For the first time since 2 November 2003, when Tim Henman closed off one of the great runs of his career by defeating Andrei Pavel to win the Paris Masters, two players ranked outside the top 30 contested an ATP Masters 1000 Final on Sunday in Miami. The occasion offered a clear opportunity to whoever was bold enough to take it and it was Hubert Hurkacz of Poland who seized the moment wonderfully, outsmarting Italy’s Jannik Sinner 7-6 (4), 6-4 to win his first Masters 1000.
Even in a tournament that marked the first time in 17 years since Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were all absent from a Masters 1000 event, Hurkacz’s sublime run was a surprise. The 24-year-old arrived in Miami in unremarkable form and, while he is still a young player building his game, he has spent his time at the top of the sport on the periphery of discussions about his generation as contemporaries such as Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas established themselves in the top 10.
Hurkacz’s combination of enormous serving, athleticism and court sense are well known but this week he has elevated his level with the best run of his career. In his route to the final, he defeated four prominent opponents in succession – Denis Shapovalov (seeded six), Milos Raonic (12), Tsitsipas (two) and the in-form Andrey Rublev (four) – each time forcing himself out of his comfort zone to reach the final.
In his short time at the top of the sport, 19-year-old Sinner has already marked himself as one of the cleanest and most destructive ball strikers on the tour but he arrived in the final misfiring and Hurkacz immediately decided to eliminate risk whenever possible. He landed ample returns, defended efficiently and was a pillar of consistency in the face of Sinner’s mounting unforced errors. He offered Sinner nothing.
Hurkacz broke serve immediately and established a 3-0 lead but Sinner slowly worked his way into the match, pulling the set back on serve before breaking for a 6-5 lead behind some vicious ball striking. However, just as he appeared to have finally taken the upper hand, Sinner crumbled. In his attempt to serve out the first set, Sinner sprayed a series of nervous unforced errors and conceded the game to love.
In hindsight, that was the last moment that he was truly in contention. He opened the tiebreak with more unforced errors and Hurkacz, unmoved by the moment, coolly took the set. The second set swiftly escalated as Sinner began to wilt physically and he quickly found himself 4-0 down against an error-free Hurkacz. A late impressive fightback from Sinner was not enough and Hurkacz closed out the match by baiting Sinner into one last long, gruelling rally, drawing a forehand error to end it.
Even if few expected that his career would explode so spectacularly and so soon, a breakthrough had been on the cards for Hurkacz and how he handles such an abrupt rise in profile will tell even more about where he is heading. He will rise from 37th in the rankings and into the top 20 for the first time with a career high of 16th. After being far from the spotlight, a target is already forming on his back.
Despite his defeat, Sinner is the youngest Masters 1000 finalist since Rafael Nadal in 2005 and the only other teenagers to reach the Miami Open final continued all the way to the world No 1 ranking. For all his ball striking talent, this week has been even more notable for composure and the mental fortitude that accompanied his wins. He was unable to draw on that strength in the final but many more opportunities lie ahead.