By John Delong
On a monumental day for tennis in Poland, Hubert Hurkacz made his country proud.
The 22-year-old became the first player from Poland to win an ATP Tour-level tournament in 37 years as he pulled out a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory over top-seeded Benoit Paire in the finals of the Winston-Salem Open.
No Polish player had won an ATP event since Wojtek Fibak in 1982; to add to the celebration, countrywoman Magda Linette won the WTA event in the Bronx on Saturday.
“It’s a good win for me today,” Hurkacz said modestly. “It was a really great week for me. I’m so excited to lift my first trophy here. But Monday I have a match in the US Open so I cannot celebrate this very long.”
His coach, Craig Boynton, was John Isner’s coach when Isner won the WSO in 2011 and 2012. Boynton said Hurkacz will only get better from having come through on in his first career final.
“It’s a big difference when you go from zero to one,” Boynton said. “The first one is usually the hardest, so now he’s got that one out of the way, which is terrific. Now he knows what it’s like to play in a final. He’s really good but he’s lacking experience. He’s still getting used to being on the tour. So all these moments like this that he can experience are something that he can build on.”
Hurkacz came into the WSO ranked No. 41, so he’s assured of climbing into the top 40 when ATP rankings come out. He lost in the first round in Cincinnati last week, but before that he had reached the third round at Montreal with victories over Stefanos Tsitsipas and Taylor Fritz. He had also reached the third round at Wimbledon, so he has had a solid summer.
He had advanced to the final by beating Frances Tiafoe and Denis Shapovalov on Friday when players were forced to play two matches because of rain delays. Before that, he had beaten Duckhee Lee and Feliciano Lopez in earlier rounds.
He was the tournament’s third seed.
“Coming here I was just trying to improve my game, play better every single match and work on some things we’ve been working on,” Hurkacz said. “That was our goal. So to actually win the tournament is great. It was really amazing. I have dreamed my whole life of winning an ATP event so here I am, and I am so happy.”
Hurkacz assumed control quickly in the first set, breaking the top-seeded Paire in Paire’s first two service games. Hurkacz gave one break back but was still able to go on to win the first set 6-3. Paire seemed to regroup and took the second set 6-3, setting up a decisive third set.
Three times the rest of the way play was suspended because of rain. Hurkacz got the decisive break to go up 4-2, and he held serve twice from there to wrap up the victory.
“It was a tough match,” Paire said. “It was difficult to play because we stopped like 10 times during the match and there was no time to get into a rhythm. He was playing good so good for him. Me, it was a good week, so it was good for my confidence going into the US Open.”
Paire had kind words for Hurkacz.
“I think he’s very solid,” Paire said. “Good serve, from the baseline he has a good backhand, a good forehand. So today he was focused and he played very well.”
Hurkacz became the 13th first-time winner on the ATP Tour this year with the victory. He’s also the second player in WSO history to get his first win here, joining Pablo Carreno Busta in 2016.