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Miami Open 2021: 3 things we learned from the year's first Masters 1000 tournament

Jannik Sinner (L) and Hubert Hurkacz ahead of the Miami Open 2021 men
Jannik Sinner (L) and Hubert Hurkacz ahead of the Miami Open 2021 men's singles final
Nurein Ahmed
ANALYST
Modified 05 Apr 2021
Feature

An enthralling fortnight of tennis at the 2021 Miami Open came to an end on Sunday, with Ashleigh Barty and Hubert Hurkacz emerging as the women's and men's winners respectively. The tennis tour now shifts its focus to the claycourt swing, but it has already given fans plenty of storylines to ponder.

Here is a look at the three most important things we learned at the year's first Masters/1000 event:

#1 Jannik Sinner knows how to punch above his weight

Jannik Sinner advanced to his first Masters 1000 final
Jannik Sinner advanced to his first Masters 1000 final

On the eve of the 2021 Miami Open final, Italy's famed general-interest newspaper La Repubblica came up with the headline - 'Jannik Sinner, the young champion with a computer in his head'.

The line aptly conveyed the vast tactical intelligence and nous that the 19-year-old portrays each time he steps on a tennis court. So incredible are Sinner's hand skills and match awareness that they make us question how any of it is even possible.

Sinner did switch on the button mid-way through the final too, but it was a tad too late; Hubert Hurkacz had built up too big a lead by then. The young Italian was reduced to his humanly powers by Hurkacz, who celebrated a maiden Masters 1000 title with a thoroughly absorbing 7-6, 6-4 victory.

But the overriding factor was that this was another step in the right direction in Jannik Sinner's fledgling career. The fortnight marked the first time he had competed in the main draw of a hardcourt Masters, but it didn't look like that at all.

Even James Blake, the tournament director of the Miami Open, couldn't hide his admiration of Sinner during the trophy presentation ceremony.

"If I was a player now, I would be scared of what you can become," Blake said.
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#2 Hubert Hurkacz can't be kept away from the 'next big thing' conversation any longer

Hurkacz became the first Polish male player to win a Masters 1000 singles title
Hurkacz became the first Polish male player to win a Masters 1000 singles title

In these disorientating times, the top male players dropped off the Miami Open entry list like flies. The final was contested by two participants playing their maiden Masters 1000 final - a final few could have predicted.

Hubert Hurkacz had lost five of his previous seven matches leading up to last week, with three of those defeats coming against players perched below him in the rankings. But in this part of the continent, and Florida in particular (where he had already won a title in Delray at the start of the year), an upturn in form was almost inevitable.

Given his extraordinary ascent through the ranks, Jannik Sinner would've felt the knock of opportunity in the absence of the Big 3. And the shock eliminations of Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev gave him a less treacherous path to the final than expected.

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However, on a sunbathed Grandstand court on Sunday, the young Italian was beaten at his own game and at his own pace by his good friend Hurkacz.

In Jannik Sinner's semifinal matches, which for long stretches felt like a dogfight, the difference between his level and that of Roberto Bautista Agut on the bigger points was like night and day. The same happened in the final, except that Sinner was at the receiving end this time.

Hubert Hurkacz absorbed everything thrown at him and repelled it with controlled aggression. The Pole was devastatingly clinical when presented with opportunities, landing telling blows with a minimum of fuss.

Hurkacz broke Sinner when the latter was serving for the opening set at 6-5, and proceeded to clinch the tiebreak. And after the first-set rigmarole, the 24-year-old established a healthy 4-0 lead in the second.

Jannik Sinner's level dropped considerably, and he began misfiring on his usually reliable forehand. Although the Italian managed to work his way into the thick of the action, Hubert Hurkacz's lead proved unassailable in the end and he closed out the set 6-4.

The man from Wroclaw improved to 10-0 in Florida in 2021, and has punctured the world's top 20 for the first time. Long ignored from conversations of 'next big thing in tennis', Hubert Hurkacz has proven that he very much belongs at the elite level.

#3 Ashleigh Barty knows how to silence her detractors

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Ashleigh Barty completed a successful title defense
Ashleigh Barty completed a successful title defense

Ashleigh Barty won the women's singles title at the Miami Open after her opponent Bianca Andreescu was forced to retire due to an ankle injury. The score read 6-3, 4-0 in the Australian's favor, ensuring that she completed her title defense with aplomb.

The World No. 1 was competing in her first overseas event in more than a year, after missing most of 2020 due to COVID concerns. Barty was cautious about traveling in the midst of a pandemic, and elected to stay at home after the tour resumption in August last year.

While Ashleigh Barty was away, Naomi Osaka went on a six-month unbeaten streak and captured two Slam titles, making many question whether the Aussie deserved the No. 1 ranking. But Barty proved in Miami that she is still the best player in the world when she's active and on her game.

Her conditioning has improved, as has the accuracy on her first serve. Barty served a total of 44 aces throughout the fortnight, and sailed past a trio of top 10 players to win her second title of the season.

The crafty Australian is also unlikely to relinquish her No. 1 ranking before the French Open, given that Osaka lost in the Miami quarters.

Published 05 Apr 2021, 21:29 IST
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