Bautista Agut Credits ‘Mental Strength’ for Dubai Win

Published March 4th, 2018 - 06:14 GMT
Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut reacts during his 2018 ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships final match against Lucas Pouille of France (unseen) on March 3, 2018.
Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut reacts during his 2018 ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships final match against Lucas Pouille of France (unseen) on March 3, 2018. KARIM SAHIB / AFP

If there was one factor which made the difference between the men’s singles finalists in Dubai on Saturday, then it’s got be Roberto Bautista Agut’s “mental strength” that helped him sail past a higher-ranked Lucas Pouille.

Bautista Agut became only the fourth Spaniard to win the singles title with a straight-forward 6-3, 6-4 win over the heavily-favoured Pouille at the Dubai Duty Free Men’s Open late on Saturday.

Asked to put a finger on what the difference between the two was, he said: “I was all over the court and I had all control of the game. I played very good tennis tonight. I think it was tough to get the break in the second set because I had break points in the first game, the second game on his serve and I couldn’t make them. Then he took the break. But I was mentally strong. I could come back playing very good tennis.”

Alex Corretja set the ball rolling for Spanish champions in Dubai when he won exactly 20 years back in 1998. Three years later, former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero became the second champion from Spain [2001], while the last one from Spain was the distinguished Rafael Nadal who made his Dubai debut as a 19-year-old to stop seven-time champion Roger Federer in three sets in an epic final in 2006.

The tournament thereafter witnessed a total dominance from Novak Djokovic and Federer — Andy Roddick’s intrusion in 2008 being the lone exception — with the two of them alternating the trophy a record eight times in nine years between 2007 and 2015.

“Well, it means a lot to win this trophy and join them [all past winners including Nadal, Ferrero and Corretja]. I think the last winners are the best tennis players in the era. That makes me so happy,” he said.

The Spaniard, who will turn 30 next month, will surely rise when fresh rankings are announced on Monday. The Spaniard’s 500 points earned will see him make his way up from his current No. 23 to at least No. 15 as the third best Spaniard behind Nadal (No. 2) and Pablo Carreno Busta (No. 14) when the new list is released on Monday.

However, Bautista Agut — who won his first title for the season at the ATP Auckland Open — a week before the Australian Open was firm on the hard work he has been putting in each day to be where he is. “I’m working a lot. I’m doing the right things and trying to be a better player every day,” he added.

“There is no better way to get a good preparation for Indian Wells and Miami than playing tough matches with a lot of difficulties, like here in Dubai. I now have time to get fit to play good tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami. I certainly hope something better is coming up,” Bautista Agut smiled.

Pouille can smile back on returns

Lucas Pouille, who lost the men’s final in Dubai on Saturday, has a few things to stay positive and smile about before heading deep into the hard court season in North America.

First up from March 8 is the BNP Paribas Open till March 18 in Indian Wells, California followed by the Miami Open in Florida from March 21 to April 1. The 24-year-old Pouille, who came to Dubai after ending runner-up to Karen Khachanov in Marseille last Sunday, felt he is ticking the right boxes in his quest to be among the best tennis players in the world.

He’s certain he’s on the right path after breaking into the top-10 for the first time ever when the fresh rankings are announced by the ATP today [Monday]. “Getting to another final is not a bad thing. It would have been better with a victory, so that’s why it’s not fantastic. It was a good week with many positive things, actually a lot of positive things,” Pouille told the post-match conference late on Saturday.

“We will see how it goes for the few coming weeks. Anyway, I’m very happy with the way I played, with the way I managed the transition between Marseille and here because it was really close. I don’t know, I didn’t really know how to deal with it. But I’m very happy with the way I did. Now I need to look forward,” he added.

This was the third final of the season for the 24-year-old. He had won in Montpellier at the beginning of February and then set up a finale against Khachanov in Marseille last weekend. Going into three finals, while alternating between indoor and outdoor surfaces, did take a toll on Pouille. But he took all that in his stride – although with a bit of self-rebuke - as he bared his ambitions for the remainder of the season.

“Forgiven, I don’t know. I’ll be forgiven by whom? I mean, I know I tried and I tried very hard until the end. But he [Bautista Agut] was just better than me today. Now I need some rest, need to travel to the United States. It’s a long travel, long jetlag with 12 hours. I really need to try to be ready for Indian Wells,” he said.

By Alaric Gomes

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