In the Sinner's circle: Italian wild card living up to Next Gen hype

In the Sinner's circle: Italian wild card living up to Next Gen hype

Ranked No. 553 in January, the 18-year-old has catapulted up the rankings to move into the Top 100, thanks to a strong fall.

From 23-year old Matteo Berrettini qualifying for the ATP Finals to the fiery veteran Fabio Fognini making his Top-10 debut earlier this year at the age of 32, it’s been quite the season for Italian tennis on the men’s side.

The only thing left age-wise is to conquer the youth market and based upon recent results, it appears that 18-year-old Jannik Sinner is the one to do it.

Receiving a wild card into the ATP Next Generation Finals, held this week in Italy, Sinner’s campaign got off to a strong start as he defeated Frances Tiafoe in his opening match, consolidating the win with a straight set victory over Mikael Ymer to go up 2-0. It’s the second time in a month that he’s topped the higher-ranked American, having beaten him a few weeks ago in the quarterfinals at the European Open in Antwerp, Belgium.

Three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka stopped him from going further, knocking the youngster out of the tournament in straight sets—a much easier encounter than their first one at the last Grand Slam of the year.


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At the US Open, Sinner—having qualified for the main draw of a major for the first time—faced the 2016 winner of the tournament and gave him all he could handle, as he dropped two close sets, then won the third, before falling 6-3 in the fourth.

Starting the 2018 ATP Tour season off as a 16-year-old, Sinner spent that whole campaign playing Futures events, reaching one final over the course of the year. He entered 2019 ranked in the 500s, a solid place for a 17-year-old to be. But showing that he’s a generational talent, the Italian soon won two Futures tournaments and also picked up two titles on the Challenger circuit, as well: In February before his compatriots in Bergamo, Italy, and over the summer in Lexington, Ky., with both wins coming on hard courts.

While his game appears to be built for faster conditions, Sinner has also proven that he can grind it out on a clay court, as his first notable win at the tour level came in Rome this year against the veteran American Steve Johnson. He lost his next match to Stefanos Tsitsipas, the defending Next Gen champion who qualified for the ATP Finals this year, and has said that was a learning experience, showing him the high level of ability of the game’s elite.

 

It’s a lesson he’s obviously learned well, having posted wins against such players as Gael Monfils, Tiafoe and Philipp Kohlschreiber the past several weeks. Sinner, whose sports endeavors actually started out on the slopes as a skier, has a solid team behind him as he’s coached by Riccardo Piatti, who worked with Novak Djokovic when he was starting out, as well as Milos Raonic and Borna Coric, among others.

Having risen hundreds of spots in the rankings in less than a year’s time at such a young age, Sinner won’t be able to catch any of his peers on the ATP Tour unaware as his results have brought him a lot of attention. Though he was awarded a wild card for the Next Gen Finals this week, he was close to earning a spot on his own merit after the withdrawals of some of the young players near the top of the Race to Milan leaderboard, such as Tsitsipas and Denis Shapovalov. He’s sure to be in the mix for a return to the tournament the next couple of years—unless he follows in his countryman Berrettini’s and Tsitsipas’ footsteps and makes his way to ATP Finals, for the top eight players in the world, first.