Miami Open 2021: Hubert Hurkacz beats friend Sinner for maiden Masters title
The Pole will rise to a career-high No16 next week, with teenage Sinner up to No22
The two young players who contested the first Masters title of 2021 and one of the biggest Masters events in tennis, were certainly familiar with one another, even if they were not so familiar to the casual tennis fan.
After all, they had played on the same side of the net twice this year already.
Indeed, No26 seed Hubert Hurkacz was a regular and enthusiastic doubles player, and won the Paris Masters title with Felix Auger Aliassime last October. This season, he reached the quarters in the doubles of the Great Ocean Road Open in Melbourne with teenager Jannik Sinner—the shooting star in tennis who happened to go on a win the singles title there, too.
Hurkacz too had a title to his name this season, in Delray Beach, but their paths had not yet crossed on a singles court. Their first meeting would result in a Masters title.
It was easy to see why the two men counted each other as friends: They had a lot in common besides their close rankings of 31 for Sinner and 37 for Hurkacz.
This was the teenage Italian’s first main-draw appearance in Miami, and just the second appearance for the Pole.
Both are quiet, polite, unassuming personalities away from competition, yet both bring big fire-power, and intelligent use of all corners of the court. Hurkacz has the more impressive serve—he was up to 51 aces for the tournament before the final—while Sinner’s return game probably has the edge—his determination to step in to take his opponent’s serve early being a particular strength.
As for mental toughness, each saved a good many break points through the tournament, and both had come back from a set down more than once. However, what jumped off the draw page was the quality of opponent that the Pole had already taken out this week: No6 seed Denis Shapovalov, No 12 seed Milos Raonic, No2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, and one of the form men of the last few months, No4 seed Andrey Rublev.
Even so, Sinner’s semi-final match proved what resilience and self-confidence he had after a less than perfect start: There he was broken straight away by Roberto Bautista Agut, and against Hurkacz, it was the same story. The Pole made an early break as Sinner made a clutch of errors, and held from deuce for 3-0.
There was no doubting who the restricted number of Miami fans were behind, as they had been against Bautista Agut: They cheered every winning play of Sinner, the more expressive shot-maker of the two, and he did get on the board in the fourth game.
He settled into his crisp baseline hitting, and got the break back, holding for 2-3, but the Polish defence for such a tall man was impressive, and Hurkacz worked more break chances in the sixth game. Sinner’s serve found its groove to hold, and he was striking the ball with noticeably more penetration and pace.
Hurkacz then staved off a couple of deuces, but he needed to be alert to the growing threat. Sure enough, a couple of missed first serves at 5-5, and he was punished, as a ripped backhand down the line brought up break points. A return right at Hurkacz’s body drew the error and the break.
However, the Pole was not done: He broke straight back to love, keeping Sinner in longer rallies to draw errors and take it to a tie-break.
There, Hurkacz edged the lead at the change of ends, opened a 6-2 lead, and finally drew an over-ambitious strike from Sinner to take the set, 7-6(4), after an hour of nip-and-tuck tennis.
Sinner had been the bolder in his hitting, but 28 errors were too many against such a solid opponent. But again, this was reminiscent of his last match, when Sinner also dropped the first set against Bautista Agut.
However, this time, Hurkacz seemed only to grow in assurance, broke straight away, and held. He broke again, driving the ball down the centre of the court to cut off the angles and then worked those doubles skills to close down the net. With two breaks, it emboldened him to come to the net more and pick off volley winners, 4-0.
Sinner was very nearly broken again, but clung on with some gutsy strikes to the corners, even though his legs looked weary. But Hurkacz’s arms tensed up with the finish line in sight, and that reliable backhand down the line found the net twice. Sinner broke, then held to love, 3-4. The pressure was firmly on the Pole: Could he serve out the match from 5-4? The answer was yes, and he finished it off in a long, taxing rally, 6-4.
Even if unexpected by many, this huge title run could not have happened to a nicer man, a gentleman of a player who has grafted hard and patiently to bring his many strengths together at the age of 24. As he pointed out:
“Last year I spent here almost half a year. I was practising in the hottest weather during the spring and summer here, so I think that helped me a lot playing now in Florida.”
That commitment and talent take him to a career-high No16 next week, and surely engenders the kind of confidence that will see him over more big winning lines.