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    Here Comes Padel, the Newest Racket Sport Taking Up Game Courts

    I first learned about padel last summer, when my partner sent me a photo from a small court during a visit to Germany.What is that? I wondered.“Padel. A childish version of tennis,” he texted, anticipating my question.As an enthusiastic tennis player, I was not very interested.A few months later, while biking in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I noticed a large building with a sign that read “Padel Haus,” which billed itself as the first padel club in New York City. This sport wanted my attention, so I invited Victor Mather, a veteran sports reporter, to join me for a lesson.Victor was willing to try. “I am a reasonably fit guy,” he said. But he was turning 60, he said, and added: “My eyesight isn’t what it used to be, I haven’t played tennis since prep school, and I have never played squash or racquetball.”I was just happy to be on a court with a racket in hand because it isn’t easy to book a tennis court in the city.Here’s what we learned.First, what is padel?Padel is a racket sport that has been growing in popularity in parts of the United States and other countries. Christian Rodriguez for The New York Times

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    We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    Australian Open: Ben Shelton, the American With the Blinding Serve, Returns

    He made a splash at last year’s event, reaching the quarterfinals, and went on to have a breakout season.It all started with a simple text message that, if Bryan Shelton’s memory serves him, went something like this:“That coulda got really interesting,” wrote his then-20-year-old son, Ben, moments after he won a fifth-set tiebreaker against Zhizhen Zhang at last year’s Australian Open, clinching that first-round match.Had it not been for that win, in a match that began in the morning and ended at night under the lights, during which Shelton survived a heat postponement, a rain delay and a match point, he might never have had the breakout season that he had last year.“Not sure I remember it that way, because it did get kind of interesting,” said Shelton by phone shortly after he and his father traveled to Brisbane, Australia, from their Florida home in late December to begin the 2024 season with a pre-Australian Open warm-up tournament. Shelton did, however, recall the unreturnable serve he hit at 4-5, 30-40 down in the fifth set.Shelton left last year’s Australian Open, his first trip abroad, as a quarterfinalist after succumbing to his friend and fellow American Tommy Paul. By season’s end, Shelton had reached the semifinals at the United States Open alongside the world’s top three players — Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz and Daniil Medvedev — and cracked the ATP’s top 15. The young American had begun 2023, his first full year on tour, ranked barely inside the top 100.Shelton is still very much a work in progress. Despite a serve that topped out at 149 m.p.h. at last year’s U.S. Open, he struggled trying to adapt to clay and grass courts. It is something that he and his father, who left as head coach at the University of Florida last spring to coach his son full time, have worked on diligently during the off-season.“The biggest thing for him is movement,” said Bryan Shelton, a tour player mostly in the 1990s. “It’s efficiency, being more balanced. The men’s game today is all about the serve and return and creating opportunities to come forward, which Ben can do.”We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber?  More

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    The Notable Comebacks at the Australian Open

    After extended layoffs, Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber and others are back on the court.A comeback provides no guarantee of success, but few sports provide more comebacks than professional tennis.They are arriving wave after wave, particularly in the women’s game, where returning to action after maternity has become more common.After the WTA stars Elina Svitolina and Caroline Wozniacki came back last season, the trend is continuing in 2024, with Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber, both former No. 1 players and multiple major champions.Both are new mothers who have been out of the game for more than a year and both will be in the draw as the 2024 season begins in earnest on Sunday with the Australian Open, the year’s first Grand Slam tournament, which Kerber won in 2016 and Osaka in 2019 and 2021.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber?  More

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    For the WTA and ATP, 2024 Could Be a Year of Formative Change in Tennis

    Tennis is trying to reposition itself by altering tournaments and spreading more money around.Steve Simon was feeling optimistic.Despite a 2023 season that ended with an avalanche of grumbling following the WTA Finals in Cancún, Mexico, which featured bad weather, a potentially dangerous center court and unrelenting complaints from the players, Simon, the chairman and chief executive of the women’s tour, was doing everything he could to move forward into 2024.“The WTA is very fine,” Simon said by video call in mid-December, just after it was announced that the WTA will soon separate the roles of chairman and chief executive, with Simon becoming executive chairman. He no longer will be in charge of day-to-day operations and instead will be tasked with, as he said, “working on strategic geopolitical issues, which are now very prevalent and affecting our business in many different ways.”There are formative changes coming to the WTA and ATP this year. The ATP has put into place its OneVision strategic plan designed to align the interests of players and tournaments with an eye toward enhancing the fan experience while also creating more lucrative media contracts.Part of the plan involves increasing the duration and draw size at several ATP tournaments. Madrid, Rome and Shanghai all went from one-week, 56-player-draw events to 12-day, 96-draw tournaments in 2023. Canada and Cincinnati will do the same in 2025. Indian Wells and Miami are already staged that way.All are Masters 1000 tournaments, the highest level in terms of prize money and ranking points other than the four majors — the Australian, French, and United States Opens and Wimbledon. Several of the tournaments are combined men’s and women’s events. Other tournaments, like ones in Dallas, Munich and Doha, Qatar, are increasing in value while still others, including Atlanta and Newport, R.I., are falling off the calendar after this year.Daniil Medvedev after winning the Qatar Open in Doha last year. The tournament is one of several ATP events increasing in value this year.Mohamed Farag/Getty ImagesWe are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber?  More

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    In Tennis, Bookends of Drama in 2023

    The year was full of unlikely winners and exciting team competitions.There was no champagne courtside. So, as Matteo Berrettini embraced Jannik Sinner after Sinner’s victory over Alex de Minaur last month to clinch Italy’s first Davis Cup title in 47 years, their teammate, Matteo Arnaldi, did the next best thing: He shook a water bottle and poured it over Sinner and Berrettini.Sinner, 22, ended the season with his 20th win in his last 23 matches. This year, he had a 64-15 record, won four tournaments, reached the semifinals at Wimbledon and was runner-up at the ATP Finals in Turin, Italy. He had wins over the three top-ranked players — Novak Djokovic, whom he beat twice in two weeks, Carlos Alcaraz and Daniil Medvedev. Starting 2023 at No. 15, he ended it at No. 4.Djokovic sorely wanted to lead Serbia to just its second Davis Cup title. But in the semifinals, he fell to Sinner after squandering three match points and then teamed with Miomir Kecmanovic to lose the deciding doubles match to Sinner and Lorenzo Sonego. The loss sent Italy into the final, where it beat Australia.Jannik Sinner helped clinch Italy’s first Davis Cup title in 47 years this year. He also had a 64-15 record and won four tournaments.Jorge Guerrero/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesDjokovic was devastated by the defeat.“For me, personally, it’s a huge disappointment because I take the responsibility, obviously having three match points, being so close to win it,” he said after the match. “When you lose for your country, you know, the bitter feeling is even greater.”It is ironic that the season began and ended with exciting conclusions at the men’s and women’s team competitions. The Davis Cup and the Billie Jean King Cup have been under siege in recent years as many of the game’s top players, including Alcaraz, Taylor Fritz, Iga Swiatek, Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula, shunned the historically heart-thumping, pride-producing finals because of scheduling conflicts. The U.S. women lost early in the finals, and the U.S. men didn’t even qualify as one of the top eight teams.Still, despite the player defections and a merry-go-round of format changes, both competitions provided some of the most striking moments of the year.Leylah Fernandez’s five wins helped lead Canada to its first-ever Billie Jean King Cup.Raul Caro/EPA, via ShutterstockLeylah Fernandez rode a wave of patriotic passion, winning five matches to lead Canada to its first Billie Jean King Cup. Her teammate, then-18-year-old Marina Stakusic, who had never won a WTA Tour match, became an overnight star when she won three matches against opponents ranked in the top 70.If 2022 was billed as the season of King Carlos when Alcaraz went from No. 32 to No. 1 on the strength of his U.S. Open championship, then this season mostly belonged to Djokovic.He is considered by many in the game as the greatest player ever. The statistics prove it.At 36, Djokovic had one of the best seasons of his career. For the third time since 2015, he reached the finals at all four majors, falling just shy of attaining the Grand Slam.In January, a year after being removed from Australia because of his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19, Djokovic returned to Melbourne Park and captured a record 10th Australian Open title by defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final. With the 14-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal injured for most of the season, Djokovic won his third French Open in June by beating Alcaraz and Casper Ruud.After falling to Alcaraz in a scintillating five-set Wimbledon final, Djokovic bounced back and beat Medvedev at the U.S. Open to earn his 24th major, surpassing Serena Williams. He is now just one win away from breaking the men’s and women’s major record held by Margaret Court for 50 years.Djokovic captured his record 10th Australian Open by defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final.Quinn Rooney/Getty ImagesIn all, Djokovic played just 12 tournaments in 2023 and he won seven of them. He did not lose from mid-July until mid-November, when he fell to Sinner during the round-robin portion of the ATP Finals. He then beat Sinner in the final after assuring the year-end No. 1 ranking for a record-extending eighth time.Alcaraz, who won six titles in 2023 on three different surfaces and reached the semifinals at the French and U.S. Opens, in addition to his Wimbledon win, ended the year ranked No. 2. But he was candid after he lost to Djokovic in the semifinals in Turin.“I am not at his level on an indoor court,” Alcaraz, 20, said in November. “He has shown why he is the best player in the world. I have to practice more to be a better player.”With his 66 wins, Medvedev led the ATP in match victories. He won 19 straight, and reached the finals at Indian Wells and the Miami Open, which he won. He also won at Rome and reached the semifinals at Wimbledon and was runner-up to Djokovic at the U.S. Open. He ended the year ranked No. 3.Two upstart players — the Americans Ben Shelton and Chris Eubanks — used their wide grins and whopping forehands to envelop the sport in a giant bear hug. Shelton, about two years away from leading the University of Florida to an N.C.A.A. championship, reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open. He then reached the semifinals at the U.S. Open before falling to Djokovic. Eubanks, another former collegian, upset Cameron Norrie and Tsitsipas to reach the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.There was no shortage of compelling story lines among the women. Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka spent the season battling for tour supremacy.Sabalenka, only a year removed from serving woes so severe that she resorted to serving underhand during matches, won her first major at the Australian Open, a day she called the “best of my life.” She grabbed the No. 1 ranking after reaching the U.S. Open final.“It was amazing to see Sabalenka, who was basically laughed off that same court a year earlier, confront those demons and take responsibility,” Lindsay Davenport, three-time major winner and former No. 1, said by telephone last month.Swiatek took her third French Open and won six titles. But she faltered at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open before regrouping by the WTA Finals, snatching the year-end No. 1 from Sabalenka by beating her and Pegula to take the title. Pegula, for her part, was one of just two players, along with No. 4 Elena Rybakina, to notch multiple wins over Swiatek this season.Marketa Vondrousova, who endured long stretches away from the game because of two wrist surgeries, became the first unseeded women’s Wimbledon winner when she beat Ons Jabeur in the final.Coco Gauff, 19, beat Aryna Sabalenka in three sets to win the U.S. Open.Hiroko Masuike/The New York TimesBut it was Gauff and her wise-beyond-her-years attitude who transcended the sport in a way that only Williams has done. When Gauff, 19, beat Sabalenka in three sets to win the U.S. Open, the nontennis world, including the former first lady Michelle Obama, went wild. In her acceptance speech, Gauff, who had struggled early in the season, addressed her doubters.“Thank you to the people who didn’t believe in me,” Gauff said. “To those who thought they were putting water on my fire, you were really adding gas to it.”It was the kind of bold statement that left even former major winners stunned. One of them was Davenport, who admitted to having tears run down her face while she did match commentary on television.“To me, the story of the year was Coco,” Davenport said. “Players come along once in a generation. When you have all the expectations on you at 12 and 15 years old and you are able to handle everything and then elevate your game to win, then you really are truly something special.” More

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    Novak Djokovic Enters ATP Finals as Top Seed

    He had his breakout year in 2008 and now, at age 36, is still ranked No. 1.For Novak Djokovic, his 2008 season, just a few years after he turned pro, was great by any measure. It was his breakout year.He not only won his first of six ATP Finals, but he began 2008 taking the Australian Open, the first of his 10 titles there and what would become 24 major championships overall.In the semifinals he upset the top seed, Roger Federer, and beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final. Djokovic also reached the semifinals at the French Open, where he fell to Rafael Nadal, and the United States Open, where he lost to Federer, also in the semifinals. Djokovic was just 21 at the time.By season’s end, Djokovic had won two other tournaments, including Masters 1000s in Indian Wells and Rome. That year solidified Djokovic as a bona fide member of what was to become known as the Big Three, alongside Federer and Nadal.“He played like a beast,” Nikolay Davydenko, who lost to Djokovic, 6-1, 7-5, in the 2008 final in Shanghai, said by email last month. “He’s a good runner, had good control and the best concentration on the tour. I had no chance.”Now, 15 years later, Djokovic, 36, is still leading the sport and enters the Finals as the top seed. This year has once again been one of his best. For the fourth time in his career he won three of the four majors and heads into the ATP Finals with a 51-5 record. Last Sunday, he captured his seventh Paris Masters championship and 40th career Masters 1000 title with a straight-sets win over Grigor Dimitrov.Djokovic beat the American Taylor Fritz in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open in September. He won three of the four majors in 2023 for the fourth time in his career.Amir Hamja/The New York TimesThe ATP Finals begin Sunday at the Pala Alpitour in Turin, Italy, where Djokovic will try to win the event for a record seventh time. His chief competition is the second seed, Carlos Alcaraz, who spoiled Djokovic’s chance to become the third man to attain the Grand Slam when Alcaraz beat him in the final at Wimbledon in July.But Alcaraz has not won a tournament since the summer and was forced to pull out of an ATP event in Basel, Switzerland, last month because of foot and lower-back problems. He was then upset in his opening match at the Paris Masters by the qualifier Roman Safiullin.The six other singles players in the round-robin competition are Daniil Medvedev, Jannik Sinner, Andrey Rublev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Holger Rune. Djokovic is the defending champion, having beaten Casper Ruud in the final in 2022.“I obviously had a fantastic year so far,” Djokovic said just before the start of the Paris Masters last month. “I couldn’t ask for a better season. One match away from winning all four Slams is something I would sign [up] right away at the beginning of the season if someone told me that would be the case.”Djokovic in his Wimbledon final match against Carlos Alcaraz in July. Alcaraz won, spoiling Djokovic’s chance to become the third man to attain the Grand Slam.Glyn Kirk/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesDjokovic enters the ATP Finals as the all-time leader in weeks ranked No. 1 with 398. He could reach a milestone 400 weeks the day after the event ends. He has ended the year at No. 1 seven times, one more than Pete Sampras, who did it from 1993-98. All he has to do is win one round-robin match at the Finals to become this year’s No. 1, ahead of Alcaraz.In three of the six years that Djokovic has won the ATP Finals he ended the year top ranked. The only time his year-end No. 1 ranking came down to the championship match at the ATP Finals was in 2016, when he lost to Andy Murray, who took the year-end No. 1.These days, Djokovic stays motivated by the majors and by retaining his ranking. Stan Wawrinka, who has played Djokovic almost 30 times, knows the vagaries of competing against Djokovic at the year-end championships.“For me, it was something special to play Novak in the world tour finals,” Wawrinka said from the Paris Masters. “Playing him indoors, when he’s really focused and motivated, was always a big challenge. His game is amazing on all surfaces, but I would say indoors, that’s where he’s at his best.” More

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    To Beat the Best at the ATP Finals, Players May Have to Mix Things Up

    Analysts say it is a good strategy against strong defensive players, which can put them in an uncomfortable position.The ATP Finals, scheduled to run from Sunday through Nov. 19, is more than the most prestigious men’s tournament outside of the Grand Slams, it is also an existential conundrum.The exclusive singles draw features the eight best players in the world, leaving no easy wins and raising the question of whether a player must change his game over the course of the week to best the best of the best.The answer is a highly qualified “yes,” with a giant “but” attached. Paul Annacone, the Tennis Channel analyst who coached Pete Sampras and Roger Federer, said changes should be minor, especially since the early matches are round-robin, meaning a player can lose one match and still survive.“I’m a big believer in figuring out your own identity and trusting what got you to the year-end championships,” he said. “Then you just have to do it just a little better than the guy on the other side of the net that day.”Charging the net, which can shorten rallies and help players take control of the action, is one tactic that the players can use against the game’s best defenders, like Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev, or against power sluggers like Jannik Sinner and Andrey Rublev, but it’s precisely those players’ skills that make coming up to the net after hitting a groundstroke such a risky move.Still, Jimmy Arias, who is also a Tennis Channel analyst, said it’s one way to survive the week.“It’s so hard to hit through base liners like Alexander Zverev and Medvedev, especially on a slower court,” he said, “so if you don’t come to the net against Medvedev, you’re kind of an idiot. If he hits a ridiculous passing shot from the stands, just clap and say, ‘Let me see you do that again.’”Daniil Medvedev charging the net to return a shot during a tournament in Vienna last month. Medvedev has gained a reputation as one of the top defenders playing today.Eva Manhart/APA/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThe danger comes, Arias says, if you simply try to force your way to the net against an opponent who is dictating the points, though he adds that, given the quality of the opponents in Turin, Italy, that may become the only option.Patrick McEnroe, an ESPN analyst, agreed, saying that “the ability to finish points, especially at the net, helps exponentially” against such elite defensive players. Medvedev, who is known for stubbornly staying extremely far behind the baseline, gives himself time to reach almost any deep shot. The best plan is to come to the net or hit short-angle balls against him, McEnroe said, but noted that Medvedev succeeds because many players (Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz excepted) cannot execute that tactic well enough to beat him.McEnroe added that the court in Turin, which is indoors, was low-bouncing (forcing opponents to lift attempted passing shots) and relatively slow, though indoor courts felt quicker because there were no elements like wind.“That favors the aggressive player, but not to the extent that it did back in the day, so you need more versatility now,” he said. “That’s why Federer and Djokovic have dominated there.” (Federer won six times; Djokovic is seeking his seventh title.)He emphasized that changing strategies can be more nuanced than simply charging in. He suggested using the forecourt more often and hitting drop shots, low slices and short angle balls.“It puts the other player in uncomfortable positions and allows you to then take the initiative on the next shot,” he said, adding that this is something they now stress at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy, the school launched by his brother, where he is co-director.Carlos Alcaraz playing a drop shot against an opponent in Ohio in August. According to the ESPN analyst Patrick McEnroe, Alcaraz has been playing these kinds of nuanced shots “at least since he was 13.”Matthew Stockman/Getty Images“This is the biggest thing that has changed with Carlos Alcaraz, who has been playing those shots at least since he was 13,” McEnroe said. “He has the huge firepower and athleticism that these other players do, but now you’re seeing the need to move better and use that part of the court strategically. You’re seeing shots you never thought about, and players are using them consistently.”Arias said that breaking down an opponent by making him change his positioning so he felt uncomfortable — something Federer would do with a short, low slice and that Alcaraz does with the drop shot — was essential.“It’s not just needed for this tournament, but to beat the best you need that all year, but it’s something that’s slightly lacking in the game today,” he said.While Zverev and Medvedev tend to camp at the baseline and let it rip, the analysts cite Rublev, whom Annacone called “so dominant from the back of the court,” as the most one-dimensional of the top players. Arias said Rublev and Sinner “play straight ahead, hitting it hard without opening the court much.”But Annacone and McEnroe said Sinner was improving in this regard because of his coach Darren Cahill. “He’s getting better at playing with subtlety and nuance,” McEnroe said, adding that Holger Rune also “has the potential to play that sort of game.”All three analysts say that when Stefanos Tsitsipas is in top form, he is versatile and one of the better volleyers.Annacone said that a player like Sinner or Rublev could win most matches during the year with their firepower, but that “each of these top players, aside from Novak, can be vulnerable on any given day against other elite players.”Djokovic, as always, remains the exception, even among the exceptional. He has lost just five times this year and is 33-1 on hard courts; since 2012 he is an astounding 108-15 indoors. (Alcaraz would have slotted in there with Djokovic, but he has scuffled a bit since Wimbledon.)So Annacone acknowledged that while players can’t overhaul their identity for this tournament, when they reach the semifinals and possibly face Alcaraz and Djokovic, “you need to be creative and think outside the box,” adding that changing tactics midmatch was easier now that coaching is allowed between points.“You have to be confident enough to do things a little differently, to adjust and adapt on your feet,” he said. “Try it, sometimes you’ll miss, but that’s life.” More

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    The Power and Speed of Jannik Sinner

    Sinner, 22, has dominating talent and has already beaten many of tennis’s top players.It wasn’t long after Darren Cahill began helping to coach Jannik Sinner last year that he started pulling out videos for his young charge to watch.Cahill knew the extraordinary speed that Sinner already possessed off both wings. He was aware of Sinner’s ability to maneuver around the court at speed and of his work ethic. But Cahill felt that Sinner could benefit by studying the ground strokes, particularly the backhand, of a former Cahill pupil, the eight-time major champion Andre Agassi.“Jannik’s lanky and tall, so he’s got a big wingspan and can generate a ton of power,” Cahill said by phone of Sinner, who is about 6-foot-2. “Andre was revolutionary in the way that he hit the ball back in the day, especially on the backhand. There’s so much to learn from a lot of the older-generation players. Because of the equipment and technology that they had, they really simplified a lot of things, especially the great players.”Sinner, 22, has been one of the most talked-about players since he won the Next Gen ATP Finals in 2019. He was also named the ATP’s Newcomer of the Year that season.“He’s got some of the hardest ground strokes I’ve probably ever had to deal with,” said Alex de Minaur, who lost to Sinner in the final in Toronto in August.“A couple of years ago, in a lot of matches, he was breaking down physically,” said Darren Cahill, left. “He was a late developer, so he just needed to make sure that his body could deal with the rigors of playing at this level week in and week out.”Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesBut is Sinner a genuine threat to do damage, or even win, the ATP Finals, which begin on Sunday? Goran Ivanisevic, Novak Djokovic’s longtime coach, has thought so.“Jannik Sinner, that’s the future,” Ivanisevic said on the ATP Uncovered show in 2020. “For sure, top-five player, maybe No. 1. I can’t say that far, but the kid is 18, hits the ball amazingly quick. He is the deal.”Cahill, along with Sinner’s head coach, Simone Vagnozzi, whom Sinner has also worked with since last year, has helped Sinner grasp the concept of not just hitting the ball hard, but of also using dips, spins and off-pace shots to open up the court and force his opponents to run until their legs give out.The lessons, via video and on court, have paid off. Sinner, an Italian, is ranked No. 4 in the world, up from No. 15 a year ago. He has won four tournaments this year, including his first Masters 1000 at the Canadian Open in August, as well as two of his past four events, in Beijing and in Vienna.Sinner withdrew from the Paris Masters last week after finishing his second-round match at 2:37 a.m. and then being scheduled to play his next match against de Minaur less than 15 hours later. He complained that tournament organizers were not allowing him enough time to recover, leaving his body vulnerable before the upcoming ATP Finals and Davis Cup Final, where he will compete for Italy.After making his ATP Finals debut in 2021 as an alternate, Sinner has qualified on his own this year. He goes in as the fourth seed behind Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz and Daniil Medvedev and ahead of Andrey Rublev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Holger Rune. The tournament is at the Pala Alpitour in Turin, Italy, about 300 miles from Sinner’s Northern Italy hometown.Sinner has a winning record against Alcaraz, including victories at the Miami Open and China Open this year. After losing his first six matches against Medvedev, including in the finals in Rotterdam and Miami this year, Sinner has beaten him twice in the last month. In a three-set Vienna final, Sinner saved two set points in the first-set tiebreaker, one with an ace up the middle and flummoxed Medvedev with frequent forays to the net.The only players in the Finals that Sinner has not beaten are the world No. 1 and six-time ATP Finals champion Djokovic, and Rune. Sinner fell to Djokovic in the Wimbledon semifinals this year and in the quarterfinals last year. In the 2022 match, Sinner led by two sets to love before falling in five sets. Against Rune, Sinner lost in Monte Carlo this year and retired because of injury in a match in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 2022.After suffering through some injuries over the past few years, Sinner has dedicated himself to strengthening his body through off-court work with his fitness coach, Umberto Ferrara, and his physiotherapist, Giacomo Naldi.The only players in the Finals that Sinner has not beaten are the world No. 1 and six-time ATP Finals champion Djokovic and Holger Rune. Wu Hao/EPA, via Shutterstock“This year, we made a lot of tough decisions to not play a couple of tournaments because it is very important for me to get a lot of gym work and strength and mobility to get better,” Sinner said. “I feel it on the court that the more the match goes on the more comfortable I feel.”Cahill also sees the value in putting the training first and the tennis second.“A couple of years ago, in a lot of matches, he was breaking down physically,” said Cahill, who is also an ESPN commentator. “He was a late developer, so he just needed to make sure that his body could deal with the rigors of playing at this level week in and week out.”Sinner has, admittedly, struggled mentally with closing out matches, his nerves often getting in the way. At last year’s United States Open, he held a match point while serving at 5-4 to the eventual champion, Alcaraz, in the quarterfinals, but lost the five-hour, 15-minute match 6-3 in the fifth set. The match ended at 2:50 a.m., the latest finish in U.S. Open history. Then, at this year’s French Open, Sinner held two match points in the fourth set against Daniel Altmaier, who saved one of them by hitting a net-cord winner. Sinner lost the second-round match in five sets.Sinner does not travel with a full-time psychologist like many players. Instead, he works with Formula Medicine, an Italian mental-training program sometimes used by Formula 1 drivers.“It’s not like I call them and we talk,” said Sinner, who admitted to being overly competitive in everything from tennis drills to playing cards to go-kart racing. “They give me some exercises to do on the computer. It’s fun to work with them, but you also have to show it on the court. It’s all part of the process.”Cahill sees his role as part technician, tactician and mental guru, often overseeing the work of Vagnozzi, Ferrara and Naldi and helping the team see when Sinner needs to work harder and when he needs time off. Cahill also recognizes the challenge for Sinner at the ATP Finals, especially given that he is the only singles player competing in his home country.“I always encourage my players to have a good look around, to take in the atmosphere, to enjoy it, put a smile on your face and to take the fans for a ride,” Cahill said. “Because, ultimately, that’s all we’re there for. If you think about winning and losing too much, it can be like an anchor around your ankle.”As a child, Sinner played soccer and was a top-level junior skier in Italy. He won a national championship in giant slalom when he was 8 years old. But by 13, he had quit skiing to devote himself exclusively to tennis.“In skiing, it was more that if you make one mistake you cannot win the race, while in tennis you can make some mistakes and still win the match,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest lesson that I have learned from skiing. Obviously, they are two different sports, but maybe the coordination, the balance and the sliding helped me a little bit to play tennis.”Cahill is keenly aware of the pressure that Sinner is facing as he enters the ATP Finals. They have been working on simulating stressful situations and critical points, including using deep-breathing exercises and encouraging Sinner to look across the net and take note of the stress level of his opponent.Two things that Cahill would like to give Sinner, but knows he can’t, are John Isner’s powerful serve and John McEnroe’s meticulous volley. He can, however, give him advice.“Jannik has earned his place in the ATP Finals, and everybody’s there to see him,” Cahill said. “Every single player is an incredible tennis player. So go out and put on a great show and don’t think about the end result. Just be brave and play your type of tennis.” More