An extremely polite guy, hard worker and passionate about his work,” Cahill told Gazzetta dello Sport in June 2022.
The strong foundations were undeniably there both on and off the court; it was just a matter of nailing down consistency.
Wins against two-time grand slam champion Stanislas Wawrinka, John Isner, and another young superstar Carlos Alcaraz one month later offered encouraging signs to enter another quarter-final; this time at Wimbledon.
Up two sets to love against Novak Djokovic, a heart-breaking defeat for Sinner would prove to be the first of many disappointments in the big moments.
Sinner’s last five slams have been rather underwhelming:
US Open 2022 – Quarter-final loss to Carlos Alcaraz (5 sets)
Australian Open 2023 – Fourth round loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas (5 sets)
French Open 2023 – Second round loss to Daniel Altmaier (5 sets)
Wimbledon 2023 – Semi-final loss to Novak Djokovic (3 sets)
US Open 2023 – Fourth round loss to Alexander Zverev (5 sets)
Whether it’s a mental barrier, pressure, lack of fitness, or a combination of everything, agonising five-set defeats on a continual basis have proved incredibly frustrating for any Sinner fan.
In all five of those examples, there were certain times during the match that the northern-Italian would make rash decisions, leading to unforced errors and simply not demonstrating the ability to stay in the right mindset.
Although still young, there is every possibility that Sinner could turn out as a ‘nearly’ man; hovering around the fringes, but never quite reaching his undeniable potential.
All of a sudden, that’s all changed in the past few months.
Before the 2023 season commenced, to say Sinner struggled against top-five opponents is an understatement, as he won only once on 16 occasions.
Flipping that stat on its head, Sinner will round off the calendar year with a 10-5 win-loss record. Furthermore, he’s been on the winning end of 10 of his past 11 ties against top 10 players, including two awe-inspiring victories against Djokovic.
No player in the men’s game is in hotter form than the former Next Gen Finals winner, claiming his first Masters 1000 title in Toronto against De Minaur along with titles in Beijing and Vienna.
Finally, the tennis world is witnessing Sinner’s game fall into place against the top players; something that was severely lacking.
Much like his countryman in Matteo Berrettini, Sinner has the unique talent of taking the racquet out of his opponent’s hand through his power from both wings and controlling proceedings from the baseline where he has the predominant serve and modern-day defensive maneuvers to effectively counterpunch.
Before the start of October, Sinner had failed to beat world number three Daniil Medvedev in six previous meetings. Turning the tide in emphatic fashion, Italy’s new gem has beaten the former US Open champion three times in the space of 46 days.
It was the recent Davis Cup in Málaga, however, where Sinner announced himself as the real deal, laying those doubts around mental barriers, pressure, and fitness to bed. 0-40 and three match points down to Djokovic in the semi-finals, Sinner pulled himself out of the biggest hole of his career to complete a sensational win for the ages.
Pressure? What pressure? At 22, Sinner kept his nation’s dream alive with a performance built on perseverance and grit. This kid has some commendable character.
Not only that, but to back it up the following day in the final against De Minaur to win 6-3 6-0 gave an insight into his fitness becoming less of an issue than it has been in previous tournaments. The most recent example was against Zverev at the US Open after suffering from cramp.
Notwithstanding this rich vein of momentum, many players have experienced spurts of dominance and failed to maintain consistency. Think back to Medvedev’s unreal stretch of form during the US swing two years ago and Alcaraz’s run of positive results midyear.
Sinner’s influence in helping Italy lift the Davis Cup trophy for the first time in 47 years was the crowning juncture in an already promising career.
Perhaps, the upcoming break will hamper Sinner’s rhythm, but who says he can’t win the Australian Open in two months’ time?
Confidence is everything in an individual sport. Now that Sinner has beaten the best, the floodgates may just have opened.