Somehow, Roberto Bautista Agut got to the ball. Still it wasn’t the most inspiring of returns. Daniil Medvedev had slapped a powerful 194 kmph serve down the centre on Bautista’s forehand side. The Spaniard barely reached, lobbing back a ball that fell harmlessly in the centre of court.
Medvedev is a tall six-foot-six specimen. True to his height, he has a dominating serve and a booming forehand. Bautista’s return was one he would have expected to kill off with ease. Instead, he shot it straight back at Bautista.
WATCH VIDEO | Chennai Open 2017 Final: Roberto Bautista Agut vs Daniil Medvedev
The world number 14 has developed a reputation of being expressionless. A win, loss, point gained or dropped will never elicit an emotion. He didn’t seem surprised at Medvedev’s bland shot. But he took advantage of it. A backhand cross-court won him the break of serve. He was now 5-4 up in the second set having won the first. For a change, he’d offer more than just a punch in the air.
“Vamos!” His first real show of emotion in the entire final.
Four swift points later, the roar would get louder, as Bautista picked up his first ever Chennai Open title 6-3, 6-4.
At 28, the Spaniard had notched up his fifth ATP title on tour. A late bloomer, his game has found a dogged consistency that heavily relies on topspin groundstrokes and a kick serve that almost always falls in the 180 kmph range. A recent surge in fitness has boosted his style of play, giving him the ability to force opponents into making mistakes rather than himself needing to kill off points with his groundstrokes.
It’s a style that saw him get the better of Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of the Shanghai Masters last year.
At Chennai, he came across a 20-year-old Russian who is a part of the ATP’s highly anticipated ‘Next Gen’ group of players. And India’s sole ATP tour event has played host to many members of that category. Last year, Borna Coric reached the final. This year it was Medvedev.
His towering serve initially didn’t get much support from the groundstrokes. Medvedev’s backhand, in particular, faltered in the first set, as he kept crashing his shot into the net. And Bautista’s resilience found the break in as early as the fourth game of the first set.
In the second, the world number 99 found a bit of form. The groundstrokes had more meaning and purpose, as he started killing off points with ease. Bautista’s rally-centric play was finally being challenged.
At 1-1 in the second set, Bautista on serve, Medvedev matched his higher-ranked opponent shot for shot in a gripping 30-shot rally that ended in the Russian’s favour. The backhand improved too. Bautista had drawn Medvedev to the net and lobbed a shot to the baseline. On the run, backwards, the youngster swivelled and played a backhand cross-court winner.
But Bautista’s experience made the difference. Medvedev was in his first ever ATP final in his two years on tour, while Bautista turned professional in 2005 – reaching the final here in 2013 as well. There was a calmness in the way he approached the tie. The meticulously consistent, often monotonous, style was sound and what made the difference in the final.
It’s what has helped the late bloomer break from being a player languishing in the lower half of the top 100 ranks, in early 2014, to a skilful frequenter in the top 20.