Vic­tory for the solid man

The Timaru Herald - - CATALYST - DAVID LONG

Roberto Bautista Agut is the 2018 ASB Clas­sic cham­pion again, two years af­ter he last tri­umphed in Auckland.

The Span­ish 29-year-old beat mar­quee player Juan Martin del Potro 6-1 4-6 7-5 in just over two hours in the fi­nal on Satur­day, af­ter his op­po­nent started slowly.

The Clas­sic, Bautista Agut’s sev­enth ATP ti­tle, be­comes the only tour­na­ment he has won more than once, and beat­ing a player of Del Potro’s cal­i­bre made it all the more spe­cial.

‘‘Juan Martin beat me the last three matches I played him, so I knew it was go­ing to be a very dif­fi­cult match,’’ Bautista Agut said. ‘‘I had the match more un­der con­trol than him. He was sur­viv­ing more with his serve than with his strokes from the base­line and it was a good ef­fort from me. Ev­ery tour­na­ment you win is very spe­cial but of course it means a lot.’’

Bautista Agut isn’t a flam­boy­ant player. He’s un­likely to fea­ture on any shots-of-the-tour­na­ment reels, but he does the ba­sics well. He’s not flash and doesn’t have a a killer weapon, but he’s so solid.

That’s why he can do well at this level, but can’t go deep in grand slams, when he’s got to get past the big guns. How­ever, he has a chance to rub­bish that the­ory in Mel­bourne over the next cou­ple of weeks.

What he does not lack is men­tal tough­ness and re­silience.

‘‘It’s one of my bet­ter things,’’ Bautista Agut said. ‘‘I’m a very good fighter, I try to stay in the matches un­til the last point.

‘‘I tried to in­crease the speed of the ball and to have Juan Martin move around the court,’’ he added of his tac­tics. ‘‘I changed di­rec­tions and I played very ag­gres­sive with my re­turn and played with high in­ten­sity.’’

It was a bizarre start from Del Potro, who didn’t man­age to hold his serve once in the open­ing set.

In his first two matches, against De­nis Shapo­valov and Karen Khachanov, he didn’t even face a break point.

Those matches, as well as his semi­fi­nal against David Fer­rer, were held in the evening, though. And on a hot and hu­mid Auckland af­ter­noon, he clearly strug­gled with the change of con­di­tions.

‘‘It was re­ally hard to play with the hu­mid­ity and I felt it a lot at the start of the match,’’ Del Potro ad­mit­ted.

‘‘It’s not an ex­cuse. I had my chances to win, too, but I couldn’t take it and Roberto did well.’’

While Del Potro fell at the fi­nal hur­dle, there were still plenty of pos­i­tives to take from his first ap­pear­ance in Auckland since he lifted the tro­phy in 2009.

The 29-year-old warmed up for this week’s Australian Open with some out­stand­ing ten­nis and will wake up on Mon­day back in­side the top 10 for the first time in four years.

‘‘I don’t have any­thing to lose at this time of my ca­reer,’’ Del Potro said. ‘‘I’m go­ing to be top 10 again af­ter big prob­lems with my wrist and I didn’t ex­pect to get into that po­si­tion af­ter all my surg­eries.

‘‘I hope to come back next year or when­ever, but I re­ally en­joy play­ing here in Auckland.’’

In the first set Bautista Agut played well, show­ing plenty of en­ergy around the court, but he didn’t need to do much more than be con­sis­tent, tak­ing the set in just 30 min­utes. There was a big cheer at the start of the sec­ond set when Del Potro man­aged to win a game on his serve.

But when in the third game he rushed to the net and couldn’t man­age to just tap the ball over, his look showed he maybe knew this wasn’t go­ing to be his day.

The third set pro­gressed with­out any breaks of serve.

But at 5-5 and 15-15 Del Potro served his first dou­ble fault of the match, then put a back­hand slice into the net.

He saved the first break point with an ace, but in the sec­ond Bautista Agut pushed him back and the Ar­gen­tinian couldn’t dig out a low ball to his back­hand.

Del Potro put up a huge fight in the next game with Bautista Agut serv­ing for the ti­tle. He got a break point, but it was saved with an ace.

Bautista then hit a screamer down the line for a cham­pi­onship point and only needed one of them as Del Potro went long with a fore­hand.

GETTY IM­AGES

Roberto Bautista Agut with his ASB Clas­sic tro­phy af­ter he beat Juan Martin Del Potro, left, 6-1 4-6 7-5 in the fi­nal on Satur­day.

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