Jannik Sinner – the best Italian of all time?

by Simon Zeitler
sinner wins miami open

Within a year from “Alcarazmania” we have another phenomenon on tour, that can be seen on every poster for the ATP – Jannik Sinner. The Italian superstar has quickly risen from promising talent to the best Italian to ever play, and his country is head over heels for their new hero. Everyone who has recently been in Rome, such as our very own Jonas and Stefan, has experienced the hype around the 22-year-old from South Tyrol. But how has he made the jump to the top so quickly?

Italy – a tennis nation (in the making)?

Let’s start by looking at the history of tennis in Italy, which surprisingly never produced a World No. 1 so far. It seemed to me, with player like Seppi, Fognini and Berrettini, that the country had always been up with the top nations of the sport. However, especially on the men’s side of things, I had to go back a lot of time to find a Grand Slam champion. Before Sinner’s triumph in Australia this year, the last win on the biggest stage of tennis dated back to Adriano Panatta in Paris 1976. The only multiple Slam winner was no other than Nicola Pietrangeli, and that was in the 50s, just to give some context.

On the women’s side, there was more success in the last decades, with Schiavone and Pennetta both winning a Slam each. But overall, the Italian track record wasn’t too fancy for the last 20+ years, with many players underachieving and not living up to their potential. Fabio Fognini surely had the talent to win a Slam, but his work ethic and lifestyle weren’t quite in line with the Big 3. So, even if it sports a lot of great academies and coaches, Italy is thriving for a successful tennis player at the top of the game.

Let’s introduce the hero, from the very North of Italy.

Jannik Sinner fits this gap perfectly – he is young, ultra-talented and on top he is a very likeable and marketable character. The Italians’ luck is that he was born on the right side of the boarder for them, as his homeplace is just kilometers from Austria and the mother tongue there even is German. But of course, he is Italian with every part of his body and as big as the differences in culture might be, the entirety of the country is behind their sport heroes.

A young Sinner winning the 2021 Citi Open

Born in the small town of Innichen, the young Sinner was an excellent skier before focusing on tennis and has trained at the Piatti tennis center in Liguria since age 13. His junior career was not all that impressive, and he actually never entered any junior Grand Slam tournaments.

So, when he won the 2019 Next-Gen finals, this came as a surprise to many. He continued his steady rise through the rankings in the following years, without too much focus on him with the Big 3 still on tour and Alcaraz bursting onto scene later.

In 2023, he was ranked top-10 for the first time and was clearly shaping up to be one of the players to watch in the coming years. That year, he signed massive contracts with Nike, Gucci and Rolex, and there were questions about the timing and why he would be such an asset.

But Sinner went on to have an outstanding run through 2023 to 2024, winning 7 titles including a Slam and reaching the Wimbledon semifinals. Additionally, he reached the year end ATP final against Novak, where he barely lost. So, whoever made the marketing decision at Nike, to give Sinner a 150 million Dollar deal, kudos to him or her.

Where do we go from here? World No. 1 in a few weeks?

With Carlos Alcaraz not having the kind of season he wanted to and Novak Djokovic struggling, Jannik Sinner is widely regarded as the best male tennis player on the planet as of now and one of the favorites for the French Open title. Just showing up to Roland Garros, he will take the No. 1 spot with any result, if Djokovic doesn’t make the final again. And let’s face it, it is very likely that we have a new top player in the rankings in a couple of weeks.

But where can Sinner go with this in total? His game is very balanced in every way – he has improved his serve and net game significantly and his groundstrokes were always up for any challenge. Surface-wise he excels mainly on the fast courts, but growing up in Italy, you spent some time on clay as well and he can be regarded as an all-court player. The only thing missing in his game might be a bit of variance, that the likes of Alcaraz have and some of the mental fortitude, that Djokovic has steam-rolled his opponents with for years.

But in any case, Jannik Sinner seems to be destined for a multiple Slam career and hopefully another great rivalry with his good friend Alcaraz. Given that the Big 3 might all be retired by next year, tennis and its future seem to be in good hands. Hopefully, the tennis public also shows some patience with Sinner, as the records of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic seem a big liability to the next-gen. Let’s remember that before those three, 4 Grand Slam titles were something to put you into Hall-of-Fame contention and an absolute exception.

But Sinner seems to have a good team around him, resting him well and advising him to heal up his hip properly, instead of forcing an early return into action. I think we can be excited for the decade to come, with lots of Italian success on tour! And just remember how Boris Becker’s success impacted tennis for years in Germany, or how Nadal influenced many kids around Spain – Italy surely will benefit from every part of Jannik Sinner’s ongoing story.

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