ATP Finals: ‘Jannik-mania’ takes over in Italy as Sinner puts rivals to the sword

The young star hopes to be a ‘driving force’ for Italian tennis after he defeated Novak Djokovic in Turin

Jannik Sinner is everywhere in Turin this week. The 22-year-old’s face looks back at you from lamp-posts, news stands and credit card commercials. The ATP Tour finals, the “fifth Major” of men’s tennis which pits the top eight players against each other in a round-robin format, are in town and “Jannik-mania” is in full swing. Excitement was already building after the Italian defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in the opening match of the tournament but on Tuesday things went up a notch.

There was a buzz around the city with thousands of supporters packing the fan village at Pala L’Alpitour and filling up on arancini hours before Sinner’s encounter with Novak Djokovic. The party atmosphere followed them into the stadium with violinists and dancers setting the stage for the players’ arrival before a DJ whipped up the 15,000 fans. The stage was set for something special. And the home favourite delivered.

The world number four started brilliantly, serving impeccably and unleashing on his forehand side whenever the opportunity arose. Sinner edged a top-class first set with a double fault at 5-5 from Djokovic opening the door for the Italian to break much to the delight of the raucous home support, which drew sarcastic applause from the reigning champion.

That proved a turning point in the match with Djokovic increasingly playing the pantomime villain, a role he seems to have resented and relished in equal measure over the years. That double fault aside the Serb was serving brilliantly, an area of his game that has got stronger and stronger since his partnership with Goran Ivanisevic, allowing him to out-ace Sinner over the match. Neither player could make inroads on return with Djokovic fighting back to claim the second set tiebreaker. Despite that, he was becoming increasingly frustrated with line calls and his demeanour cut a striking contrast with the ice-cool Sinner.


The Italian produced a sensational burst midway through the final set, with two blistering returns earning the first break of the decider and drawing roars of astonishment from the crowd. However, when Djokovic fought back to draw level at 4-4 and stared into the crowd in defiance it seemed he was on course for another trademark storied comeback to extend his 19-match unbeaten run.

Sinner refused to fold and after more frustration from Djokovic, who took to conducting the jeers from the fans, the three-hour epic went to a final set tie-break. The record six-time champion had no answer to Sinner’s relentless hitting as he raced into a 5-0 lead and clinched his first victory over Djokovic at the fourth attempt.

After the match, Sinner said he was pleased with the “bravery” of his shots on the big points. “I feel that I’m a little bit more confident in certain moments in a match.”

Sinner has been tipped to compete right at the top since making a run to the last eight at the 2020 French Open at 19. He made his big breakthrough the following year, picking up four titles and earning a spot in the top 10. He won his first Masters title in Toronto this year and made his first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon, where he was brushed aside by Djokovic.

Spanish sensation Carlos Alcaraz picked up the trophy at SW19 and has been touted as the main young challenger to Djokovic’s chokehold over the sport. However, the Spaniard sees it differently, saying this week that he expects Sinner to reach number one in the world next year.

Alcaraz himself has been a little off-colour in recent weeks and lamented how Turin is offering “the fastest surface of the year” after losing to Alexander Zverev in the other group.

Sinner faces Medvedev in the first semi-final after overcoming some issues with his back to continue his 100 per cent record with victory over Holger Rune. The speed of the indoor court is likely to suit Sinner’s attacking game and with a passionate crowd behind him, he’ll fancy his chances. Alcaraz stands in Djokovic’s way in the other semi-final but what price a rematch in Sunday’s final?

Past midnight on Tuesday, the fans were in no rush to go home and when they broke into another round of “Ole, Ole Ole Ole, Sinn-er, Sinn-er” while more than three million watched at home, it felt as if Italy had found a new sporting hero. After his win over Rune, Sinner played down comparisons with motorcycling legend Valentino Rossi and champion skier Alberto Tomba as “too early” but said “I’m starting now. I hope to be a driving force” for Italian tennis.

A poster in the city centre advertising the tournament said that after matching compatriot Adriano Panatta’s achievement of reaching four in the world, Sinner was “already immortal”. If he can clinch the title on Sunday and the €4.8 million cheque with back-to-back victories over arguably the greatest of all time, he’ll be well on his way to it.

Simon Bracken

Simon Bracken

Simon Bracken is a journalist at The Irish Times