Italian star Jannik Sinner storms Wimbledon semi-final as he sees off Russian Roman Safiullin

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Italian star Jannik Sinner storms into his maiden Grand Slam semi-final after 21-year-old No 8 seed sees off Russian Roman Safiullin in four sets at Wimbledon

It took a bathroom break and some words with the man in the mirror for Novak Djokovic to beat Jannik Sinner on these lawns last year. He might need a helmet this time round.

Fast of serve, fast of forehand and fast through a kind draw, this 21-year-old Italian with the most monstrous of talents has battered and danced his way to a fascinating reunion in the semi-final. It is quite the sight — a Sinner by name, deadly by nature.

His latest win, a four-set dismantling of Russia’s Roman Safiullin, will not leap off the page. Safiullin is ranked 92 in the world, so he is hardly a scalp, and nor were Sinner’s opponents in the previous stages of this climb — world No 111 in the first round, the No 98 in the second, 79 in the third and 85 in the last 16.

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Call it what it is: generous. No one has made it this far at Wimbledon without encountering a member of the top 50 since 1995. So there is a shade of fortune in Sinner’s progression.

But then you look to the grass and the relationship between this surface and an eighth seed who has dropped only two sets in five matches and is stripping fuzz off tennis balls. He has the game to cause Djokovic trouble, which might have the ring of flimsy marketing were it not demonstrated so resoundingly in the quarter-finals here last year.

Jannik Sinner beat Roman Safiullin in four sets to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final

Jannik Sinner beat Roman Safiullin in four sets to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final

World No 92 Roman Safiullin was at his first Grand Slam quarter-finals but lost out on Tuesday

World No 92 Roman Safiullin was at his first Grand Slam quarter-finals but lost out on Tuesday

Following his impressive victory over Safiullin, Sinner is set for a reunion with Novak Djokovic

Following his impressive victory over Safiullin, Sinner is set for a reunion with Novak Djokovic

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That was as close as Djokovic has come to losing on these courts since 2018 — he was two sets down and being blasted to all corners until he gave himself a mid-match talking-to in the locker room. The Sinner who has reached his first Slam semi-final, on the back of three quarter-finals in 2022, is sturdier and hitting even harder.

He was asked on Tuesday evening about that previous five-set classic and broke into a smile. ‘First of all, you have to go up two sets to love,’ he said. ‘In the other way, it’s going to be a completely different match than last year. He knows me better as I know him better also.

‘It is also a little bit mental, no? If you play against Novak, it’s always tough to play here, especially on Grand Slams. But I’m happy. It’s for sure one of the toughest, if not the toughest, challenge in front of me. It’s a Grand Slam. He has won 23 Grand Slams. Won Australia, won Paris. 

‘Last year I played a very good match against him. I have learned about it. Hopefully I can show this also on the court. Let’s see how it goes.’ 

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Sinner’s clash with Safiullin on Court No 1 was never going to offer a bankable indicator for how he will fare against the most effective male player in history.

And yet he hit exceptional levels, either side of a wobble in the second set when, leading 6-4, 3-1 he dropped five straight games.

Early breaks in the third and fourth reduced that to irrelevance as Sinner triumphed 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2. With serves reaching 132mph, a series of huge forehands and regular success at the net, he dominated an entertaining match. As for what comes next, there is a reasonable question to ponder on whether Sinner might have benefited from a tougher run-up to Djokovic.

He disagreed. ‘I’m not looking about this because every player who comes this far is a very, very good player,’ he said. ‘I also think that today Roman played a much, much higher level than his ranking is right now. In the other way, I’ve beaten top players in the past also here on these courts.’

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