Jannik Sinner made a dream ATP Finals debut as he stepped in for fellow Italian Matteo Berrettini and beat Hubert Hurkacz in straight sets.
Berrettini was left “devastated” after having to withdraw from the season-ending event with injury, but the Turin crowd certainly enjoyed seeing another home favourite impress in his place.
Sinner proved too good for Hurkacz, who had beaten the 20-year-old in the Miami Open final earlier this year, as he won 6-2 6-2 to keep alive his hopes of qualifying from the Red Group.
Australian Open
Australian Open order of play, Day 2 – Raducanu and Murray fly GB flag
Sinner is the first alternate to win a match at the ATP Finals since 2011, but to qualify for the semi-finals he will need to beat Daniil Medvedev in his last group match and hope Hurkacz beats Alexander Zverev.
Hurkacz was looking for his first win after going down to Medvedev in his opening match on Monday.
But Sinner was by far the more confident after breaking his opponent in the third game, and then held his nerve in an exhausting fourth to move two ahead in the early stages. He then dominated Hurkacz, the seventh seed at the finals, and moved into a 5-1 lead with the pressure all on his opponent.
Unsurprisingly, the home crowd in Turin were well behind Sinner, and during the walk-ons they even went as far as booing Hurkacz onto the court. The Italians urged Sinner on when he was serving for the first set. At 40-0 up and cruising, his serve deserted him - his first serve stood at just 59 per cent in the first set - and his opponent was able to passively work towards deuce and a chance of holding on, only for Sinner to finally force some errors from his 24-year-old opponent.
In the second set, Sinner secured an early break to go 2-1 up as Hurkacz struggled to keep his shots within the lines.
After a lengthy fourth shot, during which Hurkacz appeared to suffer an injury to left foot, Sinner was able to establish a two-frame lead and cushion his advance. The Pole appeared to be increasingly frazzled with his own indifferent performance, and at 5-2 there was a moment when he appeared to consider retiring such was his body language.
Sinner sealed the win at the first attempt and he will hope to repeat the performance when he faces Medvedev.
Speaking after the match, Sinner paid tribute to his compatriot Berrettini and explained the benefits of playing in front of a home crowd.
"Of course it's a highlight," he began. "In another way it's not the way you want to play, especially when Matteo is puling out. He's been unlucky many times in his career - I wish him the best.
"I am going to play for him this tournament. He deserevs more than me to be here. I have played my best and it is a highlight being here."
He also admitted that he only knew he would be playing late on Monday afternoon.
"I knew around 5pm that I would be play but it was understandable. I was ready to go on court and obviously I have done the right thing.
"It’s an incredible feeling playing here in Italy with thousands people cheering for you. I enjoyed the moment, I played well. It was an incredible match."
Australian Open
When is the Australian Open draw? Who could Djokovic face?
12/01/2022 AT 13:28
Australian Open
Australian Open 2022 - Who's playing, when's the draw, what's the schedule
10/01/2022 AT 14:15