Jannik Sinner Is Ready for Tennis Superstardom
Jannik Sinner is driving from his home in Monte Carlo to Montpellier when he makes a staticky call to our editor-at-large Christopher Bollen. The 21-year-old Italian tennis player is on his way to compete at the Open Sud de France (a tournament he will go on to win), and since cars are one of his passions, he has decided to make the drive himself. Italian tennis players have a reputation for being fiery and emotional, but when Sinner, who is part of the next wave of tennis stars, spoke to Bollen about his approach to life both on and off the court, he was clearly in cruise control.
SATURDAY 6 PM FEB. 23, 2023 FRANCE
CHRISTOPHER BOLLEN: Hi Jannik, how are you?
JANNIK SINNER: I’m good. I’m in a car right now. I’m going to Montpellier for a tournament.
BOLLEN: You’re driving there?
SINNER: Yeah, from Monaco it’s three and a half hours. It’s okay.
BOLLEN: Is it snowing?
SINNER: No, it’s warm.
BOLLEN: I know you’re a big skier. Have you gotten to go skiing this winter between tournaments?
SINNER: No, I haven’t. After the Australian Open, I went back home and watched a few ski races in Cortina [d’Ampezzo], but this is the first year since I was 3 years old that I haven’t skied. It’s too bad, because I love skiing at home in Kronplatz and South Tyrol in general.
BOLLEN: Frankly, I’m surprised you’re allowed to ski. Isn’t your team like, please don’t break anything, Jannik!
SINNER: [Laughs] I’m very careful when I ski.
BOLLEN: Before tennis, you were a champion skier, right? A child prodigy of the snow.
SINNER: I was born in 2001. In 2008 I won the Italian championship in the giant slalom for my age group. In 2012 I came in second. I was a much better skier than tennis player at the time, but I switched when I was around 13 years old. Because for me, skiing isn’t a game. It’s about trying to go as fast as possible downhill. In tennis, you can make mistakes and still find a way to win. I liked that.
BOLLEN: Which sport is more mental, skiing or tennis?
SINNER: For sure both. With tennis you can see more of the mental side of the game. But I think every sport is mental.
BOLLEN: Was there anything you took from skiing that you applied to tennis?
SINNER: They’re completely different, but maybe when you slide a little bit on the court and you keep your balance. But when I was a skier, I was always aware that I could hurt myself badly. In tennis you can break an ankle, but you can’t die. So in tennis, I can be nervous but I’m never scared. That’s the biggest difference.
BOLLEN: I was wondering when you go up against major players like Nadal or Djokovic, if there’s any trick you perform to calm your nerves?
SINNER: When you play against the best in the world, you have the pressure to perform and play your best tennis just to be on their level. That’s a big challenge. But right now I’m ready for that—I know my speed of shots, and I know I’m in shape to play for hours. And I love the challenge. You practice for those kinds of matches. I look forward to them. If they don’t go my way, at least I learned something I can use next time.
BOLLEN: In the past year you had so many close, five-set matches at the majors that could have gone either way. Five sets with Djokovic at Wimbledon, five sets with Alcaraz at the U.S. Open, and five sets with Tsitsipas at the Australian Open. Even though you lost all three, did you feel encouraged by those matches? Or was it just pure discouragement in the moment?
SINNER: For sure it’s heartbreaking knowing that you were up with the score or could have made some better decisions. But it shows me the level is there and I’m not far away. I feel I’m getting closer every time. I have to be patient, which is the toughest thing to deal with. Last year I was very consistent and made a lot of quarterfinals. This year I hope I can take it a level further.
BOLLEN: This morning I watched a nine-minute YouTube video that broke down the power of your two-handed backhand millisecond by millisecond. That’s your signature shot. At what age did that shot develop to perfection?
SINNER: I still don’t think it’s perfect. There are many things to improve on. But for sure my backhand is the natural shot of my game. It’s always been the shot where I feel most comfortable. When I was young and played with my dad, he would always say, “Just move your hands as fast as possible, even if the ball goes out.” That was the right advice, even if you miss.
BOLLEN: Did you get to play against Federer before he retired?
SINNNER: No. And there aren’t many players that I’m missing. I played with Rafa, Novak, Andy. There are some retired players I would have loved to play against.
BOLLEN: Like who?
SINNER: Del Potro. I also hope Kei Nishikori comes back because I never got to play against him.
BOLLEN: I feel like for about a decade we’ve been hearing about the next generation on the verge of taking over, but only now does there seem like a whole new group that’s really a threat. Do you feel a camaraderie with Alcaraz, Tsitsipas, Medvedev, and the other young players?
SINNER: Everyone can see that the next generation is coming closer. Me, Carlos, Rune, Tsitsipas, Zverev, Medvedev. We are all very young. And so many other players are coming. It’s exciting to see others winning tournaments. Everyone is different and has different personalities and ways to play. It’s fun to be part of it.
BOLLEN: Do you guys ever hang out or text each other or talk in the locker room? Or is it not as social as I’m imagining it?
SINNER: I have zero problems with any of the other guys on tour, which is very important to me. I talk with everyone and have good relations with everyone. But I more go out and do my job and go back to my team and my friends.
BOLLEN: I know you’re big into cars. Have you ever raced any?
SINNER: Never raced them, no. I do like to go go-karting, and I like driving sports cars. That’s why I’m driving to the tournament.
BOLLEN: What’s your favorite car you’ve ever gotten to drive?
SINNER: A Lamborghini Urus. But I only have one car of my own. I don’t want to show off with cars. If I have a nice car, it’s because I love it.
BOLLEN: Growing up, your father was a chef. Did you learn how to cook from him?
SINNER: I can cook to survive.
BOLLEN: What’s your signature dish?
SINNER: I make pasta. The key is not to overcook it. My Italian side comes out in my pasta.
BOLLEN: You told me when we had dinner that you aren’t allowed to eat fried foods.
SINNER: Yeah, we have to worry about the recovery of our bodies. Fried foods are the worst thing you can eat.
BOLLEN: What’s your favorite movie?
BOLLEN: When you dream at night, do you dream of tennis?
SINNER: It can happen. But, no, not every night when I play. I’m a good sleeper.
BOLLEN: When you travel, do you pack any of your Gucci clothes along with your tennis gear?
SINNER: Yeah, I do, in case I have a special dinner.
BOLLEN: Are you ever allowed to go out at night to bars and clubs? Or is alcohol verboten when you’re on tour?
SINNER: I don’t like to drink. I’m happy with a Coca-Cola.
BOLLEN: You travel so much throughout the year. What do you do in hotels to make it feel more like home?
SINNER: Eating good food makes it feel like home. I like to relax with my team in the evenings. Having fun is important.
Grooming: Fernnando Miranda using Kevin Murphy and Dyson Hair
Photography Assistants: Bridget Mac and Nadeemy Betros
Fashion Assistant: Georgia Hanes
Production: Briony Wright