11:41 PM GMT November 02, 2019
Don’t let his age fool you. Eighteen-year-old Jannik Sinner, the youngest player inside the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings, already carries himself with the maturity of a seasoned veteran on Tour.
He'll conclude his breakout season on home soil as the Italian wild card recipient for the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan. Sinner’s maturity comes in part from largely eschewing junior tournaments to focus on pro events, often facing opponents who are much older than him. Unlike the rest of the field competing at the Allianz Cloud, playing multiple matches against players close to his age will be a unique experience.
“I’m still the youngest here,” Sinner joked. “Most of the time, the pressure is a bit lower because I’m playing against much older players. [The pressure] is going to be higher here, but that’s our job. You just have to try and do your best.
“It’s exciting to be here. It’s a bit of a different format, different rules, so anything can happen. Sometimes the pressure of playing in Italy is not easy, but I think I can handle it.”
It’s the latest in a series of first-time moments for Sinner. He became the youngest Italian to win an ATP Challenger Tour title when he captured his maiden crown at home this February in Bergamo. His first ATP Tour main draw win came two months later in Budapest, followed by his first ATP Masters 1000 victory in Rome. Last month, Sinner reached his first tour-level semi-final in Antwerp.
The modest teenager is quick to point out that he’s not alone, though. All of the players competing in Milan have enjoyed the best seasons of their burgeoning careers.
“Something changed in Bergamo. I played good there, gained confidence and have kept going,” Sinner said. “But I think the young generation is growing and that’s important for tennis. We have players who are very aggressive like Denis Shapovalov, but also players who are very solid. We have new players like Humbert, Ymer. I think it’s very interesting.”
But Sinner’s progress over the past 12 months is the most pronounced of his #NextGenATP peers in Milan. Last year, he lost in the first round of the Red Bull Next Gen Open, which runs alongside the tournament. Liam Caruana, the champion of that event, received a wild card into the 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals for his accomplishment. Sinner stayed for a few days after to see, “how the players like Shapovalov and Frances Tiafoe are playing, especially in the important points". Two weeks ago, he defeated Tiafoe in Antwerp.
“Last year, I was watching from the stands,” Sinner smiled. “This year, I can play in front of the stands.”
It’s a change of scenery that he embraces. Sinner can appear shy off the court, but he lights up during a match and soaks in the energy of a raucous atmosphere. The vocal support of a home crowd is something he’ll thrive off as he looks to wrap up his season with the biggest title of his career.
“I enjoy the spotlight. I think it’s something new. [The fans are] just trying to cheer for me,” Sinner said. "Sometimes guys the same age as me are coming up to me and asking for photos or autographs. It’s strange, but it feels good.”