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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 17 April 2024

Football-mad Italy now obsessed with Australian Open winner Jannik Sinner

Next generation is something that tennis needs, says 22-year-old grand slam winner

Our Bureau Melbourne, Cortina D’Ampezzo Published 30.01.24, 07:58 AM
Jannik Sinner.

Jannik Sinner. File picture

Football-mad Italy has a new obsession. Jannik Sinner’s performance on the tennis court has captured the country’s attention.

And not just for the way Sinner rallied from two sets down to beat Daniil Medvedev and win the Australian Open title on Sunday.

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Ever since Sinner reached the ATP Finals championship match at home in Turin and then played a leading role in Italy’s Davis Cup triumph on consecutive weeks in November, he’s been taking over the headlines from soccer.

Even Pope Francis, who is known for his passion for football, congratulated the youngster. The Pope complimented Sinner while giving an audience to members of a tennis club from Barcelona, a Vatican statement said. “We have to congratulate the Italians because they won in Australia yesterday,” he said.

With accolades pouring in for the young champion, his coach Darren Cahill felt Sunday’s victory would only whet the Italian’s appetite for more grand slam success.

The world No.4 rallied from two sets down at Rod Laver Arena to stun 2021 US Open champion Medvedev 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 and claim his first major.

“We believe in Jannik, we always have. He’s a special young kid,” Cahill said. “Even the way he hits the ball, it just sounds special.

“He’s absorbing everything and trying new things on the court, and he just wants to get better. I’m sure after this sinks in he won’t settle. He’ll never settle. He wants to get better.”

Sinner, 22, and Carlos Alcaraz, 20, are spearheading a new generation of talent trying to loosen Novak Djokovic’s grip on the grand slams. Alcaraz already has two major crowns to his name and Cahill said Sinner is “chasing” the Spaniard.

“Carlos has trail-blazed for a lot of young players. We’re thankful for that. He’s a delight to watch play and a delight to watch him on court,” he added.

Sinner, however, was not about to announce the end of the rule of the “Big Three” — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. But he did believe tennis needed a fresh generation of champions.

Djokovic’s incredible success into his mid-thirties has delayed the decline of trio’s domination, but with Federer now retired and Nadal looking set to join him this year, a huge gap is opening up at the top of the game.

“It’s quite unpredictable what’s coming in the future but still it’s nice to be part of this generation,” Sinner said as he was photographed with his winner’s trophy in Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens on Monday.

“I think the next generation is something that this sport needs and it’s also a little bit of a game-changer.”

Sinner, 22, was the youngest Australian Open men’s champion since Djokovic won the first of his 10 Melbourne Park titles in 2008 and even though he beat the 24-time grand slam champion in the semi-finals, the Italian was not inviting comparisons.

“He is in a different league,” he said. “I’m just happy I have this trophy for this year and then we see what’s coming. There is still a lot of work to do but I will enjoy my process and then we see what I can achieve in the future.”

The attention on Sinner is also because no Italian man had won a grand slam singles title in nearly a half-century — since Adriano Panatta raised the French Open trophy in 1976.

“And trust me, this is just the first of many grand slam finals,” said Flavia Pennetta, the last Italian woman to win a grand slam after beating compatriot Roberta Vinci in the 2015 US Open final.

“Italy is on top of the tennis world,” said 90-year-old Nicola Pietrangeli, the only other Italian man to win a grand slam singles title, having won the 1959 and 1960 French Opens.

Not since Valentino Rossi was dominating motorcycle racing, Marco Pantani was the world’s top cyclist or Alberto Tomba was winning Olympic skiing medals has a non-soccer athlete gained so much attention in Italy.

What’s different about Sinner from Rossi, Pantani and Tomba is that Sinner is from the German-speaking area of Italy. He left home for the Italian Riviera to train with Riccardo Piatti, now his former coach, at the age of 13.

In Sinner’s tiny hometown of Sesto (population 1,860) near the Austrian border, about 70 people gathered inside the two-court indoor tennis facility where Sinner first played to watch the final.

It might have been a bigger celebration but the town is in mourning after a mother and two children were recently killed in an auto accident.

Written with inputs from AP/PTI, Reuters

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