ROME (AP) — Jannik Sinner’s career so far can be defined by the choices he made. And the freedom he had to make them.
From when he was a kid growing up in the German-speaking area of the Italian Dolomites and he chose tennis over skiing — even though he had won a national junior title on the slopes.
To the decision to leave home at age 13 for the Italian Riviera and enroll in a tennis academy.
And finally, when on the cusp of greatness he decided to leave his longtime coach, took a step back and created his own personalized team — the team Sinner had in his box when he won the Australian Open on Sunday and became the first Italian man to win a Grand Slam singles title in nearly a half century.
It all started when his parents left him alone at an early age to find his way while still teaching him a solid work ethic.
“My parents are special because when I (came) back from school my parents were not there, they were working and I used to go always go to ski,” Sinner said Wednesday during an hour-long news conference upon his celebrated return to Italy. “When I came back home at 4:30 my mom used to be at home but I went to play tennis sometimes, a little bit of football (soccer).”
Sinner’s parents worked in a ski lodge where his father was a chef and his mother was a waitress.
“That’s the kind of mentality they gave me: ‘If you want to reach something, you have to work.’ This kind of work ethic you can learn but most of the time it’s because your parents give it to you,” Sinner said.
While his parents sometimes join him on the tennis tour now, they also still work — his dad helps out in the restaurant when he can and his mom runs the family guest house, Haus Sinner.
“So they are always working and that’s what I love about them,” Sinner said. “They’re not changing anything with me. I’m a normal person who I was when I was a very young kid with a big dream and now I’m just 22 years old with still a big dream.
“It’s all work, there are no secrets,” Sinner added, “or maybe working more than everyone else.”
After the rooftop news conference at the Italian Tennis and Padel Federation headquarters, Sinner headed to the Colosseum for a photo shoot.
The last Italian man to win a Grand Slam singles title was Adriano Panatta at the 1976 French Open.
In November, Sinner also led Italy to its first Davis Cup title since 1976 and he and the other team members will be honored by the country’s president, Sergio Mattarella, on Thursday to conclude his whirlwind tour of the Italian capital.
“I’m taking it all in quite calmly,” Sinner said. “I feel the warmth and the importance of it from the people. ... But I’m still the same kid as before."
Sinner was widely questioned when he left his longtime coach, Riccardo Piatti, two years ago when he had just entered the top 10 of the rankings. But he has improved under the coaching tandem of Simone Vagnozzi and Darren Cahill.
“I wanted to throw myself into the fire. I wanted to try a different method," Sinner said. "Who knows, maybe if I stayed there I would be even better than I am now. … My team doesn’t need to be the best team. The important thing is that they’re all good, normal people. That’s what I was looking for.”
So has Sinner revised his goals now that he’s won both the Davis Cup and a Grand Slam and is up to No. 4 in the rankings?
“I know I still need to improve physically and in terms of my fitness, which can help my tennis,” Sinner said. “I can do everything better. A lot of important steps have been taken but there’s still work to be done.”
His immediate goal is to become No. 3.
“I’m taking it one step at a time,” Sinner explained.
At one point, Sinner thought he would be taking those steps in skiing. He won an Italian championship when he was eight and placed second in nationals at 12.
“So I was really good,” Sinner said. “But then I had a couple of so-so seasons when I started competing against older athletes in slalom and giant slalom and when downhill came into the picture I weighed too little to compete.
“So I kept on playing tennis,” he added. "In skiing, if you make a mistake you’re out; it’s a dangerous sport and you need to get up early in the morning and venture outside in frigid temperatures. Tennis is a bit more accessible. And in the end I think I made the right choice.”
AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis