ATP

The pride of Italy: Sinner's route to world number one in Opta numbers

By Sports Desk June 12, 2024

Step aside Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz, tennis has a new world number one on the block in Jannik Sinner.

The 22-year-old, born in San Candido, ended a 51-year wait for Italy to boast the ATP's best player in the world rankings after moving to top spot this month.

Sinner overtook Djokovic at the summit of the men's game after his French Open performance, reaching the Roland-Garros final before falling in a five-set thriller to the battling Alcaraz.

Having already secured his first major at the Australian Open earlier this year, Sinner's remarkable rise continued in Paris – but how has the Italian managed to do so?

Here, we unpack the best of the Opta data to delve into Sinner's surge to world number one.

Major champion in Australia

Sinner was crowned a grand slam champion for the first time in his career back in January, defeating Daniil Medvedev in the final after overcoming a two-set deficit in Melbourne.

Sweeping aside Djokovic in the last four and Andrey Rublev in the quarter-finals, his route to glory was far from straightforward, too.

Aged 22 years and 165 days at the time of his Melbourne Park triumph, Sinner became the youngest-ever player to achieve successive ATP top-five wins in the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final of a major, surpassing Michael Stich – 22 years and 262 days at Wimbledon in 1991.

That Medvedev victory, at the time, also marked Sinner's fourth top-five scalp of 2024.

Since 1973, Sinner is the only fourth player aged under 23 to claim four such wins in the opening three months of a season, after Bjorn Borg (1978-79), Miloslav Mecir (1987) and Andy Murray (2007 and 2009).

Special 2023 sets tone for this year's success

Sinner enjoyed a remarkable campaign last year, winning his first Masters 1000 title at the Canadian Open and finishing the season by reaching the showpiece of the ATP Finals.

He finished with a win-loss record of 64-15 in 2023, breaking the Open Era record previously held by Corrado Barazzutti (55, 1978) for most ATP match wins by an Italian in a calendar year.

En route to the Indian Wells semi-final defeat to Alcaraz, Sinner also claimed a 19th consecutive ATP match win after overcoming Jiri Lehecka, breaking Adriano Panatta's record for the longest winning streak at ATP level of any Italian in the Open Era.

It is hard to argue with his position at the top, too.

Sinner became only the fifth player before turning 23 to defeat the men's world number three times in a calendar year, having overcome Alcaraz and Djokovic (twice) in a remarkable 2023 season.

The Italian also helped his country lift the Davis Cup, though major individual honours were always around the corner for the excellent right-hander.

The best in the world

Australian Open successes and a fine 2023 campaign brought Sinner to his crowning moment in June as he became the first Italian to reach world number one since the ATP rankings started in 1973.

Sinner is one of four players in the past two decades to hold the ATP's number-one ranking before the age of 23, along with Roger Federer, Nadal and Alcaraz.

Since 2000, Sinner is also just the third male player taller than 188 centimetres to reach the summit of tennis before turning 23, along with Andy Roddick and Marat Safin.

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    The stage is set for what could be Lionel Messi's international swansong, as Argentina face Colombia in Sunday's Copa America final in the forward's new home of Miami.

    The Hard Rock Stadium is the venue as Messi and La Albiceleste go in search of a record-breaking 16th Copa America crown, currently level with Uruguay on 15. It would also be a second in a row after they overcame old rivals Brazil in the 2021 final.

    Standing in their way, however, are arguably the most impressive team at the tournament in Colombia.

    Unbeaten in 28 games – a new national record – and led by a rejuvenated James Rodriguez, who is surely the favourite for Player of the Tournament honours, Los Cafeteros downed a much-fancied Uruguay side with 10 men in the last four and are sure to present a stern test.

    Ahead of the showpiece game, we dive into the best Opta data surrounding the two finalists. 

    What's expected?

    Argentina began the tournament as favourites, being given a 30.8% chance of securing back-to-back titles for the first time since 1993 by the Opta supercomputer.

    The supercomputer is still on their side ahead of the final, giving them a 50.9% chance of winning the match in 90 minutes.

    Colombia are assigned a 25.4% chance of victory and a 23.6% chance of taking the game to extra time (which will take place if required after being scrapped for all other knockout matches) and potentially penalties.  

    Argentina have won their last two Copa America shoot-outs, against Ecuador in this year's quarter-finals and Colombia in 2021, though they have lost three of their last four finals at the competition on spot-kicks, versus Brazil in 2004 and Chile in both 2015 and 2016.

    Overall, Lionel Scaloni's team are given a 63% chance of lifting the trophy to Colombia's 37%. 

     

    Colombia will be featuring in just their third Copa America final (also 1975 and 2001), becoming the fourth team to reach multiple finals at the competition this century, after Argentina (six), Brazil (four) and Chile (two).

    Argentina have now reached the final at six of their last eight major tournaments (World Cups and Copa America). The only exceptions were at the 2018 World Cup and the 2019 Copa, losing to the eventual champions (France and Brazil) in both instances.

    Colombia have only won one of their last 12 meetings with Argentina (five draws, six defeats) – a 2-0 group-stage win at the 2019 Copa America. The teams' last draw led to Colombia losing on penalties in the 2021 Copa quarter-finals, with Davinson Sanchez, Yerry Mina and Edwin Cardona all unsuccessful from 12 yards.

    The teams have met on 15 previous occasions in the Copa America, with Argentina recording seven wins to Colombia's three and the remaining five being drawn.

    Fitting farewell for the GOAT?

    Sunday's final could very well be the end of an era, with arguably the greatest footballer of all time contemplating international retirement after the match.

    While there are plenty stateside who are desperate to see Messi continue his glittering Argentina career until the 2026 World Cup, the eight-time Ballon d'Or winner said this week he is fighting his "last battles" on the international stage.

    Having led Argentina to glory at the 2021 Copa and the Qatar World Cup, Messi could go out on a high by inspiring his country to three straight major tournament successes, a feat they only previously achieved by winning three consecutive Copas in 1945, 1946 and 1947, with the World Cup not held during that time.

    It took him a while, but Messi finally got up and running at this year's Copa with a goal in Tuesday's 2-0 semi-final victory over Canada, converting his 12th shot of the tournament.

     

    He has now scored at six different editions of the Copa America, matching the record set by Zizinho all the way back in 1957. Messi has netted at the 2007, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2021 and 2024 editions, only failing to get on the scoresheet in 2011.

    His semi-final strike came 17 years and one day after his first Copa America goal, versus Peru in 2007. That gap is the longest between goals for a single player in the tournament's history, breaking another record previously held by Zizinho (15 years and 52 days between 1942 and 1957).

    Another trophy on Sunday would enable him to end what had previously been a disappointing Argentina career with a perfect run of three tournament triumphs.

    There is also the small matter of another international trophy pulling him clear of his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who led Portugal to glory at Euro 2016 and in the 2018-19 UEFA Nations League but now looks unlikely to add to that collection. 

    Cafeteros the Copa's best?

    Argentina may have star quality unmatched by any of their South American rivals, but they were made to work for knockout successes against Ecuador and Canada. Many would argue they have not been the tournament's outstanding team.

    That honour may go to Colombia, who topped Group D ahead of Brazil before dumping out Uruguay – considered second-favourites for the trophy by some – in the semi-finals.

    Nestor Lorenzo's team did not even require a full complement to overcome La Celeste, standing firm after Daniel Munoz's first-half red card as Jefferson Lerma's earlier header proved decisive. 

    Lerma's goal was Colombia's fifth to come via a header at this tournament, the most by a team at a single edition since Argentina netted six times via that route in 1991, when they lifted the trophy.

    Colombia's aerial prowess has been another string to their bow at a tournament where they have been extremely efficient in attack, scoring a competition-high 12 goals from 8.49 expected goals (xG), a tally that puts them second to Argentina (11.1). Colombia rank just sixth for touches in the penalty area (104) but third for shots from inside the box (59).

    Only conceding twice, Lorenzo's side have also been solid at the back – a recipe for tournament success. 

     

    Per game, they have averaged a tournament-low 0.51 expected goals against (xGA), as well as 9.6 shots faced (the third-best figure) and 2.2 shots on target faced (second-best). 

    That solid backline has given James and Luis Diaz the platform from which to make things happen, with the duo ranking third and fourth, respectively, for expected assists (xA) among all players at the competition. 

    Miserly at the back and with two of the competition's most creative players in attack, Colombia will back themselves to spoil Messi's Miami party.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Argentina – Angel Di Maria

    Di Maria made his 27th Copa America appearance in the last four, becoming Argentina's second-most capped player in the competition, behind Messi (38 matches).

    The former Real Madrid wideman will play his final international match on Sunday, and he could go out with a bang, having earned a reputation as a big-game player.

    Di Maria, who has 31 goals in 144 games for La Albiceleste overall, scored the winner in the 2021 Copa America final versus Brazil and also got on the scoresheet in the 2022 World Cup showpiece game against France.

    Only James (17), Nicolas de la Cruz (14) and Messi (13) have bettered his nine chances created at this tournament, while he also ranks sixth for xA (1.01) and only Messi has matched his tally of four chance-creating carries. 

     

    Colombia – James Rodriguez

    Colombia captain James has looked a player reborn at this tournament, recording six assists, with the most recent teeing up Lerma's semi-final winner versus Uruguay.

    That meant he surpassed Messi (five in 2021) for the most assists at a single edition of the Copa America since this data began being recorded by Opta in 2011.

    A remarkable 12 of his 17 chances created at this tournament have come from set-pieces, and with a cagey affair potentially in store, his dead-ball prowess could prove decisive.

    Five of Colombia's 12 goals have come from corners or indirect free-kicks, with James' deliveries helping them surpass their previous best goalscoring return at a Copa America (11 in both 1975 and 2001).

     

  • Wimbledon: Krejcikova pays emotional tribute to Novotna following semi-final triumph Wimbledon: Krejcikova pays emotional tribute to Novotna following semi-final triumph

    Barbora Krejcikova paid an emotional tribute to Jana Novotna following her semi-final victory against Elena Rybakina at Wimbledon. 

    Krejcikova came from a set down to emerge victorious, beating the 2022 Wimbledon champion 3-6 6-3 6-4 in a remarkable turnaround on Centre Court. 

    The world number 31 became the seventh Czech-born woman to reach a women's singles final at Wimbledon in the Open Era, following in the footsteps of her former coach. 

    Novotna, who won the competition in 1998 when she defeated France's Nathalie Tauziat, passed away in 2017 from ovarian cancer at the age of 49. 

    The pair first met when Krejcikova was 18 years old, with the 28-year-old reduced to tears as she dedicated the win to her former friend in her post-match interview. 

    "I just miss her very much, I miss her so much," Krejcikova said after reaching her first Wimbledon women's singles final.

    "Definitely I remember thinking about Jana a lot. I have so many beautiful memories and when I step on the court here, I am fighting for every ball, and I am sure that is what she would want me to do.

    "She was telling me a lot of stories about her journey here and how she was trying to win Wimbledon. I was so far away when we had this talk.

    "Now I am here and I am in a final!

    "I remember thinking about her a lot. I have so many beautiful memories and when I step on the court I fight for every single ball as that is what she would want me to do."

    Krejcikova will face Jasmine Paolini in Saturday's final in what will be the first women's singles final at a grand slam during the Open Era where two opponents have previously met in a grand slam qualifier. 

    The Czech won in straight sets in the aforementioned clash at the Australian Open in 2018 and is expecting a tough encounter against the world number seven. 

    "A big fight. I know that she is a huge fighter and she showed today, but it will be the same from me. We are playing great tennis and it will be a great match on Saturday."

  • Wimbledon: 'I thought I was going to die' – Vekic punished in marathon semi-final defeat Wimbledon: 'I thought I was going to die' – Vekic punished in marathon semi-final defeat

    Donna Vekic revealed she was in "so much pain" in her record-breaking Wimbledon semi-final defeat to Jasmine Paolini, explaining her tears in the third set of a marathon match.

    Vekic let slip a first-set lead to lose 2-6 6-4 7-6 (10-8) on Centre Court and miss out on a major final debut.

    It appeared emotions had got the better of the first-time semi-finalist as victory slipped away despite a further early break in the decider, eventually losing after two hours and 51 minutes.

    This was the longest women's singles semi in Wimbledon history, and Vekic insisted her tears were provoked by the punishment her body took in the epic encounter.

    "I thought I was going to die in the third set," Vekic said in her post-match news conference. "I had so much pain in my arm, in my leg.

    "It was not easy out there, but I will recover.

    "I was more crying because I had so much pain, I didn't know how I could keep playing. My team tells me I can be proud of myself.

    "It's tough right now. It's really tough to be positive right now. It was so close." 

    Paolini will now play Barbora Krejcikova in Saturday's final, her second grand slam title match after losing to perennial French Open champion Iga Swiatek at Roland Garros in June.

    "Two grand slam finals in a row was crazy to believe, I think, no?" Paolini said. "I'm also surprised how at the moment, until now in this moment, I'm living this.

    "I feel maybe Saturday I will be so nervous, I don't know, but I feel also relaxed. I'm the same person. I'm doing the same things. I'm surprised a little bit how I'm managing this.

    "I don't want to say more, because maybe Saturday I'm going to be shaking. I'm surprising myself to live this with with really relaxing mood."

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