When the Big 3—and their sometime-fourth, Andy Murray—dropped out of the Miami Open, tennis fans knew they were going to see something new at this Masters 1000 men’s event. It might be a Next Gen breakthrough. It might be a glimpse of how the ATP landscape will look in two or three years. It might be the start of a new rivalry for the future.
But only a psychic would have guessed it would be a final between Jannik Sinner and Hubert Hurkacz. Neither the 31st-ranked Italian nor the 37th-ranked Hurkacz has been to a Masters semi before, let alone a final, and neither was among the Top 20 seeds in Miami.
Even Hurkacz sounded like having a match to play this Sunday was the last thing he expected.
“I was just trying to work on my game and play my best tennis,” he said. “Yeah, luckily and happily I’m here in the finals now.”
This doesn’t mean that the Italian and the Pole, who are friendly off the court but have never faced each other on it, are unworthy of the honor. Anyone who has ever seen the 19-year-old Sinner time a ground stroke knows he was destined to make it to this level and beyond. The only semi-surprise is that he did it in just his third Masters event.
“You know, it sometimes can change everything fast,” Sinner said after his semifinal win over Roberto Bautista Agut. “Sometimes you feel good in some weeks. Here I felt well from the beginning of the week on court.”
At 24, Hurkacz isn’t yet a brand name, but he has always had, at worst, Top 20 talent. So far in Miami he has knocked out four higher seeds: Denis Shapovalov, Milos Raonic, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Andrey Rublev. Two of those wins, over Raonic and Tsitsipas, went down to the wire.
“I think every single match was very tough,” Hurkacz said. “Super pumped I was able to come through all of those matches.”
Who is more likely to be super-pumped after the final?
Sinner’s road hasn’t been as tough, but he’s the better overall ball-striker. Few players have ever hit the ball as smoothly and with such easy power. He also showed some grit in beating the more experienced Karen Khachanov and Bautista Agut 6-4 in the third set. After losing to him, Bautista Agut said Sinner, who edged him 7-5 in the third three weeks ago in Dubai, has a knack for finding something special, something extra, in crunch time.
Hurkacz is 6’5”, which comes with its advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, he has a top-level serve that can get him out of trouble. And when he’s on the offensive, he’s tough to counter. For all of his raw power, Rublev spent most of their match chasing after Hurkacz’s bigger ground strokes. On the minus side, Hurkacz could struggle if he’s the one playing a lot of defense against Sinner. First-strike tennis will be key for Hurkacz.
He has shown all week that he can do it, and a win by either player wouldn’t be a surprise. But when experience is equal, I’ll take the guy with the bigger upside. An inaugural Masters title for Sinner would make the Miami Open seem a little less shocking in the end.