10:11 PM GMT November 05, 2019
Jannik Sinner is the youngest player competing in this year’s Next Gen ATP Finals, but he handled the biggest moments of his match against Frances Tiafoe with the comfort of a seasoned veteran. The 18-year-old Italian delighted the home crowd in Milan with a 3-4(4), 4-2, 4-2 4-2 win against the second seed on Tuesday in Group B action.
“Different rules here, everything going is very fast. You have to be very focussed on the deciding points,” Sinner said. “Being in Milan, many [Italian] people are coming to watch. I’m just very happy.
“I think me and Tiafoe think very similarly, so you have to be very tough with the mental aspect. I think I did that very well today.”
The teen improved to 2-0 in his FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry with Tiafoe, having also defeated the American last month at the European Open in Antwerp. Sinner’s maiden win at this event, the first for an Italian player, is yet another milestone moment in his breakout season.
Sinner opened the year at No. 551 in the ATP Rankings, but he is now the youngest player inside the Top 100. His highlights include a maiden ATP Tour semi-final in Antwerp, first ATP Masters 1000 main draw win in at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia and a pair of ATP Challenger Tour titles.
”I think I’ve improved everything,” Sinner said. “We’re just improving day after day. That’s our main goal and then the results will come.”
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Tiafoe and Sinner traded blistering serves and powerful forehands for the first six games of the match. The American altered his strategy in the first-set tie-break, gaining the upper hand with impressive defence. He earned a 1/0 mini-break advantage after tracking down a speedy Sinner forehand, causing the Italian to overthink and miss a drop shot. Sinner bravely fought back from 1/6 with a pair of unreturned serves and a crushing forehand, but Tiafoe let out a roar of delight at 6/4 after his relentless retrieving prompted a forehand error from the home favourite.
The teenager remained calm and kept to his game plan. He stayed with Tiafoe early in the second set and pounced on his first opening, earning the first break of the match at 2-2 and motioning the crowd to get out of their seats. Sinner couldn't convert his first two set points in the next game, but with the packed house at the Allianz Cloud urging him on, he leveled the match after a forehand error from the second seed.
The World No. 95 continued to grow in confidence and unleashed another forehand winner to break Tiafoe at 2-1 in the third set. Two games later, a first-serve ace on set point firmly swung the momentum in Sinner's favour.
Tiafoe began to grow frustrated as he produced more winners than unforced errors, yet still found himself trailing in the score. He tried to match Sinner's power, but overcooked a forehand at 1-1 in the fourth set to hand Sinner a critical service break. The slight advantage was all the Italian needed. A forehand smash on his third match point brought the crowd to their feet as he prevailed in one hour and 27 minutes. Sinner finished the night with 31 winners to just 20 unforced errors.