April 4, 2021

The Unlikeliest of Results

I've said it before, but I don't know that anyone could have predicted the men's final we saw in Miami today. And it certainly seems to have heralded in a new era in tennis.

Sure, with Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer all opting out of this year's Miami Open, you knew that the door for some underdogs had creaked open a bit. But with players like newly-minted world #2 Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, and Andrey Rublev all in the mix, it certainly wasn't going to be an easy road for anyone.

And perhaps that's what makes the results over the past week even more exciting.

Young Jannik Sinner has been one of the breakout stars over the past six months, reaching the quarterfinals at Roland Garros before going on a ten match, two title win streak to bridge the 2020/21 seasons. Nineteen and at #31 in the world, he is the youngest player in the top hundred, and he plays far, far above his experience, evidenced by the serious praise he drew from Alexander Bublik after their quarterfinal match.

But that wasn't the only accomplishment by Sinner in Miami. Still a relatively "low" seed at #21, he "upset" a curiously higher-ranked Karen Khachanov in the third round and also beat two men who'd upset two of the favorites for the title -- Emil Ruusuvuori, who'd stunned Zverev in his opener, and Roberto Bautista Agut, who took out Medvedev in the quarters. And so in what was just his third Masters 1000 event, the Italian found himself in the final playing for what would easily be the biggest title of his young career.

Meanwhile in the bottom half of the draw, 24-year-old Hubert Hurkacz, who kicked off 2021 with a title himself in Delray Beach, was an even bigger underdog. Though he'd spent a few minutes in the top thirty over the last year, he'd lost early at his last few events and came to Miami down at #37 in the world with just a 26th seed into the tournament.

But Hurkacz also well outplayed his ranking during his time in South Florida. After wins over Denis Shapovalov and Milos Raonic, he stunned second seeded Tsitsipas in the quarters and backed up the win by demolishing a recently red hot Rublev in the semis.

In Sunday's final, it was understandable that both men showed signs of nerves. Hurkacz got off to a fast start with a 3-0 lead, but Sinner was able to draw even and even got a chance to serve out the set. But the Pole capitalized on some shaky serving, forced a tiebreak and never really looked back. The win, a milestone for him, not only keeps his record in finals a perfect 100% -- he also won the championship in Winston Salem in 2019 -- but should propel him into the top twenty, his highest career ranking to date.

And the fact that both he and Sinner were able to perform so well and so consistently over the past week or so further underscores the new depth in the men's game. For so long it's been hard for anyone to make a crack in the wall of the Big Three, but we're certainly starting to see a little bit of that happening. And it's not just the ones rounding out the top ten who have it in them to pull out the big wins.

Besides, if this week is any indication, both Hurkacz and Sinner are going to be making a play for those spots very soon.

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