Sinner is two games away from a first Grand Slam main draw win (Picture: Getty)

One young man was narrowly denied a first match win at the Australian Open on Monday, but it wasn’t his opponent who kept him at bay.

Jannik Sinner, the red-headed 18-year-old Italian who is ranked 82 in the world, lost in the first round of a Futures event in Tunisia this time last year but has rapidly climbed the rankings to become one of the most talked about youngsters in the tennis sphere and only the Melbourne rain denied him a spot in the second round.

Sinner, a skiing champion in his youth who grew up in the mountains of South Tyrol near Austria, is the only 18-year-old in the world’s top-200 (the next highest-ranked player of that age is world No. 299 and former junior Wimbledon champion Chun-hsin Tseng) and is just two games away from a first Grand Slam main draw victory.

Sinner has earned rave reviews (Picture: Getty)

If recent history is anything to go by, there will be several more to come at Melbourne Park this year.

Sinner is defending a curious record of those who have thrived at the Next Gen Finals.

Since the Milan-based event – designed to promote the sport’s young male talent – was founded in 2017 both of its winners, Hyeon Chung and Stefanos Tsitsipas, have then gone on to start the next season by reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open. Will Sinner join them?

To extend the streak, it’s likely he would have to dispatch 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer in the fourth round. Not to mention 18th seed and former semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov – a potential round three opponent – and Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics, who has already dismissed 13th seed and Sinner’s fellow Next Gen hopeful Denis Shapovalov.

Oh, and he still has the small matter of finishing off his first-round tie with Australian qualifier Max Purcell, who he leads 7-6 (7-2) 6-2 4-4.

The Next Gen Finals champions’ streak may well come to a halt but Sinner, who boasts effortless power off both wings, has already alerted the attention of the world’s best and has practised with Federer on numerous occasions, while he hit with Rafael Nadal before this touranment’s beginning. No doubt they’re keen to get a measure of him.

Federer has been impressed by Sinner (Picture: Getty)

He’s left Federer – who has hit with him in Rome and Monaco – suitably impressed.

‘What I like about him is he’s almost got the same speed of shot on forehand and backhand,’ said Federer after his straight sets win over Steve Johnson. ‘Similar to Felix [Auger-Aliassime] and some other guys.

‘Back in the day – like Steve Johnson today you go to the backhand, you know it’s going to come back slower, go to the forehand and it will come back faster. With Jannik I don’t feel there’s such a thing.

‘Obviously he needs to manage when to pull the trigger and how big to go because it’s not quite realistic to keep on whacking the ball full speed.

‘He has great footwork for a big guy and then he can play again like most of the best movers in the world right now, he can play open stance and close stance, which I think is a huge advantage for movement in the future.

‘I think we’ll see so much more from him. He’s an exciting guy and a super sweet kid.’

Del Potro’s forehand is one of tennis’ most fearsome strokes (Picture: AFP via Getty)

Sinner’s powerful strokes have been compared to Juan Martin del Potro – whose forehand has been likened to Thor’s hammer – but the Italian’s power is all the more impressive given he stands some four inches shorter than Argentina’s former world No. 3.

Those who are familiar with Sinner behind the scenes have hailed his humble nature, while his parents – unlike many in the sport – have taken by and large a backseat approach.

There will be many challenges ahead, especially as his status in the sporting world inevitably grows, but he has the potential to go on to great things. Perhaps even this fortnight.

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