Sinner As In Winner! Italian Takes First ATP Tour Title

WASHINGTON/SOFIA, November 14, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Jannik Sinner already made history by becoming the youngest Italian in the Open Era to reach an ATP Tour-level final this week at the ATP 250 Sofia Open in the Bulgarian capital city. On Saturday, the 19-year-old from San Candido in South Tyrol won his first tour-level singles title with an exciting 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (3) victory over No. 74 Vasek Pospisil of Canada. The two hour and 15-minute title match in the last ATP regular-season tournament was decided by a third-set tie-break in which Sinner showed grace under pressure to win his first ATP tour-level title.

By winning, the 44th-ranked Sinner became the youngest champion on the ATP Tour since then-18-year-old Kei Nishikori won at Delray Beach, Fla, in 2008. He’s also the first Italian to win an ATP Tour singles title this year and the sixth first-time ATP Tour titlist of 2020.

“It was a very difficult match today. I played well, especially the first set,” Sinner told Tennis TourTalk during his virtual press conference shortly after the trophy ceremony. “Then, I started to struggle a little bit. He played the second set better than me; I was making some unforced errors. It’s a nice feeling obviously, winning the first title. Like last year, in November [winning the Next Gen ATP Finals], it’s good. I felt good the whole week. It’s been beautiful playing (in Sofia). The crowd was amazing. It’s a nice achievement.”

Coming in, Sinner’s calm demeanor – his ability to play through pressure and expectation – allowed him to steadily rise through the ATP rankings after achieving success in the ITF World Tour and ATP Challenger circuits. Those qualities along with guidance from his coach, Riccardo Piatti, enabled him to excel in his final tournament of the season. He put together five quality wins along the way – against Marton Fucsovics, Marc-Andrea Huesler, Alex de Minaur, Adrian Mannarino and Pospisil – and dropped just two sets en route to garnering his first ATP Tour-level title.

Both players arrived at Saturday’s final inside Arena Armeec having won eight of their last 10 hardcourt matches. Regardless of how the final would end, both would move up in the world rankings with Sinner rising inside the Top 40 and Pospisil into the Top 60.

As the final began, Pospisil saved three break points during a seven-minute opening game. Then, Skinner gained a fourth break point in Pospisil’s next service game and broke him with a forehand winner that deflected off the Canadian’s racquet to go ahead 2-1. Sinner consolidated the break for a 3-1 lead after saving a break point. Pospisil followed it with a love hold after firing his fifth ace. Later, Pospisil’s sixth ace kept him within a break of leveling the set, and Sinner hit a pair of forehand winners to hold his serve for a 5-3 lead. Sinner closed out the 45-minute set with a flourish as his fourth ace up the T stopped Pospisil cold.

As the second set began, it seemed as if Sinner still had another level to attain. He broke Pospisil with a forehand winner off the Canadian’s kick serve, but squandered the advantage in the next game when he was broken at love. Pospisil consolidated his first break of Sinner with a love game for a 2-1 lead. Later, Pospisil held for 3-2 when a Sinner backhand was wide of its mark. Then, he broke Sinner for 4-2 on a 15-40 point when the young Italian hit a doable backhand into the net. It was the first time Sinner began to show visible signs of frustration after having problems getting his first serve in effectively. Pospisil consolidated the break with his seventh ace for a 5-2 lead. Sinner recovered in his next service game and held with his fourth ace, but Pospisil closed out the 31-minute middle set with his ninth ace to win 6-3 and it was on to a decider.

“It’s never easy playing against [Vasek],” Sinner explained to Tennis TourTalk when asked how he handled the mounting pressure of the moment. “There were some games when he was serving well and you barely touched the ball. You’re just trying to stay positive. It’s not always easy. I think I stayed there mentally. I felt pressure before the match. I’m very happy by the result.”

At the start of the final set, Pospisil immediately put pressure on his opponent with a couple of break points that Skinner saved. But Skinner pulled himself out of a hole with his kick serve to hit a service winner that enabled him to hold serve. Then, Skinner put his serve in danger with his fourth double fault to trail 15-30, but righted himself by winning the next three points to hold for 2-1 as the pressure began to build. On his ensuing service game, Sinner held at 40-30 by going deep to retrieve a lob from Pospisil and fired a forehand winner past the diving the Canadian to hold for 3-2. It appeared Sinner had regained his form and with it came a burst of energy, too.

Then, after Pospisil held for 3-all with his 12th ace, Sinner responded with a hold at love that put him ahead 4-3. Later, Sinner’s fifth double fault and a cross-court forehand winner gave Pospisil a 15-30 advantage in the ninth game, but Sinner gained a game point and held from 40-30 when Pospisil hit a backhand return long. It put Sinner ahead 5-4 in the final set, needing just to break Pospisil for the third time in the match to win his first title. Instead, Pospisil unleashed his 13th ace and a service winner in holding for 5-all. Sinner responded with a hold of his own to go ahead 6-5 as the championship match eclipsed the two-hour mark.

Sinner leveled the 12th game at 30-30 on Pospisil’s third double fault followed by a long return. However, Pospisil gained a game point with a volley winner at the net. He set up a third-set, decisive tie-break with a forehand winner to level the set at 6-all.

Finally, at 3-2 in tiebreak – and with plenty on the line for both players – Sinner broke for a 4-2 advantage after Pospisil netted an easy return. Then, he won the final three points, including a forehand winner to cap an 11-shot rally and a final break of Pospisil, as the Canadian hit a forehand long on first championship point.

Although Pospisil outpointed Sinner 97-93 and hit more aces (14 to 4), in the end the match was decided by more than just mere statistical performances.

Afterward, Pospisil, 30, took his title match loss with honor and found positives in defeat. “It was a tough one today; obviously I would have liked to win,” he said during his virtual press conference. “Jannik was playing really well. I had my chances. It was [still] a great week. I gave myself a chance to win. I thought I played a great tournament all the way through. Jannik was just too solid.”

In his casual, laid-back demeanor, Sinner said winning at Sofia will always feel special to him. “It is always special when you win tournaments. I felt well this week. It is special. Playing finals like this, 7-6 in the third … It’s always tough. But when you win, it is an even better win than winning 6-1, 6-1. I am happy about the match, how I tried to stay there every point and I think it is a very special week for me.”

In the midst of a global pandemic that shut down tennis for five months, the ATP Tour’s regular season ended on a high note. Its youngest champion, Sinner, gives the sport something positive to build upon for 2021.