This time last year, Jannik Sinner had just cracked the ATP’s Top 100. He was competing primarily on the Challenger circuit, with a few ATP tournaments sprinkled into his schedule. Fast forward one year, and the Italian phenom is one win away from his first career ATP final—and two wins from his first ATP title. If he is successful in Sofia, tennis trivia buffs would do well to remember this tournament.
But first, the impossibly clean ball-striker will face a difficult test against silky-smooth Frenchman Adrian Mannarino. On paper, it’s fair to expect a comprehensive victory in the Italian’s favor. He is far more talented, and the crisp and still indoor conditions only assist his laser-like groundstrokes. Though he’s still a teenager, and hasn’t yet filled out his lanky frame, few players hit the ball harder than Sinner. His ability to create pace is unmatched for anyone his age.
But match ups are everything in tennis, and Mannarino— who owns some of the most compact strokes on tour—eats pace for breakfast. After a miserable start to the year, losing in the first round in seven of his eight tournaments, Mannarino has righted the ship, and owns an 8-2 record in his last 10 matches. Much like his compatriot Gilles Simon, you simply can’t bash balls by him. His hands are too quick, he keeps the ball too low, and owns a dizzying array of spins and angles. Against a counterpuncher extraordinaire like Mannarino, patience really is a virtue. Sinner must pick and choose his spots, as the 10-time ATP finalist would love nothing more than to redirect the 19-year-old’s pace all over the court.
According to an ATP player, the Head balls used in Sofia are extremely heavy and low bouncing. Mannarino likes it low, and being one of the savviest competitors on tour, he will surely keep the ball far away from the Italian’s wheelhouse.
The odds are stacked against him, but Mannarino’s signature on-the-rise backhand will serve him well.
Not only can he redirect the ball to Sinner’s (slightly) weaker forehand wing, he’ll also deprive him of valuable time to wind up his explosive groundstrokes. If he junks it up, like he does here against Thiem, he can remove the Italian from his comfort zone.
Despite the somewhat favorable matchup for the Frenchman, who thrives on diverting his opponent’s pace, the oddsmakers peg Sinner as a massive -400 favorite, with a projected 6-4, 6-3 scoreline. While Sinner should find a way to win on Friday, -400 is a steep price against a savvy veteran like Mannarino. In the end, Sinner should blast his way to the finish line, but by no means should we expect a blowout.
The Pick: Jannik Sinner in three sets