As the fast-rising Hurkacz capitalized on the absence of some of the game’s biggest names in Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to win his first ATP Masters 1000 event, Ashleigh Barty furthered her reign on the women’s side behind a dominant run in a star-studded field and left no doubt about why she is the top-ranked player in the world.
Miss any of the action? We get it. With March Madness, the start of baseball season, the LPGA’s first major and everything else going on in the sports calendar, it’s understandable if you weren’t able to watch all (or any) of the tournament.
Here’s all you need to know as we head from the final hardcourt event of the spring season to the clay.
Barty in the USA
Barty didn’t need any Jalen Suggs-style heroics to close out her win over Bianca Andreescu and earn her second straight tile in Miami, instead taking control from the opening game and never looking back. In the first career meeting between the two versatile young stars, Barty dominated with her blistering serve and forehand and jumped out to a 6-3, 2-0 lead before Andreescu fell while chasing down a ball and twisted her right ankle. She continued playing, but after losing the next two games and in visible agony, she tearfully retired.
While it was a disappointing way to finish the match, it all but solidified the legitimacy of Barty’s place atop the rankings. There has been much criticism since tennis’ return in August 2020 about whether her spot at No. 1 was legitimate as she opted out of the restart and remained in Australia. Since returning to the tour in January, she’s won two titles (the first at the Yarra Valley Classic) and notched a quarterfinal run at the Australian Open.
As the defending champion in Miami, Barty would have lost points had she not won, and Naomi Osaka could have potentially overtaken her at the event, but a resolved Barty left nothing to chance. After a 50-hour travel nightmare from Brisbane to Miami, the 24-year-old was facing match point in her opener against Kristina Kucova but she fought back in spectacular fashion — and went on to beat a trio of top-20 players in Elina Svitolina, Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka en route to the final.
She was resolute when asked after the match if the title helped justify her ranking.
“I never have to prove anything to anyone,” Barty said. “I know all the work that I do with my team behind the scenes. I know there has been a lot of talk about the ranking, but I didn’t play at all last year and I didn’t improve any of my points whatsoever. Yes, I didn’t drop but I didn’t improve any, I didn’t play any at all.
“There were girls who had the chance to improve theirs [games], so I felt like I thoroughly deserve my spot at the top of the rankings. The year we had in 2019 was incredible, incredible for us, and, you know, to be able to build on that now since the restart for us has been great, but certainly in my eyes we come out here and do the best that we can regardless of what anyone is saying.”
Barty may not have played much of the 2020 season, but she’s taking full advantage of the upcoming calendar and is slated to compete at Charleston, South Carolina; Stuttgart, Germany; Madrid and Rome before the French Open. As a proven winner on clay, the 2019 Roland Garros champion has the chance to strengthen her hold on No. 1.
Bibi is back!
The final didn’t go as she had hoped, but it was still a triumphant run for Andreescu in Miami. The 20-year-old Canadian was playing in just her third event since returning to competition after 15 months away from the tour and had put together an impressive string of hard-fought victories over quality opponents including Maria Sakkari, Garbine Muguruza and Amanda Anisimova.
While her talent and potential are undeniable, Andreescu has become perhaps better known for her health woes of late. Following her incredible 2019 season, in which she won the US Open, Indian Wells and the Canadian Open and broke into the top five, Andreescu was sidelined with a series of injuries.
Playing in her first final since the US Open, it made the retirement after the ankle sprain even more devastating, but she indicated the decision was to prevent herself from worsening the injury.
“No one wants to end a tournament retiring, especially in the finals,” she said after the match. “But things happen, and I want to look ahead in my career. I’m only 20. I’m not trying to risk anything right now. I already have a couple years ago, and I didn’t want to make that same mistake again.
“So I’m proud of myself for that because I’m super resilient. For me to do that today took a lot.”
Even before the injury, Andreescu was not scheduled to play in Charleston or Stuttgart and is expected to play next in Madrid at the end of April (or potentially in Canada’s clash against Serbia in the Billie Jean King Cup earlier in the month). Having improved her ranking from No. 9 to No. 6 at the tournament, she seemed more than optimistic about her time in Miami and her future.
“To me, it was a great tournament, I really fought through very tough matches. My body seemed to be good up until today,” she said. “I’m super grateful. Like this is my first tournament back, one of my first tournaments back in a really long time, and all I can say is that I’m super grateful.”
Easy as 1-2-3
With the absence of many of the sport’s biggest stars, including Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Dominic Thiem, much of the conversation leading into the Miami Open was about who could step up in their absence and seize the opportunity.
Many believed it would be Daniil Medvedev. Having just become the first player outside of the “Big Four” to break into the top two in the rankings since 2005, the 25-year-old was the top seed at an ATP Masters 1000 event for the first time in his career and had the perfect chance to further his status as the player to watch from the young generation.
But he lost in the quarterfinals.
So did the No. 2 seed, Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Alexander Zverev, the No. 3 seed and 2020 US Open finalist, lost in his opening match.
So, yeah, it was a disappointing outing for the favorites. Tsitsipas, who lost to eventual champion Hurkacz, was asked in his news conference about their collective early exits and “all having trouble here,” but he offered little explanation and instead just expressed his frustration.
“Nothing to say,” he said. “I didn’t have trouble. I was feeling quite well today.
“I [thought] I would have done much better this week but it didn’t happen. Great for Hurkacz, who did what he had to do in order to beat me, but I feel like there was a lost opportunity that shouldn’t have happened today. Definitely not. It should have been my way. It should have been my win.”
The good news for the “De facto Three” is they have another chance for a Masters title next week in Monte Carlo. The not-so-good news? Djokovic and Nadal are both on the entry list.
The King of Florida
If there was a Miami Open bracket filled out by the masses, more people likely would have predicted UCLA or Arizona in the men’s and women’s Final Four than the two men who squared off in Sunday’s final.
Hurkacz and Jannik Sinner — who went into the match with a combined ranking of 68 — were the last two standing. It was the first Masters final for both players, and it was ultimately the 24-year-old Hurkacz who managed to keep his nerves in check and earn the biggest title of his career with a 7-6 (4), 6-4 victory.
Having won just one career title before the new season, Hurkacz started the year with a victory at Delray Beach and is now 10-0 in Florida in 2021, something he credits to the amount of time he spent training in the state last year. He beat two top-10 opponents (Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev) in the same tournament for the first time and will improve to a new career-high ranking of No. 16 on Monday.
“I played [some] of the best tennis I ever played,” Hurkacz said. “I was solid throughout the whole tournament, and I was able to get through each round, was even more pumped for the next round. So I think that’s something special for me.”
While Sinner walked away as runner-up, the 19-year-old continued his rapid rise up the tennis ranks in just his third Masters event. He was praised at the net by a stunned Alexander Bublik after their quarterfinal match.
“You are not a human, man,” Bublik said. “You are 15 years old and you play like this? Good job.”
Sinner will improve to No. 22 on Monday — also a career high. But he didn’t dwell on that after the match and instead was singularly focused on what’s next.
“Now back to work and now the clay season is on,” he said. “So I don’t want to waste time today. I think I can learn many things. Then, I mean, next week already is another tournament. Got to be ready.”
The first week at the Miami Open was filled with great matches, but it was Pospisil who really got fans talking early. During his first-round loss to Mackenzie McDonald, the No. 65-ranked Canadian launched into an expletive-filled tirade about ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi to umpire Arnaud Gabas after his second smashed racket cost him the first set due to a point penalty.
Pospisil, the co-founder of the Professional Tennis Players Association with Novak Djokovic, later apologized on Twitter for his outburst but explained it was the result of a failed meeting between players and ATP executives the night before which left him feeling “deeply unnerved.”
While many of the specific details of the meeting remain unknown, several players, including Djokovic, took to social media to defend Pospisil and emphasize the need for player voices in decision making.
Concerning matters at hand, I am not in Miami. However Vasek Pospišil is my good friend and I empathize with him wholeheartedly. Players on tour would agree that he is an individual of the highest integrity who cares about the well being of his fellow competitors. 1/2
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) March 26, 2021
I am hopeful players recognize the importance of standing together #playersvoice 2/2
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) March 26, 2021
Much of the PTPA’s agenda has been unclear to the public since its announced formation ahead of the US Open, but the group is intended to serve as a union-like body, similar to those seen in other leagues, and has the support of many male players. As relations between the group and the ATP seem to be growing increasingly adversarial, this could become a bigger issue going forward this season.
Naomi Osaka’s streak ends
Entering the tournament having won the previous two hardcourt majors and with a chance to take over the No. 1 ranking, all eyes were on Naomi Osaka as the Miami Open got underway. And with a 6-3, 6-3 win over No. 16 seed Elise Mertens in the Round of 16, it looked as if an Osaka-Barty final was on track.
But it was not to be. Facing Sakkari in the quarters, Osaka was bageled in the opening set — shocking the tennis world — and lost 6-4 in the second. Her 23-match win streak was snapped in just over an hour, and her return to the top ranking was put on hold.
Osaka later said being asked about the potential rankings shakeup following her match against Mertens might have added pressure she simply wasn’t equipped to handle at that moment.
“It’s hard to say, but I do think like the last time I was in this seat I wasn’t really thinking at all about rankings, but someone asked me that question, so then I did start to ponder about it a lot,” Osaka said. “So maybe unwillingly that put pressure on myself. But I feel like even if it did, I should be able to rise above that. You know, I’m going to be asked various questions in the future anyway, so this is definitely something that shouldn’t bother me as much as it did.”
Having limited success on clay throughout her career and having never advanced past the third round at Roland Garros, Osaka will likely not have to worry about such questions during the next portion of the WTA schedule, but that might make her more dangerous than ever.
The vaccine debate
After players, including Svitolina and Rublev, expressed their hesitation in getting the COVID-19 vaccine during the tournament, the WTA and ATP released statements encouraging their athletes to get the shot.
While neither the WTA nor the ATP will require players to be vaccinated, the ATP updated its virus protocols to provide benefits for those who choose to do so. Vaccinated players will no longer be considered close contacts of anyone who tests positive and are exempt from quarantining upon arrival at tournaments while they await test results.