Roberto Bautista-Agut and Alex De Minaur meet for the first time on Saturday as they battle for a spot in the final of the inaugural Zhuhai Open.
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World No. 10, Bautista-Agut is still very much in the running for a maiden appearance at the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals, with the Spaniard currently placed seventh in the Race to London as he chases one of the four remaining spots for the prestigious year-end event. Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Daniil Medvedev are the only players to have qualified for the ATP Finals.
Bautista-Agut opened his season with a superb title run in Doha, where he defeated Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Karen Khachanov, but surprisingly, he has not made a final since then- can he end that drought by taking down Aussie young gun, De Minaur on Saturday?
He might not have made a final since the opening week of the season, but Bautista-Agut has produced another typically rock solid 2019, putting together a 36-16 record for the year. What will disappointment him the most is an inability to convert good weeks into great weeks. He has made just three semi-finals this season, the most notable of which was at Wimbledon, where he reached his maiden major semi-finals, but he has fallen at the quarter final stage eight times this year, including the Australian Open, Miami, Montreal and Cincinnati.
The Spaniard has at least broken that quarter final barrier this week in Zhuhai, beating Pablo Andujar 7-5 7-5, and Andreas Seppi 6-2 6-2 in the last eight.
Next up is a meeting with De Minaur, as he chases a 17th career final, the 14th on hard courts.
Di Minaur has already made two finals this year, in Sydney and Atlanta, winning the title in both tournaments- will the 20-year-old Australian advance to his third final of the season by defeating Bautista-Agut in Zhuhai?
A good start to the year saw him capture his first tour title in Sydney, reach quarter finals in Brisbane and Acapulco, and make the third round of the Australian Open, but his form dipped sharply after that start, as he won just three matches in his next eight tournaments.
The switch to North American hard courts in the second half of the year brought greater dividends, as he won his second career title in Atlanta, reached the third round in Cincinnati, and made the fourth round of the US Open- the first time he’d been to the second week of a Slam- and he has brought that form over to Asia, getting past three really difficult opponents to make the Zhuhai semis.
De Minaur eased past fellow Aussie, John Millman 6-1 6-3 in the first round, but he had to dig a lot deeper in the next couple of rounds, surviving tough three-set battles against Andy Murray and Borna Coric, each match going well over two hours.
“Obviously I’ve got to do everything I can to recover. Every time I step out on court, I’m going to give one hundred percent,” De Minaur said. “Roberto is a very good friend of mine and one of the toughest guys out there, so it’s going to be a hell of a fight and I love it. I’m looking forward to it.”
This will be another hard-fought battle, with plenty of extended, sometimes grueling rallies, as neither man possesses that outstanding weapon to consistently keep the points shot.
Bautista-Agut is the far more experienced of the two, and should be the fresher given that he has had a more serene passage into the semi-finals, relative to De Minaur, who has needed five hours to navigate his last two matches. That could be the decisive factor on Saturday.
Roberto Bautista-Agut vs Alex De Minaur is live from Zhuhai on Saturday, 28 September from 7:00pm local time/ 12:00pm BST