Sinner rallies from 2 sets down to beat Medvedev in Australia and clinch his first Grand Slam title

Jannik Sinner of Italy holds the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup aloft after defeating Daniil Medvedev of Russia in the men’s singles final at the Australian Open tennis championships at Melbourne Park, in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

By The Associated Press

Jannik Sinner lined up a forehand, drilled it down the line and dropped to the court on his back, giving himself some moments to process how he’d managed to come back from two sets down to win his first Grand Slam title.

The 22-year-old Sinner found a way to turn defense into attack in his first major final and take the Australian Open title from Daniil Medvedev 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 on Sunday.

“I like to dance in the pressure storm,” he said of his seemingly serene approach to the most tense moments. “I like it, because that’s where most of the time I bring out my best tennis.”

It was his third straight win over a top 5 player after his quarterfinal victory over Andrey Rublev and his semifinal upset that ended No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic’s long domination of the tournament. Only Djokovic and Roger Federer have done that previously in a major played on hard courts.

So he’s in great company.

Sinner is the first Italian to win the Australian Open and the youngest winner in a men’s final here since Djokovic won his first Grand Slam title in 2008.

With Carlos Alcaraz winning Wimbledon last year and Sinner winning the season-opening major, a generation shift is arriving.

“I still have to process it, because … beating Novak in the semis and then today Daniil in the final, they are tough players to beat,” Sinner said. “It’s a great moment for me and my team. But in the other way, we also know that we have to improve if we want to have another chance to hold a big trophy again.”

Sinner’s success has lit a tennis fuse in Italy, where his run to the ATP Finals championship match and leading role in the Davis Cup title win in November captured the country’s attention. The night time final in Australia made for pre-lunch viewing in Italy.

For 2021 U.S. Open champion Medvedev, the loss was his fifth in six major finals. The third-seeded Medvedev set a record with his fourth five-set match of the tournament and time on court at a major in the Open era, his 24 hours and 17 minutes surpassing Carlos Alcaraz’s 23:40 at the 2022 U.S. Open.

He’s also the first in the Open era to lose two Grand Slam finals in five sets after taking a 2-0 lead.

Medvedev lost back-to-back Australian Open finals — to Djokovic in 2021 and to Rafael Nadal after holding a two-set lead the following year.

Sinner only dropped one set through six rounds — in a third-set tiebreaker against 10-time Australian Open champion Djokovic — until he lost two straight to Medvedev.

It wasn’t until a break in the sixth game of the fifth set that he really had a full grip on his first Grand Slam title.

In two of Medvedev’s five-set matches — a second-round win over Emil Ruusuvuori that finished at almost 4 in the morning, and a 4-hour, 18-minute semifinal win over No. 6 Alexander Zverev — he had to come back from two sets down. Nobody had done that on the way to an Australian Open final since Pete Sampras in 1995.

Against Sinner, he started like man who wanted to win points quickly.

Standing closer to the baseline to receive serve and going to the net more regularly than usual, he broke in the third game and took the first set in 36 minutes.

He had two more service breaks in the fourth and sixth games of the second set but was broken himself at 5-1 trying to serve it out. He was successful next try.

The third set went with serve until the 10th game, when Medvedev was a point from leveling at 5-5 until three forehand errors gave Sinner the set, and the momentum.

He won the fourth set, again with a service break in the 10th game, recovering immediately to win three points after mis-hitting a forehand so far out that it shocked the Rod Laver Arena crowd.

And so the tournament equaled a Grand Slam Open era record set at the 1983 U.S. Open with a 35th match going to five sets.

In the sixth game of the fifth set, Sinner had triple breakpoint against a fatiguing Medvedev. He missed with his first chance but converted with his next, a forehand winner, for a 4-2 lead. From there, he didn’t give Medvedev another chance.

Medvedev had faced either Djokovic or Rafael Nadal in all five of his previous major finals. He beat Djokovic to win the 2021 U.S. Open title but lost all the others.

The 27-year-old Russian has been saying through the tournament that he has more stamina than he used to, and is mentally stronger in the tough five-setters. He certainly showed incredible endurance but came up just short — again.

Medvedev won his first six career meetings with Sinner, but has now lost four in a row — including three finals.

“I want to congratulate Jannik … you showed it again why you deserve it,” Medvedev said. “Probably that’s not your last Grand Slam, but I hope I can try to get the next one if you play in the final.”

Medvedev also sent a message to his family and supporters.

“Unfortunately I couldn’t make it today, but I’m going to try to make it work next time for you,” he said. “It always hurts to lose in the final, but probably being in the final is better than losing before.”