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Sinner opens Australian account with straight-sets win

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Fourth seed Jannik Sinner fired up his bid for a maiden Grand Slam title with a hard-fought straight-sets victory over Dutchman Botic van de Zandschulp at the Australian Open on Sunday.

The 22-year-old Italian enjoyed a breakthrough in 2023, winning his first Masters title, in Toronto, and making the championship match against Novak Djokovic at the ATP Finals.

It sparked expectations that it is only a matter of time before he wins a major and he came through a tough encounter at Melbourne Park to open his 2024 account, beating the 59th-ranked Dutchman 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena.

“My first match of the season and it means a lot to start off with a win,” said Sinner, who reached his first Slam semi-final at Wimbledon last year.

“The tournament is one where I would like to play as good as possible and hopefully I can show some more in the next round.

“Physically I feel good and in good shape, the first round is never easy so I can be happy with today.”

It was Sinner’s first competitive match of the year after he opted against a warm-up tournament but he showed few signs of rust, breaking Van de Zandschulp’s opening service game and powering through the first set in 46 minutes.

But the Dutchman, a former US Open quarter-finalist, refused to go quietly, hitting the ball so hard in the second set that his racquet strings snapped.

There was little between them as they battled to 5-5 before Van de Zandschulp netted a backhand to give the Italian the crucial break and he served out for a two-set lead.

Once again, the Dutchman put up resistance in the third, breaking for a 2-0 advantage.

But it was a temporary wobble by Sinner, who responded by breaking twice in succession and surged 4-2 clear and there was no way back.

At a career-high four in the world, Sinner also won titles last year in Montpellier, Vienna and Beijing, and was instrumental in helping Italy win the Davis Cup.

AFP

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