Jannik Sinner during the win over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
Jannik Sinner during the win over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships Image Credit: AP

It was somewhat fitting that, as the Museum of the Future opened just down the road from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships that one man many tout as the future of the sport stamped his mark on the tournament.

Jannik Sinner, who crashed out in the first round here in 2021 to eventual champion Aslan Karatsev, has risen through the ranks over the past couple of years and — despite still only being 20 years old — has been tipped by many, including current No. 1 Novak Djokovic for the very top.

While Sinner is fairly happy with his game after defeating Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina to progress in Dubai after last year’s disappointment, he knows he still has a lot of work to do if he is to live up to his potential.

In November Sinner became the youngest Italian to crack the top 10 in the ATP rankings, he is the youngest five-time ATP Tour champion since 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.

When asked by Gulf News if he thinks his season and career are on track, the Italian world No. 10 said with a laugh: “I think the track is long. There are different worlds between the rankings and you have to reach a certain level to get there. This is what I’m trying to do. I know my potential, that I can play good tennis if I feel well. But you have to play one whole year consistently — Covid-19 has not helped me there — so this is the difference.

“Honestly I know that I have so many things to improve and hopefully I will improve them because this for me is the most important thing. Then we see where that takes us.

The Dubai No. 4 seed had to stave off two match points against Davidovich Fokina in his first-round match before progressing in three sets 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 on Tuesday and set up a clash with wildcard Andy Murray. The two-time Wimbledon champion and double Olympic gold medallist from Scotland defeated Australian Christopher O’Connell in three tough sets on Monday and will be glad of an extra day’s rest before facing the Italian youngster.

Sinner struggled to overcome Davidovich Fokina and was staring at defeat as he faced those match points towards the end of the second set.

“I just was trying to stay focused on the present because obviously the match was very, very close,” he said. “He was one point away and I just tried my best.

“I was lucky also a little bit because the first match point he played out was not so far. But then I think the rest I played quite well. In the third set I felt more comfortable and I raised the level.”

Looking ahead to the Murray clash, Sinner added: “I lost the last one against him in Stockholm. It’s going to be very difficult for me. Everyone knows how big he is as a champion. Obviously he’s a big fighter. It’s going to be tough. I’m expecting a very tough match tomorrow, so I try to be ready for a long match. Today the match was long, but I feel OK. This is important.”

Andrey Rublev
Andrey Rublev Image Credit: AP

Rublev advances

Also progressing was No. 2 seed Andrey Rublev, who somehow managed to see off a spirited fight from Dan Evans to win 6-4, 7-5, despite only arriving at the hotel in Dubai at 2am on Tuesday morning.

“I was so afraid that I was going to lose quite easily because I remember last year, after Rotterdam, I flew straight to Doha,’ the 24-year-old world No. 7 said. “I had couple of days and I was super lucky the first match was walkover. But still match in the semi-final, I couldn’t play, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t put one ball in, I couldn’t do anything.

“I was exhausted. so, here I was thinking I would have no chance, especially against Danny who is super smart player, super good.”

“All the years that I have played here, it took me maybe five or six days to adapt because the ball really flies here on very fast courts. I was also coming from an indoor tournament in Doha. I arrive at 2am. I was playing the same day. I was thinking I have no chance. Now, I don’t know, I win the match. I’m super happy because I didn’t expect this. It is a present for me, a bonus.

The one key for Rublev on Tuesday was to keep his cool in the tough moments

“I had to control my emotional discipline,” he said, “to don’t show negative things, to don’t complain, to don’t say bad things. Let’s say I get broken, inside I want to destroy everything. I know if I’m going to start to do this, I will play even worse because I’m not feeling the ball well and I cannot let it happen.

“I need to stay focused. I think if I would start to complain I will not make my shots.”