Advertising

“Thanks for making me a much better player,” Jannik Sinner said to Daniil Medvedev after beating the Russian in the China Open final on Wednesday, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2).

Sinner and Medvedev both live in Monte Carlo, so it’s a fair bet they’ve seen a lot of each other’s games. Until now, though, it was Medvedev who benefited from that knowledge, at Sinner’s expense. He came into Beijing with a 6-0 record in their head-to-head, including wins in the Rotterdam and Miami finals this year. Medvedev’s deep court positioning allowed him to absorb Sinner’s pace, and his ability to hit corner to corner with precision helped him get the lanky Italian on the run.

Before this final, Sinner said he would “try to change a couple of things and hopefully they work.” Those “things” seemed to boil down to attacking—relentlessly and fearlessly, but not recklessly—from start to finish. He was the one on top of the baseline. He was the one leaning into his shots. He was the one itching to get to net at the first chance. He was the one who took the rallies into his hands when it counted, in the two tiebreakers.

Sinner hit 29 winners and made 13 errors, and won 71 percent of his second-serve points, compared to just 52 percent for Medvedev. Sinner was 23 of 33 at net, while Medvedev came forward just 11 times. Neither player broke serve, but Sinner had five break chances to just one for Medvedev.

Sinner has lost a lot of close matches to elite opponents in recent years. Something was missing, or went haywire, at crunch time. That wasn’t true in Beijing.

Sinner has lost a lot of close matches to elite opponents in recent years. Something was missing, or went haywire, at crunch time. That wasn’t true in Beijing.

Advertising

In their closest previous contest, two years ago at the ATP Finals, Medvedev beat Sinner 10-8 in a third-set tiebreaker. This match was also decided in the breakers, but this time it was Sinner who was clearly superior, and whose willingness to attack paid off. In the first-set tiebreaker, he jumped out to a 5-0 lead on the back of a service winner, a strong forehand approach, and a forehand volley winner. In the second tiebreaker, he began with a confident-looking drop shot winner, won a point by serving and volleying, and closed the match with two of his best forehands of the day, the first for a crosscourt passing-shot winner, and the second for a return winner.

Sinner has lost a lot of close matches to elite opponents in recent years. Something was missing, or went haywire, at crunch time. That wasn’t true in Beijing. In the semifinals and final, he beat the No. 2 and 3 players in the world, Carlos Alcaraz and Medvedev, in straight sets. He played three tiebreakers in those matches and won them all comfortably. He has always been able to match pace with pace against anyone, but in these matches he showed an ability to finish points in different ways, and keep two of the world’s best players handcuffed at the baseline.

Tennis Channel+ has arrived

Tennis Channel+ has arrived

Roland Garros like you've never streamed it before—and so much more.

Advertising

And how about Medvedev? In the US Open final, Novak Djokovic beat him by coming to net, and now Sinner has done the same thing in another final. Medvedev’s court positioning has made him successful in general, but does he need to rethink it against guys who are determined to come forward, and how have the volleying skills to make those forays work?

Sinner is one of those guys now. He hasn’t made a Grand Slam final yet, but at 22 he’s ranked a career-high No. 4 in the world. Maybe more than any other player right now, you can see how the methodical, incremental work he’s done is paying off. He’ll move on to Shanghai a little higher in the rankings, a little more confident against two top opponents, and a step closer to qualifying for the ATP Finals back home in Italy.