For many Tennis fans, the start of the Indian Wells Masters (or BNP Paribas Open) signals a new and significant milestone in the journey between the first two Grand Slams of the year. For one player in particular, however, this year’s edition brings back fond memories of a shock win in its immediate predecessor.
The player in question is Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz, who was bereft of a win against a top-ten ranked player prior to the start of 2019. Since then he has recorded five wins of such distinction, but the sudden surge to a 47.1% win-rate (as shown below) should come as little surprise to anyone familiar with his background.
His family have a history of success in the sport, with his mother Zofia being junior champion in her native country, in addition to two Tennis-playing uncles. His parents were his first coaches, and ultimately paved the way for him to progress conventionally, with his skills and determination seeing him today rank as Poland’s number-one player.
After being nominated for the ATP Newcomer of the Year award in 2018, Hurkacz surely knew that his watershed win was imminent, and it duly came against Kei Nishikori at the Dubai Tennis Championships via a 2-1 victory. In a testament to Hurkacz’s tenacity against a respected, and much-more seasoned opponent, the first two sets (1-1) required seven games to win:
Contrary to expectations that Nishikori would take the third set on experience, the decider was by far the most straightforward, ending 6-2 to Hurkacz. That itself demonstrated a coveted blend of youth and composure, which would be in full evidence once more when the two met again just a fortnight later at Indian Wells.
Once again the score was 2-1 in Hurkacz’ favour, but this time he was required to come from behind after losing the first set 4-6. The knowledge that one so young can come from behind to beat a top opponent can only impact upon the way in which Hurkacz is compared to opponents on sites such as Betzcenter, whose up-to-date odds provide a feel for the trajectory of newer talents.
Beating a top-ten player demands a lot of resilience, regardless of how experienced a player is. Yet, Hurkacz used the residual momentum from his brace of wins over Nishikori to claim a top-five scalp in the form of Dominic Thiem. The Austrian was still on a high from winning the Indian Wells Masters, which marked his first Masters-1000 title. However, he was brought crashing down, with Hurkacz beating him in straight sets (6-4, 6-4).
Stefanos Tsitsipas was next to fall to Hurkacz, going down 2-1 at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. Most recently, Hurkacz beat Thiem again earlier in 2020, leading people to wonder how his style will make an impact at the remaining Grand Slam tournaments in the event of his appearance.
Is the sky the limit for Hurkacz?
His powerful hit, as enabled by a tall, hulking frame, certainly makes him one to watch on the faster courts – particularly Wimbledon. By the time the US Open rolls around, complete with its variably-paced composite surface, Hurkacz should be primed to end 2020 at an all-time high in the rankings.
On such courts, balancing power with accuracy remains the burning issue, and one which can only be extinguished to a title-winning end by experience. Hurkacz nonetheless remains one to watch, and at the age of just 23, he has many promising years ahead of him.