The International Tennis Federation, the organisers of the Davis Cup, must have been almightily relieved that Italy and not Australia won the final yesterday. Otherwise, the ITF would have faced serious questions about their scheduling, which had allowed Australia a full day’s rest after they had won their semifinal against Finland on Friday, whereas Italy had no rest day before the Final after winning their epic semifinal against Serbia on Saturday. Thankfully for the ITF, Jannik Sinner completed the Miracle of Málaga to win his country their first Davis Cup title since 1976 and all the scheduling snafus were instantly forgotten.
Sinner Completes A Virtual One-Man Miracle
Indeed, it was the fact that Sinner had to play two days in a row, on the second day against a fully rested opponent, Australia’s #1 singles player Alex de Minaur, that only added to the extraordinary nature of his achievement. It is true that in Masters 1000 events players often have to play several days in a row to win a title, but they rarely if ever have to do so against opponents who have had a full day’s break, unless injury or illness causes a walkover. Nevertheless, Sinner played as if he was the man who had had his feet up (figuratively speaking) for 24 hours, as he crushed de Minaur 6-3 6-0.
Of course the real miracle had come the day before, when Sinner almost single-handedly defeated Serbia – aka Novak Djokovic, arguably the greatest of all time in men’s tennis – by winning both his singles tie and his doubles match, to make him the first man ever to beat the Great Serb twice in a single day. Given that there are fine players who have never beaten Djokovic even once in their entire career, to beat him twice in a row, in the two different formats of tennis, is indeed a historic achievement.
The golden rule of men’s tennis over the last decade or more has been that Djokovic hardly ever loses twice in succession to the same opponent. He had reminded everyone of that only last week, when he bounced back from losing to Sinner in the group stage of the ATP Finals to beat him comprehensively in the final. It was yet another example of what might be called Djokovic’s genius for revenge tennis.
However, against Sinner in the semifinal of the Davis Cup, Sinner proved that he could beat Djokovic repeatedly – if need be, within a matter of hours. First, he secured a truly extraordinary singles win after surviving three match-points against him at 0-40, 4-5 down in the third set, which is only the fourth time in his entire career that Djokovic has failed to take one of three match-points when they have been on offer. Then Sinner doubled down on that remarkable achievement by pairing up with Lorenzo Sonego in the doubles to beat Djokovic and Miomir Kecmanović in far more comfortable fashion, 6-3 6-4.
The Perfect End to the Perfect End of a Season
Leading his country to Davis Cup glory really was the perfect end to Sinner’s almost perfect end of the season. Ever since winning the China Open in Shanghai, a run that included victories over Carlos Alcaraz and Daniil Medvedev, he has been almost unbeatable, winning again in Vienna, reaching the final of the ATP Finals in Turin and then capping off his incredible run with a fabulous weekend in Málaga.
It is not always the case that a tennis player can carry their brilliant form at the end of one season into the following season. Nevertheless, such has been the truly great tennis that Sinner has produced over the last couple of months, culminating in his Davis Cup heroics, that it will be a shock if he does not perform well at the very next Major, the Australian Open, in January.
And if he can sustain anything like the form that he has showed at the end of this season, then next season he may become the first Italian men’s Major singles champion since Adriano Panatta won the French Open in 1976 (the year Panatta also led Italy to their only previous Davis Cup title) and only their third male Major champion ever.
Not A Total One-Man Show For Italy
Although Sinner was undoubtedly the star of Italy’s glorious weekend in Spain, the country’s Davis Cup triumph was not a total one-man show. At least two other members of their team also deserve special mention.
The first is Matteo Arnaldi, who had set up Sinner to clinch the title by beating Alexei Popyrin in the first singles match of the final. That match itself was something of a mini-epic, as Arnaldi edged the first set 7-5, virtually collapsed in the second set to lose it 6-2, before somehow saving numerous break points in the third set and then breaking his Australian opponent at the death to win it 6-4.
Arnaldi, of course, had been Italy’s hero in Bologna, in the group stage of the Davis Cup, when Sinner had been absent after his exertions during the north American hard court swing, including the US Open. In Sinner’s absence then, Italy had lost their first match of the group stage against Canada, with both Lorenzo Musetti and Lorenzo Sonego succumbing in the singles. Then, Italy’s captain, Filippo Volandri, called up Arnaldi for the other matches in the group stage against Sweden and Chile and Arnaldi was prominent as Italy won both of them.
Volandri himself is the other Italian deserving of special praise. Having so successfully promoted Arnaldi in Bologna in September, he was not afraid to do so again in Málaga, even in the final. After Musetti had again disappointed in the semifinal, losing a close singles tie against Kecmanović, Volandri again dropped him for the final and replaced him with Arnaldi. That was obviously tough on Musetti, and a tough call for Volandri to make, but ultimately the Italian captain’s decision was vindicated.
The Italian Tennis Renaissance Continues
The Davis Cup win is the first tangible reward for the remarkable renaissance that has been going on in Italian tennis in the last few years, especially on the men’s side. Matteo Berrettini reached the Wimbledon final in 2021; Sinner himself reached the Wimbledon semifinal earlier this season; and Italy’s women had reached the final of the Billie Jean King Cup earlier this month, losing to Canada.
This impressive recent progress, especially on the men’s side, all strengthens the growing conviction that Italy are the rising power of tennis, both men’s and women’s. And if Sinner can continue on his amazing upward trajectory and win a Major next year, then the Italian tennis renaissance will be complete.
Francis Ford Coppola, the great film director, famously said that the Italians have the best of everything, including the best food, the best wine, the best art, the best architecture and the best cinema. If Sinner can win a Major, and if his compatriots like Berrettini and Musetti can overcome their recent injury problems and loss of form respectively to challenge again, then it may soon be said that Italians also have the best tennis.
Main photo credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports