The hat was blue. The hair was red. The shirt was yellow. The raw, unadulterated talent was both unassuming and overflowing.
The first time I laid eyes on Jannik Sinner was Sunday, December 3rd, 2017, at the Monte Carlo Country Club. I was there with Novak Djokovic, completing a training week to prepare for the 2018 season. Novak had not hit a ball since July when he retired against Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon with an elbow injury.
It was time to test the elbow and also welcome new coaches Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek to the fold. Novak had hit on Friday and Saturday and I was doing a lot of video analysis of Novak's strokes to make sure everything was in working order.
Novak liked to hit with two juniors who could collectively keep up with him in practice. One of the juniors this Sunday morning was a 16-year-old who looked like he was ready to hit the beach. The picture below is right at beginning of practice.
Jannik was training at the Piatti Tennis Center nearby in Italy under the tutelage of Ricardo Piatti. I had started in 2017 as the strategy analyst for the Italian Federation, so it was nice to meet the Italian coach from Piatti's, who made me aware that Jannik is an extremely promising Italian junior. I remember the coach smiling at me saying "Keep your eye on him." All I could see at that stage was a huge mop of red hair...
While recording Novak's practice, I got a little of Jannik hitting as well. Here's the clip.
Dec 3, 2017: Jannik Sinner hitting at the Monte Carlo Country Club
That was December 2017. In the next two years and two months, he will go from being unranked into the Top 70 in the world.
Here's his timeline.
- Jan - Played his first Future in Egypt.
- May - Won two matches in a row for the first time.
- Aug - Broke into the top 1000.
- Feb - Wins a $50K Challenger in Bergamo, Italy & is ranked #324.
- Feb - Wins a $25K Challenger the next week in Trento, Italy.
- Feb - Wins a $25K Challenger the next week in Italy. That's 16 straight wins.
- May - Beats #59 Steve Johnson 1-6, 6-1, 7-5 in Rd1 Rome Masters.
- Jul - Breaks into the Top 200.
- Jul - Wins a $50K Challenger in Lexington, Kentucky.
- Oct - Beats #79 P. Kohlschreiber 6-3, 6-4 in Vienna. Breaks into the Top 100.
- Nov - Wins the NEXTGen ATP Finals in Milan.
- Nov - Wins a $50K Challenger in Ortisei, Italy, and is ranked #78.
- Feb - First Top 10 win - a 7-6(7), 7-5 win over #10 David Goffin in Rotterdam.
- Feb - Career-high ranking of #68.
In April of this year, I wrote an Infosys, ATP analysis of players who had the biggest backhands on tour. Have a guess who was on top? The two impressive metrics for Sinner's backhand were spin and power. He backhand is completely stacked in both areas.
Sinner's backhand averaged having the most amount of spin of any player on tour. The five leading players from 2018-20 with the most backhand RPM's were:
Backhand Spin Rate (RPM)
- Jannik Sinner = 1858 rpm
- Martin Klizan = 1840 rpm
- Felix Auger-Aliassime = 1825 rpm
- Pablo Cuevas = 1735 rpm
- John Millman = 1680 rpm
Sinner came in fifth highest with pure power on the backhand wing.
Backhand Average Speed (MPH)
- Nikoloz Basilashvili = 71.2 mph
- John Millman 70.2 mph
- Rafael Nadal 69.8 mph
- Ugo Humbert = 69.2 mph
- Jannik Sinner = 69.1 mph
At the 2019 NEXTGen finals in Milan, Sinner was absolutely crushing his backhand, averaging 75.3 mph, which was a sizeable 7.1mph faster on average than his opponents. His was really feeling it in his round-robin match against Mikael Ymer, averaging an eye-popping 80.2 mph.
Sinner hit it harder, and he also hit it from better court position closer to the baseline. He made contact with 23 per cent of his backhands inside the baseline, which was almost double the 12% his opponent's averaged.
Yes, it's already one of the biggest, baddest shots in the game!
I was in Milan for the NEXTGen Finals working with the Italian Tennis Federation. I was able to watch Jannik practice, alongside coach Ricardo Piatti. Here are some clips of the practice sessions.
Volleys & Overheads