Roberto Bautista Agut outclasses Lucas Pouille in Dubai to claim first ATP 500 title

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Roberto Bautista Agut became the first Spaniard in 12 years to capture the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title thanks to a straight-sets victory over Lucas Pouille in the final on Saturday.

The No. 3 seed claimed his first ATP 500 crown and an eighth title overall with a convincing 6-3, 6-4 win against Pouille, denying the Frenchman the chance to clinch a maiden berth in the world’s top-10.

The last Spanish player to win in Dubai was Rafael Nadal in 2006.

A fatigued-looking Pouille, who was one win away from entering that elite ranking bracket after reaching three finals in four weeks, was no match for the ever-solid Bautista Agut across the 81-minute encounter.

“This tournament is very special, it’s going to be in my head for the rest of my life. I’m so happy I won a 500 event. I beat Lucas, he’s a really good player, he has a great future ahead and he’s been playing unbelievable tennis this month,” said Bautista Agut on court following his victory.

Both players entered the contest seeking a second trophy of the season with Bautista Agut looking to add to his Auckland success in January and Pouille bidding for a trophy to go with his triumph in Montpellier last month.

But while Pouille had momentum on his side, having won 11 of his previous 13 matches, Bautista Agut came to Dubai carrying a three-match losing streak before turning things around in the Emirates.

“I was struggling a little bit before coming here. I had fever one week. I couldn’t come to Montpellier. I had a wildcard in Marseille. I was starting to play better. I lost in the first round. Was a tough moment for me because I was feeling good on the court. I was working well. I was doing everything right, and sometimes the results don’t come. You just have to stay there,” explained Bautista Agut, who will rise to No. 16 in the world on Monday, three positions off his career-high ranking.

Heading into the final, Pouille had fired a tournament-leading 44 aces and the Frenchman brought more of the same early on as he struck two in his opening service game.

But Bautista Agut also had a strong start, winning 8/8 points on his own serve on his way to 2-1 lead.

An error-strewn fourth game saw Pouille save three break points before double-faulting to fall behind 1-3.

It was the Spaniard’s turn to stave off a break point in game five and he did it with style, out-rallying Pouille before unleashing a down-the-line backhand winner.

Pouille avoided going down a double-break and held for 2-4 but Bautista Agut maintained his advantage and secured the opening set with a service winner to place on hand on the dhow boat trophy.

The No. 2 seed found some energy reserves in the second set and almost broke in the fourth game when a Bautista Agut shot was called out. But the Spaniard challenged the call and his ball had just clipped the line. It got Bautista Agut out of trouble for a brief moment but he sent another backhand long giving Pouille his first break of the match for 3-1.

The Dubai-resident’s lead did not last though as Bautista Agut ‘vamosed’ his way to a break-back and soon drew level at 3-all.

The 29-year-old produced a sensational backhand passing shot to get his hands on triple-break point and he converted on a netted forehand from Pouille to put himself in the position to serve for the title.

Bautista Agut got his first match point with a stellar point, sending Pouille left and right along the baseline before finding the winner. And he wrapped up the win moments later, picking up the biggest title of his career so far.

“I was a bit nervous to close the match but I’ve been working a lot this month and I think I was prepared to manage all the emotions and I did very well in the last game,” said Bautista Agut on court after the win.

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Rafael Nadal pulls out of Miami and Indian Wells due to leg injury

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Rafael Nadal is dealing with a leg injury.

World number two Rafael Nadal announced his withdrawal from this month’s ATP Masters events in Miami and Indian Wells on Friday, citing a leg injury that forced him to pull out the Mexican Open.

Nadal said in a statement on Facebook the injury, which flared in Acapulco this week, was in the same area as the hip problem that led to his exit from the Australian Open in January.

“I won’t be able to play in Miami or Indian Wells as I need to recover,” Nadal said.

“It was very painful to retire from Acapulco and it’s very hard as well to not play in the USA. I will miss you and I will do everything that’s possible to be back there in 2019.”

The 31-year-old 16-time Grand Slam winner had been left distraught on Tuesday after suddenly pulling out of Acapulco just hours before his opening match.

It marked the sixth tournament in a row that Nadal has pulled out of or retired from – Basel, Paris, the London ATP Tour Finals, Brisbane, Australian Open and Acapulco.

Nadal’s withdrawal was greeted with dismay by Indian Wells tournament director Tommy Haas.

“We are disappointed that Rafa will not be able to compete for the third title at this year’s BNP Paribas Open,” Haas said. “We wish him all the best for a speedy recovery.”

Nadal, who turns 32 in June, ended 2017 as the oldest year-end world number one in the 45-year history of the ATP rankings.

However, he lost the top ranking to old rival Roger Federer last month.

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Malek Jaziri 'proud' of his historic week in Dubai despite loss to Roberto Bautista Agut

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Malek Jaziri walks away from a career-best run to the Dubai semi-finals with lots of positives and lessons learned, the Tunisian said on Friday following his straight-sets defeat to Roberto Bautista Agut.

The 117th-ranked wildcard drew in huge crowds all week and briefly had a chance when he led 4-1 in the second set last night but eventually folded in two sets to the third-seeded Bautista Agut.

His reward is not just a $139,510 cheque but a return to the top-100 with his projected ranking expected to be around 84 when the new standings are released on Monday.

Jaziri, who is the first Arab to reach the semis in Dubai since Morocco’s Younes El Aynaoui in 2002, upset top-seeded world No. 4 Grigor Dimitrov in the opening round and backed it up with two more wins over Robin Haase and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Hampered by back pain, he didn’t have enough to pull off another upset but he’s proud of his week nonetheless.

“I’m proud I won lot of matches. Tunisians, lot of people, I make them happy. I can see in the face. For me, as well, I took a lot of confidence from this week mentally and tennistically as well,” said the 34-year-old Jaziri.

“I gave energy to my team, as well, to work harder for the season, to put good objective to make great season, as well.”

They will certainly need that energy as Jaziri transitions quickly from the highs of playing a semi-final at an ATP 500 event to the reality check of competing on the Challenger tour, which is where he’ll be next week.

“It’s not easy. You have no choice. I didn’t expect to play here like this. I was playing every day, fighting every day. Was tough beginning of the year,” he explains.

“I decide to play some challengers, to play more matches, to create more confidence, to feel good in the court. I didn’t play a lot of matches, so I didn’t win a lot of matches the beginning of the year. I need more matches. I decide with my team to play more points.

“We’ll go to China. We’ll go fight.”

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