Sinner Surges To Fifth ATP Tour Title At European Open

Jannik Sinner (photo: Laurie Dieffembacq)

ANTWERP/WASHINGTON, October 24, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

As championship Sunday arrived at the European Open in Antwerp, Belgium, on one side of the net inside Lotto Arena was Italy’s Jannik Sinner, who was looking to win his fourth ATP Tour title of the season and fifth of his career. On the other side was Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, who was appearing in his third Antwerp final trying to win this ATP Tour 250 indoor hardcourt event for the first time.

In a city famous for being the home of the 17th century Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens, who knew a thing or two about painting masterpieces, Sinner created his own tennis masterpiece by mastering Schwartzman, 6-2, 6-2, in an hour and 16 minutes before an appreciative Belgian audience that filled up Lotto Arena.

“Against Diego, you have to play your best tennis,” Sinner said during an on-court TV interview before the trophy ceremony. “I tried to push the ball and I’m very happy about my level today.”

Later during his virtual press conference, Sinner said: “I felt great on court, I moved well. Today, I served better. I felt great, but in tennis every day is different. I think I played well the entire week, from first point to last point. … I think I can be proud by the level I played.”

The 20-year-old, level-headed Sinner became the youngest player to win his fifth tour-level title of his career since Novak Djokovic at age 19 in 2007 at Estoril. The young Italian didn’t drop a set the entire week en route to the sixth final of his career and fifth of the 2021 season. He lost just eight games during his final two matches, against Lloyd Harris of South Africa in the semifinals and Schwartzman in the final.

By winning, Sinner become the fifth player to win at least four titles this year, joining Casper Ruud (5), Djokovic (4), Daniil Medvedev (4) and Alexander Zverev (4).

Sinner, who was the youngest and highest-ranked Antwerp finalist in the six-year history of the tournament, didn’t disappoint. Back in 2019, he reached his first ATP Tour quarterfinal as an 18-year-old wild card ranked 119th before losing to eventual finalist Stan Wawrinka. What a remarkable improvement he’s shown in two years.

Meanwhile, Schwartzman, 29, came into his third finals appearance in Antwerp, the winningest player in the tournament’s six-year history at 12-4. While owning a 4-7 career record in Tour finals, he’s never won an indoor final in four tries. Now, he’ll have to wait a little bit longer after losing to a very skillful and determined Sinner.

“I think that the key to my game and the key of my year is to be regular, to be ready every single week to play my best tennis,” Schwartzman told Tennis TourTalk during his press conference. “Since 2017, my ranking has always improved, to be Top 20. For me, it’s important to continue like this. I know sometimes, I’m going to lose like today, but that’s it. For me, the very important things are to win matches every week and I’m focused on that.” 

Neither player lost a set this week en route to the final, but that would soon change as the title match unfolded. Sinner got the first break and it came in just the third game against Schwartzman. He consolidated it at love for a 3-1 lead. Then, in the Argentine’s next service game, he was broken again by the steady Sinner who pushed Schwartzman about the court. Suddenly, after just 19 minutes, Sinner was ahead a double-break at 4-1.

Although Schwartzman gained two break points during Sinner’s next service game, the young Italian battled his way out of trouble during a 10-point game to hold serve for 5-1. Sinner continued to apply pressure on Schwartzman with the first set on the line. He gained a set point on a double fault that was quickly erased, then garnered a second one that Schwartzman batted away. Sinner finally held his serve at the conclusion of another 10-point game after he netted a backhand volley coming into the net that finished off an exciting 14-shot rally.

Finally, Sinner closed out opening set on his service, winning on his fifth set-point opportunity. He struck early and fast to win the 40-minute set 6-2 in back of four aces and an 87-percent (13 of 15) efficiency rate of winning points on his first serve, while Schwartzman paled at 39 percent (7 of 18).

Quietly but effectively, Sinner attacked from the beginning of the second set and gained an early break of Schwartzman, who was trying to reset after being outpointed 32-19 in the opener. Sinner consolidated the break to maintain a comfortable lead. He held for a 3-1 lead thanks to an overhead winner that capped a nine-shot rally, then broke Schwartzman for the fourth time in the match to further his lead at 4-1. It was as if Sinner was reaching out to grab hold of the champion’s trophy with one hand already. Everything it seemed that he did with his racquet was magical.

Next, as if to add insult to injury, Sinner held for 5-1 with a demonstrative backhand down-the-line winner at the end of a 10-shot rally. Finally, after Schwartzman managed to hold, it was time for Sinner to wrap up his masterpiece of a performance on his serve, which he did on his second match point opportunity. Career title number five was all Sinner’s to savor.

Sinner finished Sunday’s title match with eight aces, won 91 percent (21 of 23) of his first serve points – which was truly a difference maker for him – saved the only two break points he faced, and outpointed the overmatched Schwartzman 60-33. By comparison, Schwartzman won just 47 percent (23 of 49) of his service points and won just 10 points on Sinner’s serve.

“Jannik played unbelievable,” Schwartzman said during the trophy ceremony. “I was playing one of my best weeks. I had no chance from the beginning of the match. He was doing everything better than me.” Then, looking at Sinner, he added: “I’m sure you’re going to win many more titles for sure. Everybody’s happy when he’s winning. He’s also a very good person on and off the court.”

Sinner showed a great attitude and form throughout his run to the title. A quiet character, he showed real drive in each of his wins this week as he continued his pursuit of knocking on the door to reach the Top 10. If Sinner continues to play as he did in Antwerp this week, it won’t be long.

“We’re working very, very hard every day,” Sinner said in accepting the champion’s trophy and with an eye toward congratulating his team, which includes his coaches Riccardo Piatti and Andrea Volpini. “Having this kind of results this year, so many times, I’m hopeful we can go on.

“Of course, I’ll be back, and thanks for coming out today,” Sinner added as he bade the Lotto Arena crowd a fond farewell for another year.

Mahut and Martin dominant in winning first title together 

Nicolas Mahut and Fabrice Martin, both of France, won their first ATP Tour doubles title together at the European Open in just their third tournament. The No. 2 seeds defeated No. 3 seeds Wesley Koolhof and Jean-Julien Rojer, full-time partners and both from the Netherlands, 6-0, 6-1, in just 53 minutes. They victory was their sixth in seven career matches together.

Mahut (World No. 5) and Martin (World No. 34) won 78 percent (21 of 27) of their first-serve points and saved all five break points they faces while breaking Koolhof and Rojer in five of six opportunities. They outpointed their opponents 49-27 during the title match.

Mahut, 39, is now 34-17 in doubles finals – 32-17 with a French partner – and earlier this year completed a career Grand Slam with longtime doubles partner Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Meanwhile, Martin, 35, who normally plays with fellow French Jeremy Chardy, is the ninth Frenchman and 10th different player to reach a doubles final with Mahut. It was Martin’s seventh ATP Tour doubles title.

“I was very happy that Nico offered me [a chance] to play,” Martin said after the victory during a Zoom interview with reporters. “He’s always been a model of someone to follow because his results are unbelievable. Since I’ve played doubles, he’s always been someone I’ve looked at.

“Today, to win with him is something really nice, because we got on really well on and off the court. I’m happy that I managed to play well as well next to him. So, it was a very good week.”

Added Mahut: “We had an amazing week together, like Fabrice said. We actually played the week before the US Open in Winston-Salem and I had a calf injury. So, I had to pull out from the second round. But I said to Fabrice, ‘I’ll be ready for Antwerp.'”

Indeed, they were. En route to the title, Mahut and Martin won four matches and did not drop any sets.

Asked by Tennis TourTalk what it meant to win a title this late in the season, especially since they normally don’t partner together too often, Martin said, “Obviously, we want to win. For me to share the court with Nico was a great experience. We know we can play good now together.”

Mahut leaned in toward the microphone, then chimed to affirm everything Martin said: “I knew it before this week!” he said with a wink and smile.

Then, Martin continued his thought without missing a beat: “Now, we have proved it.”