Sinner Garners The Biggest Win Of His Career, Much To The Delight Of The Turin Faithful

Jannik Sinner (photo: Giampiero Sposito/FITP)

TURIN/WASHINGTON, November 15, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

Jannik Sinner has often patterned his all-court tennis game after World No. 1 Novak Djokovic. From the power of his first serve and the quality of his forehand ground strokes to the manner in which he handles the mental aspects of competing against the best players on the ATP Tour.

So, it should come as no surprise that Sinner would put it all together to finally beat Djokovic for the first time in their third career head-to-head meeting.

On Tuesday evening with the support of plenty of Italian fans that filled the Pala Alpitour in Turin, many of them shouting “Forza Jannik!”, the World No. 4 Sinner snapped Djokovic’s 19-match winning streak with a dramatic 7-5, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (2) triumph in three hours and nine minutes at the Nitto ATP Finals to move atop the Green Group at 2-0. The loss dropped the defending champion and six-time titlist Djokovic to 1-1.

The 22-year-old South Tyrolean from San Candido became the first player to beat the 24-time major champion since the Serbian lost to Carlos Alcaraz of Spain in the Wimbledon final back in July. He did it by forcing Djokovic to play much of Tuesday’s match from behind in the score, winning the final nine points of the opening set after breaking from 40-0, then holding at love. Later, after the match had eclipsed the three-hour mark, Sinner won the first five points of the decisive tie-break after which there was no looking back. The Pala Alpitour faithful wouldn’t let Sinner fail.

Instead, Sinner played courageously like he had all evening long, mixing power with some well-timed and placed drop shots. Djokovic, 36, simply was unable to handle the extreme pressure the young Italian dished out. Sinner closed out the tie-break on match point with a convincing overhead winner that completed one final five-shot rally. He raised his arms in celebration, then met Djokovic at the net. The two competitors, of a similar height and build but with 14 years difference in age, exchanged a warm, friendly embrace.

“It’s part of the process. I feel that I’m a little bit more confident in certain moments in a match,” Sinner explained during his on-court interview following his victory. “I think I was really brave and intelligent in important moments, especially the third set. I felt like we were both serving really well so there were not so many exchanges, but when the exchanges were played, we both played really well.

“That was a really high-level match.”

Indeed, both players finished the evening with 109 points each. Sinner hit 15 aces and struck 37 overall winners, while Djokovic counted with 19 aces and 46 winners. Sinner won 79 percent of his first-serve points while Djokovic finished at 81 percent. Sinner converted two of three break points and Djokovic had one break of Sinner’s serve. It came at 2-4 in the final set, which helped to set the stage for a memorable ending.

Sinner has crafted a career-best 2023 season by playing high-level tennis. He’s captured four ATP Tour titles, including his first ATP Masters 1000 crown in Toronto, and won a personal-high 59 matches (most by an Italian man in Open Era). Also, Sinner is 10-5 against Top 10 opponents and he’s compiled an outstanding 15-1 indoor record.

Afterward, Djokovic praised Sinner during his post-match press conference. “He deserved to win because in important moments I wasn’t I guess aggressive enough, I wasn’t decisive enough. I gave him opportunity to take the control over the points,” he said. “Yeah, 5-all third set, 15-30, second serve, I was in the rally and should have stepped in and didn’t, and he did.

“You have to just congratulate him. He just played a fantastic match. That’s what I told him at the net. I think in the most important moments, he played his best game and he absolutely deserved to win.”

Looking back, Djokovic was a tie-break away from extending his winning streak to 20 matches, which would have been the ninth time in his career that he had achieved that feat. Instead, Sinner has become the front runner in the Green Group. He still needs to beat No. 8 Holger Rune (1-1) on Thursday evening to ensure advancement to Saturday’s semifinal round, while Djokovic will look to rebound against alternate Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, who has replaced the injured Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.

Make no mistake, Sinner will definitely have the Turin fans behind him against Rune.

“Obviously, the atmosphere is amazing, no?” Sinner expressed in his post-match press conference. “They helped me a lot. As I said the first day, it’s a huge privilege for me to play here in Turin.

“I was expecting a really tough match [against Djokovic]. With the crowd and everything, they are trying to really help me. I’m obviously very happy how I tried to put everything in the right direction.

“When the match is like this, obviously even if it’s not an Italian playing here in Italy, it’s a good atmosphere when it’s an Italian playing and the match goes like this. …

“It’s obviously really amazing. I’m happy to be part of this atmosphere.”

Around the Pala Alpitour

No. 5 seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina advanced to Saturday’s Nitto ATP Finals semifinal round with their 6-4, 6-4 upset of No. 1 seeds Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Austin Krajicek of the United States.

The Spanish/Argentine duo combined for three aces, won 74 percent of their first-serve points and saved all four break points they faced during the one-hour, 27-minute match Tuesday evening in rolling to their 36th victory of the season. Dodig and Krajicek fell to 39-14.

Additionally, Granollers and Zeballos converted both break point opportunities – one in each set – and they outpointed Dodig and Krajicek 55-51 to garner their third career Nitto ATP Finals semifinal berth and first since a two-year semifinal run in 2020-21.

On Thursday, Granollers and Zeballos (2-0) will close out Green Group play against Argentina’s Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni (0-2), while Dodig and Krajicek (1-1) will battle Santiago Gonzalez of Mexico and Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France (1-1) for the other semifinal berth from the Green Group.

By the numbers

Novak Djokovic has qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals semifinals 11 times in 15 previous appearances at the year-end championships, while Jannik Sinner is attempting to become the first Italian to advance to the semifinals in the tournament’s 54-year history.

“Quotable …”

“If you ask me would I rather win a Grand Slam or win the ATP Finals, my dream has always been to win a Grand Slam, but my dream is also to win here.”

Holger Rune of Denmark, during his post-match press conference Tuesday after winning by retirement over Stefanos Tsitsipas.