Sofia Open recap: Pospisil’s wait continues as Sinner triumphs

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The last tournament of the season prior to the Nitto ATP Finals has come and gone. It took place in Sofia, where Jannik Sinner capped off his brilliant 2020 campaign with the first title of his career. Vasek Pospisil finished runner-up for the third time in his career.

Jannik Sinner was already enjoying a great season even before he arrived at the Sofia Open. The 19-year-old Italian made a run to the French Open quarter-finals and reached the semis at one of the two Cologne events. Prior to the coronavirus hiatus he advanced to the quarters in Rotterdam. Still left on his plate, though, was making it to a final or even winning a title. Sinner did both this week, capping off his 2020 campaign in appropriate fashion by lifting the trophy. A title still eludes Vasek Pospisil, who settled for a runner-up performance following a dramatic final. It was an otherwise disappointing week for Canadians (Denis Shapovalov and and Felix Auger-Aliassime both lost their opening matches), but the French fared better (Adrian Mannarino and Richard Gasquet both reached the semi-finals).

The champion: First final and first title for Sinner

This same time last year, Sinner triumphed at the NextGen ATP Finals. But this one, of course, was on the main tour; this was the real thing. The world No. 44, who will break into the top 40 on Monday, survived two tough matches along the way. He came back from a set down to defeat Alex de Minaur 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-1 in the last eight and outlasted Pospisil 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(3) on Saturday.

Best match: Sinner vs. Pospisil

Pospisil may have fallen to 0-3 lifetime in ATP titles, but he has no reason to hang his head. The 30-year-old threw everything he could at Sinner, playing a brilliant match just about from start to finish. It simply was not enough against the wildly talented teenager. Pospisil trailed by a set and a break, but he did not face a single break point the entire rest of the way. The world No. 74 broke back twice in the second set and generated the only two break chances of the decider in the opening game, but could not convert. The two competitors were eventually on serve through the first five points of the tiebreaker before Sinner took control with two late mini-breaks. Pospisil fired 14 aces to Sinner’s four and actually won more total points (97 to 93), but it was the youngster who came up with the goods when it matter most.

Key moments, performances and trends set

  • Canadians crash out

Whereas Pospisil can leave Sofia with his head held high, it was a much different story for Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime. They were the top two seeds in the draw, in fact, but both players bowed out right off the bat following first-round byes. No 1 Shapovalov got blown out 6-2, 6-4 by Radu Albot, while No 2 Auger-Aliassime fell to Salvatore Caruso 6-4, 6-4. Shapovalov is currently one of the alternates in London, as fellow Canadian Milos Raonic and Frenchman Gael Monfils declined invitations.

  • Injuries taking their toll

Even though this has been a much shorter season than usual, injuries are still a problem coming down the stretch. There were three withdrawals from Sofia (Illya Marchenko, Marc-Andrea Huesler, and Martin Klizan), paving the way for a trio of lucky losers. Although there were no retirements during the tournament, Gasquet battled admirably just to make it though his semi-final match against Pospisil. The 34-year-old was already dealing with a back problem in the first set, but he managed to take the opener in a tiebreaker before stumbling to the finish line en route to a 6-7(6), 6-2, 6-0 loss.
Richard Gasquet

  • Doubles field in London set

There was no doubles final in Sofia, but not because of any injury. Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin simply decided not to play, because by advancing to the title match they clinched the last spot in the Nitto ATP Finals. Melzer and Roger-Vasselin handed a walkover to Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski, who were also in contention for the last spot. The British duo had to win the title — which they did — and needed Melzer and Roger-Vasselin to lose prior to the final.

Key statistic: Six

That’s how many first-time champions there were on the ATP Tour this year — an impressive number considering the shortness of the 2020 campaign. Sinner joins a list that already included Ugo Humbert (Auckland), Casper Ruud (Buenos Aires), Thiago Seyboth Wild (Santiago), Miomir Kecmanovic (Kitzbuhel), and John Millman (Nur-Sultan). Millman, 31, is at least a decade older than every one of the other five.

The punchline: Even better than winning 6-1, 6-1

Sinner needed a third-set tiebreaker to prevail in Sunday’s final, but he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“It is always special when you win tournaments,” he said. “I felt well this week. It is special. Playing finals like this, 7-6 in the third…is always tough. But when you win, it is an even better win than winning 6-1 6-1…. I am happy about the match, how I tried to stay there every point.”

The picture of the week: Confetti and the trophy

It was a celebratory day for Sinner, and likely the first of many for the youngster.

Question for the future: What’s in store for Sinner in 2021?

Just how good will Sinner get? Many in the tennis world tip Sinner as a future Grand Slam champion, but that may be a couple of years ago. What is his ceiling in 2021, though? Now into the top 40, Sinner is not far away from being seeded at Grand Slams. That will help, as will the fact that he can now gain direct entry into just about any tournament of his choosing. The Monte-Carlo resident is the prototypical star player of the current era: tall, lanky, and with huge power, but also a great mover. Clearly armed with mental maturity beyond his years, Sinner has all the tools to get to the top…and perhaps soon. Even a place in the top 10 next season cannot be entirely discounted.

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