After Masterpiece Win In Antwerp, Can Sinner Qualify For Turin?

Jannik Sinner (photo: European Open)

ANTWERP/WASHINGTON, October 26, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

After Jannik Sinner won his fourth ATP Tour title of the season at the European Open in Antwerp, Belgium Sunday afternoon, a masterpiece of a performance in defeating Diego Schwartzman 6-2, 6-2 in back of eight aces and a 91-percent success rate in winning points on his first serve, the 20-year-old young Italian from San Candido in the South Tyrol expressed a simple thought during his press conference that showed plenty of maturity.

“I love to play tennis and this is why I play,” he said, looking and feeling relaxed while also articulating the big picture for him.

Two years ago, Sinner won the 2019 NextGen ATP Finals and is atop the leader board in this year’s ATP Race To Milan with 2,845 points, more than 500 points ahead of second place Felix Auger-Aliassime (2,330). While he’s eligible again and would be the top seed – Sinner is 20 and the competition is for the top eight players 21-and-under – he’s looking toward a bigger prize: a chance to qualify for the ATP Finals in Turin, in which the top eight players in the FedEx ATP Race To Turin compete for the year-end championship.

After his European Open title victory on Sunday in which his serve was not broken and he outpointed Schwartzman 60-33, Sinner moved into 10th place in the FedEx ATP Race To Turin standings with 2,845 points, five points ahead of 11th place Cameron Norrie. With No. 8 Rafael Nadal already declared out for the season, it pushes Sinner up to ninth place, trailing Hubert Hurkacz by only 110 points. He also trails seventh place Casper Ruud (3,015) by only 170 points. After the Hurkacz lost his first-round match in Vienna Monday evening to Andy Murray, it presents the World No. 11 Sinner with an excellent opportunity to overtake the Polish star, starting with his first-round match at the Erste Bank Open in Vienna, Austria on Wednesday against No. 27 Reilly Opelka.

“I think I can be very proud about the level I played,” Sinner said on Sunday before heading to Vienna. “There’s another tournament already. There are different conditions. I won in Washington and then I lost first round in Toronto. I’m trying to not let this happen in Vienna.”

The 6-foot-2-inch Monte Carlo resident comes into his match against the hard-serving Opelka sporting a 42-18 win-loss record for 2021, including 10-1 in his last three tournaments (Sofia, Indian Wells and Antwerp), all on hard-court surfaces. Of Opelka, whom Sinner will be facing for the first time, he said, “[Reilly] is going to be a tough opponent.”

Sinner’s No. 11 ranking is a career-high after winning his fifth career title in Antwerp, which was his third on an indoor hard-court surface in two years (after winning back-to-back titles in Sofia, Bulgaria). His other two titles were won outdoors, in Melbourne at the Great Ocean Road last February and at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. in August.

“I think every tournament is different, nothing is the same,” Sinner told Tennis TourTalk after his title accomplishment in Antwerp. “In every tournament, I try to learn. I like to play indoors.

“What I’ve learned is to try to stay consistent, to make the right moves in the right times. Sometimes, you can do it, like this week, and sometimes it doesn’t work … but this is tennis.”

If the No. 7 seed Sinner stutters in Vienna – where he would likely have to beat No. 4 seed Rudd, No. 1 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 2 seed Alexander Zverev to win the Erste Bank title – he will also have next week’s Rolex Paris Masters to make up ground with an eye toward qualifying for Turin. “I’m very excited about the position where I am right now, but there’s still a couple of tournaments to come,” he said.

Sinner knows qualifying for Turin won’t be an easy thing, but he’s looking forward to the challenge that’s ahead of him.

“There are other players, incredible players, everyone is trying to do that,” Sinner admitted. “Obviously, you would like to go to Turin or you want to win this match or that point, but sometimes it’s happening an sometimes it’s not happening. If not, I can be happy about my season I played.”