The Chennai Open 2017 final was contested between seasoned Roberto Bautista Agut and upcoming youngster Daniil Medvedev, and in the end, it was the Spaniard's years of experience that made all the difference.
Second seed Bautista Agut outclassed and outplayed the unseeded Medvedev to lift his fifth ATP title. He won 6-3, 6-4 in one hour and 14 minutes, breaking his opponent's serve once in each set. The 20-year-old Russian, on the other hand, was unable to create any break point opportunities over the course of the match and never really posed a threat to the World No 14.
The early few games of the match gave a clear indication of what Bautisa Agut's strategy was going to be: The Spaniard came to the net at every opening that he saw and forced Medvedev on his weaker backhand as often as possible.
And Bautista Agut soon reaped the benefits of this plan, as he broke serve in the fourth game of the opening set. Medvedev went down three break points, courtesy a double fault sandwiched between two backhands that he dumped into the net. He managed to save two of those but on the third Bautista Agut hustled forward with a deft volley, forcing the Russian into yet another error.
Having secured a 3-1 lead, the second seed breezed through the remaining games of the set. Serving at 5-3, he hit an ace down the tee — his first of the match — to seal the opener 6-3 in just 33 minutes.
In the second set, Medvedev put up a better resistance with better serves and his strong forehand. At 6’6”, the Russian uses his height to great advantage though he can still improve his service. Over the course of the match, Medvedev hit eight aces and won 71 percent of his first serve points.
However, at the crucial 4-4 juncture, the youngster threw in two more double faults to hand Bautista Agut a decisive break point. The Spaniard didn't have to be asked twice as he secured the all-important break with a cross court pass. He served out the perfect game next, holding at love to win the championship match.
After reaching the final way back in 2013, Bautista Agut finally lifted the title on his fifth appearance, with the Chennai Open his fifth ATP trophy. He rose by a place in the rankings to match his career high of 13 on Monday, and goes into the Australian Open on a high.
"I think I played a great tournament. The first match was a little difficult. I played amazing tennis and the quarter-final win after being 6-2, 4-1 down gave me confidence. I played very aggressively. I am happy with the start to the year, to win in the first week," he said in a post-match conference.
While this was a remarkable tournament for the second seed, he was helped by a large extent by early upsets. The highest ranked player that he faced on his way to the title was France's Benoit Paire, ranked just inside the top 50 at 47. In his last-eight match against No 57 Mikhail Youzhny, he was almost shown the door before his Russian opponent ran out of steam to eventually go down. In the final, he was up against the 99-ranked Medvedev (the Next Gen player has now risen to 65 due to his great week), who barely made him sweat and he didn't face a single break point.
"I am a better player now than five years ago, the experience matters a lot," he asserted after his win. But just how much the Spaniard has improved since making his first final in Chennai, remains up for debate. He has a solid baseline game, and hits through the ball quite flatly but lacks a big, flashy weapon in his repertoire.
Despite turning pro in 2005, he only broke into the top 100 in 2012, seven years later. In the juniors, he was ranked as high as 47, but like a lot of other players on the tour, he had a tough transition to the senior tour. He was forced to play futures and challengers in his initial few years, and grind out results in the not-so-glamorous tiers of the sport. He moved into the top-20 in 2014, but couldn't make any inroads against players ranked higher than him.
It was only in 2016 that he broke a 17-match losing streak against top-10 opponents by beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga after saving a break point. He had a brilliant season last year with two titles, a famous win over Novak Djokovic, and his first ATP Masters 1000 final. After such a milestone year, you expect him to target bigger achievements in 2017. Surprisingly, however, the Spaniard has set very modest goals for himself.
When asked if he is targeting the top-10, he gave a very pessimistic reply. "It's going to be difficult, no? One of my goals is to reach the quarter-final of a Grand Slam. I working a lot on that and have been trying to improve my game. It's difficult to break into the top-10. Two years ago, it was tough for me to get a lot of points against the top-10 players. Last year, I played better against them and got to a good level. I have to start winning against them in crucial matches," he said.
It was almost shocking to hear the player underestimate his abilities so much, but one has to wonder if the Spaniard is only being realistic about his chances. At 28, it is likely that Bautista Agut has already reached his peak and this is the best that he can do with his limited talent. While he may be able to spring a surprise once in a while, his consistency on the tour can only take him to this level. Even after joining the ranks of the top-20 players in the world, he had a hard time backing his results the following year, sliding to 25 by the end of 2015. Since then, he has failed to get past the fourth round of a major, and has not lived up to expectations at the highest stage in tennis.
Bautista Agut has enough experience under his belt, and a concrete game based on a mix of skillful net play, sound groundstrokes and great court coverage. But ultimately, he lacks the killer instinct and self belief that make a champion. And no amount of experience in the world can make up for it.