Jannik Sinner is out of the ASB Classic — but what a show he put on.
The next big thing in tennis thrilled the crowds at the ASB Classic, but bowed out to a virtuoso display from the mecurial Benoit Paire.
The Italian teenager was knocked out 6-4 2-6 3-6 by the fifth seed Paire, but showed why he has been the talk of the tennis world over the last six months.
The 18-year-old was the youngest player to finish the year in the top 80 since Rafael Nadal in 2003, and rose more than 400 ranking places in 2019, taking the ATP Next Gen finals in Milan as the climax.
He's got an impressive all round game, and an ice cool demeanor, and even his conqueror Paire acknowledged his undoubted class.
"He will be top 10 very soon," Paire told Sky TV. "I know next time he will beat me for sure, so it's good to beat him now."
Paire, who is equally capable of the sublime and the ridiculous, started well.
He was solid on serve, not giving any openings to his younger opponent, and forced three break opportunities, taking one.
Although his backhand is a weapon, his forehand can be erratic but was on song on Monday night, as he barely missed.
But world No 78 Sinner, who was ranked outside the top 500 a year ago, is a wonderful talent, with poise and shot making well beyond his years.
He came back into the match with some scintillating tennis, as Paire seemed to self destruct.
The world No 24 got frustrated with himself, and the crowd, at one point saying to the umpire that some spectators' conversations were distracting him during points.
He earned two code violations, and a point deduction, and Sinner took full advantage, converting three of the 11 break point opportunities to take the second set.
The final set was a doozy, featuring some of the best tennis of the night.
Sinner had the crowd gasping with a forehand across his body over the highest part of the net, followed soon afterwards off balance backhand on the run.
The Italian saved two match points serving at 3-5 – with the second an audacious slashing forehand deep to the deuce corner, but Paire's booming serve enabled him to claim the match in the next game.