Hubert Hurkacz, the lone Polish player ranked inside the Top 200, achieved career-high ranking more than 10 times in 2018, peaking at No. 79 on October 29. He advanced to the second round at Roland Garros (d. Sandgren, l. to Cilic) and US Open (d.
Travaglia, l. to Cilic), qualified and made his ATP World Tour main draw debut at Budapest. He climbed 159 spots in less than a year and he's ready for a bigger jump. “I think it’s possible to move into the Top 50 of the ATP Rankings.
That's my goal,” he said last June to ATPWorldTour.com. "It means a lot to me [to play in Milan]," said Hurkacz. "It will build my confidence. It is a different kind of tournament with only eight players there, so it will be awesome to play there." At Challenger level, he lost the first final of the season in Zhuhai and won two titles in Poznan and Brest.
At home, he defeated No.2 seed Guido Andreozzi en route to the final, before routing Taro Daniel in less than an hour. At 21 years and three months, Hurkacz became the youngest Pole to triumph on the circuit since Jerzy Janowicz in 2010.
“It’s great to win my first Challenger in Poland. It’s an indescribable experience for me. I think I would have enjoyed it the same if I won abroad, but it’s something special to win in my country” he said Josh Meiseles in an interview for the First-Time Winners series on ATPWorldTour.com.
Then, last October, he claimed his second title of the season, winning the Open Brest Crédit Agricole beating Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania for the first time in their second meeting. The Pole began to play following in the footsteps of his mother, Zocia, a former Polish national tennis champion.
It was love at first sight for the young Hurkacz, who showed an immediate, innate fighting spirit. Coached by Aleksander Charpantidis, who later worked with Michał Przysiężny, he reached a career-high rank at junior-level at No.29.
He managed to beat Alexander Bublik, Stefan Kozlov, Jay Clarke, and Carlos Taberner as an under 18 prospect and celebrated a prestigious Eddie Herr semifinals. Hurkacz trained in his hometown, Wroclaw, for a long time. "It would be very nice to help tennis grow in Poland so that many younger players will compete at the ATP level in the future.
Of course, there are many younger guys who play well and I hope that when they are finished playing junior tournaments they will come here to the Challenger level and even higher,” he said to the ATP. His game was largely based on serve and forehand, but he made specific training to improve his consistency off the backhand side.
He wasn't particularly quick in covering the court during his first years and struggled to make ends meet economically. “I built up my game, so I think I’m stronger physically now and also mentally,” Hurkacz said.
“That gave me a lot of confidence, gave me some energy to focus in practice and it was a really good end of last year for me, so I was happy with that.” Coached by Pawel Stadniczenko he likes to open up the court with his forehand to close the point as quick as possible.
Stadniczenko, who used to coach Charpantidis during his playing days, is a licensed trainer of the German Tennis Association (DTB-VDT) and a qualified trainer of the American Tennis Union (USTA). Member of the Polish National Team from 1981 to 1986, he coached among others Przysiężny, Marcin Chlebowski, and Tomek Bednarek Deblisty.
Stadniczenko, said Hurkacz, “helped me a lot and I'm very thankful to him. He especially helped me mentally, to stay positive. That was the biggest change. To be more solid during the matches and not have as many ups and downs.
I'm competing at a higher level and am now able to win against better opponents. It's good.” Hurkacz, one of the ten highest-ranked players not to have clinched a Masters 1000 win, owns a 6-9 record at WTA level and a 28-12 record in Challenger main draws this season.
In main draw action, just one he failed to reach 50% of first serve points, against Marin Cilic at Us Open. At Challenger level, he's 9-13 winning less than 50% of second serve points. Performances on return look even more crucial for his results.
He lost four out of 32 matches when he sealed more than50% of points against second deliveries: he owns a 5-1 tour-level record and a 23-3 record at Challenger-level. Under pressure, however, he revealed vast margins for improvement as he's 0-4 in deciding sets on tour in 2018 and 0-6 after losing the opening set.
Such first impression seems confirmed by his negative tiebreak record (4-5 on tour, 9-11 in Challengers). Hurkacz, who trained with Lucas Pouille in Dubai during the off-season, revealed apparently contrasting passions. He loves driving and going to the circuit to watch a car race and, at the same time, he likes reading books.
“It's relaxing for me. Sometimes I read books that help me on the court with the mental side" he said. In Milan after the withdrawal of Denis Shapovalov due to exhaustion, he's ready to rumble.