Hurkacz Keeps Turin Hopes Alive With Paris Victory

Hubert Hurkacz (photo: Eva Matan)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, November 4, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Nitto ATP Finals contenders Hubert Hurkacz and Cameron Norrie began their week at the Paris Rolex Masters in hot pursuit of the final two spots in the eight-player field for the year-end finale along with Casper Ruud and Jannik Sinner. As Thursday’s round of 16 at Bercy’s Accor Arena pared down the field to eight quarterfinalists, both Hurkacz and Norrie understood the importance of staying in the moment. If they could remain focused, they could control their own destiny.

It worked for Hurkacz, not so for Norrie.

As the day unfolded, the No. 7 seed Hurkacz rallied from down a set to beat 58th-ranked lucky loser Dominik Koepfer of Germany, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2, and advanced to Friday’s quarterfinal round. The Polish star handled the pressure well throughout the two-hour and six-minute match, never getting too down on himself during the first set-and-a-half as he trailed Koepfer.

Finally, Hurkacz put away the victory – his 35th of the season – on his third match-point opportunity. He fired 18 aces and hit 38 winners to 25 unforced errors, while Koepfer finished with 26 winners and 37 unforced errors. Hurkacz converted five of 13 break points and outpointed Koepfer 103-86.

“Dominik played a couple of good matches here on center court. He was playing well, handling pressure, and I made some unforced errors that I shouldn’t make,” Hurkacz said during a televised interview with Tennis Channel. “I tried to stay in the game, to compete and fight for every single point. At the end, it paid off with a win. I’m super enthused.”

Often, Hurkacz could be seen pointing a finger to his head after key points. Asked to describe what his thought process was, he said: “I was trying to feel myself. Not everything was going the way I wanted it to go during the match. I was just trying to keep myself pumped, to keep believing and even if I’m not playing the way I want, I was trying to stay positive.

“Here, every single match is important; there’s extra pressure. There’s incentive to keep believing and keep staying in the game.”

Next, Hurkacz, who currently has 3,135 points in the FedEx ATP Race To Turin standings, will play No. 55 James Duckworth of Australia. Finally free of injuries that sidelined him often during the past couple of years, Duckworth advanced to his first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal with a spirited 7-6 (6), 6-4 victory over fellow a Aussie, No. 71 Alexei Popyrin, in an hour and 47 minutes. Duckworth hit 22 winners and converted four of 12 break points. He outpointed Popyrin 85-75.

Fritz derails Norrie’s plans for Turin

With Hurkacz through to the quarterfinals, the focus shifted to No. 10 seed Norrie, who faced one of the hottest players on the tour in 26th-ranked Taylor Fritz of the United States in the second match on Court Central.

“I really want to make the top eight and be playing, competing,” Norrie said before facing Fritz, his second straight American opponent after beating No. 25 Reilly Opelka in the second round. “There’s only two spots for basically the four of us, so I think it adds another element, and I really like that. Even to be in the conversation even this late in the year, means a lot ot me and shows that I have made some improvements this year in my game. … I want to play and I want to keep pushing and I want to give everything I’ve got and try and make that event.”

As it happened, Fritz had other plans. He earned his 11th victory in his last 13 matches – and fifth straight win against a Top 15 opponent – with a 6-3, 7-6 (3) victory over the British No. 1 Norrie in an hour and 33 minutes to improve his win-loss record for the season to 33-20. The victory lifted Fritz into his second straight ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinals and it leveled his career head-to-head against Norrie at 4-4. It was also a fifth straight win against a Top-10 seed at Masters 1000 level for Fritz.

Fritz, who saved a couple of break points while serving at 4-5 in the second set, thanks to an aggressive baseline attack, closed out the match  in a tie-break with an inside-out forehand winner on his second match-point opportunity to advance against top seed Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. With his win against Norrie, Fritz will overtake Opelka next week as the top-ranked American man in the ATP Rankings.

“I played incredible well,” Fritz said in press following his win. “A lot of pressure situations I got through and played really well. [Cameron] is in so many games and he really makes you come up with a lot. Fortunately for me, I came up with the shots I needed to, to stay in the match.”

Now, Norrie (2,945 points) has his back against the wall as he faces a tough battle to qualify for Turin. He has to hope Hurkacz falls short in his quarterfinal Friday against Duckworth. Otherwise, Hurkacz can book his ticket for Turin with a win.

“Taylor was too good today,” Norrie said in press. “[In the] really big moments, he served well, came up with the big shots, played aggressively. He was moving extremely well. All credit to him. He played a very clean match and was very consistent throughout the whole match, so it was too good.”

Ruud controls his Turin destiny

Meanwhile, No. 6 seed Ruud, the winner of five ATP Tour singles titles this season, knew going into his match against 57th-ranked qualifier Marcos Giron of the United States that he could clinch one of the two remaining spots at the Nitto ATP Finals with a win coupled with Norrie’s loss to Fritz.

Ruud did just that – and quickly, too. The World No. 8 Ruud from Norway beat Giron 6-2, 6-1 in just 67 minutes. He hit 31 winners, won 83 percent (24 of 29) of his first-serve points, converted four of seven break points while facing no break points. It all added up to a satisfying victory and it clinched Ruud the No. 7 position in the ATP Race To Turin. He became the first player from Norway to qualify for the ATP season finale.

“You can see on my face, I’m smiling,” Ruud said during an on-court interview following his round of 16 win which advanced him to Friday’s quarterfinals against No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany. “It’s been an unbelievable year, which will have the perfect end to, to the year and to the season. It’s going to be so fun.

“It’s been a stressful couple of weeks and months. It’s been such a tight race, but it’s been fun at the same time. That’s what you want to see. I think the previous years – let’s say the last 15 years – just three or four guys have taken all the points. It hasn’t been that close in a long time. Now, it’s more open and you could see Hurkacz winning a Masters 1000, Norrie winning in Indian Wells. It’s been exciting and fun to watch. It feels great, of course, to secure [the berth].”

Gaston is the comeback king of Paris

Hugo Gaston, France’s last remaining hope in the singles draw, is now the comeback king of Paris. That’s because Gaston won seven straight games and 20 of the final 21 points in his round of 16 match against No. 35 Carlos Alcaraz of Spain to pull out a 6-4, 7-5 victory, after trailing 0-5 to start the second set.

In the final match of the Thursday night session, with the raucous Accor Arena fans in full support of the 103rd-ranked French qualifier from Toulouse, Gaston didn’t disappoint. He showed plenty of fighting spirit throughout the match and left it all out on the Court Central and soaked in the applause after securing match point. It left 18-year-old Alcaraz stunned.

At 0-5 in the second set, here’s how Gaston recalls the moment: “I was drifting off at that point, and he started to have a letdown, as well,” he said. “He made a lot of mistakes, because I managed to have fast balls, slow balls, to have high balls. He started to lose his groove, and I stayed focused. This is why I managed to overturn the match in my favor.

“[The atmosphere] was incredible. Honestly, I have been playing tennis for this. It was actually incredible. It was really wonderful to live this match with them. I actually won because they supported me from beginning to the end even when I had a letdown during the first or the second set, they were always cheering me. It’s incredible to have such a great public.”

By the time that the one hour and 43 minute match ended in the wee hours of Friday morning in Bercy, Gaston closed out his unlikely triumph with his only service ace of the evening. It was his 11th winner against 16 unforced errors. Alcaraz finished with 14 winners and committed 28 unforced errors.

Gaston outpointed Alcaraz 71-54 and advanced to a Friday evening quarterfinal meeting with No. 2 seed and 2020 Rolex Paris Masters champion Daniil Medvedev of Russia.

Around the Accor Arena

• World No. 1 and five-time Rolex Paris Masters champion Novak Djokovic was scheduled to take on a friendly foe in Frenchman Gaël Monfils in a featured day session on Court Central. The top seed Djokovic enjoyed a 17-0 win-loss record in tour-level matches against Monfils on court, dating back to their five-set, four-hour, first-round meeting as 18-year-olds at the 2005 US Open.

Although Monfils nearly ended his losing streak to Djokovic in their most recent match at Dubai in February 2020, he squandered three match points. This time, there would be no match as Monfils withdrew Thursday afternoon citing a groin injury, which he sustained during his second-round win over No. 59 Adrian Mannarino of France on Wednesday.

“I’m disappointed not to play Novak today,” Monfils said during a press conference. “I love playing against the best, you know where you are. He’s beaten me 17 times but I’m really looking forward to play him again and beat him if I can. Today in Paris, it would have been great.”

• No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev came into his match with No. 16 seed Grigor Dimitrov with a 26-2 win-loss record since the start of the Tokyo Olympics, which includes three titles won – Olympics, Western & Southern Open and Vienna. His only losses were to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the US Open and to Taylor Fritz in the quarterfinals at Indian Wells. The World No. 4 from Germany now has 54 wins this season, second on the ATP Tour behind Stefanos Tsitsipas’s 55, after pulling out a 7-6 (4), 6-7 (3), 6-3 victory in two hours and 46 minutes.

After winning a closely-contested opening set in a tie break, Zverev squandered two match points while ahead 6-5 and lost the second set in another tie break that sent the match to a decider. From there, the 30th-ranked Dimitrov gave Zverev all he could handle, forcing him to save six break points early in the third set just to gain 3-all. However, Zverev kept taking punches but giving them back against Dimitrov. He fought off a break point during a 10-point game to hold for 5-3 after breaking the Bulgarian in the previous game. Then, on his third match-point opportunity – about an hour after he previous ones – he put away the victory.

Zverev hit 17 aces and finished with 36 winners to 31 unforced errors to offset Dimitrov’s 25 winners and 29 unforced errors. Dimitrov outpointed Zverev 106-105, but the German came up with some of his best tennis under pressure to move into Friday’s quarterfinals against No. 6 seed Casper Ruud.

“It was one of the best matches of this year for me,” Zverev said during an on-court interview. “I’m exhausted. I’m just happy to be through it. … I love playing in Paris, whether it’s at Roland Garros or here in Bercy. There’s always a big crowd, always very energetic. I’m thankful that we are playing in front of a full stadium, again.”

• No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev has been nearly unstoppable indoors. He’s 17-1 indoors dating back to his Rolex Paris Masters and Nitto ATP Finals title runs in 2020. In Thursday’s night session on Court Central, he faced #NextGenATP rising star Sebastian Korda of the  United States and won 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 in an hour and 50 minutes. The crowd was in a good mood, doing a Mexican Wave during changeovers, which put smiles on the faces of both players and even chair umpire Aurelio Tourte.

Medvedev, who owned a 9-0 record against Americans this season coming in, raised it to 10-0, while Korda was biding to become the sixth player this year to defeat Medvedev for the biggest win of their career.

Medvedev hit seven aces and won 70 percent (39 of 56) of his first-serve points. He outpointed Korda 89-72 to move a round closer to successfully defending his 2020 title.

“It was a tough first set where I felt that I had the margin but I didn’t manage to break him and he turned it around against me,” said Medvedev speaking of the moment from 0-40 at 3-2.  “But I was really happy that I stayed calm and kept my level and that was enough to win today.”

Top two doubles teams eliminated

Belgian doubles duo Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen upset No. 1 seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, both of Croatia, 6-3, 7-6 (6), to advance to the quarterfinal round against No. 6 seeds John Peers of Australia and Filip Polasek of Slovakia.

Also, No. 3 seeds Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut, both of France, defeated Gonzalo Escobar of Ecuador and Ariel Behar of Uruguay, 7-6 (6), 6-4. Next, they will face French wild cards Arthur Rinderknech and Benjamin Bonzi, who defeated No. 8 seeds Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Marcelo Melo of Brazil, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 12-10.

No. 2 seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain were upset by Tim Puetz of Germany and Michael Venus of New Zealand, 7-6 (12), 7-6 (6). Next, they will play Fabrice Martin of France and Andreas Mies of Germany, who defeated No. 7 seeds Kevin Krawietz of Germany and Horia Tecau of Romania, 6-3, 6-3.

Unseeded Jamie Murray of Great Britain and Bruno Soares of Brazil advanced over Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain and Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan, 6-1, 6-3. Next they will oppose No. 5 seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, both of Columbia, who eliminated Dan Evans and Neal Skupski, both of Great Britain, 7-6 (6), 7-5.

Thursday’s Paris Rolex Masters results

Friday’s Paris Rolex Masters order of play

By the numbers

How much has Novak Djokovic dominated French competition? Consider this: Frenchmen have lost their last 16 meetings with Djokovic overall, as well as 37 of their last 38 meetings and 74 of 76 meetings dating back to Serbia’s 2010 Davis Cup final triumph. The only Frenchmen to defeat Djokovic over the last 11 seasons? Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (at Toronto in 2014) and Benoit Paire (at Miami in 2018).

“Quotable …”

“Now I have a lot of work to do both physically in terms of tennis and also mentally to be able to be ready for the next season from the start of the season with always top objectives in mind.

“So can I do worse than last year at the beginning of the season? I don’t think so. I think it’s not possible. So, well, my objective is of course to do better but I’m very serene. I’m happy about how I was able to come back and bounce back over the last weeks and months with the level of play I wanted to develop for next year.

“So I’m very serene, and I’m very confident we will do a big preseason and that I will be able to be in top shape and to have good results as of the start of the season.”

Gaël Monfils of France, during his Thursday press conference to announce his withdrawal from the Rolex Paris Masters due to a groin injury (translated from French).