Super Showdown In Sofia Goes To Sinner

Jannik Sinner (photo: Sofia Open/

SOFIA/WASHINGTON, October 3, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Jannik Sinner and Gaël Monfils have met four times during their respective careers. Yet, Sunday’s generational clash between the 20-year-old defending Sofia Open champion and Monfils, regarded as one of grand entertainers of tennis at age 35, represented the first time they’ve met in a final.

The World No. 14 Sinner arrived at Arena Armeec Sofia in the Bulgarian capital city attempting to defend his first tour-level title and become the first two-time Sofia Open champion. Meanwhile, French No. 1 Monfils had now reached an ATP Tour final in 17 straight seasons dating back to 2005, when Sinner was a pre-kindergarten-aged boy.

The No. 1 seed Sinner and No. 2 Monfils didn’t disappoint – especially if you were rooting for Sinner. This time, Sinner showed little weakness in either his serves or groundstroke returns and it added up to a potent one-two combination. The young Italian from San Candido successfully defended his Sofia Open title with a 6-3, 6-4 victory that lasted an hour and 18 minutes. It was his fourth career ATP Tour crown to go with earlier-season triumphs at the Great River Road tournament in Melbourne last January and at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. in early August. He also became the first Italian man to successfully defend an ATP Tour tour-level title since 1976.

The title victory kept Sinner in contention for the year-ending Nitto ATP Finals, Nov. 14-21 at Turin, Italy. Come Monday, he’ll leap into 10th place in the Race to Turin standings.

“The level was high today,” Sinner said before the trophy ceremony during an on-court interview. “We had long, long rallies and it was physical as well. I am happy to be the winner here in Sofia again. I think it is a very nice tournament. It was the best match because I had to.”

En route to Sunday’s final, Sinner hadn’t dropped a set and looked sharp in his 6-3, 7-5 semifinal victory over No. 5 seed Filip Krajinovic on Saturday, while the World No. 20 Monfils, who was appearing in his first ATP Tour final since Rotterdam in early 2020, played only two matches to reach the final, which happened to be the shortest ones of the week – 50 minutes against Gianluca Mager and 64 minutes against Marcos Giron.

Sinner jumped out to an early 2-0 lead after breaking Monfils on his second break-point opportunity during the Frenchman’s first service game of the match. He consolidated the break by going big early on his forehand returns to the corners and pushed ahead 3-0. Then, leading 4-2, Sinner faced his first break points after bungling a couple of backhands into the net. He saved both to gain deuce – the second coming on an exciting 32-shot exchange – and, finally, held serve for a 5-2 advantage after attacking with a fine backhand winner down the line.

After Monfils held at 15 with his third ace, Sinner wrapped up the 40-minute first set 6-3 on his second set-point opportunity after Monfils netted a backhand that finished off a 10-shot rally. Sinner was aided by his ability to win points on his first serve as 13 of his 14 first-serve opportunities went in his favor.

As the second set unfolded, Sinner rattled Monfils by breaking his serve for the second time in the Frenchman’s opening service game. He wasted little time in consolidating the break by running Monfils ragged back-and-forth across the court. Sinner’s love hold gave him a commanding 2-0 advantage as he continued to serve big and return exceptionally well. While Monfils made a good recovery to hold in the next game, he still faced an uphill battle against his younger opponent. Meanwhile, Sinner continued to pin Monfils in the corners and controlled the pace of his service game in pushing ahead 3-1.

Next, Sinner gained his second love hold to move ahead 4-2 needing just two more holds of his serve to successfully defend his Sofia title. He gained another hold at love for a 5-3 lead. Then, after Monfils held his own serve at love, Sinner quickly and confidently closed out the championship in back of his fourth love hold of the set. He finished with a 93-percent (25 of 27) success rate on his first-serve points and outpointed Monfils 59-46.

By gaining game, set, match and championship, Sinner finished with a clean slate – he didn’t drop a set the entire tournament. The victory improved his Sofia record to 9-0 – he went 5-0 last year – and Sinner became the first back-to-back champion in Sofia Open history.

Afterward, Sinner received warm congratulations from Monfils at the net. Then, he went over to hug his coach and team. His fourth ATP Tour singles title was his to savor. Sinner also became the sixth player to win at least three ATP Tour singles titles this season.

“It is never easy playing against Gael, we’ve had many tough matches,” Sinner reflected. “I think in the crucial moments I was a bit luckier than him, which helped me a lot.”

Later, during his final news conference, Sinner said winning Sofia was “very special.

“Coming back here and playing in and winning a great tournament is a very special feeling. I like the conditions here, I like the court. I think today I played very well the whole match. I am very happy about my performance and my tournament, too.”

In press, Monfils said Sinner played solidly against him. “He didn’t make a lot of mistakes. He was very solid with his shots. … I could not really be aggressive because I was very deep. Simply, he was just better than me today.”

O’Mara and Skupski team to win first tour-level title together

Great Britain’s Jonny O’Mara and Ken Skupski won their first ATP Tour tour-level doubles title as a team by winning the Sofia Open title over No. 3 seeds Oliver Marach and Philipp Oswald, both from Austria, 6-3, 6-4, Sunday afternoon.

O’Mara, 26, and Skupski, 38, teamed together for the first time since last year’s Sofia Open and this time they combined to serve five aces and secured five breaks of service during the 77-minute title match that preceded the singles final.

“It is a nice feeling,” Skupski said following his team’s title victory. “I am chuffed for us. It has been a great tournament, we have had great fun together. It has been lovely to be back in Sofia and we have really enjoyed it. We have had a really good run together over the tournaments we have played in the past, so it is something we will probably have a chat about and maybe you could see us here again next year.”

O’Mara added: “I feel good. It has been a long time and you start to question your level a little bit. It is great to be able to get that title and know this is the level you can compete at. To share this with Ken is class.

“It is not often you get to play doubles with someone who you really like, so to have a big moment with Ken was the best feeling I have had on court maybe ever.”

Sunday’s title was the second they’ve won together in all competitions after earlier winning an ATP Challenger Tour title at Mouilleron Le Captif in 2019. O’Mara has now won three tour-level titles overall and Skupski seven. Earlier this season, Skupski teamed with his brother Neal to win the ATP 500 event at Acapulco.

O’Mara and Skupski kept Marach and Oswald from winning together for the second time after they won at Gstaad in 2017.