Hubert Hurkacz’s run to the Miami Open championship will go down as one of those rough and unforgettable paths to victory. The man from Poland’s last five wins were particularly notable; none easy versus formidable opponents Denis Shapovalov, Milos Raonic, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev and, in the finals, Jannik Sinner. Power, poise, big serves, forceful groundstrokes and even a number of crisply-executed sorties to net were all on display as Hurkacz earned his third ATP singles title and second of 2021.
“I played one of the best tennis I ever played,” said Hurkacz. “I was solid throughout the whole tournament, and I was able to get through each round, was even more pumped for the next round. So I think that's something special for me.”
The Hurkacz-Sinner final represented a classic case of tortoise versus hare. The 24-year-old Hurkacz has been plugging away for several years, moving up the ranks from 87 at the end of 2018 to 37 as ’20 began—the same rank he held as Miami got underway. Hurkacz and his coach, Craig Boynton, have clearly put in extensive work to make his tools that much more polished. Today, just enough firepower and serving prowess helped him earn this 7-6 (4), 6-4 win over an opponent with an arsenal likely to only get sharper quite rapidly. “I have to improve on every single part of my game physically, mentally, everything,” said Sinner. “Then we will see what's coming.”
For Sinner is the current tennis “It” boy, a 19-year-old prodigy who in Miami joined heavyweights Andre Agassi, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic as only the fourth teenager to have reached the final. There is nothing quite like that stage of a tennis player’s life, a time of youthful fearlessness and possibility, the precocious hopeful’s lack of scar tissue making him as appealing as a new car driven right off the lot.
Evidence for Sinner’s current non-jaded state came in the magnanimous way he appraised the final. “Today you win or you learn,” he said. “When you're 19 and playing finals here, obviously it's tough, and I wanted to win. I was a bit nervous from the beginning of the match or already yesterday, but, you know, it's normal, you know, because you really want to win. But today was not my day, and congrats to Hubi. I mean, that's it.”
But for all Hurkacz and Sinner brought to the tournament, it’s tricky to determine what this year’s Miami Open points to. Usually, by the end of March, the plot line of tennis has yielded three months of extensive data—Australia, European indoor, South American clay, North American hard-court action, capped off by the “Sunshine Double” of Indian Wells and Miami. It’s usually the case that the man who holds up the Miami trophy has generated significant results elsewhere that add to the picture.
But the 2021 tennis season has a look and feel to it like no year in history. In 2020, the three-act structure was simple: normalcy, no WTA or ATP events for five months, a grateful return for a few events. This year, the circuit exists moment to moment, a delicate environment of social bubbles, minimal attendance, absences, withdrawals and a host of overt and unconscious reactions to all this stress that will be studied for centuries.
Amid so much flux and uncertainty, to determine the long-term significance of a Miami result is not merely difficult, but arguably impossible. This is very different than prior years. John Isner’s 2018 Miami title run likely fueled his subsequent semifinal effort that year at Wimbledon. Ditto for Roger Federer’s five Miami victories, Djokovic’s six, even Andy Murray’s two (one of which came the same year, 2013, that Murray won his first Wimbledon).
The crystal ball looms, though. Will Hurkacz build off this win and generate major results throughout the clay-court season? Ditto for Sinner, a quarterfinalist last fall at Roland Garros. Certainly, these two each have the skills to win many matches everywhere and eventually crack the top ten. Nor, in contemporary tennis, is there much of a distinct stylistic transition required between gritty hard courts and European clay. More notably, what looms next in Europe: many men who skipped Miami, including Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Dominic Thiem. “Yeah, I mean, like the big three absent here in this tournament,” said Hurkacz. “I think like all the next gen guys were trying their best to play their best game, to compete as hard as they c
So maybe shoving aside prognostication is a vital survival aspect of contemporary life—a relentless demand to stay strictly in the present. The pandemic has given us little breathing space to forecast. Best instead to treat these events the way players attempt to compete: one point at a time.