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Pope Francis congratulates Italy after tennis player Jannik Sinner wins the Australian Open

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis congratulated Italy on Monday after tennis player Jannik Sinner became the country's first man to win a Grand Slam singles title in nearly a half century.

Sinner won the Australian Open title on Sunday and Francis made the acknowledgement during an audience with the Real Club de Tenis Barcelona.

“Today we have to congratulate the Italians because yesterday they won in Australia, so we congratulate them, too,” the pope said.

Francis noted that since tennis is an individual sport or played as doubles, “it would seem that the objective of the game is to be better than the opponent."

“However, looking at the history of your club you can see that, in reality, since its English origin, it is an expression of the openness of the founders to the good that can come from abroad and a dialogue with other cultures.”

The Barcelona club was celebrating its 125th anniversary.

“In tennis, as in life, we can’t always win,” Francis added. “But it’s an enriching challenge if it is played in an educated manner according to the rules. … Sports are not just about competing but also relations. And in the case of tennis, it’s a dialogue that often becomes artistic.”

In November, Sinner also led Italy to its first Davis Cup title since 1976. Sinner and the rest of Italy’s winning Davis Cup team are due to be honored by Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Thursday.

The last Italian man to win a Grand Slam singles title was Adriano Panatta in 1976.

While Sinner remains No. 4 in the rankings, Panatta said he's shown over the past four months that he deserves to be No. 1.

“He's an exceptional kid and one of the best export products we have,” Panatta told Italian radio. “He will surely win many Slams. He's got a mix of great skill, great desire and great character. Plus, he knows how to handle himself in difficult moments. I've rarely seen a player like that.”

Sinner rallied from two sets down to beat Daniil Medvedev in Sunday's final.

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis