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Sinner powered by season's success... and carrots

  • Ravi Ubha

The ‘Carota Boys’ are en route to Australian Open 2024 to root for their favourite, Jannik Sinner

Decked out in carrot costumes after seeing Sinner eat a carrot at a changeover in Vienna years ago, the fan club comprising a handful of Italians have become a hit on social media — garnering more than 73,000 followers on Instagram. 

DRAW: Australian Open 2024 men's singles

But if the ginger-haired Sinner wanders around Melbourne during the fortnight, he might also bump into the ‘carrot man’ known as Nathan.

Nathan strolls the city with a giant carrot cut-out simply because he wants to put smiles on faces.

So Sinner should feel right at home in Melbourne — especially as one of his two coaches is Australian Darren Cahill.

The Italian enters AO 24 playing the finest tennis of his career, having toppled Novak Djokovic at the ATP Finals at home in November before saving three match points to end the Serb’s 21-match Davis Cup winning streak in the semifinals.

Sinner starred once again as Italy overcame Australia in the final to hoist the trophy in the team competition for the first time since 1976. 

And all that was after October’s morale-boosting victory over Daniil Medvedev in Beijing that ended a six-match losing streak against the two-time Australian Open finalist.

“It gives you a good feeling when you lose so many times and then you win finally because it shows also the progress you're making as a player,” said Sinner.

Ranked world No.16 at last year’s Australian Open — when he lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas in five sets in the fourth round — he has risen in the rankings to world No.4, ahead of the Greek who is perennially well supported in Australia. 

His self-belief has grown but the new season always brings uncertainty as the pragmatic 22-year-old knows. 

“I'm here to play, at least to try to play, some good tennis,” Sinner told reporters at Melbourne Park on Friday. “Obviously it's tough to say how the season will go.

“At the end of the year, I played really good. I have still the confidence inside me, for sure. In the other way, every season is different. Every tournament is different.”

What Sinner does know is that he longs for match action. 

“I missed (it) being a little bit out of competition in the last one and a half, two months or so,” he said. 

“It's good to be back here, to have the connection with the crowd and everything. Let's see how it goes.”

Djokovic landed three Grand Slams the season after leading Serbia to a first Davis Cup crown in 2010. Fernando Verdasco produced his deepest run at a Grand Slam at Australian Open 2009 — extending Rafael Nadal to more than five hours in the semifinals — after helping Spain win the 2008 title.

But producing glittering tennis to end one season does not always translate to instant success at the beginning of the next.

Alexander Zverev won the ATP Finals in 2018 but exited the Australian Open in the fourth round months later as a 21-year-old. Stefanos Tsitsipas claimed the year-end championships in 2019 and then fell in the third round at the Australian Open.

Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic, on the comeback trail and in Sinner’s quarter at AO24, ousted both. 

Sinner opted not to contest a lead-in tournament given his extended 2023, instead playing — and winning — two exhibition matches at Melbourne’s Kooyong Classic against Casper Ruud and Marc Polmans. His pal, Carlos Alcaraz, also bypassed a warm-up tournament. 

Was it the right move for Sinner? Only time will tell. 

“I had only one week of stopping basically, then we started the off-season,” said Sinner, who faces Dutchman Botic van de Zandschulp to kick off play at Rod Laver Arena on Sunday. 

“We were there quite early. I wanted to start as soon as possible in one way the off-season. That for me was really important, for me and my body.

Sinner celebrates victory over Daniil Medvedev in Beijing

“We tried also to figure out if this could be an option for the upcoming years, if this helps for me or not. I played a couple of matches in Kooyong. They're not official matches obviously, but you get this match feeling a little bit.

“So, let's see. I mean, we will have all the answers on Sunday, then we see how it goes. But I feel quite confident to be ready for some good tennis.”

Sinner — already a quarterfinalist at all four majors — could renew acquaintances with 10-time champion Djokovic in the semifinals. 

The ‘Carota Boys’ surely would not miss it.