Italian teenager Jannik Sinner admitted he felt like Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal as he basked in the spotlight after defeating top-seed Australian Alex de Minaur in straight sets to win the Next Gen ATP Finals on home soil in Milan on Saturday.
The 18-year-old Sinner, an eighth-seeded wildcard, saved nine break points to win 4-2, 4-1, 4-2 in just over an hour against 18th-ranked De Minaur, who also lost last year’s final to Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The tournament, which began in 2017, features the eight best players aged 21-and-under on the ATP Tour.
And Sinner came in as a late wild card after a season when he rose almost 500 places to break into the Top 100.
The player from the north of Italy, near the border with Austria, was basking in the spotlight at the hysterical support from the home crowd.
“It’s something different,” he said. “I never had this kind of support, even on court. I don’t know if Roger or Rafa are still enjoying these kind of things.
“I’m young and I’m enjoying it. It’s been an unbelievable week,” continued the 95th-ranked Italian, who beat another top 20 ranked player France’s Gael Monfils last month en route to the semi-finals in Antwerp.
“I was the last one in and tried to take my chances. I played better and better with each game,” he added.
It was the first meeting between De Minaur and Sinner. But the Italian, the youngest competitor in this year’s tournament, brushed aside his Australian rival dubbed ‘Speed Demon’, who had captured his first three ATP Tour titles in Sydney, Atlanta and Zhuhai.
“The biggest difference was I had nine break points and I wasn’t able to convert any of them,” said De Minaur.
“Yanick played a really impressive match, he was putting me under pressure very often. If I had converted some of those break points early it would have been a completely different match.”
The Australian added: “It don’t think it would be very smart if I judged my season on this one match. Obviously I’ve had my best season yet. I’m happy to be able to sit down and know that I finished the year 18 in the world. Now I’ve got the Davis Cup to look forward to.”
Sinner broke to love in the sixth game of the first set and staved off break points on his serve in the first game of the second set.
Hitting two aces he converted three of his eight break point chances to wrap up the match to love when De Minaur hit a return of serve into the net.
Sinner’s winnings for the week over $372,000 overtake his career earnings of $274,470 so far, in a season he started the rankings 551. He follows South Korean Hyeon Chung and Tsitsipas, who won the two previous editions. Both went on to reach their maiden Grand Slam semi-final at the Australian Open two months later.
The top two players in the category are absent, with Greece’s Tsitsipas playing at the ATP Tour Finals in London next week, while world number 15 Denis Shapovalov withdrew from Milan after reaching last weekend’s Paris Masters final.
The Next Gen tournament also offers a chance to test new innovations. Matches are played in three winning sets with four games, and a tie-break at 3-3. Coaching is allowed using headphones with hawk-eye replacing line judges. The let returned this year having being eliminated in the two previous editions.