Jannik Sinner can become No. 1 even if he misses the French Open

Jannik Sinner, of Italy, reacts after winning a point against Grigor Dimitrov, of Bulgaria, during the men's final at the Miami Open tennis tournament Sunday, March 31, 2024, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

ROME — Even when he’s out injured, Jannik Sinner is still winning.

The Italian tennis player has a chance to become No. 1 in the rankings even if he misses the upcoming French Open because of a hip injury that has kept him out recently.

Unexpected losses for top-ranked Novak Djokovic and No. 4 Daniil Medvedev at the Italian Open mean that the second-ranked Sinner will take over the top spot if Djokovic doesn’t reach the final at Roland Garros.

For Sinner’s rapidly growing fan base in Italy and beyond, though, he’s already there.

No. 1 in terms of his model behaviour. No. 1 for his ability to always say and do the right thing. And No. 1 in values.

When Sinner was denied a point for a glaringly missed call at a potentially decisive moment during his semifinal loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Monte Carlo Masters last month, he hardly batted an eye, noting afterward that “everyone can make mistakes unfortunately — or fortunately.”

“He’s so relaxed, it’s phenomenal,” fifth-ranked Alexander Zverev said. “Us tennis players, we’re competitors. On the court, it seems like we want to kill each other. We want to fight for every single thing. It doesn’t seem that way with him. It just seems like he’s so relaxed and so relaxed about other things.

“After Monte Carlo, I just would flip,” Zverev added, noting how he saw Sinner in the locker room the day of the missed call. “He was so chill, saying ‘Yeah, mistakes happen. Whatever. It’s fine.’ … He understands, even at such a young age, that tennis is not the most important thing in the world. It took me a very long time to learn that. I was obsessed with it. I was going crazy by losing one match, and he’s really not that way. And that’s maybe why he has such early success in his career.”

At age 22, Sinner’s Australian Open title this year made him the first Italian man to win a Grand Slam tournament in nearly a half-century — since Adriano Panatta raised the French Open trophy in 1976.

Sinner followed up his title in Australia with more trophies in Rotterdam and Miami, compiling a record of 28-2 this year. He’s also beaten Djokovic in singles three times in the past seven months, including when he led Italy to the Davis Cup title in November — the country’s first since a Panatta-led team won in 1976.

The 73-year-old Panatta also marvels at Sinner’s behaviour, noting how he handled himself quietly during a win over Holger Rune in Monte Carlo when the Danish player took issue with Italian fans. Rune was given a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct, which caused a long break at a key point in the match.

“When (Ilie) Nastase tried to provoke me, I would go over to him on the changeover and tell him that if he didn’t stop, I would kill him,” Panatta said.

When Sinner opted not to play Davis Cup for Italy in the September group phase — saying he hadn’t recovered in time from tournaments in North America, including the U.S. Open — he was widely criticized in Italy with an underlying sentiment that he wasn’t fully Italian, since he’s from the German-speaking Alto Adige area of northern Italy.

“Caso Nazionale” (National Issue), said the front page of Sportweek, the Gazzetta dello Sport’s weekly magazine.

But Sinner brushed off the criticism without saying a thing and, over the next four months, became Italy’s most widely acclaimed athlete with his string of successes.

“Sinner seems like he’s from another era,” Panatta said, according to the Gazzetta. “I’ve never heard him say something wrong. Pretty soon they’ll make him a saint — and I say that respectfully.”

Pretty soon, Sinner could also be on top of the tennis world.

Since Sinner has only 45 points to defend after his second-round loss at last year’s French Open, and Djokovic has 2,000 points to defend after winning at Roland Garros in 2023, Sinner can surpass Djokovic in the rankings if the 24-time Grand Slam champion doesn’t go all the way to the final match — unless Djokovic enters a smaller tournament next week and gains more points, although that is not expected.

The French Open starts in 11 days.

Sinner, meanwhile, is getting treated at the Juventus soccer team’s medical facility in Turin for an undescribed hip condition.

The condition prompted Sinner to withdraw before his quarterfinal match at the Madrid Open and then to also sit out his home tournament in Rome.

“I don’t want to say exactly what it is,” Sinner said after announcing his Italian Open withdrawal. “But one thing that’s for sure is that if it’s not 100% healed, I’m going to be out for another little while. I’m not in a hurry. Taking care of my body is more important than everything else.”

Sinner clearly has his priorities in order.

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