"I knew Novak and Rafa, Dominic, Roger were not gonna play this event, so it's gonna be like some of the younger guys gonna have a chance to play really deep there," Hurkacz said in his post-match press conference.
"Obviously I was just trying to work on my game and play my best tennis. Luckily and happily I'm here in the finals now."
Hurkacz won his second career title in Delray Beach earlier this season, and remains undefeated in Florida to become the first Masters 1000 finalist from Poland since 2012 (Jerzy Janowicz) with a nearly-90 minute upset of the No. 4 seed on Grandstand court.
"I think it's great for the country, Poland, to have Iga Swiatek, Lukasz Kubot who has been winning Grand Slams—Australian Open and Wimbledon in doubles—and also myself. Hopefully, we are inspiring kids and there are plenty of younger guys.
"So those guys are hopefully pumped by the results that we are doing and they see that it's possible to be there, to be at those events and to play deep in them."
Rublev’s success has been one of the biggest stories of 2021, and brought a formidable 20-3 record into the biggest semifinal of his young career; though he’d fallen to Hurkacz on clay last fall in Rome, the Russian was nonetheless a heavy favorite after reaching the final four without dropping a set.
Though Hurkacz was in similarly uncharted territory, the 24-year-old played revelatory tennis throughout the week, upending Canadians Denis Shapovalov and Milos Raonic, and scored his first Top 10 win of the year against No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals.
"Starting from the first round I beat Denis Kudla, but then obviously that was also a close match I won in the tie-breaker first set, but after that, like, Denis Shapovalov beat me the week before in Dubai. I think every single match was very tough. Super pumped. I was able to come through all of those matches."
Hurkacz maintained that momentum early in the evening, winning 12 of the first 15 points en route to a commanding 5-1 lead.
A quarterfinalist at the last three Grand Slam tournaments, Rublev mounted a valiant comeback, saving five set points as he narrowed the deficit to just one break, but Hurkacz soon regained the initiative to move closer to victory.
"I think the backhand was very important," said Hurkacz. "I was very solid from that side and I was also able to push Andrey a little bit to the defense. So I was trying to get advantage there from my backhand shots."
The second set began with another break for the Pole, who held on without facing a break point until it came time to close. Rublev made another last stand after saving a match point on his own serve—engineering three break points to level the set—but Hurkacz would not be denied, using his lanky 6’5” frame to supreme advantage as he cliched victory with one last forehand put-away.
In all, he struck an even 25 winners to 25 unforced errors—16 winners on the forehand side alone—while Rublev struggled for consistency off that wing, making 14 forehand errors to just 10 winners. Evenly matched on serve, Hurkacz was much more effective in defending his second serve, winning 48 percent of those points.
"For sure it gave me a lot of free points, and against such a great opponent you need them if you want to stay competitive," he said of his serve. "Like always, you need battle from the baseline to get ahead, and with your serve you can, like, you can get just a little bit of edge on your side."
Standing between the world No. 37 and his first Masters 1000 title is the Italian teenager, who was first into the final after pulling off an upset of his own against No. 7 seed Roberto Bautista Agut. The French Open quarterfinalist and No. 21 seed also won his second career ATP title in February, and rallied from a set down to defeat the Spaniard and secure an encounter with his former doubles partner.
"Jannik is a great person," Hurkacz said. "Super, super calm and super chill, and also he's [a] good person.
"He's a really, really great guy. The results that he's having is obviously because of his hard work."