Ruthless Sinner Resumes Winning Form In Miami

Grigor Dimitrov has become the first male tennis player to discover that it might be just as hard to beat “The New Two” of Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz at the same tournament as it was to beat “The Big Three” (or even just two) of Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer at the same event. The cumulative effect of trying to find a way past two players who, at their best, are almost unplayable is too much for most players. Thus Dimitrov, having dispatched Alcaraz with relative ease in the quarterfinals in Miami, was ultimately beaten relatively easily by Sinner in the Miami Open final.

Superb Sinner Resumes Winning Form

For a time in Florida, it had looked as if Dimitrov would emerge as the story of the tournament because he had been producing his best form for probably the last five or six years. First, he achieved the seemingly impossible in the last eight, namely making Alcaraz look and play “like a 13-year-old” (as the 20-year-old Spaniard himself admitted) in beating him in straight sets. Then, arguably even more impressively, he backed up that magnificent display by beating Sacha Zverev in three hard-fought sets in the semi-final, to gain his first win over the German in over a decade.

Against Sinner, however, Dimitrov found out just how hard it is to “threepeat” in any sport, even in three successive matches, let alone three successive seasons. The brilliant Bulgarian, who has reminded everyone that he is more than good enough to beat anyone (including Alcaraz), just could not maintain the same level he had shown against Zverev, let alone reach the exalted level he had risen to against Alcaraz. As a consequence, he lost in straight sets 6-3, 6-1.

The enormous improvements that Sinner has made to both his serving and his return games were evident against Dimitrov in the Hard Rock Stadium (the tennis stadium within a much larger American Football stadium that is the relatively new home to the Miami Open). As Colin Fleming, one of the co-commentators on Sky Sports Tennis, pointed out, ever since Wimbledon last summer, when Sinner lost rather meekly to Djokovic in the semi-final, he has made a number of small but significant technical adjustments to his serve, including a lower ball toss to speed up the whole service action, which has yielded great dividends.

Equally, though, Sinner’s return game, which has always been good, has simultaneously improved greatly in the last six to nine months. Indeed, against Dimitrov, he was so often firing back 100mph-plus returns on either wing that the Bulgarian was unable to hold his serve more than three times in the first set and only once in the second.

Will Sinner Prove To Be More Consistent Than Alcaraz?

The past always informs how we see the present and especially the future, so it is only natural that after the era of “The Big Three,” tennis fans should imagine that there will be another trio of players to follow them at the top of the men’s game. Of course, in reality, having a straightforward rivalry such as Borg-McEnroe, Becker-Edberg, or Sampras-Agassi is far more common in the history of the sport than the unique “Trivalry” between three great players at the same time that we have seen over the last 20 years.

Thus, it seems increasingly likely that “The New Two” of Alcaraz and Sinner will continue to stand apart from their contemporaries and supposed challengers on the ATP Tour, such as Holger Rune, Ben Shelton, and Casper Ruud. Other young players may have the natural ability to challenge at the top of men’s tennis, but they have yet to show anything like the consistency that Alcaraz and Sinner have demonstrated over the last 18 months to two years.

Talk of consistency, which is so often the watchword of professional athletes, naturally leads to a comparison of Alcaraz and Sinner. In winning at Indian Wells a fortnight ago, Alcaraz had looked back to his absolutely brilliant best. In doing so, he reminded everyone that his best is probably better than anyone else’s best right now, including Sinner (and Djokovic).

However, in plunging back to earth so spectacularly against Dimitrov in the Miami quarterfinal, Alcaraz also reminded everyone that for all his precocious achievements over the last few years, notably becoming the youngest World No.1 in men’s tennis ever (or at least since the rankings began in 1973), he is still to achieve the almost inhuman consistency of The Big Three at their best. Such complete tournament-to-tournament consistency may come for him, but he has not quite achieved it yet.

By contrast, Sinner, whose absolute best may not be quite as good as that of Alcaraz, has shown much greater consistency than his Spanish counterpart over the last nine months. Remarkably, his loss to Alcaraz in the Miami semi-final, which only came after he had totally demolished Alcaraz in the first set (“breadsticking” him 6-1), is still the only loss in singles that he has suffered since losing the final of the ATP Tour Finals event last November.

Sinner Currently Seems Unstoppable

It will be absolutely fascinating to see how the increasingly intense and increasingly important rivalry between Alcaraz and Sinner develops in the future, starting, of course, with the European clay court season and the run-in to Roland Garros. For the moment, Sinner is the player who is more in control of his game and thus shows greater consistency from tournament to tournament, although all that can change with the change of surface that is coming over the next few weeks.

Nevertheless, in dispatching a previously dominant Dimitrov so comfortably in Miami, Jannik Sinner showed again that he is not just likely to be Carlos Alcaraz’s major rival over the next decade but is perhaps capable of winning more Majors than Alcaraz overall. Much has been made of Sinner’s ski-ing background, but for the last half a year, he has shown that he is far more than just a brilliant young skier turned brilliant young tennis player. Indeed, when he is serving and returning as precisely and as powerfully as he did against Dimitrov in Miami, he must be like an avalanche coming at you and threatening to sweep you away.