Australian Open: First On Court, First Off Suits Sinner Just Fine

Jannik Sinner (photo: Australian Open video)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 20, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

Blink and you might not realize that Jannik Sinner has already won three matches to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open. As the opening week of the year’s first major Down Under nears its completion, the World No. 4 from Italy has been playing solid tennis – all the while being first on and first off court. There’s been no late-night drama for the fourth seed, no after-midnight finishes.

Simply, Sinner is going about his business of winning – quietly and efficiently – and he’s through to the fourth round of the Australian Open for the third straight year.

“I played good tennis. I love the conditions also today, because was no wind and no sun. So it was, for me, a little bit easier to get used to it,” Sinner said in his post-match news conference Friday after disposing off No. 26 seed Sebastian Baez of Argentina, 6-0, 6-1, 6-3, by hitting 34 winners, saving all four break points he faced, converting seven of 12 break-point chances, winning more than half of his receiving points and outpointing his opponent 88-56.

“I felt great the ball. I made the right decisions, and I used every chance I had today, which maybe in the first match I was struggling a little bit. But, you know, it’s good to have this match feeling back again. I’m very excited to step on the court every time.”

Through his first three matches – all straight-set wins – the 22-year-old Sinner has maintained his focus and desire to excel in his first tournament of 2024 after leading Italy to the Davis Cup title last November.

Sinner has now won six consecutive matches going back to the 2023 Davis Cup Finals. Since his Vienna title last fall, he’s 16-1, including a pair of wins over World No. 1 and 10-time AO champion Novak Djokovic, whom Sinner could face in the semifinals.

“I’m doing my job. I try to stay focus. I try to find a solution against every player I play,” said Sinner, who also has wins over Dutchmen Botic van de Zandschulp and qualifier Jesper de Jong, and will face No. 15 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia in the fourth round Sunday.  “But, for sure, now the next round is going to be different, it’s going to be tough. Every match is tough. It doesn’t really matter the score. I also had today some tough moments in the third set, so I have to see how it goes.

“I’m very happy, and let’s see.”

Don’t be surprised if Sinner receives another early court assignment when he faces Khachanov. After playing his first-round match second up on Rod Laver Arena during Opening Day last Sunday, the South Tyrolean has been the opener on Margaret Court at 11 o’clock sharp for his second- and third-round matches on Wednesday and Friday. It’s fine by Sinner, who with one more win would equal his best showing in Melbourne, when he was a quarterfinalist in 2022 — and don’t worry, the Carota Boys will be there to cheer for their hero.

I like to play first match. You know the time when you enter,” Sinner admits. “You know that you most likely are going to finish a little bit earlier than other players. Obviously, you have more time to recover, also.

“I like to play day session anyway. Maybe night session, the atmosphere sometimes, it’s more spectacular in one way, but also, today the atmosphere was really nice. I love to play on that court, and it’s always good feeling, no, especially when you play a Grand Slam you play in a big court. It’s always nice.”

Hunter taking Australia by a storm

Storm Hunter didn’t win her third-round match against No. 9 seed Barbora Krejcikova on Rod Laver Arena Friday night. However, it wasn’t for a lack of effort.

The 180th-ranked qualifier had already beaten the odds by being the last Australian standing in the women’s singles draw. She won three rounds of qualifying to reach the main draw, then beat a pair of WTA veterans, Sara Errani of Italy and Laura Siegemund of Germany. Her luck ran out against Krejcikova, who beat the 29-year-old lefty, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, in two hours and 30 minutes in a match that ended at 12:40 a.m. Saturday.

“Yeah, it was a tough match,” Hunter said in her post-match news conference. “Really wanted to win that one, and I would say I had a few chances, but Barbora played some really good tennis under pressure. She hit some cut serves when I had some break point opportunities.

“I absolutely loved it out there. It was a lot of fun. Even though I didn’t get the win, this whole week has been a win for my singles I would say. I don’t want to look at it as disappointing today because I enjoyed every minute. It’s not every night you get to play on Rod Laver Arena after Novak and have all the fans out there.

“Yeah, I’m definitely seeing it as a positive. Obviously, I’ve played six really high-quality singles matches here. Any other tournament, that would be probably a win of a tournament.”

“Yeah, super positive.”

Fans will still have a chance to see plenty of Hunter around Melbourne Park Ashe as she assumes her more familiar role of being ranked World No. 1 in women’s doubles. She’s seeded third in the women’s draw with Czech doubles star Katerina Siniakova, Krejcikova’s long-time and now former partner, and she’s the top seed in mixed doubles with fellow Aussie Matthew Ebden.

Around Melbourne Park

Saturday’s Australian Open results

Sunday’s Australian Open order of play

By the numbers

“Quotable …”

“At some point I was just able to switch off my brain and stop thinking about the soreness that I would have. I was just trying to run, trying to get one more ball all the time.

“With this atmosphere, it was pretty crazy. Everybody was just like shouting after every point. Yeah, somehow sometimes you disconnect about your own feelings and you just concentrate on the next point. It’s also well not to think about your own feelings. I think that’s what I did pretty well. I was just focused on what I had to do. Most of the time during the match I was able to do it well. That was nice.”

Adrian Mannarino of France, during his post-match news conference Friday night, commenting on the physicality of his third-round victory against Ben Shelton. The No. 20 seed won 7-6 (4) 1-6, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-4 in four hours and 46 minutes on Kia Arena.