Roberto Bautista Agut not taking Borna Coric lightly ahead of ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships meeting

Spaniard ready for next challenger after being made to work hard in difficult match with Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 28:  Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain plays a forehand during his match against Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France on day three of the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships at the Dubai Duty Free Stadium on February 28, 2018 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)

Roberto Bautista Agut came into the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships hoping the relatively open draw would equate to an improvement on past performances.

So the world No 23 seeded third this week was intent on bettering his best at the Aviation Club. That constituted a fairly decent run to the quarter-finals two years ago.

Now making his sixth consecutive appearance, Bautista Agut was considered one of the pre-event favourites, alongside Grigor Dimitrov and Lucas Pouille - the only two guys sitting higher in the standings.

Then Dimitrov, the world No 4 and thus the field's single top-10 ranked player, suffered a shock first-round loss to wild card Malek Jazira. Unexpectedly, he exited the tournament. Meanwhile, Pouille and Bautista Agut have sustained and as such remain on course for a face-off in the final.

Bautista Agut was the first one out on Wednesday, where he was made to work hard in a difficult early match with Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Opening on Centre Court, he triumphed finally 6-4, 6-7, 6-1. He raced into the lead but was reeled back in. In the end, he concluded the tussle in two hours and 22 minutes.

Bautista Agut has little let-up, though. The Spaniard's reward represents a quarter-final clash with Borna Coric, when he knows victory will at last improve that Dubai record. Bautista Agut has met the 21-year-old Croat four times before, registering three wins to one defeat.

Only thing is, Coric is rated as one of the game’s bright young things. His talent is obvious. In 2015, he upset Andy Murray to reach the last four in Dubai.

On Tuesday, he saw off the experienced Richard Gasquet in straight sets before easing through Wednesday’s second-round match against France’s Benoit Paire 6-1, 6-4.  It is why Bautista Agut is not taking him lightly.

“He's playing well,” he said. “He's a very good player. I will have to play my best tennis to beat him. I know we played many times, three or four times against each other. Well, it's going to be the first one this year.”

At least he will go into it in good form. Granted, Bautista Agut followed last month’s win in Auckland - his seventh ATP Tour title - with three defeats from three matches, but he is two for two in Dubai.


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Borna Coric of Croatia reacts after he got a point against Richard Gasquet of France during the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Wednesday’s test should stand him in good stead, too.

“I had to fight so hard,” Bautista Agut said. “It was tough to feel good on the court today. We had a lot of wind. It was not easy to play. I try to play every point, but the feelings were tough. Today it was not easy to play brilliant, but I tried to play solid, tried to play long points against him. Well, I tried my best.”

On the other side of the draw, Pouille bested Russian Karen Khachanov on Centre Court, winning 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. In the process, he gained a modicum of revenge. The pair had duked it out in Sunday’s title match in Marseille, with Khachanov taking the crown in a thrilling three-setter.

Putting that right almost immediately would have felt particularly pleasing to Pouille.

"I knew it would be a tough one," said the No 2 seed, who takes on Japan's Yuichi Sugita on Thursday for a spot in the semis. "In the final in Marseille, he won just three points more than me. I knew it was very close. I had to play some good tennis.
"We were both a little bit tired. I'm just very happy that I get my revenge today."