Jannik Sinner was recently given a national hero's welcome back home in Italy and met the country's Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni - a scene that generated outrage from the tennis world.
Sinner memorably clinched his first Grand Slam title last Sunday after storming back from two sets to love down in the final against World No. 3 Daniil Medvedev to win in five sets.
Before the final, the 22-year-old accounted for the biggest upset of the men's tournament by knocking out 10-time champion Novak Djokovic in four sets. Victory in the final made Sinner the first Italian, man or woman, to win the Australian Open.
And it was only fitting that he was granted one of the highest levels of honor when he got home, but not the kind that ensued, which has riled tennis fans. Sinner met with Italy's Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, in the Chigi Palace office for a brief meeting.
Meloni played the final point of the match in which Sinner flashed a forehand winner down the line to win the title just as the 22-year-old was making himself comfortable in the new surroundings. The pair hugged jovially and later posed for photos, holding the Australian Open trophy and then the Italian flag.
While this was a momentous occasion and one that Sinner will cherish for the rest of his life, he has received backlash from fans and onlookers. Meloni, who became Italy's first female Prime Minister in October 2022, is renowned for being a right-wing populist and nationalist.
Her political sentiments have been described as "far-right," and she has been championing conservatism, earning herself more enemies than friends in her current tenure. And when politics are infused in sports, it can only lead to one outcome - backlash.
Sinner, a soft-spoken and unpretentious athlete, was not spared. One user wrote on X (formerly Twitter), "I guess it’s time to gatekeep the Slams from the Italians. Bye Sinner. That’s enough slam for you."
Another tweet read, "I understand, as a prominent athlete, meeting with your prime minister who just so happens to be a fascist but i do not really understand giving them a hug, quite frankly."
"This won’t make noise but imagine if Sabalenka did just 10% of that with Lukashenko," one user wrote while projecting comparisons. The tweet notes that Belarusian star Aryna Sabalenka meeting her country's figurehead would have received more criticism.