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Jannik Sinner’s staggering Australian Open comeback heralds the start of a new era

The 22-year-old Italian came from two sets down to win his first grand slam title as Daniil Medvedev suffered more Australian Open final heartbreak

Jamie Braidwood
Sunday 28 January 2024 17:45 GMT
Jannik Sinner wins first Grand Slam title at Australian Open

For two weeks at the Australian Open, Jannik Sinner led from the front as he chased his first grand slam title. Suddenly, in the biggest match of his life, he stood on the brink: two sets down to Daniil Medvedev, the 22-year-old Italian faced the long road back. Step by step, and with calmness beyond his years, he pieced together his destructive forehand to wipe Medvedev off the court, delivering a breakthrough victory under the weight of an expectant homeland to arrive as a grand slam champion. He becomes the first Italian man to win a grand slam since 1976, and the youngest Australian Open winner since Novak Djokovic in 2008.

That in itself is fitting, given how key Sinner’s two victories over Djokovic at the end of last season have been for the world No 4 to believe that he could finally challenge for a major. He attacked the Australian Open from the start, only dropping one set as he swept through the tournament with the cleanest of hitting. After ending Djokovic’s six-year dominance at Melbourne Park in the semi-finals, Sinner was ready to emulate Carlos Alcaraz and secure another grand slam title for this emerging new generation. Yet Medvedev put up the bravest of battles.

Sinner fell to his back as the latest of his magnificently crisp forehand blows landed into the corner to seal a staggering escape, 3-6 3-6 6-4 6-4 6-3 in three hours and 44 minutes. It was his moment, yet it was impossible to not feel for Medvedev, the second time the Russian has lost the Australian Open from two sets up, following Rafael Nadal’s epic comeback two years ago. No player has ever given more to lose a grand slam final: his 31 sets played throughout the Australian Open is a record. Medvedev had spent more than 24 hours on court over the two weeks, another record, and had nothing left to give.

Medvedev was left with the taste of another heartbreaking defeat (Reuters)

But for the first two hours, Medvedev produced a masterclass. After showcasing his immense physical and mental capabilities in taking an arduous route to reach his third Melbourne final, Medvedev underlined his status as one of the finest tactical minds in the sport to completely change his approach and disrupt Sinner. Medvedev took time away from Sinner’s groundstrokes behind an aggressive attacking gameplan. The Italian had only lost his serve twice on his run to the final but Medvedev managed to break him four times across the first two sets.

The third seed used his experience to dominate Sinner in the early exchanges, playing closer to the baseline and rushing his opponent. So often a disciplined baseline hitter who finds safety in taking up a deep stance at the back of the court, Medvedev stepped in and attacked Sinner, creating angles and stunning the Italian with a series of winners. His flat backhand had a jarring effect against Sinner’s crisp groundstrokes and Medvedev built on his attacking start, breaking Sinner’s serve for the second time to close out the first set.

Sinner was dominated in the opening stages but turned the match around (Reuters)

As Medvedev cruised through his service games, Sinner faced a constant battle to hold. With the pressure from Medvedev unrelenting, Sinner was broken again midway through the second set as the Russian suffocated his opponent at the net and closed the court with his long reach. From the calm and control he had exerted throughout the tournament, the 22-year-old was made to appear hurried and anxious in the rallies. Unable to find rhythm in his service games, Sinner made uncharacteristic errors and Medvedev leapt on the hesitancy to continue his aggressive approach. With Sinner spiralling, Medvedev took the double break after a horrid game from the Italian.

Despite losing the second set, Sinner rallied back and broke Medvedev’s serve for the first time in the match after squeezing a couple of passing shots by the Medvedev wall. Undeterred by the sizable hole he was in, Sinner slowly grew into the match as his serving improved. As he reeled off a series of increasingly comfortable holds, winning a succession of points behind his steadying first serve, Sinner added pace to his forehand and found greater success in the baseline rallies.

Sinner added pace to his huge forehand strike after going two sets down (AP)

While Medvedev’s level dropped, Sinner’s gradually increased to meet his opponent. With both players dominating behind their serve at the business end of the third, Sinner put a missed opportunity behind him to break Medvedev on his second set point. With his backhand having adjusted to Medvedev’s awkward trajectory, Sinner forced the fourth and the Russian started to stare at another catastrophic collapse in a grand slam final. Medvedev had survived three gruelling five-set matches to reach the final, including from two sets down against Emil Ruusuvuori in the second round and Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals, and his legs were becoming heavy as he faced another marathon battle.

With the momentum behind him, Sinner’s cleaner hitting gave the Italian a clear advantage in the longer rallies and Medvedev found he could no longer finish the points early or on his terms. Medvedev was forced to hang on as Sinner stepped up the heaviness of his forehand strike, saving break point early in the fourth as the Russian turned defence into attack with a backhand winner down the line. Sinner responded from 0-30 down and saved break point with an ace, before holding with a forehand winner and another thunderous serve. With the match now being dictated by Sinner’s forehand, the Italian broke Medvedev to force a fifth set with a series of punishing blows.

Sinner fell to his back on match point (Reuters)

As Medvedev was pushed to his physical and mental limits, Sinner sensed his chance at the start of the fifth: he outlasted Medvedev in an epic 39-shot rally in the opening game, with Medvedev doubling over in exhaustion. As he brought up two break points midway through the fifth, Sinner attacked Medvedev’s serve with an aggressive return and whipped his forehand winner onto the line from midcourt. Edging closer to victory, Sinner’s serve remained steady and he moved to match point. With Medvedev pushed behind the baseline, his spirit drained, Sinner unloaded on his forehand and his ascension to grand slam champion was complete.

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