It hasn’t been the best season for Hubert Hurkacz.
Entering the Shanghai Open, Hurkacz, 26, had reached just one final — winning the 250-level Open 13 in France in February — and failed to advance past the fourth round at any major. While he had made the semifinals in Cincinnati, he hadn’t advanced past the third round at any other 1000-level event. After finishing the 2021 and 2022 seasons inside the top 10, it seemed unlikely he would even have a chance to replicate that feat in 2023.
But everything changed last week.
Arriving in Shanghai ranked No. 17, the Polish player hadn’t played a tournament-level match since a surprising second-round defeat at the US Open. But he showed few signs of rust or of lingering disappointment.
He held off Ben Shelton in three hard-fought sets in the quarters with relative ease, and in the semifinals, Hurkacz defeated Sebastian Korda, who had handed No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev a straight-sets loss in the third round. Hurkacz won the match 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the final.
Facing the red-hot Andrey Rublev, who had defeated an impressive list of seeded players throughout his time at the tournament, the big-serving Hurkacz had 21 aces and saved match point during a third-set tiebreak. With Roger Federer in the crowd, Hurkacz recorded a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (8) victory on Sunday.
It marked the second 1000-level title of his career, his first since 2021, and his seventh ATP title overall. It was just his second top-10 win of the season and all of the emotions he was feeling at the end of the two-hour-and-nine-minute battle were visible on his face as he lifted his arms up in celebration.
Never forget 🤩
— ATP Tour (@atptour) October 15, 2023
Hurkacz, who saw his ranking rise back to No. 11 with the victory, later told reporters it was “definitely” the most exciting finish to a match he had ever played. He later posted on social media about what the title meant to him.
“This one feels special,” he wrote in part. “This season hasn’t been easy but I never stopped believing.”
Here’s what else you might have missed from around the tennis world last week:
Pegula’s emotional victory
Jessica Pegula played the Korea Open for the first time in 2019. While she lost then in the first round, the tournament remained memorable to her because Seoul, the event’s host city, was where her mother, Kim, was born. During that initial trip four years ago, Kim came with Pegula and the two visited the orphanage Kim spent time in before being adopted by an American family as a 5-year-old.
After Kim went into cardiac arrest last summer, and has since faced several related health challenges, Pegula said winning the title in her mom’s place of birth had been “a goal.” On Sunday, she did just that.
The top-seeded player at the event, Pegula dropped just one set en route to the final. During the championship match, Pegula defeated Yue Yuan 6-2, 6-3 and claimed her second trophy of the year and fourth overall.
After the match, Pegula told the crowd she was half-Korean and thanked those in the stands for their support throughout the week. On social media, she called the victory “extra special” and elaborated on her connection to Seoul and South Korea.
This one is extra special. I am half Korean. I don’t speak and I am still learning about my culture (my mom was adopted and left on a doorstep of a Korean police station) but I have been overwhelmed by the support from Korean fans. My mom visited her orphanage here when I played… pic.twitter.com/2kUpnEZ2J2
— Jessie Pegula (@JPegula) October 15, 2023
New hardware for Fernandez and Zheng
The Korea Open was one of three WTA tour-level events that concluded Sunday, so Pegula wasn’t the only woman making room on her mantel for a new trophy.
Leylah Fernandez won the third title of her career and first since March 2022 (and the first not won at the Monterrey Open), with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 comeback victory over Katerina Siniakova in the final at the Hong Kong Open. The 21-year-old Canadian, who reached the final at the US Open two years ago, had struggled this year and had nearly fallen out of the top 100 earlier this summer.
“We had a very, very hard past couple of years,” Fernandez said to the crowd. “My family, my parents, my coach, my performance coaches, [they’ve] stayed by my side and they’ve helped me through those tough times. They motivated me to keep going and the hard work is paying off. Hopefully, we can keep going this way.”
— wta (@WTA) October 15, 2023
And then there was rising star Qinwen Zheng, the top-ranked Chinese player on tour, who won the Zhengzhou Open for her second career title and first in her home country. Like Fernandez, she came back after losing the first set in the final on Sunday and defeated former French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova 2-6, 6-2, 6-4.
Zheng became the third Chinese woman to win a WTA 500-level title or higher, joining two-time major champion Li Na and Zheng Saisai.
It’s been a breakout season for Zheng, 21, who won her first WTA tournament in Palermo in July and reached her first major quarterfinals just last month at the US Open. Despite a contentious split from her coach Wim Fissette following her run in New York, Zheng hasn’t seemed to let his surprising departure affect her on the court.
Zheng talked about overcoming pressure in her victory speech, and her performance on the court (which included 10 aces) was impressive, but if there’s one thing you have to see or know about from Sunday, it’s the performance she gave after the win. The self-professed karaoke fan broke out in song for the crowd — this probably should become a thing for all trophy ceremonies going forward:
Best birthday ever
What’s better than reaching the first Masters 1000-level quarterfinals of your career? Reaching said quarterfinals on your birthday.
His 18-month-old son, Juan, couldn’t wait to get the party started. He ran onto the court after the victory to see his dad, and charmed everyone in the stands in the process.
— ATP Tour (@atptour) October 11, 2023
He ultimately lost in the quarters to Grigor Dimitrov on Friday, but he still improved to a career-high ranking of No. 21 thanks to his strong showing in Shanghai.
Not so fast
Just days after Rafael Nadal posted video of himself back on the practice court, Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley announced the 22-time major champion would be making his return to competition at the 2024 Australian Open.
“We can announce exclusively here that Rafa will be back,” Tiley said on Australia’s “Today Show” on Wednesday.
However, it seems no one had confirmed that exclusive announcement with Nadal himself.
Within hours Nadal took to X to imply his return in Melbourne wasn’t exactly guaranteed.
I appreciate the vote of confidence from the Australian Open… I am practising every day and working hard to come back asap 💪🏻😉
— Rafa Nadal (@RafaelNadal) October 11, 2023
Nadal, 37, later posted more practice footage on his Instagram account with a similar caption to what he had previously written on X.
Nadal hasn’t played since this year’s Australian Open in January due to a hip injury and subsequent surgery. He has previously said he hopes to come back in 2024 for what he believes will be his final season on tour.
In the same interview Wednesday, Tiley also said Naomi Osaka and Nick Kyrgios are planning on making their respective returns Down Under in January. Neither player has since refuted the claim on social media, so that’s probably a good sign for the tournament.