An eighth ATP Tour title brought with it a first ATP 500 success.
In all fairness, it had not been that long since Roberto Bautista Agut’s seventh tournament victory. The Spaniard, ranked 23rd in the world but soon to sit higher, won in Auckland in the second week of January.
Yet his triumph at the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Saturday felt all the more satisfying. In outlasting No 2 seed Lucas Pouille 6-3, 6-4 at the Aviation Club, No 3 seed Bautista Agut finally prevailed in a higher-ranked event.
He won 500 points. He also pocketed a cool US$565,530 (just over Dh2 million), and presumably took home a sizeable dhow-boat trophy. Not a bad week, all in.
“Well, it's very special, no?” Bautista Agut said. “I have been following a 500 event during all my career. Of course, it’s my best win.”
Even better, Bautista Agut added his name to a rather impressive roll on honour in Dubai. Among others, it includes Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. He became the first Spaniard to hoist aloft the trophy since 2006. The guy he emulated? Rafael Nadal.
“That means a lot, to win this trophy,” Bautista Agut said. “The last winners are the best tennis players in the era. That makes me so happy.”
And so it should. The path to victory was paved through breaks in the fourth game of the first set - Pouille double-faulted at the most crucial moment - and then through a display of serious mettle in the second.
This time, Pouille had broken in the fourth game, but Bautista Agut hit straight back. Then he broke again to go 5-4 up, before serving for the match at the first attempt.
“It was tough to get the break in the second because I had break points in the first game, break points in the second game on his serve. I couldn't make them,” said Bautista Agut, who moves to 3-1 in the head-to-head against Pouille. “Then he took the break. But I was mentally strong. I could come back playing very good tennis.”
Bringing the final to a close in one hour and 21 minutes, Bautista Agut turned to his team and roared “Vamos!” By the time he met the press, he had regained his composure somewhat. The smile remained wide, though. Little wonder, after coming through four tough tests in the week. Roll on the American hardcourts.
“There is no better way to get good preparation for Indian Wells and Miami than playing tough matches with a lot of difficulties, like here in Dubai,” he said. “I have time to get fit to play a good tournaments in both those events.”
Frenchman Pouille has played a lot of good tournaments already this season. In fact, he was contesting a third final in four weeks, and had come into Dubai on the back of defeat in Sunday’s showpiece in Marseille. In missing out on another win, the world No 15 missed out on the chance to break into the top 10 for the first time in his career.
To his credit, he did not seek excuses.
“I tried. I tried very hard until the end,” Pouille said. “He was just better than me today. 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.”