Jannik Sinner carries on his shoulders the weight of the hopes of Italian tennis: in Rome, where he is pushed by his public, he hopes to regain his momentum towards Roland-Garros (May 28-June 11) after a break due to illness.
“There is pressure, but it’s always positive, with people who want me well and push me through difficult times,” the 21-year-old world No.8 admitted on Thursday on the eve of his entry into contention in the 2nd round against the Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis (104th).
“The public is a playing card, you have to be smart and know how to use it. I’ve played all over the world and the Italian public is really different! When I walk in here, on the central or the Pietrangeli court, it’s is really unique”, describes the Italian with red hair and childish face, quarter-finalist last year on the banks of the Tiber.
Proof of his change of status in Italy: his presentation press conference did not take place in the usual room, without window, adjoining the central court but in the more refined setting of the federal lounge overlooking the Foro Italico, the welcoming stadium tournament.
Despite his age, Sinner knows that a lot is already expected of him after a strong start to the season which has taken him to at least the quarter-finals in seven of the eight tournaments he has played. In Masters 1000, the highest category after the Grand Slams, he reached the final in Miami and the semi-finals in Indian Wells and Monte Carlo, in addition to the seventh title of his career in Montpellier (ATP 250).
Rome has been waiting for an Italian winner for almost half a century and Adriano Panatta in 1976. Some like to see Sinner as the one who could close this long parenthesis.
Not worried about Djokovic
“He represents an immense chance, as our tennis has perhaps not known in its history, so strong and so young,” Italian Federation President Angelo Binaghi told AFP, aware of the importance sporting Sinner but also its ability to “attract the public and sponsors” around the yellow ball in Italy.
“We’ll see… I don’t like to compare myself too much, many others have done great things before me, there is work to be done to achieve these types of goals,” Sinner replies cautiously to questions evoking his chances of victory in Rome.
“I trained well, I feel good,” he adds, as he returns to the circuit after withdrawing (sick) in the quarterfinals in Barcelona at the end of April and then giving up the Madrid tournament.
The one who “no longer fears” “saying that he can win big matches” has regained his bearings on clay by training this week with Novak Djokovic, defending champion and big favorite for a seventh Roman coronation despite the uncertainty about the condition of his right elbow.
Sinner, however, is not too worried about the Serb: “He was good on the pitch. Training is always different from a match, but + Nole + has a unique experience. When he had difficulties with the past, he has always found his bearings in Rome. This year again, he will be ready for Roland-Garros (May 28-June 11), “says the Italian.
With Djokovic, Sinner shares another common passion: AC Milan. And if he is a little “disappointed” with the defeat of the Rossoneri on Wednesday in the semi-final first leg of the Champions League against Inter (2-0), the Italian “still believes in it”: “We can win by being led by two sets…”