By John Delong, Winston-Salem Open
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Pablo Carreno Busta’s time has finally come.
The 25-year-old Spaniard claimed his first career ATP World Tour title Saturday afternoon at the sixth annual Winston-Salem Open, as he fought back to beat second-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut 6-7 (6), 7-6 (1), 6-4 in an all-Spain final on Stadium Court.
Carreno Busta let two set points slip away in the first set and was a break down in the second set, but he roared back and handily won a second-set tie-break. Then he was clearly the fresher and stronger player in the third set, getting the only break he needed to go up 3-2.
“This is amazing,” Carreno Busta said. “This is my first ATP (title) and it’s an amazing feeling. I worked very hard to be here and now I have to enjoy this moment and continue on. It was a very tough match. When you play against Roberto you have to fight because he’s a really tough player. So I’m very happy to win.”
Carreno Busta dedicated the victory to his family, who encouraged him to move from his hometown of Gijon, Spain, at age 15 in order to train in Barcelona.
“This is so emotional because to me, my family is really important,” Carreno Busta said. “I love my family. I suppose everyone loves their family, but you know, I worked too hard. When I was 15 I left from my home city and moved to Barcelona, and you always think about your family and these moments, when your family are really happy for you and I am really happy for them.”
Carreno Busta came into the tournament ranked No. 49 as the tournament’s No. 16 seed.
He had beat Jan-Lennard Struff in the second round, upset third-seeded Pablo Cuevas in the third round, beat 12th-seeded Andrey Kutznetsov in the quarterfinals and John Millman in the semifinals. He came into the final without losing a set the entire tournament.
That changed when he allowed two set points to slip away at 6-4 in the first-set tie-break, as Bautista Agut won the final four points to claim the set.
Carreno Busta then had to come back from a break down in the second set, but he was dominant by winning seven straight points in the tie-break. In the third, he got the only break he needed to go up 3-2, and then it was a matter of holding serve three times from there.
He had a hard time recollecting the events of the final set because he said he was so nervous with a title on the line. He had been just 4-7 this year previously in decisive sets.
“If I tell you the truth, I don’t even remember the third set because I was really nervous,” Carreno Busta said. “When I lost the first set I was thinking I should have won, because I had 6-4 in the tie-break. It was a really tough moment to lose the set with two set points. Then, he break me in the second set and it was really important to break back in the next game. It was really important for me to continue to focus on the match and play hard, because if you play Roberto and you don’t play hard, you are going to lose.”
Carreno Busta will likely move into the Top 40 when the new ATP World Tour rankings are announced on Monday. He’s having the best year of his career, with trips to the finals at Estoril and Sao Paulo earlier the year. He had reached the semis in Los Cabos two weeks ago.
“This final was three sets, so I win but I could have lost it,” Carreno Busta said. “The thing is that my level is really good right now. Of course it’s important to win the final, it’s amazing to win a final, but, you know, I’m happy because my level is going up. I’m playing the top players tough matches. That is important to me.”
Bautista Agut was looking for his third title of the season and the fifth of his career, coming into the tournament ranked No. 17. He had been a wildcard entry, deciding at the last minute to enter the tournament after losing in the first round in Cincinnati last week.
He had a tougher path to the final than Carreno Busta, as he played three three-setters along the way. He rallied to beat Aljaz Bedene in the second round, 14th-seeded Marcos Baghdatis in the third round and endured a bizarre three-setter against ninth-seeded Viktor Troicki in the semifinals. His only easy victory all week came over Yen-Hsun Lu in the quarterfinals.
“Yes, maybe I was a bit tired at the end of the match,” Bautista Agut said. “But it’s normal. You play here, this is a big draw and you have to play a lot every week. I played five matches and that’s a lot of time on the court, but that was the thing I wanted. So I’m happy now that I came here.”
Bautista Agut was making no excuses, though.
“I had many chances to get closer to win today, but I didn’t play well when I was a set and a break up,” he said. “Tennis is like this. If you have the chance, if you don’t get it, then you lose.”
In the first match, the team of Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Henri Kontinen pulled off a spectacular comeback to win the doubles title with a 4-6, 7-6 (6), 10-8 victory over Leander Paes and Andre Begeman. They fought off six championship points in the second-set tie-break, rallying from a 6-1 deficit, then dominated the third-set tie-break.
“For me it wasn’t only 6-1, the whole second set we were hanging on with both hands,” Kontinen said. “So many times we were so close to going two breaks down. But somehow we clutched up and found big serves on big points. Then we thought, ‘Now the breaker is ours,’ but it was oops, 1-6 and we had to climb back in. There is a lot of luck involved in a comeback like that. It’s not all in our hands. But we kept believing and somehow found a way.”
This was Kontinen’s 10th career ATP World Tour doubles title and his four of this year. He had teamed with John Peers to win in Hamburg, Munich and Brisbane earlier this year. It was Garcia-Lopez’s third career doubles crown.
The two were playing together for the first time this week because Peers wanted the week off before the US Open and Garcia-Lopez’s normal doubles partner is Carreno Busta.
“I personally decided to play last-minute,” Kontinen said. “I wanted to play this week and John wanted to take it off, so I came here and Guillermo was looking, so it just worked out well.”
It was a heartbreaking defeat for Paes, who was looking to win his 56th career doubles title. He would have extended his streak to 20 straight years with at least one doubles title with a victory.