Victory for the solid man
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.
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.