Jannik Sinner: Ski champ to tennis star

 - Danielle Rossingh

Get to know more about the teen phenom who upset David Goffin on day one of the tournament

Jannik Sinner, Roland Garros 2020, first round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

A top junior skier, Jannik Sinner now navigates the men’s tennis tour like a seasoned pro.

It’s hard to believe he is only 19 years old.

Scheduled first under the roof on Court Philippe-Chatrier on Sunday against the experienced David Goffin of Belgium, the Italian teenager played with a maturity beyond his years in what was only his first-ever main draw match at Roland-Garros.

After a tough first set played in cold conditions, Sinner ran away with the match, at one stage winning 11 games in a row before eventually beating the No. 11 seed, 7-5, 6-0, 6-3.

"In the beginning, that was not easy,” Sinner told reporters. “He was returning well. I was not serving that well...But at the end, when you win the first set and go up a break, it's a little bit easier to play.”

‘Next Roger Federer’

Although Sinner is only 19, he has already been likened to Swiss superstar Roger Federer because of his fluid style, athletic all-court movement and inner calm on the court.

Coached by Italian Riccardo Piatti since the age of 12, Sinner finished 2019 inside the top 80 after he won three titles on the Challenger circuit and closed out his first full season on the men’s ATP Tour by winning the Next Gen Finals in Milan for players under the age of 21.

Unranked two years ago, Sinner was the youngest man to crack the top 80 since 12-time Roland-Garros winner Rafael Nadal of Spain in 2003.

On the slopes

Sinner’s rise is all the more remarkable given the fact tennis was never his main sport growing up in Sexten, a winter sport resort in the German-speaking part of Dolomite region in northern Italy. 

Just like most kids in Sexten, Sinner was a keen skier. In fact, he was so talented, he was one of Italy’s top young skiers between the ages of 8 and 12.

Even though he focused on skiing, Sinner had been playing tennis, too, after his dad gave him a racquet when he was two-and-a-half years old.

“My favourite skier was Bode Miller, and my favorite tennis player is Roger Federer,” Sinner said in a phone interview earlier this year.

Leaving home

When he was 13, Sinner took a tough decision: he decided to end his skiing career, and focus on tennis instead.

“It was dangerous,” said Sinner. “If you fall wrong, you can put away a whole season. And in tennis, you can always play, you can play indoors, or outdoors. The most important thing is, in tennis, you can see the opponent. You can see who you are playing against. You know if you are up in the score, or down in the score, if you are going to have to change something, or not.

"And in skiing, you just go down alone, and you don’t know if you are faster than the other ones, or slower than the other ones, you just see red and blue targets, and you have to turn your skis, and hopefully not fall down.”

In order to advance his tennis career, Sinner decided to leave Sexten and his family in South Tyrol to move to Piatti’s tennis centre in Bordighera, on the Italian Riviera, on his own.

“I think it was the right choice for me,” he said. “I just went for it. My mum and my dad, they helped me a lot, because without them, this kind of thing is not possible.”

The first week was hard, but Piatti arranged for him to live with one of his coaches, Luka Cvjetkovic, and his young family, so he soon got used to it. But, he admits, it was “not easy” for his parents.

High praise

Guided by Piatti, who has also worked with world No.1 Novak Djokovic and five-time major champion Maria Sharapova, Sinner is now widely seen as one of the sport’s brightest future stars.

Granted, the tennis tour is littered with talented youngsters who never made it, but Sinner may well prove to be the exception.

Jannik Sinner, Roland Garros 2020, first round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

“His potential is to win numerous Grand Slams,” seven-time Grand Slam singles champion John McEnroe told a conference call hosted by ESPN in January.

“He plays like he belongs on the big stage,” said 18-time major singles winner Chris Evert.

Unsurprisingly, Sinner didn’t get carried away when asked what he thought of such high praise.

“Honestly, I have won nothing until now,” he said. “We practiced four years [with Piatti] with the maximum mentality...Every ball I play, I try to play with 100 per cent, trying to be always focusing and I think that’s why I played so good last year.”


This season has been tough, with a five-month shutdown because of the pandemic. Sinner was initially unable to return to his parents and brother in Italy from his apartment in Monte Carlo.

Since tennis resumed, Sinner lost in the opening rounds of the Western & Southern Open and the US Open. But things improved on the European clay, where he ousted Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas in Rome, before losing to Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria in the round of 16.

His next opponent at Roland-Garros is French qualifier Benjamin Bonzi.

Whatever the conditions, no doubt Sinner will be ready.