The big-serving South African edged to victory in two tight sets, 7-6 (6), 6-4, to book his place in Saturday’s showpiece at the Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi.
Bautista Agut had a free pass through to the final following Novak Djokovic’s injury withdrawal, but faced three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray in a one-set exhibition contest in Friday’s evening match.
The Spaniard took full advantage of a rusty Murray, winning 6-2, with the Scot still on his way back to full fitness following a troublesome right hip problem.
For 2017 US Open finalist Anderson, the prospect of facing Bautista Agut is an interesting one, given that the only time the two players previously met was in 2013, with the latter winning their first-round clash in Valencia 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3.
“We haven’t played each other in quite a few years so it will be interesting to step on the court against him – a lot has changed since that match a few years ago,” the 6ft 6in star told Sport360°.
“I think we’re both excited to be playing the finals here and Abu Dhabi’s a great spot in which to start the year. I think it’s going to be a good match.”
And, on the evidence of Friday evening, Anderson heads into the finale as favourite given the way he dismissed world No.5 Thiem, a man ranked nine spots higher than him.
“It was a serve-dominated match. Dom’s got a great serve — he can hit it really firm and hard,” added Anderson, who had won all his previous six competitive meetings with the Austrian.
“Midway through both the first and second sets I really felt like I found some good rhythm on his serve – I’m really pleased with that. It was good to get the early break and I served really well throughout the match.
“There wasn’t really a whole lot in it, especially in that first-set tiebreak, we were both hitting some really good serves. He hit a double in the end and that determined the first set, and then I got ahead in the second.”
Following his exhibition win against Murray, Bautista Agut weighed up the prospect of facing the in-form 31-year-old.
He said: “I’m happy with how I played the set against Andy, and on Thursday too (win over Andrey Rublev).
“I’m feeling great on the court. I feel as though I’m playing good tennis and I’m happy to be in the final in Abu Dhabi for the first time. I hope I can play well against Kevin.”
Andy Murray admits there’s still room for improvement following his 6-2 loss in an exhibition set against Roberto Bautista Agut in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
The former world No. 1, now down to 16 in the rankings following a six-month hiatus due to hip injury, agreed to play an exhibition set against Bautista Agut after Novak Djokovic was forced to withdraw from the Mubadala World Tennis Championship (MWTC) in Abu Dhabi citing pain in his elbow.
Murray looked far from his best, particularly his movement, which has always been one of his greatest assets. His fighting spirit was ever present though as he staved off one break point after the other before finally surrendering.
“I felt better as it went along – obviously a bit slow at the start. Roberto is one of the best players in the world and when you haven’t competed for a long while it takes time to get back up to that pace,” Murray said in his brief on-court interview.
“I started to feel a bit better towards the end, but I’ll need to keep improving for sure.
“It was nice, obviously I was planning on stopping here for a few days to get some practice in with the guys here, and then it was unfortunate that Novak wasn’t able to play. I was here so I agreed to play a set and was very lucky to be able to play out here in front of everyone.”
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Murray was a surprise appearance in Abu Dhabi as he flew to the capital on Thursday morning to practice on the courts of Zayed Sports City before he flies to Brisbane where he is due to kick-off his 2018 season.
He hit the practice courts with his coach Jamie Delgado on Thursday and Friday before taking on Bautista Agut in the evening.
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“It’s always difficult to stay out from the circuit a lot of time and then come back and feel okay in five minutes, no? It takes a while. I think he needs to spend more time on the court to get better feelings, like everybody,” said Bautista Agut of Murray’s form.
Mubadala World Tennis Championship stars Kevin Anderson and Dominic Thiem have reacted to the news that forced 12-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic to withdraw from the season-opener in Abu Dhabi, before even taking to court.
The Serbian great, who last played at Wimbledon back in July, was forced to make the call on his fitness over his troublesome elbow injury, which meant he was unable to take to the court on Friday and face Roberto Bautista Agut in the semi-finals of the event.
And with Doha and the Australian Open on the horizon for the former World No.1, this latest setback has cast doubts over his long-term fitness.
Speaking after his straight-sets victory over Dominic Thiem to reach Saturday’s final in the UAE capital, South African Anderson said: “If you’re not really feeling healthy, as tough as it is, it’s probably better not to play. Obviously, especially someone like Novak – with his expectations and what he’s achieved in the sport.
“He’s looking at going into Australia, if he doesn’t feel like he can win it, then he’s probably not just wanting to be going out there just to play.”
“It’s tough, it’s his own-doing for playing so well in the past and for being such a good tennis player to have high expectations but I’m sure it’s very frustrating. I don’t know first-hand of where he’s at or what’s going on but I obviously wish him a speedy recovery.”
Following his loss to Anderson, Austrian star Thiem also commented on Djokovic, saying: “He was not a human, he was a machine, almost unbeatable (for that period), it’s normal that you can’t be like that forever, even for Novak. But, for him, I’m pretty sure that he’ll come back stronger and I think everybody hopes it’s not serious.”