Jannik Sinner took a massive step in his pursuit of a spot in the Nitto ATP Finals on Friday evening in Vienna.
In a blockbuster battle between two stars chasing a place in Turin, Sinner defeated Casper Ruud 7-5, 6-1 to reach the semi-finals of the Erste Bank Open. By doing so, the Italian passed Hubert Hurkacz and Rafael Nadal to climb into the eighth and final qualifying spot in the FedEx ATP Race To Turin.
“I think today [there] was not a lot of rhythm, not so many exchanges. I served well today I have to say, especially on the important points,” Sinner said in his post-match interview. “Obviously [there was] a lot of pressure on both sides. I’m happy how I controlled the match emotionally and everything together. I would say it was a good match.”
The 20-year-old has not only moved into qualifying position, but he is also a semi-final victory against Frances Tiafoe from passing Ruud for seventh in the Race. Only two spots remain at the Pala Alpitour from 14-21 November.[FOLLOW ACTION]
Sinner had to battle hard to take a 2-0 ATP Head2Head series lead against Ruud, but he was cool under pressure to triumph after one hour and 38 minutes. The Italian has now won 11 straight indoor matches, and has not lost a set during that streak.
“The past couple of weeks indoors I’ve felt well. Obviously we can see that in the results as well, but every match is different,” Sinner said. “I have to stay focussed, I have a goal in my head. Obviously [there is] a lot of pressure, but it’s all about [the] mental game in this sport and I think I’m doing it in the right way.”
Ruud showed how much he has improved on hard courts with opportunistic play in the opening set, when he snapped Sinner’s streak of 43 consecutive service holds. The Norwegian is 21-7 on the surface this season, but Ruud did not have the firepower to push his opponent off the baseline in the biggest moments.
Sinner struck 10 aces and saved four of the five break points he faced. The 2019 Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals champion had to overcome adversity, rallying from 15/40 down at 4-1 on his serve in the second set. But after saving two break points in that game, he gave the crowd a big fist pump, a sign that Sinner knew the significance of the encounter.
He then broke Ruud’s serve for the fifth time to set a clash against Tiafoe. Sinner leads their ATP Head2Head series 2-0.
“I’m happy that I can play one more semi-final in an ATP event,” Sinner said. “It’s a huge event, so hopefully I can also play well tomorrow.”
The American dealt with his own challenges against eighth seed Diego Schwartzman. But despite losing five consecutive games from 5-1 up in the second set, Tiafoe held on for a 6-4, 7-6(6) victory to reach his first tour-level semi-final of 2021.
“I was playing great tennis, I was happy where I was at. New balls came and I got a little lackadaisical that game. Then Diego just kind of started locking in,” Tiafoe said. “I started rushing, I started trying to hit everything as hard as I can. It was not fun. I don’t know what to tell you, it was not fun. There was not one part of it that was fun.”
The American, who upset Stefanos Tsitsipas on Thursday, admitted that he accepted the likelihood of a third set. But Tiafoe was able to break the Argentine for the fifth time to force a tie-break, in which he played well under pressure.
“I ended up playing a great game and squeezing out a breaker, so it was a crazy match,” Tiafoe said. “To beat two quality players like that in a row is big for me and a huge step forward.”