“I still have to find my level here” – top seed Sinner wary of Madrid Open’s unique conditions

The Italian enters this year’s Mutua Madrid Open as the top seed at a Masters 1000 tournament for the first time in his career

Jannik Sinner, Monte-Carlo, 2024 Jannik Sinner, Monte-Carlo, 2024 Antoine Couvercelle / Panoramic

Jannik Sinner‘s 2024 Mutua Madrid Open campaign will be a unique tournament for him.

For the first time in his career, he will enter a Masters 1000 event as the men’s top seed. It will also be his first Madrid Open in two years, and his first as a top 10 or top 5 player, having missed the tournament in 2023 due to illness.

A somewhat daunting prospect for a player who openly admits that he is yet to fully get to grips with the uniquely challenging conditions in Madrid.

“I’m trying to understand my clay game a little bit better. Here is a little bit different than all the other tournaments because we play in altitude,” Sinner told press at the pre-tournament’s media day.

“The ball is higher. It’s flying and it’s quite fast, but I used to struggle quite a lot in the previous years finding my level here. So it’s going to be interesting to see how I’m going to play this year. I think that’s the most important thing.”

The Madrid Open is a curious tournament in many ways. One of the pillars of the European clay-court stretch, it is also unlike any of the other major clay-court events due primarily to the fact that it is played at such a high altitude, meaning the balls zip through the thin air with little resistance.

The effect is that the courts play much quicker than one would expect on clay, and with an even higher bounce than usual on the surface.

One only has to look at the results to see how these conditions affect players. For instance, Petra Kvitova is the most successful WTA player in Madrid, something which you wouldn’t expect at a clay tournament from a player renowned for her booming serve, a weapon most potent in the quicker conditions of grass-court tennis.

Big-servers on the men’s side also tend to do well in Madrid, with Taylor Fritz and Alexander Zverev both achieving relative success in the Spanish capital.

Sinner, on the other hand, has struggled to make an impact at the tournament thus far in his career, having never been beyond the round of 16.

“I feel like that I still have to find [my level here],” he continued.

“I have three more days of practise before the opening-round match, which is hopefully going to help me.”

top-seeded sinner a different prospect in madrid this year

Given Sinner’s tour-leading form so far this season, it will be fascinating to see how the Italian can apply that game to tournament conditions that have proved tricky for him up to this point.

The last time he played in Madrid, Sinner was the world No 12, had yet to win a Masters 1000 tournament and had never made the last four at a Grand Slam.

Two years on, the Italian is an entirely different prospect.

Sinner sits second in the world behind only Novak Djokovic, he is the reigning Australian Open champion and leads the ATP rankings race this season by a massive margin of 1650 points. He is the top seed in Madrid and, given the form he has shown so far this year, the odds are that Sinner will rise to the occasion and play like one.

That being said, the world No 2 is remaining cautious about his prospects at the Madrid Open, as he was about his chances in Monte-Carlo.

“I don’t want to put pressure on myself,” he said.

Sinner enters the 2024 Madrid Open at a career-high ranking of No 2

“I’m living a very positive moment, winning a lot of matches, I just try to keep going like this. In my mind, I know that I can and have to improve if I want to win more.

“I am searching for new opportunities and I feel like that every tournament I play, there can be a good opportunity to try to show that my level has raised.

“Showing what I have improved, that’s for sure something that I would like to do here. This is a new opportunity, new tournament and we’ll see how it goes.”

Sinner will open his 2024 Madrid Open campaign against either compatriot Lorenzo Sonego or a qualifier in his first match.

Just as questions were asked over Sinner’s ability to replicate his hard-court form on the clay ahead of Monte-Carlo, similar scrutiny will be placed on his ability to adapt to a unique set of conditions that he has struggled with in years gone by.

The extent to which the Australian Open champion can adapt his game and find success in Madrid will be a strong indicator of just how dominant this young Italian can be in the months and years of his career to come.

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