By John Delong, Winston-Salem Open
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Roberto Bautista Agut has flown under the radar for the most part at this year’s Winston-Salem Open, despite being the tournament’s No. 2 seed.
That’s the way it’s been most of the 28-year-old Spaniard’s career, as he has often been overshadowed by countrymen such as Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco, Feliciano Lopez and others.
But things are changing, and Bautista Agut is now positioning himself to win his third ATP World Tour title of the year.
He rolled to a convincing 6-3, 6-2 victory over Yen-Hsun Lu in the quarterfinals on Thursday afternoon, booking his spot in Friday’s semifinals against ninth-seeded Viktor Troicki. Troicki beat 15th-seeded Verdasco 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the featured night quarterfinal on Stadium Court.
“I think I controlled all the match,” Bautista Agut said. “I served a bit better than the other days and I didn’t make a lot of mistakes, so I’m happy with the match and it’s good to play one hour and rest for tomorrow.”
Bautista Agut came to the WSO as a late wild card entry, deciding to play after losing in the first round at Cincinnati last week. He had reached the quarterfinals at the Rio Olympics the week before, but had played a relatively light hard court schedule this summer.
He beat Aljaz Bedene in the second round and 14th-seeded Marcos Baghdatis in the third round.
“I was coming here to play some matches and I have already played three good matches and now I have another match and I’ll fight as best I can,” he said.
Bautista Agut has already won twice previously this year - on an indoor hardcourt in Sofia, then on an outdoor hardcourt in Auckland. Ironically, he beat Troicki in the Sofia final. Bautista Agut is currently ranked No. 17, slightly off his career-high of 14. That makes him the third-ranked Spaniard behind Nadal (No. 5) and Ferrer (No. 13).
Bautista Agut said he is pleased to be getting some long-deserved recognition.
“It’s always nice to get respect for the job you are doing,” Bautista Agut said. “It’s great for Spanish tennis that we have a lot of players. We have 13 players in the Top 100. In the last years we have great players like Nadal and Ferrer and number ones like Moya and Ferrero, so it’s great to be part of Spanish tennis and I’m happy to be one of the top players.”
The nightcap was a wild match, particularly in the third set with five breaks of serve in the final six games.
Troicki was broken to fall behind 3-2, then broke back for 3-3. Then he was broken again, but again broke back for 4-4. He held to go up 5-4, then closed the match by breaking Verdasco for the third straight time. The match ended with Verdasco double-faulting, his 11th double-fault of the match.
“I thought the first set and a half I think I had the match under control,” Troicki said. “Then my serve disappeared for a while, he started making his shots and returns. He raised his game, my game fell a little bit. At the start of the third set it was good tennis, but from the middle of the third on it was very weird.
“I don’t know what was going on. When I served he returned everything full power. If it went in he won the point, if he missed I got it. And then on his serves, he lost it a bit, started serving a lot of double faults. He gave me a lot of presents, that’s for sure. It was a crazy match in the end, but I’ll take it. I’m happy to be in the semis.”
Troicki, a 30-year-old Serbian, is currently ranked No. 35. He has been as high as No. 12, and owns three career ATP World Tour titles.
In earlier rounds, Troicki beat Kyle Edmund in the second round and sixth-seeded Sam Querrey in the third round.
“I feel good,” Troicki said. “I’ve played good tennis so far. Today was some ups and downs but also credit to (Verdasco) for playing some good tennis. I’m happy to be in the semis. That’s three good wins for me. So now I’ve got to recover well because I’m playing at 3 o’clock. The important thing is to rest and get ready for tomorrow’s match. He’s definitely a tough opponent, No. 2 seed. He beat me in the final at Sophia. But I know what to expect. So I’ll try to play my best and hopefully it’ll be enough to get to the finals.”
In the doubles draw, Robert Lindstedt and Aisam-Ul-Qureshi advanced by winning 7-6, 6-7, 10-8. They'll take on wild card duo Leander Paes and Andre Begemann on Friday after the first match of the 7 p.m. session.