Nothing about the 2021 Miami Open was quite normal, as the pandemic forced organizers to host a scaled down version of the 36-year-old tennis tournament.
Instead of 300,000 fans roaming the grounds over the two-week event, fewer than 30,000 showed up. Instead of an endless array of chic dining options, there was a row of food trucks and a few other kiosks around Hard Rock Stadium. Instead of $1.35 million for the men’s and women’s winners, top prize was $300,110.
And, instead of a marquee name winning the men’s final, it was 37th-ranked Hubert “Hubi” Hurkacz of Poland, wearing a mask, hoisting the glass trophy on Sunday as orange confetti rained down on him. He had just completed a brilliant week with a 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 victory over Italian teenager Jannik Sinner on a postcard-perfect sunny day.
Hurkacz is the first Polish player to win a singles title at a top-level Masters event and the lowest-ranked champion at this caliber of event since Tomas Berdych won Paris in 2005. His world ranking will move up to a career-high No. 16 with the win.
Dating back to the first years of the Miami tournament in the 1980s, the list of men’s winners read like a who’s who of tennis. Among the names: Ivan Lendl (two titles), Mats Wilander, Andre Agassi (six titles), Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Andy Roddick (two titles), Andy Murray (two titles) Roger Federer (four titles), and Novak Djokovic (six titles).
This year, with the withdrawals of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, the stage was set for an unlikely champion.
Hurkacz, 24, is not known to the casual fan, but he reached the third round at Wimbledon in 2019 and has shown this season that he has the variety in his game to make it far in tournaments.
He won the Delray Beach Open in February and is the first player to win the Delray and Miami events the same year. He trained at Saddlebrook Academy near Tampa for six months last year and said that helped him with the Florida weather conditions.
“I am super, super happy that I was able to lift that biggest trophy of my life so far, so that’s something special for me,” he said.
The Pole comes from a family of athletes. His mother, Zofia Maliszewska-Hurkacz, was a junior tennis champion. Two uncles played tennis and his grandfather was an international volleyball player.
During the trophy ceremony, Sinner called Hurkacz “maybe my best friend on the tour.” The two met when Hurkacz was playing Challenger events in Italy, and they have practiced together and played doubles twice this season.
“We knew that Rafa, Roger, Novak, (Dominic) Thiem were not playing. I think it was a big opportunity for many players,” said Sinner, who made a big breakthrough as a 17th seed.
Hurkacz agreed: With the big three absent here in this tournament, I think all the next-gen guys were trying their best to play their best game, to compete as hard as they can. Hopefully the spectators enjoyed it and liked it.”
Although the audience was a fraction of what it normally is on the final weekend of the Miami Open, both players said they appreciated playing in front of fans during the pandemic.
“I think the atmosphere here like at the final, the later stages of the tournament was great,” Hurkacz said. “The people were loud and cheering for us. Obviously it would be nicer to have the full capacity of the stadium, but it felt nice, really nice. I mean, I really enjoy Florida, Miami. So that was great.”
Asked what this tournament showed about the next generation of players, Sinner said: “I think the next generation is fun to watch because many players don’t know each other that well. Many fans don’t know that well the next generation. Here were a lot of players in quarterfinals from next generation, semifinals, final today was next generation. I think it’s nice to see.
“But the next generation still has to show that they can beat the big three because obviously maybe they lose one or two matches, but the next generation that I see is not ready yet to win against them consistently.”
On Sunday, Hurkacz won the first three games, Sinner won the next three and had a chance to serve for the set at 6-5 but couldn’t hang on. Hurkacz broke Sinner at love, forced the tiebreaker and took a 4-0 lead in the second set.
“To be able to win against Jannik, you need to come up with some really good stuff,” Hurkacz said. “He’s an amazing player and amazing person, as well. Such a great competitor. He’s gonna have amazing future. I was trying to stay as solid as I can, because he can hit the balls so hard.”
In women’s doubles, the team of American Hayley Carter and Brazilian Luisa Stefani lost to Japanese duo Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara for the third time this season. They had lost the previous two meetings in Abu Dhabi and the Australian Open, and fell short 6-2, 7-5 on Sunday.
Carter, 25, and Stefani, 23, are both products of college tennis. Carter was a four-time All-American for the University of North Carolina and is the ACC’s all-time leader with 168 career wins. Stefani moved from Sao Paulo to train in the Tampa area and went on to play at Pepperdine University.