WATCH: Paul visited the TC Live Desk following his upset over Hurkacz at the BNP Paribas Open.

INDIAN WELLS, Calif.—It’s one thing for a rising young tennis player to cite an iconic artist as inspiration. It’s another thing to bring that vision to life. Check off both boxes today for Tommy Paul. In a third-round match at the BNP Paribas Open that lasted nearly two hours, the 17th-seeded Paul beat ninth-seeded Hubert Hurkacz, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.

Late last year, Paul told me how his coach, Brad Stine, had invoked the legendary artist, Pablo Picasso, as a stylistic role model.

“He likes to tell me to expose the creative side in my game,” Paul said this afternoon. “So, he wants me to use the drop shots, feel the positioning in the court a little bit more than just being super one dimensional.

“He wants me to use different paces, drop shot, come to the net, and he calls that being an artist.”

Today that notion came to life frequently. If for some players a racquet is simply a power tool, Paul can wield it more like a paintbrush. This was a dazzling display of movement, speed, spin, tactical acuity and the kind of mid-rally decision-making Paul believes is unteachable and even untrainable.

Said Paul, “The whole point of it is to use your first reaction and do the stuff that kind of comes to you. It's not like the stuff that you have been coached.”

Serving for the match at 5-4 in the third, Paul opened with a wide slice serve, a shot he’d frequently deployed in his quest to attack Hurkacz’s weaker side, the forehand. Up 15-love, there came a contemporary rarity: Paul served-and-volleyed, aiming a kick serve wide to the Hurkacz backhand. Hurkacz firmly drove the return down-the-line, but there was Paul, agile with the feet, nimble with the hands, balanced perfectly to direct an untouchable short angled crosscourt forehand half-volley.


He wants me to use different paces, drop shot, come to the net, and he calls that being an artist. Tommy Paul on coach Brad Stine

Two Hurkacz errors later, Paul had made his way to the round of 16 here for the second time (Paul in 2021 lost at that stage in three sets to eventual champion Cameron Norrie).

“I just wasn't consistent enough today,” said Hurkacz.

Hurkacz is a formidable opponent, at once focused and forceful. That’s particularly true when his relatively flat forehand is behaving and he’s able to drive deep hard shots off both sides and close out rallies at the net, for Hurkacz is also one of the best volleyers in tennis.

But as skilled as Hurkacz is, so much of this match was in Paul’s hands. That was even the case in the first set. Serving at 4-5, Paul opened with a double-fault, then netted a backhand volley. Though Paul won the next two points, at 30-all he steered a forehand wide. Down set point, Paul misplayed a sliced Hurkacz down-the-line forehand, driving a backhand into the net.

Quickly, though, Paul recovered, breaking Hurkacz twice to go up 4-0 in the second. Soon enough, the match was levelled. And while the two swapped breaks early in the decider, nothing was resolved until 3-all; yes, that longstanding but occasionally accurate cliché known as the seventh game.

With Hurkacz serving at 30-15, Paul ripped and charged off a return to reach 30-all. Then came a wide crosscourt forehand. On break point, following a missed Hurkacz first serve, Paul took several steps inside the baseline. Hurkacz blinked: double-fault.

Even then, though, Paul at 4-3 fought back from 15-40. The artist at this stage showed just enough patience to work his way through many a rally. Indian Wells’ ultra-slow surface—arguably the slowest hardcourts in the world—also made it difficult for Hurkacz to charge forward. But it also gave Paul more time, all the better to deploy the canvas and dot one line after another.