The 22-year-old Pole Hubert Hurkacz has been the player on the mission in the last three tournaments, heading to Dubai with no top-10 wins under his belt and scoring three in back-to-back events to make himself a genuine contender for the place in the top-30 by the end of the season.
In Dubai, Hubert defeated Kei Nishikori and repeated that at Indian Wells en route to his first Masters 1000 quarter-final. Roger Federer halted his progress in the desert but Hubert is eager to achieve another significant result in Miami, toppling Indian Wells champion Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-4 in an hour and 17 minutes for the sixth Masters 1000 win (all this March) and the place in the third round where he will face the super talented Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime.
It was expected from the Austrian to play below the level he produced in the desert and Hubert took full advantage of that, winning 43% of the return points and scoring four breaks from ten opportunities. On the other hand, the Pole clinched 26 out of 30 points behind the first serve, defending the second nicely as well (he served at only 52%) to save four out of six break points and move over the top in straight sets.
The younger player finished the match with 22 winners and 18 unforced errors, struggling a little bit from his backhand wing but still doing enough to overshadow Thiem's 14-16 ratio and produce his best tennis when it mattered the most.
The better-ranked player kicked off the match with a break when Hurkacz sprayed a backhand error, staying in front only for a couple of minutes since the Pole broke back at 15 to erase the deficit and settle into a nice rhythm.
The returners were unable to make an impression in the next seven games, winning just six points and leaving Thiem serving to stay in the set at 4-5. Out of sudden, he played three loose shots to suffer a break at love, handing the opener to Hubert after 35 minutes and having a lot of work to be done if he wanted to pass the first obstacle in Miami.
That looked like a possibility when he broke the Pole in the third game of the second set to jump into a 4-2 lead, keeping everything under control before Hurkacz fought back in game eight, converting the fifth break point to level the score at 4-4 and shift the momentum to his side of the court.
Hold at 15 propelled Hubert 5-4 up and he blasted three winners on the return to create three match points in the following game. Dominic saved the first before netting a volley that pushed Hurkacz over the finish line, blowing away the dreams about the 'Sunshine double' and turning his eyes towards the clay season that is just a few weeks away.