Around June this year, things weren’t looking too bright for Hubert Hurkacz. There was a serious argument to be made that he hadn’t made much progress since winning Miami in 2021, and he was aiming at a top-20 finish rather than another showing at the ATP Finals. The Pole climbed out of his shell a bit, though, picking up his 2nd ATP 1000 title with numerous close matches with the game’s greats. He didn’t end up making Turin (only as an alternate), but gave it a good go and finished the year ranked World No. 9.
Mediocre until Wimbledon
Hurkacz began the season pretty well, finally breaking through his second-round block at a hard court Slam. While his matches against Lorenzo Sonego and Denis Shapovalov both had to go five sets, the Pole even made the second week in Australia and was close to taking down the in-form Sebastian Korda. In February, he also managed to pick up a title at the ATP 250 in Marseille, saving match points versus Mikael Ymer along the way.
It was around that time that Hurkacz’s knack for tie-breaks became a bit of a meme. It seemed like he was playing them in virtually every match (that remained true until the end of the season). Of course, that wasn’t a coincidence and was more of an effect of his strong service game, while his returning was among the worst on the tour. For a long while this year, he would be sitting at third-worst in the top 50 in terms of break percentage, usually just above Ben Shelton and Christopher Eubanks.
The Pole lost in the third round at both Sunshine Double events and failed to repeat his ultra-consistent clay season of 2022. At Roland Garros, he managed to win two matches, but all the five-setters he was competing in completely emptied his energy tank by the time he had to play another decider against Juan Pablo Varillas. Grass is usually where you see Hurkacz at his strongest, but after the Halle title defense didn’t go as planned, expectations weren’t too high before Wimbledon.
Sudden turnaround, close matches against the elite
Hurkacz blasted his way to the second week in London without dropping a set and actually had a shot at Novak Djokovic. If he was just slightly more clinical in either of the two tie-breaks, he could have entered the second day of play (the match had to be rescheduled due to curfew) tied with the Serbian or even leading 2-0. Djokovic eventually managed to break him for the first time in the fourth set and claim the win, but it was a sign of good things to come for Hurkacz. He was serving out of his mind and knew he had to take more risks on the forehand side if he was to trouble the legendary rival.
The Canada/Cincinnati double was a bit like this as well. Amazing form, but could have been so much better if he converted his chances in either match against Carlos Alcaraz (Toronto third round, Cincinnati semifinal). He was a set up both times and held a match point in the latter meeting, misfiring on a mid-court aggressive forehand. But that really was a moment when everyone on the planet was afraid of Hurkacz, and at least he scored a win over Stefanos Tsitsipas along the way, improving their lopsided head-to-head record. The only disappointment was not turning that patch into a US Open run (he still hasn’t been past the second round in New York).
Late chase after a Turin spot
Even with all these results in the summer, the ATP Finals didn’t feel like a real possibility, but Hurkacz managed to make it one by picking up his 2nd ATP 1000 title in Shanghai, two and a half years after triumphing in Miami. It was some of the strongest tennis the Pole had ever played off the baseline, and this time, he actually prevailed in dramatic circumstances, saving a match point to beat Andrey Rublev in the final.
Hurkacz was still an outsider for the ATP Finals and managed to give it a good attempt. The physical intensity of the chase took its toll, though, as he was struggling fitness-wise in some critical matches like the Basel final against Felix Auger-Aliassime or the quarterfinal loss to Grigor Dimitrov in Paris. He left it all on the court and was eventually able to show up in Turin as an alternate, but only for one match. The loss to Djokovic in three sets gave us a glimpse of how dangerous he could have been at that event.
Now that he’s had such a strong finish to his campaign, the goals for 2024 seem clear. A big Grand Slam run at either of the hard court Slams or Wimbledon would be an absolute must, as that was the only real low point of his campaign this year. But overall, Hurkacz is finally showing some progress in his comfort level attacking off the forehand and in his return game. Has the serve become even more deadly too? The good work in the latter half of this season should also pay off in allowing him to keep floating around the top 10 at least until Shanghai.
Main Photo Credit: Mike Frey – USA TODAY Sports