MIAMI: With the Big Three absent at the Miami Open, and tennis' next-generation scrambling to fill the void, it was Hubert Hurkacz of Poland who made a breakthrough.
The 24-year-old Hurkacz won the biggest title of his career by beating 19-year-old Jannik Sinner of Italy 7-6 (4), 6-4 on Sunday.
Hurkacz improved to 10-0 in Florida this year, including the Delray Beach title in January. Ranked 37th, he is projected to climb to a career-high 16th in next week’s rankings.
“I was super happy I was able to lift the biggest trophy of my life so far,” Hurkacz said. “I played some of the best tennis I ever played. I was solid throughout the whole tournament.”
The matchup in the final was a surprise even though Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer skipped the tournament, as did reigning U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem.
“We knew that Rafa, Roger, Novak, Thiem were not playing,” Sinner said. "It was a big opportunity for many players."
It was Hurkacz who took full advantage. Along the way he eliminated No. 2-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 4 Andrey Rublev — the first time he has beaten two top-10 opponents in a tournament.
Hurkacz became his country’s first Masters 1000 champion.
“Hopefully with my game I can inspire some people in Poland,” he said. “Hopefully they enjoyed it there.”
The 6-foot-5 Hurkacz returned well against Sinner, breaking four times, and came to the net at key moments.
“To win against Jannik, you need to come up with some really good stuff,” Hurkacz said. “He’s an amazing player and has an amazing future. I tried to stay as solid as I can because he can hit the ball so hard.”
Hurkacz was poised early while playing his first final in the top-level ATP series, the Masters 1000. In the first set, he raced to a 3-0 lead, briefly fell behind and then played a solid tiebreaker, closing it out by winning a 25-stroke rally.
Sinner, appearing in just his third Masters 1000 tournament, served leading 6-5 in the first set and was broken at love. He lost his serve twice more to fall behind 4-0 in the second set.
“I was not serving well, especially in the beginning of the second set, and not returning deep enough,” Sinner said.
It was then Hurkacz's turn to wobble, but he held his final two service games, and sealed the win after a 20-shot rally on championship point, with Sinner pushing a forehand wide.
“I was super happy he missed the shot at the end,” Hurkacz said with a grin.
The tournament also represented a leap forward for Sinner, Hurkacz's good friend and doubles partner. The former junior skiing champion has improved his ranking from 78th at the start of last year, and he's projected to climb to a career-high 21st in next week’s rankings.
“You win or learn when you're 19 playing the final here,” Sinner said. “I was a little bit nervous from the beginning of the match, but it's normal because you really want to win.”
No. 1-ranked Ash Barty earned her second successive Miami title Saturday when Bianca Andreescu retired in the final because of a foot injury while trailing 6-3, 4-0.