If beating Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros is the toughest sporting task, then beating Novak Djokovic in Melbourne couldn’t be too far from it. He hasn’t lost there in about 3,000 days (Covid carryover plays a part in that), he’s won the tournament 10 times and was still coming off the previous season of winning three of the four Grand Slams and losing the other in the final. One.
But that’s exactly what Jannik Sinner did on Thursday night, beating Djokovic in four sets and beating him in the first two. Djoker was certainly fearless in those sets, had flat energy and hit the back of the net great with his shots far more than anyone was ever used to. Maybe his first two games of the stretch and the bite Taylor Fritz took out of him were too much at 36 years old. Maybe it was just a bad day.
This should not affect Sinner, who finished last season strongly with two victories over Djokovic, although it came in three sets. There is no cleaner striker with the ball than Sinner, and the sound the ball makes off his bat is similar to the way the ball sounded coming off the bat of Albert Pujols once: a menacing thud. His movement was equal to and often better than Djokovic’s, and he was the best mover the game had seen. His serve was the ultimate elephantine weapon and so well-placed in the match that Djokovic, the greatest returner of all time, did not earn a single break point.
Sinner, 22, appears to have gathered all the tools with the belief and determination to join Carlos Alcaraz as those ready to carry the torch when Djokovic is ready to pass it on. He struck his first hit on Thursday in Australia.