By Jürgen Fritz, Sat 03 Apr 2021, Cover picture: US Open-Twitter-Screenshot
The Miami Open 2021 is the tournament of surprises. In the final of the first Masters 1000 event of the year, the fifth largest tournament in the world (96-player main draw), it is not Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev, Dominic Thiem or Rafael Nadal, nor Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev or Andrey Rublev, but two completely different players that hardly anyone would have expected: Jannik Sinner and Hubert Hurkacz. How it came to this.
Zverev, Medvedev and Tsitsipas surprisingly dropped out
First of all, five top ten players did not travel to Miami at all for various reasons. Very unusual for a tournament in this important category (C). At the nine Masters 1000 events, there are usually at least six to eight top ten players at the start, if not more. (Last year, however, only three of the nine tournaments could be played because of the pandemic and this year there will be a maximum of eight, as Indian Wells has already been cancelled).
So this seemed like a great opportunity for Daniil Medvedev (world No. 2) and Alexander Zverev (7) to win another C title, their fourth each. Medvedev seemed to be on a roll again, while for Zverev it would have been his first major title since 2018. And for Tsitsipas (5) and Rublev (8) – in the absence of Djokovic (1), Nadal (3), Thiem (4), Federer (6) and Berrittini (10) (and after the elimination of Zverev and Medvedev) – it was a huge chance to finally win their first ever Masters 1000. But everything turned out completely differently.
Zverev was knocked out in his first match (round of 64). Medvedev, the big tournament favourite, surprisingly lost in the quarter-finals to the world No. 12 Roberto Bautista-Agut. Now, one thought, the great opportunity had come for Tsitsipas and Rublev to win their first Master 1000 title, but then Tsitsipas was also eliminated in the quarter-finals against Hurkacz after he had already won the first set and was also ahead in the second. So of the four favourites, only Rublev made it to the semi-finals.
Sinner beats Bautista Agut in the first semi-final 5-7, 6-4, 6-4
First, 19-year-old Jannik Sinner (31), by far the best teenager in the world, beat the almost 33-year-old very experienced Bautista Agut (12). Okay, at least that wasn’t totally unexpected, since by now you could know what Sinner is capable of. I wrote yesterday that, unlike the bookies, Bautista-Agut was not the clear favourite for me, but that I saw them both as equals. That’s how it turned out.
Bautista Agut and Sinner played on the same level for almost 2:20 hours until Sinner turned up the heat at 5-7, 6-4, 4-4 and took the match 6-4 in the third set after 2:28 hours. This showed once again what the boy is capable of, not only in terms of play, but also mentally. Unlike other very good players, he doesn’t get weaker under pressure, but stronger. Jannik Sinner is the first teenager in the Miami Open final since Novak Djokovic in 2007.
When you see Sinner, you think he could also be a tall 15- or 17-year-old. Physically, the young Italian is certainly not yet fully developed. From a purely visual point of view, you would never think that he could hold out for two hours against a world-class player. But that is deceptive. Sinner also lasts much longer than two hours at world class level. In the round of 32, he downed Karen Khachanov, No. 22 in the ATP world rankings, after just under three hours (2:50 h). One can imagine how well Sinner will play in a few years, if his muscles are still developing accordingly. So that was the first little surprise, at least for most. But then it gets even harder in the second semi-final.
Hurkacz knocks Rublev out of the tournament in the second semi-final 6-3, 6-4
Hubert Hurkacz (37), after having already knocked out Tistsipas (5) in the quarter-finals in a complete surprise, now also beat the No. 8 in the rankings, the second big tournament favourite after Medvedev: Andrey Rublev, who had been in brilliant form for weeks and months. And the 24-year-old Pole even defeated the highly favoured Russian outright 6:3, 6:4. Unbelievable!
Yet Hurkacz’s path to the final is extremely impressive. He beat four top-20 players in a row, including two from the top eight:
- R64: Denis Kudla ==> 7-65, 6-4
- R32: Denis Shapovalov (11) ==> 6-3, 7-66
- R16: Milos Raonic (19) ==> 4-6, 6-3, 7-64
- QF: Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) ==> 2-6, 6-3, 6-4
- SF: Andrey Rublev (8) ==> 6-3, 6-4
Hurkacz will now meet Sinner in the final. The two have never played each other in singles. But they played doubles together in Dubai a few weeks ago and get along very well. „I mean, Jannik is a great person. I think like he’s super, super calm and super chill, and also he’s good person“, the Pole said in his post-match press conference. „So, I mean, he’s really nice guy and he really like wants it hard to compete to win. So, I mean, he’s really, really great guy. The results that he have is obviously because of his hard work. We joke around. We are good friends, so I wish him well, and, I mean, he’s great guy.“
So Tsitsipas, 22, and Rublev, 23, still cannot win any Masters 1000 tournaments, the most important tournaments after the four Grand Slam events (A), after the Olympics (B) and the ATP Finals (B). Very strange!
The final of the first Masters 1000 event of the year, the fifth biggest tournament in the world (96 main draw), will thus see the No. 31 and No. 37 face each other on Sunday 1pm local time, 7pm CEST. Sky will broadcast live in Germany.
What is wrong with Tsitsipas and Rublev, do they lack the champion gene?
Hurkacz will definitely rise to at least 25 in the ATP ranking, Sinner at least to 21. If Hurkacz wins the final, he will even rise to 16, and Sinner would rise to 14 if he wins the tournament.
At the beginning of the year, I predicted that Sinner already had what it takes to make it to the top ten this year. But I would never have expected that he could do it so quickly. I meant by the end of the year, not the end of the quarter!
I am even more surprised by Hurkacz and what is going on with Tsitsipas and Rublev, the D-tournament king, who since September has won four (!) ATP 500 events plus – together with Medvedev – the ATP Cup, the fact that both Tsitsipas and Rublev can never perform to their full potential at Masters 1000 tournaments is a mystery to me.
A very unfavourable explanation for Tsitsipas and Rublev would be: they are two quite excellent tennis players who certainly belong in the top eight in the world and will firmly establish themselves there for the next few years, but both lack (yet or at all?) the champion gene.
One who seems to have the champion gene is 19-year-old Jannik Sinner
This is exactly what Sinner seems to me to have, who has already won two tournaments in the last five months (two E tournaments: ATP 250 series) – more than the No. 5 in the world, Stefanos Tsitsipas, in the last 16 months. And now the 19-year-old is in the final of a Masters 1000 event after five wins in a row! Something is growing up and the others will have to dress warmly for the next few years.
Teenage ATP Masters 1000 Champions
- Rafael Nadal: 6 Masters 1000 titles as teen, first with 18.8 years
- Andrei Medvedev: 2 Masters 1000 titles as teen, first with 19.6 years
- Michael Chang: 1 Masters 1000 title as teen with 18.4 years
- Novak Djokovic: 1 Masters 1000 title as teen with 19.8 years
- Andre Agassi: 1 Masters 1000 title as teen with 19.9 years
Sinner ist 19.6 years old and by far the best U20 player in the world. Now guess who Nadal wanted to train with in the Australian bubble before the Australian Open, when they were only allowed to have contact with one other player for a week! With Jannik Sinner. Sinner said afterwards that the training with Nadal had been the most important thing of all during the Australian trip, more important than the tournaments there. In these days and weeks, he learned an incredible amount from Nadal, who is famous for his almost unique attitude to sport, to training, to winning as well as losing.
And by the way, Sinner can – unlike some other top players – not only play excellently on hard court, but also on clay. Last October, he reached the quarter-finals of the French Open (A), where he met the 12-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal. Sinner lost in 0-3 sets, but this match was one of the most difficult of all seven for Nadal on his way to his 13th French Open title. Jannik Sinner is still a long way from 13 Grand Slam titles in one tournament, but on Sunday he could claim his first Master 1000 title. Hubert Hurkacz might have something against that, though. We will see what will happen.
This is how many tournament wins the top ten in the ATP Ranking, Sinner and Hurkacz have so far
Here you can see very nicely how hard it is to win a Masters 1000 tournament (C category). Four top ten players have never managed to do so. Will Hubert Hurkacz or 19-year-old Jannik Sinner succeed tomorrow?
A tournaments: the four Grand Slam events – B tournaments: the Olympic Games and the ATP Finals – C tournaments: the nine Masters 1000 – D tournaments: the 13 ATP 500s – E tournaments: the 40 or so ATP 250s
- Roger Federer (39 years): 103 tournament wins ==> 20 A – 6 B – 28 C – 24 D – 25 E
- Rafael Nadal (34): 86 tournament wins ==> 20 – 1 – 35 – 21 – 9
- Novak Djokovic (33): 82 tournament wins ==> 18 – 5 – 36 – 14 – 9
- Dominic Thiem (27): 17 tournament wins ==> 1 – 0 – 1 – 5 – 10
- Alexander Zverev (23): 14 tournament wins ==> 0 – 1 – 3 – 3 – 7
- Daniil Medvedev (25): 10 tournament wins ==> 0 – 1 – 3 – 1 – 5
- Andrey Rublev (23): 8 tournament wins ==> 0 – 0 – 0 – 4 – 4
- Stefanos Tsitsipas (22): 5 tournament wins ==> 0 – 1 – 0 – 0 – 4
- Diego Schwartzman (28): 4 tournament wins ==> 0 – 0 – 0 – 1 – 3
- Matteo Berrittini (24): 3 tournament wins ==> 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 – 3
And the two Miami-finalists:
- Hubert Hurkacz (24): 2 tournament wins ==> 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 – 2
- Jannik Sinner (19): 2 tournament wins ==> 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 – 2
Semi-Final Highlights Miami 2021
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