Sinner Reaches European Open Final

Jannik Sinner (photo: European Open)

ANTWERP/WASHINGTON, October 23, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Round by round, Italy’s Jannik Sinner has built upon an already impressive season as he arrived at his sixth semifinal of 2021 at the European Open in Antwerp, Belgium, on Saturday afternoon. After a solid 6-4, 6-2 quarterfinal win over No. 65 Arthur Rinderknech of France a day earlier, Sinner aimed for his fifth final and fourth title of the year, when he met No. 7 seed Lloyd Harris in the first semifinal inside Lotto Arena.

Harris, 24, playing in his second semifinal of the season, has done well on hard court surfaces, reaching a final earlier this year at Dubai plus quarterfinal runs at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. and later at the US Open. The 32nd-ranked South African brought a clean sheet into the semifinals, having not dropped a set in his three previous matches.

Something had to give when the 20-year-old, 13th-ranked Sinner took on Harris. As it happened, Sinner took control from the outset. He won all of his service games, broke Harris’s serve four times and easily won 6-2, 6-2 in an hour and 27 minutes.

Next, he will face No. 2 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, who mastered 70th-ranked qualifier Jenson Brooksby of the United States, 6-4. 6-0, in Sunday afternoon’s final in the Belgian port city.

Sinner broke Harris in the initial game of the match and consolidated it with the first of his two aces down the T for a 2-0 lead. The young Italian took command of his opponent’s second service game, too, and broke him for a second straight time to lead 3-0. Sinner quietly celebrated with a fist pump as looked in the direction of his team and smiled confidently.

Sinner’s quick rhythm coupled with Harris’s difficulty in placing his first serve in play made a big difference as the top seed maintained control in closing out the 40-minute first serve 6-2.

Then, in a repeat of the opening set, Sinner broke and consolidated it for a 2-0 lead and was never in any difficulty the remainder of the semifinal match. He outpointed Harris 72-46 and won 70 percent (40 of 57) of his service points and 52 percent (32 of 61) of his returns. It all added up for Sinner.

Sinner, who has enjoyed a breakthrough season, winning three tour-level titles at Melbourne, Washington, D.C., and Sofia, is now in a good position to win his fourth against either Schwartzman, whom he would be facing for the first time, or Brooksby, whom he has a 1-0 lifetime record against. He’s also enjoyed a run to his first Masters 1000 final in Miami, becoming just the fourth teenager to reach the championship match in the tournament’s 36-year history. This week, Sinner has not lost a set in his three victories leading up to the final.

“I am very happy to be in the final,” Sinner said during his on-court TV interview. “[Lloyd] is having an incredible season, so best of luck for him to finish in the best possible way. Thanksto the crowd for coming out today, it was a great atmosphere here. I just love playing here and love playing indoors. So, hopefully, I can play a great match again tomorrow.”

Schwartzman dominates Brooksby

Meanwhile, following a pair of straight set victories over Andy Murray and Brandon Nakashima, the World No. 14 Schwartzman reached his second semifinal of the year and first since Buenos Aires earlier this season, which he won. He came into his match against Brooksby 4-1 against American competition this season, and is now 5-1 after his 6-4, 6-0 win in 86 minutes Saturday.

Across the net from Schwartzman, the 70th-ranked qualifier Brooksby in his first full season on the ATP Tour, arrived at his third semifinal of the season after stringing together five straight wins – two in qualifying last weekend and three in the main draw against higher-ranked opponents, No. 25 Reilly Opelka, No. 62 Botic van de Zandschulp and No. 44 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

With the pressure off from qualifying for the Milan Next Gen Finals, after clinching the fifth qualifier spot following his quarterfinal win Friday, Brooksby was able to set his sights on aiming for his second final of the year. But, in the end, he was no match for Schwartzman. The Argentine No.. 1 outpointed him 61-37 and broke his serve five times and won the final nine games of the match.

“It is always tough when you play an opponent you have never played before,” said Schwartzman during his on-court TV interview after improving to 12-4 lifetime in Antwerp including two appearances in the title match back in 2016-17. “In the first game, you try and figure out how he is going to play and how I am going to play and how you feel the ball.

“I was just trying to put every ball in and I think the first set helped me because in the second set he was unable to do what he did in the first set. I kept my rhythm in the second set, which I think was the difference. I feel very comfortable here.”

Dream run of Malisse ends with loss to Koolhof and Rojer 

No. 3 seeds Wesley Koolhof and Jean-Julien Rojer, both of the Netherlands, defeated wild cards Lloyd Harris of South Africa and Xavier Malisse of Belgium, 6-4, 6-2, in 67 minutes Saturday evening to reach the European Open final. They will play No. 2 seeds Nicolas Mahut and Fabrice Martin of France in Sunday’s final.

The 41-year-old Malisse, who had been helping to coach Harris this week and hadn’t appeared on the ATP Tour since the US Open in 2013, received a warm welcome from the Lotto Arena fans throughout the week en route to the Belgian and South African reaching the semifinals.

Saturday’s European Open results

Sunday’s European Open order of play

By the numbers

Jenson Brooksby is the first American under the age of 21 to reach three semifinals in the season since Ryan Harrison in 2012. Brooksby was aiming for his second final this season.

“Quotable …”

“It is a long way. There is still this tournament and then three to go. I have to play well in Vienna and well in Paris and there are other incredible players trying to get there. Hopefully, this year, but if not I can be happy about my season.”

Jannik Sinner on qualifying for the Nitto ATP Finals. He is currently in 11th place with 2,745 points.

“I think we’ve never played each other because I became Top 100 in 2014 and I started to play big tournaments in 2015, 2016. I don’t know, it sometimes happens. Sometimes, you can play against the same guys every tournament. I don’t know why, but obviously, Andy was two-three years trying to find the solution to coming back. He’s trying very hard and every week he’s playing better and better against Top 10 guys and he’s very close to winning many matches. Like I said to him, it was a pleasure because he’s fighting, one of the best in our history. I think everyone has respect for Andy Murray.”

Diego Schwartzman on playing Andy Murray for the first time Thursday night after competing together on the Tour for 11 years, during the second round of the European Open, as told to Tennis TourTalk.