Sinner Powers His Way To Rotterdam Title

Jannik Sinner (photo: ATP Tour video)

ROTTERDAM/WASHINGTON, February 18, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

No. 1 seed Jannik Sinner won the 51st edition of the ABN AMRO Open in Rotterdam Sunday afternoon, which brought out the best in his tennis and, by the end, arguably his biggest smile of the tournament.

The World No. 4 Sinner’s 7-5, 6-4 win over No. 5 seed Alex de Minaur of Australia in two hours and five minutes was his 15th straight match victory and it made some history, too.

Not only was it the Italian’s second straight title of the season, following his breakthrough triumph of winning last month’s Australian Open for his first major trophy, it was also his third consecutive ATP 500 hard-court crown. Best of all, Sinner’s title triumph in Rotterdam will move him to a career-high World No. 3, making him the highest-ranked Italian in the history of Pepperstone ATP Rankings (since 1973), and ties him with Sandra Cecchini for most tour-level singles titles (12) by an Italian man or woman in the Open Era (since 1968).

Coming into Sunday’s final, Sinner and de Minaur, 25, had met six times across the ATP Tour with the 22-year-old from the South Tyrol winning every time. This was their fourth time facing each other in a final. Sinner defeated de Minaur to garner the 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan. Then, he beat de Minaur to win his first ATP Masters 1000 title in Toronto last year, and, finally, he handled the Aussie in the 2023 Davis Cup title final won by Team Italy.

Sinner got the first break of Sunday’s final to go ahead 3-2, after de Minaur netted a drop shot to end a five-shot skirmish. He immediately consolidated it with a nifty backhand passing-shot winner and surged ahead 5-3 with an easy hold. Soon, de Minaur leveled the set at 5-all by winning a 34-shot rally on his second break-point opportunity. He held steady during the 10-minute-plus 16-point game.

However, Sinner immediately got the break back in the next game with a well-placed backhand passing shot to push ahead 6-5. Finally, he put away the 64-minute opening set on his fifth set point with his fourth ace.

Next, at 2-all in the second set, Sinner converted his third break point of the fifth game against de Minaur to go ahead 3-2, but was unable to consolidate the break and it became 3-all after de Minaur hit a smash winner. However, Sinner was not to be denied and he broke the Australian for a second consecutive time to take a 4-3 lead. This time, Sinner held serve to move within a game of the title at 5-3.

Then, after de Minaur held, Sinner set up match point with a trio of impressive winners, the last one an inside-out forehand that handcuffed his opponent. Finally, Sinner prevailed after de Minaur sailed a second-shot forehand return long. He raised his arms in celebration of victory. He and de Minaur exchanged a heartfelt embrace at the net and walked off together in mutual admiration to the plaudits of a sold-out Rotterdam Ahoy arena crowd.

Sinner won 78 percent (35 of 45) of his first-serve points, hit 23 winners – including four aces – and broke de Minaur’s four times in eight tries. He outpointed his opponent 79-76. By contrast, de Minaur struck 10 aces and hit 20 winners to 29 unforced errors. He converted two of six break points.

“I felt like the match was really good in one way. We both played well,” Sinner said in an on-court interview. “I felt like I could have served a little bit better, but these are the details that maybe in the future can make me a little bit stronger also. An amazing week it has been.”

Looking back, Sinner elevated his game round by round. He dropped a single set all week, in the second round against Gaël Monfils, and improved to 12-0 this season. Lifetime in four appearances at Rotterdam he’s 10-2, including back-to-back finals. Sinner has won four titles in his last seven events and his match record during this time is 32-2. His only losses have been to Ben Shelton at Shanghai and to Novak Djokovic at the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin.

In accepting his trophy, Sinner said: “My team, we did a really good job a few weeks ago and now we made a very good job here.

“I am really proud with the level that I played throughout this whole week. We have been in tough situations but we handled it the right way. We will always try to improve; it is the most important.”

Reunited: Koolhof and Mektic win second doubles title of season

Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Nikola Mektic of Croatia reunited this season – in what is Koolhof’s final year on Tour before he retires – and their 6-3, 7-5 victory over Dutch pair Robin Haase and Botic van de Zandschulp is their second title triumph following Auckland at the start of 2024.

The winners combined to hit six aces and converted four of nine break-point chances. Koolhof and Mektic outpointed their opponents 64-53.

The duo of former No. 1 doubles players improved to 34-14 as a team lifetime. They first began playing together during the 2020 season and captured the 2020 Nitto ATP Finals title before going their separate ways, Koolhof with Neal Skupski of Great Britain and Mektic with Mate Pavic of Croatia. Back together in 2024, they’re 10-1 this season.

En route to the Rotterdam title, Koolhof, 34, and Mektic, 35, upset top seeds and defending champions Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Austin Krajicek of the United States in the semifinals in straight sets. It’s the first Rotterdam title for Koolhof in his second final, while Mektic won the 2021 title with Pavic.

The Rotterdam crown is the 18th for Koolhof and 27th for Mektic. The team is ranked No. 4 on the Pepperstone ATP Doubles Team Rankings. Koolhof is ranked No. 7 (following a career-high No. 1 in 2022) and Mektic is ranked No. 41 (after a career-high No. 1 in 2021).

“I’m not going to sail quietly through this year,” Koolhof said, quoted in an interview on the tournament’s website. “High up on my wish list is winning at least another Grand Slam, followed by the Olympic Games and now, going further than the quarterfinals during the Davis Cup finals. I’m curious what my last year as a tennis player will be like. Let me become the first male doubles’ player to retire as World No. 1!”

Around the Rotterdam Ahoy

The Carota Boys, Jannik Sinner’s official fan club from Italy, arrived in time this weekend to cheer for their hero at the Rotterdam Ahoy.

“For us, it was a fourteen-hour drive,” they told the tournament website on Saturday. “We all have a job, so you have to choose the tournaments you go to. We left from the Turin area last night and arrived in Rotterdam around noon. The big advantage is that we sleep in the hotel next to Ahoy. After a few refreshments, we reached the stadium with plenty of time to spare.”

With their bright orange carrot costumes, the Carota Boys are very visible. “We will only be satisfied with a tournament victory for Jannik Sinner.”

On Sunday, the Carota Boys got their wish.

By the numbers

By defeating Grigor Dimitrov in Saturday’s semifinals and returning inside the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings, Alex de Minaur pushed out Stefanos Tsitsipas. The Greek No. 1 leaves the Top 10 for the first time since making his debut in March 2019 – ending a streak of 237 consecutive weeks. It will mark the first time in ATP Rankings history (since 1973) that there will be no player with a one-handed backhand inside the Top 10.

“Quotable …”

“In my opinion, Sinner is the best player of the moment. He plays with so much confidence. The pressure he puts on you is all to his credit.”

Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands, during his post-match news conference, following his Saturday semifinal loss to top seed Jannik Sinner.