Spotlight: Jannik Sinner’s meteoric rise

Published by Matt Trollope

Jannik Sinner in action at the US Open, where he qualified for the main draw and stretched Stan Wawrinka to four sets (Getty Images)
Jannik Sinner’s stunning defeat of Gael Monfils in Antwerp has pushed the Italian teen to the brink of the top 100. Here’s how he got to this point.

Italian teenager Jannik Sinner caused perhaps the boilover of the week so far with a straight-sets destruction of No.1 seed Gael Monfils in the second round of the ATP tournament in Antwerp.

But for those who have followed Sinner’s progress closely in 2019, this was perhaps an unsurprising outcome.

Sinner, who turned 18 just two months ago, is in the midst of a breakout season, with the victory over Monfils his 51st of the year. 

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Having ended 2018 as the world No.763, he has since risen to 119th thanks to winning four titles in the space of nine months. He is projected to move up to No.108 with his quarterfinal run in Antwerp this week.

So how did Sinner get to this point? We shine a spotlight on his previous 12 months. 

October 22, 2018: At this time last year, Sinner was contesting a 15K ITF Futures events in Monastir, Tunisia. After two wins, he withdrew from his quarterfinal against local Aziz Dougaz and played just one more match for the year, falling in the first round of the ATP Challenger tournament in Andria, Italy.

January 2019: Sinner begun the season inauspiciously, playing a series of three tournaments in the same Tunisian city of Monastir and going 2-3. On the indoor hard courts of Almaty, Kazakhstan two weeks later, the Italian found some form with a semifinal finish at the 25K Futures event there.

February 18, 2019: Then ranked No.546, Sinner won his first career title, at the ATP Challenger tournament in Bergamo, Italy. He became the youngest Italian winner of a Challenger event in history — he was then 17 — and the youngest player to win a Challenger since a 17-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime triumphed two years earlier in Seville. “Last year I had a mental block against Top 500 players. I couldn’t beat one. Here in Bergamo it was the first time, then after the first round I felt very good,” he told atptour.com. “I went to Tunisia with the wrong mentality and I had a bit of confusion in my head. Now I found myself and I hope to continue in this way.”

March 31, 2019: Sinner extended his winning streak to 16 with a 6-1 6-1 rout of Andrea Pellegrino in the ITF Futures final at Santa Margherita Di Pula in Italy. It was his third title in a row, after Bergamo and the ITF 25K tournament in Trento. By this point, he’d improved his ranking to the cusp of the top 300.

April 29, 2019: The Italian embarked on another impressive run through a tournament draw, this time at the ATP Challenger tournament on clay in Ostrava. He beat five opponents to arrive in final — his fourth of 2019 — where he was ultimately overwhelmed by Kamil Majchrzak.

May 13, 2019: In just his second ever ATP event, Sinner defeated then-No.59 Steve Johnson in the first round of the Rome Masters — the highest-ranked player he had ever defeated. The 1-6 6-1 7-5 win, during which he trailed 5-2 in the third set and saved a match point, came on the tournament’s centre court and set up a second-round clash with eighth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who went on to beat the 17-year-old in straight sets. “In the first set, sometimes maybe I rushed a little bit too much. But anyways I’m very proud that I could get the situation under control,” he said. “It’s the biggest tournament in Italy. So it’s never easy to play with such a big crowd. I’m very happy.”

June 25, 2019: After qualifying for his next two ATP events on clay in Lyon and grass in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Sinner played at the Wimbledon qualifying event in Roehampton, pushing seasoned Australian player Alex Bolt to the limit in a high-quality affair which Bolt ultimately claimed 2-6 7-5 12-10. “He played some quality tennis and I somehow just weathered the storm,” a relieved Bolt told tennis.com.au. “He’s ridiculous. For a set and a half he completely outplayed me and I couldn’t have a play on the ball, he was by far the better player on court. If he can just keep that level for longer periods of time he’s going to be a very good player.”

August 5, 2019: It did not take long for Sinner to avenge his Wimbledon qualifying defeat to Bolt. Less than six weeks later, he faced the Australian in the Lexington Challenger final and beat him in three sets for his fourth title of 2019. The youngest player in the top 200 rose 59 places to No.135 with the title. “I’m not thinking too much about these kinds of things,” he told atptour.com. “We are just trying improve my game every week. That’s the first goal. Of course, if you win it’s better. If you’re winning two Challengers, that means you’re playing very good tennis. I think I’ve done a great job with that.”

August 27, 2019: After winning three rounds of qualifying to reach the US Open main draw — he dropped 6-0 sets on two of those opponents — Sinner lined up against 2016 champion Stan Wawrinka in the first round. And despite going down to the three-time major champion, it was an intense, four-set affair that made many sit up and take notice.

September 17, 2019: Now ranked No.127, the Italian announced via his Instagram account that he had received the NextGen ATP Finals wildcard for an local player to contest the eight-player tournament in Milan. Previously, the wildcard was determined following a play-off event featuring young Italian players.

October 17, 2019: After reaching another Challenger semifinal in France, Sinner stunned 13th ranked Gael Monfils in the second round in Antwerp for the loss of just five games — the biggest win of his career in terms of an opponent’s ranking and sending him through to his first tour-level quarterfinal. Should the wildcard beat Frances Tiafoe in his next match, it’s a victory which would likely see him crack the world’s top 100.

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