The number 1 of Italy and number 1 of the world took place at 4.30 pm on the most reserved court of the Foro Italico for a training played at the highest intensity, to test their condition. An hour and a half of ferocious rallies with a final set won by the Serbian.
It was the most anticipated face to face of the day, although the program saw it written in the training table. Novak Djokovic, number 1 of the world and of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia 2023, met on the court number 5 at 4.30 pm Jannik Sinner, number 8 of the world and of the tournament but number 1 of Italy, for a training session in the heart of the fans in Rome. The court was usually reserved for the training of the great stars, because of the 6 historic courts in the park of Foro Italico is the only one that allows a little privacy: the public can follow the action only by the small tribune of the adjacent court number 6. The access to the court-side is, in fact, reserved only to coaches, players and professionals. From the top of the terrace you can peek the regulars of the bar of the Tennis Club.
The two stars took things very seriously: so much concentration and no fooling around. The opportunity was unique to test each others condition, in view of a tournament that sees potential rivals in the semi-finals, if the Serbian comes out of his slot in which gravitate Felix Auger-Aliassime and Holger Rune and Sinner does the same in a draw area where Karen Khachanov and Casper Ruud are also placed. On time at 4.30 pm, welcomed by a roar, the two teams arrive, because even a simple training at this level is a real comparison of teams.
Djokovic has with him his coach Goran Ivanisevic, his physical preparator Marco Panichi, the physiotherapist Claudio Zimaglia (former Sinner) and a sparring partner. Sinner has his coach Simone Vagnozzi, the super-coach Darren Cahill and the physical preparator Umberto Ferrara. The teams are arranged in a specular way, with the technicians on the side or behind their player, depending on the situations of the game and the others ready to collect, distribute and eventually put the ball back into play. It begins, in a respectful and almost sacral silence with a long, slow, rhythmic rally. Almost hypnotic. It goes through central shots, with a wide margin of safety over the net. Nole stopped it after no less than 50 shots by softly stopping the ball on the strings. Because otherwise it may never end. Then the rhythm rises and the ball goes lower on the net. The noise on Jannik’s shots is more snapping than Novak’s, but the ball weighs a lot, visibly.
At 16.42, they change ends and continue in the rally on central part of the court.
At 16.45, maneuvering their black and white Head Speeds (they using the same racket model) Sinner and Djokovic switch to the forehand diagonal. The time to take measures and end up challenging those who pull stronger. A balanced comparison.
16.47: they exchange court, the teams consult on technical aspects. Cahill talks to Jannik.
16.49: The work is now on the cross backhand. Indeed, they often go inside out forehands but rather central, without an exasperated search of corners.
The noise of rallies is often covered by the outbursts that come from court number 2, where Cobolli is fighting with the american Nava.
16.53: new scheme, more complex: 2 cross-rallies on cross forehand then change down the line and 2 cross-rallies on cross backhand. And so on, until one of them mistakes or gets there. Goran Ivanisevic announces it and immediately the bullfighting starts, at dizzying pace. An absolute show.
16.58: break. The two gave us inside: exhausted and breathing out on the bench.
17.01: it start again. Nole tries the volèe on the net, with Sinner hitting directly to him and he returns centrally. Following lobbing from the Italian to heat up the Serbian smash. In the meanwhile, on court 6, the audience is exalted by the spectacular plays of Hubert Hurkacz and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who are also training.
17.03: Now it’s up to Jannik to stay on the net. He also tries volée and smash. It is a little less fluid than Djokovic but still incisive.
17.06: they try the services. Start, slow, Djokovic from the right. Sinner returns. Nole notice the Italian national player’s when he aims at the ‘T’ in the center of the court with the “second”, loaded by effect. Then try the slice.
17.10: It’s up to Sinner to try from the right side (roars arrives from court number 2 for Flavio Cobolli who wins and qualifies for the main draw)
17.13: Nole tests the service from the left. Start with the “first” in the center. Jannik’s returns in the middle. The noise when it impacts, quite impressive.
17.17: Sinner serves from the left, with all variations.
17.21 Pause. Claudio Zimaglia works on the muscles of the neck and shoulders of Nole, left side. Great consultation of networking teams. Everything is ready for a set, technical test of a possible semi-final tournament.
17.25: They start again. Djokovic starting with a double fault and an ace. He touches his neck where he had been treated by his physiotherapist. On 30-30, Sinner hits a fantastic volley and the crowd applauding from the tribune of number 6. Jannik broke the strings of his racquet with a forehand and has to change racquet. Advantage Nole, holds for 1-0.
17.29: Sinner is not effective with serve in his opening service game and Nole is super aggressive on return: 0-2. Then he serves strong: 3-0.
17.38: fast toilet break for the Italian, which is struggling hard finding his best shots.
17.41: Sinner is back on court. He serves with a terrific combination serve – forehand. Continue with bomb services, so aggressive and wins his first game 3-1. The set follows the services game: 4-2, 5-3.
17.56: changing ends and Djokovic serves for the set. Sinner has the 5-4 break ball but Nole places a perfect first serve. 6-3 the final score.
18.00: Teams gather at the net, under the referee chair, talking. End of training. Jannik remain seated and talks to the team around him, who’s standing up. It is Darren Cahill who has the speech for over 5 minutes: the main focus of the training session and probably ideas for working in the next few days.
In those 5 minutes, Nole stayed on court with his sparring partner with strong forehands.
The challenge is launched, and condition tested. Surely both have hidden something they know could make a difference in 10 days, when the stakes could be the final of the eightieth edition of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. The people of Foro Italico (and not only) are already freaked.