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Jannik Sinner will play Stan Wawrinka in the first round at Wimbledon on Monday.

Sinner: Skiing Sensation To Tennis Star

Italian was a ski champion before he turned his hand to tennis

Editor's note: this story was first published on 26 June 2022

At 20 years old, Jannik Sinner has already achieved so much.

The Italian has captured five tour-level titles, earned seven Top 10 wins and reached a career-high No. 9 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. On Monday, Sinner will aim to tick off another goal when he faces former World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka: his first win at Wimbledon.

However, despite all his success on court, things could have looked far different for Sinner if he had opted to pursue his interest in skiing instead of tennis when he was younger. The Italian spent large periods of his childhood descending down the mountains in the Italian Alps, where he won races and experienced thrills with friends.

“Skiing is quite a common sport to get into from where I am. There are a lot of ski slopes just literally outside of my front door,” Sinner told ATPTour.com. “I remember the first time I went skiing. My brother was having some lessons and I saw him and I wanted to go but my mum told me 'Not today'.

“I kept crying to her and asking and then she said ‘OK, let’s do this’. They were expecting me to go once and then I would go home. But I stayed all day until they closed the slopes. Then I went every day and loved it.”

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Sinner went on to become one of Italy’s top young skiers, winning trophies as he slalomed his way to glory between the ages of eight and 12. However, by 13, tennis became a priority.

“Tennis was my third sport when I was young as I also played football. Skiing was my priority and I played football and then slowly I started to stop football as it was simply too much,” Sinner said. “I was still skiing and playing tennis. I always loved to stay with my friends, but despite stopping football, I still saw them on the ski slopes because we were training together.

“Then one year I won many trophies when skiing, but then the year after I felt that physically, the others were so much stronger. I went out twice and didn’t feel comfortable anymore. I really loved playing tennis because everything was from my side. I had my head under control, which in skiing is very tough.”

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The element of danger is far higher in skiing compared to tennis, with athletes racing down the slopes at speeds of up to 80 mph. While Sinner had his fair share of scares, they weren’t the decisive factor that put him off competing.

“There were crashes, nothing really big, but some. Some crashes I kept sliding and couldn’t stop,” Sinner said. “There are moments when you get a little bit scared because you never know where you are going to finish. In some places there isn’t even a security net. I remember one crash where [I was training] with the poles and I had the pole hammer into my neck but I was ok. It is part of the sport.

“I loved and still love adrenaline. I love to go fast on the slopes, or in a car. I like going fast! I am not scared. I am just scared of snakes and horror films.”

Sinner has transitioned his fearless mentality from the slopes to the court, with this aspect of his game a major strength. The 2019 Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals champion has saved match points and come back to win four times this season, while he holds a 5-1 record in tour-level finals. Both statistics demonstrate his ability to rise under pressure.

“When the important moments are there on court, I feel that I am in a good frame of mind,” Sinner said. “I can control my emotions and play the way I want. I am working to have this aggressive feeling the whole match. Of course, there are moments when it is tougher. On crucial moments I bring out my playing style and I think I am quite an aggressive player. Usually on big points I am aggressive. I try to hit the ball aggressively and up until now, it has worked.”

Sinner has often prevailed when his back has been against the wall this year. However, he will be hoping that he won’t be pushed to the brink when he plays wild card Wawrinka on Court 2 in the first round at SW19 on Monday.

With a packed crowd expected, they might need to make room for coach Darren Cahill, who has been working alongside Sinner and Italian coach Simone Vagnozzi on a trial basis in June.

“We’ve been texting and staying in contact since Roland Garros this year,” Sinner said when discussing Cahill, who has coached Lleyton Hewitt, Andre Agassi and Simona Halep in the past. “After Rome, we called him [Cahill] to see if he has time to give me and my team maybe some help. Fortunately, he had time, so we managed to work together the week before Wimbledon. He is getting to know us a little bit more and yes, I have a good feeling about him.

“I hope he has the same feeling with us, but yes, I think it is something that me and also Simone have searched for, and trying to have some more conversations, some more details and I think it is going quite well and hopefully we can keep going.”

Over the next five months, whether Cahill is by his side or not, Sinner will continue to work hard as he chases more success. Then when the off-season comes, the Italian will make a return to the slopes as he continues to pursue skiing as a hobby.

"It is very important to switch off by doing stuff I like and skiing is one of those hobbies,” Sinner said, admitting his passion for skiing has not faded. “I just have to be careful now when I go this winter because I can’t go fast. My friends and I say that and we continued to go fast, but I can’t now, I have to be careful!”

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