By Amy Tennery
(Reuters) - Tennis great John McEnroe heaped praise on 18-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner on Wednesday, telling reporters he sees the young phenomenon as a soon-to-be dominant figure in the sport.
Sinner stormed onto the scene late last year, defeating top-seeded competitor Alex de Minaur to claim his first ATP title in Milan in November. He was named the ATP's Newcomer of the Year the following month, drawing comparisons to Roger Federer along the way.
Seven-time Grand Slam title-holder McEnroe didn't mince words when asked about Sinner's raw talent, telling reporters: "His potential is to win numerous Grand Slams."
"He's one of the most talented kids I've seen in 10 years," McEnroe told reporters. "He's going to be hunted a little bit himself and people are going to dig in a little bit more and not want to lose to an 18-year-old. So he's going to have that to contend with.
"But I suspect in a few years you're going to see him in the top 10 of the game. Give him two or three years for sure, I believe."
Sinner, the youngest man to crack the top 80 ranked ATP players since Rafael Nadal in 2003, most recently lost to Frenchman Benoit Paire in the Round of 32 of the Auckland Open and is expected to compete in the main draw of the Australian Open, which begins Monday.
The search for the sport's next star is a perennial topic of conversation in men's tennis, with the so-called "Big Three" - Novak Djokovic, Nadal and Federer - maintaining their long-held stranglehold on the throne.
But McEnroe, who will cover the Australian Open as an analyst with ESPN, said Sinner was a clear choice to dominate in years to come.
"He looks to be physically very gifted," said McEnroe. "Along with many other tennis fans and tennis players (I) have been watching him from a distance and understanding that this guy is a rare talent."
(Reporting By Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)