The Italian job: Jannik Sinner shines a light on his title credentials | Tennis News - Hindustan Times

The Italian job: Jannik Sinner shines a light on his title credentials at Australian Open 2024

By, New Delhi
Jan 23, 2024 10:47 PM IST

The fourth seed, still only 22, did a total reset two years ago; it has helped set up a mouth-watering Australian Open semi-final against Novak Djokovic.

It was 1:23am in Melbourne as Jannik Sinner swatted away a forehand in the quarterfinal against Andrey Rublev to seal a spot in his first Australian Open semi-final. The match had gone on for two hours and 39 minutes and both players had slugged it out from the back of the court. But the Italian's celebration -- he just bounced on his toes 4 times -- seemed to suggest that he could have done this all night if needed.

Italy's Jannik Sinner throws his towel towards fans after his men's singles quarter-final match against Russia's Andrey Rublev(AFP)
Italy's Jannik Sinner throws his towel towards fans after his men's singles quarter-final match against Russia's Andrey Rublev(AFP)

He had the energy to spare and it shouldn't surprise anyone because even before the 6-4 7-6(5) 6-3 win over fifth seed Rublev, few players on the tour have stood in the way of Sinner's red-hot streak. He is 17-1 in his last 18 matches -- two of the wins came against a certain Novak Djokovic.

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The confidence was on display against Rublev too. The clean ball-striking by both was a joy to behold but Sinner, the fourth seed, found a way to win the big points. The Russian worked his way to eight breakpoints. How many did he manage to convert? Zero.

Rublev was also leading 5-1 in the second set tiebreaker. But Sinner looked to stay aggressive and was perhaps helped by the wind. These moments were the dealbreakers during the first two sets when there was little to separate the two.

“Today was three sets but I could’ve lost both (the first two sets). He had so many break points and I served really well,” Sinner said during the on-court interview.

“At 5-1 (in the tiebreak) we changed ends and it was a little bit windy, so I knew I had a little bit of advantage. These kind of moments I really love to play. This is what I practice for and I’m really excited when we have these pressure points. It went my way today.”

Fortune does favour the brave and Sinner -- in his young career -- has been nothing if not brave.

Big changes

Two years ago, Sinner, then 20, made it to the Australian Open quarter-finals, losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas in a five-setter. But he wasn't happy with where his game was. So, he took a firm decision and by that February had parted ways with Riccardo Piatti and his entire coaching team. It wouldn't have been an easy decision when one considers that the Italian had worked for seven years under Piatti, whom he had left home to train with at 13.

He jumped into the deep end because he nursed ambitions of the Grand Slam kind. And he knew he needed to find a higher level. In came Simone Vagnozzi as head coach, fitness coach Umberto Ferrara and physio Giacomo Naldi. And Darren Cahill, who once coached Andre Agassi, was brought in to help as well.

The Sinner rebuild project was in full swing. But before he could run, he needed to learn to walk. So, he took time off the tour and started working on his fitness. That was the base that he wanted to build his game around.

Once he got that in order, he moved to his serve and made a mid-season adjustment. The spiral motion of his racquet has given way to a simpler circular motion. It was a small change but it takes a lot of hard work to implement something like that in practice.

This small retooling has seen him start to serve bigger and with greater consistency. The results speak for themselves: he is yet to drop a set at the Australian Open and has been broken just twice.

His movement around the court was already electric, his backhand (as pointed out by analyst Craig O’Shannessy on the ATP website) is hit with more topspin – in terms of revolutions – than anyone else on the tour; his serving has gone up a level too. The only thing that remains to be conquered is the mind and for that he works with Formula Medicine, an Italian mental training programme sometimes used by Formula 1 drivers.

"Process important as a player but also as a person," said Sinner. “We were talking before the tournament... the most important thing is the company you have. This will last you forever because I spend so much time with these people. The success comes, we are all happy. When it doesn't, we still have good company and try to have fun.”

Sinner, 22, has been one of the most talked-about players since he won the Next Gen ATP Finals in 2019, but seeing how he is rooted in reality shows why he is rated so highly on the tour. Players often go looking for change, but the direction is usually a mystery; but the Italian seems to know what he needs most.

He will need all of that tennis intelligence in the semi-final because waiting for him is Djokovic, who in Sinner's own words has won the Australian Open "some times". The world No.1 hasn't lost at Melbourne Park since 2018 and no challenge in men's tennis is greater at the moment.

“I’m really lucky to face him again," he said. "This is one of the biggest tournaments in the world, happy that I can play against the number one in the world – he's won here some times – but it’s going to be tough. The only thing I can control is that I will give 100 per cent and fight for every ball. We’ll see what the outcome will be.”

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