No man in tennis history has dominated a Major tournament as thoroughly as Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. Yet, his first two incursions into the third round of a Slam took place at Wimbledon and the Australian Open.
Likewise, no male player has been as successful at Wimbledon as Roger Federer, but he reached the Round of 16 twice at the French Open before famously beating Pete Sampras at SW19.
Similarly, Novak Djokovic is the winningest individual ever at the Australian Open. Notwithstanding, he tasted the second week earlier in Paris and London. Do you sense a theme here?
Sinner overpowered Bonzi
Rising teenagers may enjoy their breakout party where we least expect it. Following a dominant debut against No. 12 seed David Goffin, Jannik Sinner administered another thrashing. French qualifier Benjamin Bonzi made a valiant effort, but ultimately was no match for the Italian, who prevailed 6-2 6-4 6-4.
From the get-go, Sinner applied constant pressure on return. Bonzi held just once in his first six service games, and even then, the Tyrolese wasted a triple break point. It was an ongoing nightmare for the Nimes native, who couldn’t afford to trade punches from the baseline. His only chance to level the match was to think outside the box; i.e. charge the net on return, use and abuse the drop shot or go for broke with his shaky forehand. Taking greater risks usually means committing more mistakes. Thus, while Sinner played a clean match, connecting 28 winners and 28 unforced errors, Bonzi’s count at the end was a poor minus-22.
Huge improvement on clay since 2019
Last spring, no sane person would have predicted Sinner to shine brighter at Roland Garros than at a hard court Major. His footwork was suspect. He felt more comfortable sliding down the Dolomites’ slopes than on a clay court. Yet, here we are. After teasing the tennis community with a strong performance in Rome, he is confirming he is for real at Roland Garros.
The fact this year’s conditions in Paris favor power hitters over top spin maestros has been repeated beyond exhaustion. Watching Sinner play is the perfect confirmation. It feels like he crushes all shots from his sweet spot since balls aren’t bouncy enough. The cold also lends him more time to play defense. I’m admittedly impressed with his retrieval skills, gliding side to side like an avid veteran, deploying an open stance from both wings. Riccardo Piatti has worked wonders with the kid’s movement.
The mental strength is on point, too. He never lost control of the match. Despite not capitalizing on his first two match points, Sinner clinched the match with an inch-perfect ace plus a trademark backhand down the line winner.
Ruthless domination of short rallies
It is remarkable how Sinner thrived both as an underdog (theoretically) against Goffin and as an overwhelming favorite versus Bonzi. Even though he has made obvious strides in terms of patience, the 19-year-old remains a master of first strike tennis. Indeed, through two rounds, Sinner has won a stellar 58.8% of the points decided within the first four shots (100 out of 170) according to Infosys Rally Analysis. Just for reference, Nadal has won 58.2% of his career points at Roland Garros, per Steph Trudel. Not a bad comparison.
Rafael Nadal now has a 95 – 2 record at Roland Garros.
By defeating Mackenzie Mcdonald (85 points to 47 points), Nadal has now won a total of 10 002 points @rolandgarros ( out of 17 187 played – 58.2%)#RG20
— Steph Trudel (@TrudelSteph) September 30, 2020
Should Sinner sustain his level, a potential quarterfinal showdown with the 12-time champion is possible. The Spaniard would really hurt the Italian with his wide serve-plus-one combinations, but if someone in his quarter of the draw who could catch fire and turn into Robin Söderling 2.0, that person is Sinner. Sure, Alexander Zverev too, if he somehow left his serve and forehand woes behind. Not happening.
One match at a time, but Sinner is a legitimate threat to go deep in Paris. Up next: Federico Coria.
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