For the fourth straight year, the men's singles final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships lacked the drama of a third set.
You can blame it on a stony-faced assassin named Roberto Bautista Agut. The Spaniard was calm and calculated from the baseline, making the talented shot-maker Lucas Pouille run for the extra shots in each rally until the Frenchman ran out of gas and raised the white flag.
This 6-3, 6-4 defeat in the Dubai finale was a bitter pillow to swallow for Pouille who saw his dreams of breaking into the top 10 of the men's tennis go down in flames.
For the third seeded Bautista Agut, it was a triumphant return to form. After having started the New Year in style with an unexpected victory over Argentine giant Juan Martin del Potro in the Auckland final, the Spaniard had gone through a tough time, losing his opening games at the Australian Open and the Marseille indoor event.
He also lost a Davis Cup match against Cameron Norrie despite having a two-set lead.
So the world number 23 knew he needed to raise his game when he came into the Dubai tournament.
The absence of the biggest names - Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic - did offer players like him the chance to go deep into the tournament.
But few still could have predicted that the 29-year-old baseliner would win his 8th career title in a Dubai tournament that had Grigor Dimitrov, the world number four, as the top seed.
Dimitrov's stunning loss to Tunisian wildcard Malek Jaziri opened up the path, but in Pouille, Bautista Agut had a rival that had the firepower to destroy anyone in a big match. Remarkably, Bautista Agut found his best game in the biggest match of the tournament.
Despite losing his serve in the third game of the second set, he never lost his nerve and broke back in the next game.
Then the Spaniard got the key break in the ninth game before clinching his first Dubai title on his first match point of the night.
"I am very happy with this victory. It means a lot. I was able to keep my emotions under control and play well on the big points," Bautista Agut said in the on-court interview after winning the final.
"I played well this week. I didn't have a great time after winning the Auckland title. So this title will always be very special for me in my career. But at the same time, I want to congratulate Lucas on a great tournament. He is playing great tennis and I wish him the best for the season ahead."
Pouille, a semifinalist in Dubai last year, admitted that Bautista Agut was the better player in the final.
"Roberto was too good for me today. He deserves this victory," the 24-year-old Frenchman said.
"Even if I had some opportunities, especially in the second set where I got the break I couldn't conserve it. "Yeah, I think it was tough match. I was not serving well at all. I think I had very, very low percentage of first serve. That was not good because, you know, few easy points with my serve would have been good with my energy. I think that didn't help me.
"But overall, it was a good week. I had some very positive things. I'm very happy with the way I played, with the way I managed the change between indoors in Marseille and outdoors here because it was really close. Now I need to look forward to the rest of the season," the world number 15 said.
By Rituraj Borkakoty
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