In a moment that had a feel of the passing of the torch. Andy Murray was denied his 700th ATP victory by Jannik Sinner at the Dubai duty Free Tennis Championships, somehow signalling a changing of the old guard to the next big things in the world of tennis.
The Scottish former world No. 1 has three Grand Slam titles to his name to go with two Olympic gold medals, but he had no answer to his 20-year-old opponent’s game on Wednesday.
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The Italian, ranked No. 10 in the world and seeded No. 4 here, took the vital break right at the end of the first set, then turned it on in the second and record a 7-5, 6-2 win over the 34-year-old who has struggled to reach the heights since suffering injuries and undergoing major surgery on his hip in 2018 shortly after claiming the Dubai title himself in 2017.
Sinner was three years old when Murray turned pro in 2005, and has become the youngest Italian to crack the top 10 in the ATP rankings, he is the youngest five-time ATP Tour champion since Novak Djokovic, and in reaching the French Open quarter-finals in 2020 at 19 he was the youngest player to reach that stage since Djokovic in 2006. Murray, who has 699 ATP victories to his name and is fourth on the all-time list of winners, will have to wait a little longer for his landmark win.
”There were, of course, some nerves out there,” Sinner said after his straight-sets win. “It is normal. I lost the last match against him so I tried to stay focused, and it worked today.”
The Italian youngster took time out to praise his opponent, whom he has looked up to for many years.
“It is a special feeling to play Murray — to even be on the same court as him,” Sinner said. “He has three Grand Slam wins and many, many tournaments. He has also had some unfortunate moments and surgeries, so his fighting spirit is incredible and I wish him the best of luck.”
Murray was pragmatic in his assessment of the match.
When asked by Gulf News if it was tiredness or frustration, Murray replied: “There’s no tiredness. But, yeah, there is frustration obviously. Again, I didn’t feel like I played a good match. I had some opportunities at the end of the first set, at 4-3 up, Love-30 on his serve, I missed three of the next four returns. Certainly the first two were very makable.
Then, in the game I got broken at 5-5, I think I missed all four first serves in that game. Then, yeah, responded poorly to that mentally.
“I got down a break early in the second. Yeah, mentally was not great from that point. It was a crucial part of the match, a little bit of adversity, and I didn’t respond well to it.
“I’m going to have to fix that, work on that, and hopefully do better next tournaments.”
Murray insisted there is no pressure on him to reach the 700 wins landmark.
“Obviously it’s something I want to achieve,” he said. “Unless something went horribly wrong in the next six, eight months, I will get to that number. But, yeah, no excuse for some of the performances I’ve had recently in terms of how I’ve been playing. I need time on the practice court. I need, like I said, consistency in terms of the things that I’m working on.
"Mentally need to be a lot tougher, that’s something I obviously can work on. I believe that will come by right mentality, doing the right work on the practice court. Yeah, hopefully will turn that around.”
Sinner has had a flying start to the year, winning nine out of 10 matches so far, and he plans on making that more as the tournament goes on.
“It is a great start to the season,” he said. “I am just trying to get the consistency together and we will see how it goes.”
Sinner next plays Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, after the Polish fifth seed defeated Slovakian Alex Molcan 6-3, 6-2.