Soccer-mad Italy is now obsessed with tennis player Jannik Sinner after his Australian Open title

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CORTINA D'AMPEZZO, Italy (AP) — Soccer-mad Italy has a new obsession. Jannik Sinner’s performance on the tennis court has captured the country’s attention.

And not just for the way Sinner rallied from two sets down to beat Daniil Medvedev and win the Australian Open title on Sunday.

Ever since Sinner reached the ATP Finals championship match at home in Turin and then led Italy to the Davis Cup title on consecutive weeks in November, he's been taking over the headlines from soccer.

“Jannik Sinner wrote a new page of history today that fills us with pride,” Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni wrote on Facebook. “It’s an achievement worthy of a real champion.”

The Turin final was the most watched tennis match of all time on Italian television, with 6.7 million viewers. It wouldn’t be surprising if Sunday’s match turns out to have an even bigger audience, even though it was shown only on Pay TV, starting at 9:30 a.m., in Sinner’s home country.

It’s a testament to the 22-year-old Sinner’s clean-cut image, his ability to always say the right thing and act properly.

“I’ve never seen such a great yet simple champion,” Andrea Abodi, Italy’s Sports Minister, wrote on X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter. “I’m happy and honored that he’s Italian.”

The attention is also due to the fact that no Italian man had won a Grand Slam singles title in nearly a half-century — since Adriano Panatta raised the French Open trophy in 1976.

“And trust me, this is just the first of many Grand Slam finals,” said Flavia Pennetta, the last Italian woman to win a Grand Slam after beating compatriot Roberta Vinci in the 2015 U.S. Open final.

Not since Valentino Rossi was dominating motorcycle racing, Marco Pantani was the world’s top cyclist or Alberto Tomba was winning Olympic skiing medals has a non-soccer athlete gained so much attention in Italy.

What’s different about Sinner from Rossi, Pantani and Tomba is that Sinner is from a German-speaking area of Italy. He left home for the Italian Riviera to train with Riccardo Piatti, now his former coach, at the age of 13.

When Sinner opted not to play Davis Cup for Italy in the September group phase — saying he hadn’t recovered in time from tournaments in North America, including the U.S. Open — he was widely criticized with an underlying sentiment that he wasn’t fully Italian.

“Caso Nazionale” (National Issue), said the front-page of Sportweek, the Gazzetta dello Sport’s weekly magazine.

The criticism quickly died down when Sinner went on his late season tear and almost single-handedly earned Italy its first Davis Cup title since 1976 by beating Novak Djokovic in both singles and doubles in the semifinals against Serbia and then clinching the decisive singles point in the final against Australia.

The Davis Cup team is due to be honored by Italy's President Sergio Mattarella on Thursday, and now Sinner can bring along another trophy.

There were almost two more trophies to bring but Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori lost the Australian Open men's doubles final to Rohan Bopanna and Matt Ebden on Saturday.

“Italy is on top of the tennis world,” said 90-year-old Nicola Pietrangeli, the only other Italian man to win a Grand Slam singles title, having won the 1959 and 1960 French Opens.

In Sinner’s tiny hometown of Sesto (population 1,860) near the Austrian border, about 70 people gathered inside the two-court indoor tennis facility where Sinner first played to watch the final. It might have been a bigger celebration but the town is in mourning after a mother and two children were recently killed in an auto accident.

“It’s an incredible achievement that provides joy for us all during a time of great pain,” Sesto Mayor Thomas Summerer said. “Tomorrow we will all go to the funeral but Jannik has provided us with positive emotions to help us get through this.”

The “Carota Boys,” Sinner’s fan club, were in Melbourne for the start of the Australian Open. Having returned to Italy, they watched the final on a jumbo screen in Turin together with more than 1,000 orange-clad fans.

The carrot theme is partly a tribute to Sinner’s red-orange hair and how he ate carrots instead of the more common banana during a changeover at a tournament in Vienna in 2019. “Carota” is the Italian word for carrot.

In Cortina, a town not far from Sesto where World Cup ski races were being held, Italian skiers and fans watched the final on their phones in between the racing.

“Forza Jannik Sinner,” said a banner hanging from the stands next to the ski course.

According to the Gazzetta, Sinner already earns 25 million euros ($27 million) per year from a large array of sponsors led by Nike. His other sponsors include: Head, Gucci, Lavazza, Rolex, Alfa Romeo and Parmigiano Reggiano. The list is likely to grow and become even more lucrative now.

Nicknamed “Jan the Fox” since he was a school kid, Sinner was an accomplished junior ski racer and his parents worked in a ski lodge where his father was a chef and his mom was a waitress. Sinner’s father recently started traveling with his son to some tournaments but the family, which also includes Sinner’s adopted brother Marc, did not go to Australia.

“I wish that everyone could have my parents because they always let me choose whatever I wanted to,” Sinner said to conclude his trophy speech. “Even when I was younger I (played) also some other sports and they never put pressure on myself and I wish that this freedom is possible for as many young kids as possible.”


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