Italy’s Favorite Son Sinner Keeps Eye On Prize, Reaches Turin Title Match

Jannik Sinner (photo: Giampiero Sposito/FITP)

TURIN/WASHINGTON , November 18, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

For the 13th time in the 54-year history of the Nitto ATP Finals, the Top 4 seeds advanced to the semifinals – the first time since 2020 – setting up an exciting penultimate day of tennis in the year-end tournament. While World No. 1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia and No. 2 Carlos Alcaraz of Spain would meet later in a semifinal showdown, it was first things first in the so-called undercard Saturday afternoon at the Pala Alpitour in Turin.

In the opening semifimal match, Italy’s favorite son, No. 4 Jannik Sinner, took on No. 3 and 2020 champion Daniil Medvedev of Russia, who owned a 6-2 lifetime win-loss record against the young Italian. Although, Sinner had turned matters around the last two meetings, in the finals of Beijing and Vienna, and won both within the past month.

So, it should come as no surprise that both players would push each other to the limit and go the distance. After all, there would be a $1.1 million payout to the winner. That’s incentive, and what a dramatic and exciting match it turned out to be.

As it happened, the 22-year-old Sinner maintained his unbelievable week of success in Turin by holding on to defeat Medvedev, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-1, in one hour and 29 minutes for his 61st triumph of the season. The win advanced him to his first Nitto ATP Finals title match on Sunday. Sinner awaits the Djokovic-Alcaraz winner.

While Sinner went undefeated (3-0) and won the Green Group – the only unbeaten player to reach the last four – he became the first Italian to reach the Nitto ATP Finals semifinal round. This season, he has compiled a 61-14 record – most wins by an Italian man in Open Era – and garnered four ATP Tour titles.  Now, with his eye on the biggest prize in men’s tennis, Sinner has positioned himself to win a fifth one – and he’s become the first Italian to advance to the Nitto ATP Finals title match.

With plenty of expectations from the home crowd, who boosted his spirits by cheering “Jannik, Jannik,” throughout, Sinner calmly delivered from the baseline, hitting solid groundstroke returns from both wings – and he was particularly effective with his backhand, which accounted for half a dozen of his 28 overall winners.

Sinner hit 10 aces, won 83 percent of his first serve points and saved both break points he faced from Medvedev. The 26-year-old Russian countered with 10 aces and 28 winners, and won 80-percent of his first serves. However, the percentage on his second serve points won dipped to 36 percent. He was broken three times by Sinner and outpointed by the Italian 103-89.

After the match, as Sinner stood on court soaking in the adulation of the Turin fans, he smiled and called winning this match an “incredible feeling. It was a really tough match today. I felt that he was playing more aggressively, especially in the first set. Somehow, I made the break and from that point I felt better. The second set was really tight but then he played a very good tie-break. In the third set, I just tried to stay a bit more aggressive and mixing up my game a little bit. I am happy to be in the final.” 

Once he was pushed to the decider, Sinner immediately took charge and broke Medvedev in the second game to go ahead 2-0 and consolidated it for 3-0 on an unforced error. From there, Medvedev looked both mentally and physically finished, by Sinner and by the crowd. Soon, Sinner upped his lead to 4-1 after he hit a cross-court, backhand winner to cap a nine-shot rally and gained a double-break 5-1 advantage after Medvedev struck a forehand long.

Finally, after Sinner set up match point in the next game with a determined 15th-shot backhand winner, and won at love when Medvedev made his 38th unforced error hitting a backhand long. At the conclusion of the match, it was Sinner who was raising his arms in celebration.

It added up to Sinner’s third straight victory over Medvedev. He’s now 17-2 since the US Open. Medvedev finished the season at 66-18 with five titles but lost his final two matches of 2023, against Alcaraz and Sinner.

“Very impressed, to be honest,” said Medvedev, giving props to Sinner in his post-match press conference. “He’s playing very good now. I mean, even today he doesn’t miss much. He can run well. If you give him easy ball, you feel like he moves you over the court. He can volley well. Serve has improved a lot.

“Right now he’s, let’s call it, riding a wave. You can see it. Let’s see how it’s going to be in the final. It’s going to be a great semis, first of all, then the final.”

Now, Sinner awaits the No. 1 versus No. 2 show down between Djokovic and Alcaraz to see who he plays on Sunday. He is 4-3 lifetime against Alcaraz, but only 1-3 against Djokovic. However, that one victory came earlier this week when Sinner beat Djokovic, 7-5, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (2), in group play.

“It is a privilege to have this kind of pressure,” Sinner admitted. “Even the week before this event, I felt really good on this court. It is quite fast. The crowd has given me so much energy.”

Granollers and Zeballos reach first ATP Finals title match together 

Without much fanfare but thanks to playing great tennis all week, fifth seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina have gone undefeated and reached their first Nitto ATP Finals title match together.

The Spanish/Argentine duo’s 7-5, 7-4 victory over No. 3 seeds Rohan Bopanna of India and Matthew Ebden of Australia, completed in an hour and 20 minutes, kept their hopes alive of finishing Year-End ATP Doubles No. 1. They are currently up to No. 3 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Doubles Teams Rankings and can finish first with a victory in Sunday’s final.

Granollers and Zeballos won 77 percent of their service points and converted breaks points in each set that proved to be the difference. Only four points separated the two teams.

“We are very happy,” Granollers expressed in an on-court interview afterward. “It is our third semifinal here at the Finals and we are happy to be in the final this time. We will try to enjoy the match and play our best tennis.”

Although Granollers and Zeballos are no strangers to the year-end tournament, having appeared four times, this is the farthest they’ve gone after a pair of semifinal finishes in 2020 and 2021. On Sunday, they will face the winner of Saturday’s other semifinal between defending champion and sixth seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain and fourth seeds Santiago Gonzalez of Mexico and Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France. Gonzalez and Roger-Vasselin can also finish Year-End No. 1 if they win the title.

“We tried to think that every match was a final because every match was against a great team,” Zeballos said. “We tried to be positive and offensive and it is working so far so we will try the same tomorrow.”

By the numbers

Since dropping the first set of their opening match last Sunday, Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina have won eight sets in a row en route to their first Nitto ATP Finals as a team. They are trying to win their second title of the season after winning the Shanghai Masters earlier this month. Granollers captured the 2012 Nitto ATP Finals title in London with Spaniard Marc Lopez.

“Quotable …”

“Probably I’m stronger mentally. Right now, comparing to Paris, I’ve spoken about dealing with the pressure, dealing with tough, tough moments. In Paris I didn’t deal with the pressure. I learned about that situation. Then came Wimbledon, came Cincinnati. It was a really, really good match.

“I think facing someone like Novak, you have to stay strong mentally and deal with the pressure that he puts on you in every ball, in every point. I think I learned a lot about that.

“I think I’m ready to face him tomorrow.”

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, from his post-match press conference Friday after defeating Daniil Medvedev to advance to Saturday’s semifinals against Novak Djokovic, on what he’s learned since losing to Djokovic in the French Open semifinals.