HomeTennisThe Stunning Rise of Tennis's Jannik Sinner

The Stunning Rise of Tennis’s Jannik Sinner


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On a blazingly sunny morning in March, the 22-year-old Italian tennis star Jannik Sinner could be found on the sprawling grounds of a ranch-style home he’d rented in the Coachella Valley. Sinner was there for the annual tournament at Indian Wells, where he was looking to extend a months-long blitz of a winning streak. I was there to ask Sinner about this streak, which culminated in his first Grand Slam title, at the Australian Open in January. His remarkable run, which now includes a commanding win at the Miami Open last week, has propelled him to world No. 2 and made him the talk of Italy, a soccer-obsessed country where tennis doesn’t normally make the front page.

But when you get in a room with Jannik Sinner, it is easy to be driven to distraction by something else entirely: His hair. It’s red, and it’s spectacular. It tumbles forth in a mop of cherubic curls. It’s one reason he is known as the Fox, a nickname he picked up in grade school. And it’s partly why his notorious superfans, the Carota Boys, show up to his tournaments dressed in carrot costumes. As we sat talking in a cabana that served as his dressing room for Vogue’s photo shoot, a stylist scrunched Sinner’s curls into bigger, bouncier heights. When I asked Sinner how he manages to stuff his curls into the snug-fitting hats he wears during matches, he answered the question with no hesitation, as though he’d been expecting it. “This is a talent,” he said.

Sinner demonstrated the move in a two-part motion. “You put the hairs back like this,” he said, pulling his curls straight back and holding them down. “And you put the hat like this,” he said, slipping a white cap over his head, back to front. He showed me the maneuver again, this time at a faster clip. “But the thing is, this one usually stays out,” he said, pulling at errant tufts that were peeking out from under the sides of his hat. At a certain point, Sinner explained, the curls begin to exert so much pressure on the cap that the cap starts to slide around on his head, and then it’s time for a haircut. “When the hat is moving, that’s when I know I have to go to the hairdresser.”

Sinner is an athlete of multiple talents. Growing up in the small mountain town of Sesto, in the Dolomites near the Austrian border, he was an accomplished ski racer—he won a national championship in giant slalom at age eight and placed second at age twelve. (Sesto is in South Tyrol, a largely German-speaking region, and German is Sinner’s first language.) In the warm months he played soccer and tennis, and when he was around fourteen, the former Italian tennis pro Alex Vittur, who is now Sinner’s manager, made him an offer: Move to Bordighera, on the Italian Riviera, and train full-time at Riccardo Piatti’s tennis academy.

Growing up in Italy, Sinner got his start as a competitive skiier. He switched to tennis at age 12. Nike t-shirt and shorts

Sinner’s rankings in skiing had started to slip. “I was winning a lot when I was young in skiing, and in tennis I never won,” he told me. “And then slowly I started to lose in skiing, because physically I was not ready to compete. I was always quite skinny and everything.” Compared to the split-second margins of ski-racing, Sinner explained, tennis felt more forgiving. “The reason why I chose tennis was, in tennis you can make mistakes. You can lose points but you can still win the match. In skiing, if you make one mistake, one big mistake, you cannot win.”

Sinner made the move, leaving behind his dad, Johann, who worked as a cook at a local ski lodge; his mom, Siglinde, then a waitress at the same restaurant; and his older brother, Marc. In Bordighera, Sinner lived with the young family of a Croatian coach who worked at the academy, Luka Cvjetkovic. “They had two kids, one dog. I came into this family and it was a nice feeling. Obviously I missed my parents and all my friends, and sometimes the other sports, but it was a good experience for me. So I just tried to keep going. From one day to another I was changing my life.”

Sinner seems so even-tempered, on court and in conversation, it’s hard to imagine he harbors any sort of cutthroat edge, but it’s clear he was precociously competitive from a young age. Two years after he enrolled in Piatti’s academy, and already bored with junior events, Sinner went pro. The 2019 season was “a changer,” as he put it. He won a tournament in Bergamo after entering on a wildcard, and, nine months later, the Next Gen ATP Finals. In early 2022, not long after he broke into the top 10, Sinner overhauled his coaching team, parting ways with Piatti and hiring Simone Vagnozzi and Darren Cahill. “I wanted to throw myself into the fire,” he has said of that decision. “I wanted to try a different method.”

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