Hurkacz Derails Medvedev’s Quest For No. 1

Hubert Hurkacz (photo: ATP Tour video)

MIAMI/WASHINGTON, April 1, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

With a return to the No. 1 ranking on the line as well as a berth in his first Miami Open presented by Itaú men’s singles final riding on the outcome, just exactly what was going through Daniil Medvedev‘s mind prior to his semifinal math in South Florida?

“At this moment, I don’t feel any pressure,” Medvedev said when asked on Tuesday after he had defeated Jenson Brooksby in the fourth round. “A lot of extra motivation to try to make it. You know, it’s a great thing to try. To be in the semifinals, I knew before the tournament that I have to be there if I want to be No. 1.

“Of course, maybe during the match, pressure can start to build up, depending how the match is going, what’s the score. I mean, if. You have 5-0, 40-love, maybe less pressure. If it’s 6-5 in the tiebreak in the third set, there is a little bit more.

“But at this moment, it’s just a lot of extra motivation to try to make this one more step.”

On Thursday afternoon at Hard Rock Stadium, Medvedev got his chance against No. 8 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, the defending Miami Open champion. There was only one match left to regain No. 1. Unfortunately for the 26-year-old Russian, it wasn’t meant to be.

Instead, Hurkacz rose to the occasion and won 7-6 (7), 6-3 in two hours and three minutes while Medvedev struggled physically under the partly-cloudy conditions and temperatures that exceeded 80 degrees Fahrenheit. His fourth-shot forehand winner on match point put an emphatic end to the contest and to Medvedev’s pursuit to return to No. 1 in the ATP Rankings next week, a position he held from February 28 to March 21.

“I think the return was crucial,” Hurkacz said during his post-match interview. “I was able to make a lot of returns and get some free points on my serve, because having rallies with Daniil is fun, but they get long. It is good I was able to get some free points.”

Hurkacz won 76 percent (42 of 55) of his first-serve points, saved three of the four break points he faced and won 40 percent (38 of 94) of his return points. Meanwhile, the 25-year-old Polish star broke Medvedev’s serve three times in 14 tries and outpointed the World No. 2 83-75.

If it seems that Miami brings out the best in Hurkacz, you’re right. The No. 8 seed, who trains in South Florida, is now 10-0 in singles during the past two years at Hard Rock Stadium. His win over Medvedev leveled their head-to-head series at 2-all. Last year, they met three times with Hurkacz winning on grass at Wimbledon and Medvedev prevailing on hard courts at Toronto and at the Nitto ATP Finals. This was the first time they had not gone to a deciding set.

“I have spent a lot of time in Florida, so I am used to the humidity,” explained Hurkacz, who appeared to be the fresher player by the end of the quarterfinal match. “I think the conditions were in my favor today. So, I tried to use them.”

“All the match I was not feeling my best. But, you know, sometimes it happens,” Medvedev explained during his post-match press conference. “I don’t know the actual reason. Maybe the heat. But I was feeling super, like, dizzy, tired, and there was this long game where I couldn’t serve anymore. Then in the locker room I was cramping quite much, so physically was not easy. But at the same time, that’s part of the game.”

Alcaraz beats Kecmanovic by being brave and bold

In the other quarterfinal, charismatic No. 14 seed Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, fresh off his victory over No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, pulled out a highly-entertaining and thrilling three-set victory over unseeded Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (5), in two hours and 23 minutes that brought the Hard Rock Stadium fans to their feet applauding both players. The 18-year-old Alcaraz secured match point with a drop shot and a pushed passing shot winner showing a sense of being both brave and bold.

“Miomir was playing unbelievable,” the 16th-ranked Alcaraz said in a post-match interview. “I knew that I had to put a good level from my side. He had chances to win the match. I did a great shot at 5-4 in the third set, 15-30. It was really, really close. The energy of the crowd pushed me. It was unbelievable. Thanks to them, I was able to win the match.”

Alcaraz hit 52 winners – 35 of them from his forehand side – and made 40 errors. He won 29 of 34 net points and outpointed Kecmanovic 102-99, winning the final four points of the third-set tie-break after trailing 3-5. The victory improved Alcaraz’s win-loss record to 16-2 in 2022.

“The drop shot is good for me,” Alcaraz admitted. “I have confidence with that shot. In the tough moments you have to hit the best shots that you have.”

While Alcaraz has been thriving in the South Florida atmosphere at Hard Rock Stadium, No. 48 Kecmanovic showed he belonged, too. Miami was his fourth straight ATP quarterfinal, including in back-to-back Masters 1000 events. Before losing to Alcaraz, Kecmanovic, 22, knocked off Jack Sock, No. 7 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, Sebastian Korda and No. 11 seed Taylor Fritz in successive rounds.

With his quarterfinal victory, Alcaraz has become the third-youngest man to reach the Miami Open semifinals, where he will meet the defending champion Hubert Hurkacz Friday evening. He’s certainly come a long way since losing in the first round a year ago as a 132nd-ranked wild card to Emil Ruusuvuori.

Women’s final four now down to last two

With the women’s draw down to the final four, the first semifinal matched four-time major champion Naomi Osaka of Japan, ranked 77th, against the reigning Swiss Olympic champion Belinda Bencic, who is seeded 22nd. Both have been playing sublime tennis since arriving in South Florida – especially Osaka, who has strung together a pair of Top 15 wins over Angelique Kerber and Danielle Collins.

After having her place in the Top 100 threatened, Osaka is now projected to return to the Top 40 after beating Bencic, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the Miami Open final, her first title match since the 2021 Australian Open. Osaka clinched her first tour-level victory against Bencic on her second match-point opportunity with a solid service winner as the match clock reached two hours and six minutes.

Osaka struck 18 winners, broke Bencic’s service five times and outpointed her opponent 97-84. After waving appreciatively to the crowd, Osaka buried her head in her towel after sitting down and shed more than a few tears of joy.

“I feel like I’ve been fighting for a long time – not like physically fighting,” Osaka said during a post-match TV interview with Tennis Channel’s Prakash Amritraj. “I’ve wanted to get back here for a long time but I couldn’t string together a lot of things. Now, I feel like I’m in a really good place in my life. I want to know that, even when the times are tough, I can bounce back. I feel like I did that pretty well.”

The second semifinal paired soon-to-be World No. 1 Iga Swiatek, who put her 15-match winning streak on the line against Jessica Pegula. The American 16th seed through circumstances beyond her control had played just two complete matches in the four she’s won to reach the semifinals. Swiatek won 6-2, 7-5 in an hour and 48 minutes to extend her winning streak as well as to remain undefeated in WTA 1000 events. Now, she’s into her third straight WTA 1000 final.

“Even though it’s the middle of the night, I feel like I’m going to get some time to chill out today, because it was a really intense match and I had to give everything,” Swiatek said following her 16th straight victory.

In Saturday’s final, Swiatek will face Osaka for just the second time and first since 2019 at Toronto, won by the Japanese superstar in straight sets. She’s looking forward to the challenge.

“I am excited for sure, but on the other hand for me, the most important job is this is a match like any other,” Swiatek said. “I don’t want to change my routines, I don’t want to change my attitude, because it’s been working out pretty well. I’m going to treat it like any other match.”

Thursday’s Miami Open ATP results

Thursday’s Miami Open WTA results

Friday’s Miami Open order of play

Koolhof and Skupski advance to doubles final

No. 6 seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain reached their fourth ATP Tour final of the season Thursday. The only seeded team left in the draw, they defeated Italians Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini, 6-1, 3-6, 10-5 in 76 minutes.

The victory was their fifth of the year that was decided by a match tie-break. They have dropped just one set in Miami.

The Dutch/British duo will face wild cards Hubert Hurkacz of Poland and John Isner of the United States, who defeated Australian pair Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios, 6-4, 6-3, in Saturday’s final.

The victory by Hurkacz and Isner kept Isner’s hope of achieving a “Sunshine Double Double” alive after he already won the Indian Wells title earlier this month partnered with Jack Sock.

Kyrgios fined for fourth-round outbursts

On Thursday, mercurial Australian Nick Kyrgios was fined a total of $35,000 by the ATP Tour for four separate offenses that occurred during his fourth-round singles loss against Jannik Sinner on Tuesday.

• Audible obscenity – $5,000

• Unsportsmanlike conduct – $5,000

• Unsportsmanlike conduct – $5,000

• Verbal abuse – $20,000

By the numbers

At age 18, Carlos Alcaraz is the 15th teen in the Miami Open’s 37-year history to play in the men’s quarterfinals. Ten went on to become World No. 1 and all 14 previous teenage quarterfinalist broke into the Top 10. Two of them – Andre Agassi (1990) and Novak Djokovic (2007) went on to win the Miami Open.

“Quotable …”

“Obviously, he’s had a great climb in the ranking in the past two, three years. When I was a junior, he’s same age as me, I believe, but no one really heard about him because he didn’t play too much juniors.

“Now, in the past years he’s climbed up well, and this week is probably the best week of his career. He’s in a good flow, so my job will of course be to try to stop him. Let’s see if I can, let’s see if I can’t, but I will give my best as always. It will be an exciting match on Friday, I hope.”

– World No. 8 Casper Ruud on No. 103 Francisco Cerundolo’s Miami Open run. The two meet in Friday’s semifinal round.