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Soccer-mad Italy now obsessed with skinny tennis champ

Soccer-mad Italy now has a new obsession - Australian Open tennis champion Jannik Sinner.


Norman Brookes Challenge Cup following his win over Daniil Medvedev of Russia in the Men’s Singles Final at the 2024 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Monday, January 29, 2024. Image AAP

Italy, a nation whose sporting obsession is normally soccer, is now mad about the tennis boy as Jannik Sinner's Australian Open win grasped the country's imagination.


And it's not just because of the way Sinner rallied from two sets down to beat Daniil Medvedev on Sunday.


For ever since Sinner reached the ATP Finals championship match at home in Turin and then led Italy to the Davis Cup title on consecutive weeks in November, he's been taking over the headlines from soccer.


"Jannik Sinner wrote a new page of history today that fills us with pride," Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni wrote on Facebook. 


"It's an achievement worthy of a real champion."


The Turin final was the most watched tennis match of all-time on Italian television, with 6.7 million viewers.


 It wouldn't be surprising if Sunday's match turns out to have an even bigger audience, even though it was shown only on Pay TV, starting at 9.30am in Sinner's home country.


It's a testament to the 22-year-old Sinner's clean-cut image, his ability to always say the right thing and to act properly.


"I've never seen such a great yet simple champion," Andrea Abodi, Italy's Sports Minister, wrote on X. "I'm happy and honoured that he's Italian."


The attention is also due to the fact that no Italian man had won a grand slam singles in nearly half-a-century — since Adriano Panatta raised the French Open trophy in 1976.


"And trust me, this is just the first of many grand slam finals," said Flavia Pennetta, the last Italian woman to win a grand slam after beating compatriot Roberta Vinci in the 2015 US Open final.


Not since Valentino Rossi was dominating motorcycle racing, Marco Pantani was the world's top cyclist or Alberto Tomba was winning Olympic skiing medals has a non-soccer athlete gained so much attention in Italy.


What's different about Sinner from those three is that Sinner is from a German-speaking area of Italy. He left home for the Italian Riviera to train with Riccardo Piatti, now his former coach, at the age of 13.


The Davis Cup team is due to be honoured by Italy's President Sergio Mattarella on Thursday, and now Sinner can bring along another trophy.


In Sinner's tiny hometown of Sesto (population 1,860) near the Austrian border, about 70 people gathered inside the two-court indoor tennis facility where he first played to watch the final. 


It might have been a bigger celebration but the town is in mourning after a mother and two children were recently killed in an auto accident.


"It's an incredible achievement that provides joy for us all during a time of great pain," Sesto Mayor Thomas Summerer said.


"Tomorrow we will all go to the funeral but Jannik has provided us with positive emotions to help us get through this."


The "Carota Boys," Sinner's fan club, were in Melbourne for the start of the Australian Open.


Having returned to Italy, they watched the final on a jumbo screen in Turin together with more than 1000 orange-clad fans.


Nicknamed "Jan the Fox" since he was a school kid, Sinner was an accomplished junior ski racer and his parents worked in a ski lodge where his father was a chef and his mum a waitress.


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