Sinner's Rapid Rise From Watching To Playing In Milan

Italian ready for Next Gen ATP Finals debut

Nearly 12 months ago, Jannik Sinner was in the stands watching the Next Gen ATP Finals. He was in Milan to compete in the Red Bull Next Gen Open, which runs alongside the tournament, and wanted to see “how the players like Denis Shapovalov and Frances Tiafoe are playing, especially in the important points.”

This year, he’ll experience it firsthand.

The 18-year-old’s breakout season continues in Milan via the wild card reserved for an Italian player. But Sinner’s results this year prove that he’ll blend right in when he begins his quest for the title. His recent highlights include his first ATP Tour semi-final in Antwerp and becoming the youngest player currently inside the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings.

“I think I’ve played a very good season and am making good results, so I’m happy to be part of the best eight players for the Next Gen ATP Finals,” Sinner said. “It means a lot for me to be able to play on home soil in Milan. Hopefully I can play here again in the future.

“I’m perhaps a bit surprised because the beginning of the season was not so good. My goal wasn’t so much on the results, but just trying to improve my game. I think I’m mentally strong this year and am just trying to keep pushing on that part.”

What the modest Sinner doesn’t reveal is that his “not so good” start to the season included becoming the youngest Italian to win an ATP Challenger Tour title, prevailing in front of a home crowd this February in Bergamo. Two months later, he picked up his first ATP Tour main draw win in Budapest.

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Sinner continued to draw attention in his first ATP Masters 1000 event at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. He saved a match point to defeat American Steve Johnson, then hit plenty of shots for the highlight reel in a competitive loss to fellow #NextGenATP star Stefanos Tsitsipas. Sinner joked before the match that he had an advantage because the Greek didn’t know who he was, but it’s safe to say that’s no longer the case.

“Being on the centre court in Rome was a very special feeling, especially to have the whole crowd cheering for you,” Sinner said. “My parents were there for the match. There was obviously some tension in the beginning, but I always believed in myself.

“Playing against Tsitsipas, I tried to understand his level compared to where I was. That was probably the most important part of the tournament for me. It was a bit strange having so many people around me, but I enjoyed this. I still have so much to learn on and off the court, so I’m happy to be in these big events.”

Sinner’s speedy climb up the ATP Rankings has been on his own terms. He first picked up a racquet at age three, but played sparingly as competitive skiing and football served as his main childhood passions. But at age 10, his father brought him to the courts once more and he took to the sport.

Three years later, Sinner committed to tennis and moved away to train at the academy of world-renowned coach Riccardo Piatti. From the moment he arrived, the coaches at the academy knew they were witnessing something special.

“I remember there were many coaches watching on my first day there and they were all excited to see me play. They were very sure about what they were doing and always tried to help me on court, so this made me feel more sure about my decision to go there,” Sinner said. “It wasn’t easy to leave home, but I was happy I could live in a kind of family where the father is my coach, Riccardo. It was like a friendship and everything went smoothly.”

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It was Piatti who supported Sinner’s decision to largely eschew junior tournaments from a young age. The learning curve was steep as the baby-faced teenager faced off against men who were much bigger and stronger, but he quickly adapted. Less than 18 months after turning his attention to pro events, Sinner found himself competing on the ATP Tour.

“This decision to play at a high level was very important for me,” Sinner said. "My team helped me get some wild cards. You can get into the rhythm of a match more easily at the junior level, but it’s tough to play for one whole match or one whole tournament at the pro level. Even playing many ATP Tour events this year will help me.”

Sinner’s long-term focus is largely due to his unwavering self-belief. Behind the shy personality and modest assessment of his season is a confidence that he can create headlines on the ATP Tour for years to come. It’s an asset which will serve him well in Milan.

“I’ve never been in doubt about being a good tennis player. You have ups and downs, which is normal in our sport, but you have to be on top of your mentality,” Sinner said. "I’m a very nice guy on and off the court. That’s the most important part for me. But I want my opponents to feel under pressure before the match even starts. I hope they think that they’ll have to be on top of their game for the whole match.”