Roberto Bautista Agut, one of the more anonymous of the top Spaniards on tour has sensationally knocked out the defending champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia 6-4 ,6-4 on Saturday, to advance to his maiden Masters 1000 series final. He will now face the second seeded Andy Murray who will be attempting to win his third title in Shanghai. The Scotsman advanced with a 6-4, 6-3 win over the 2014 finalist Giles Simon of France and will be looking to capture his 13th Masters series title.
The 28 year old Bautista Agut was 0-5 against the top seeded Djokovic, who was attempting to reach his 10th final of the year, having captured the Australian and French Open, Masters titles in Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid and Toronto, apart from the Doha title he won to start the year. The 15th ranked Spaniard converted on his only break point chance in the tenth game of the first set.
The Serb paid dearly for the two break point chances he failed to convert in the previous game. In the second set there were five breaks of serves and it looked like the world number one would bounce back after he saved three match points in the ninth game with Agut serving for the match. However he was not to be denied as he matched Djokovic shot for shot. With a win on Sunday, the Spaniard would jump to 10th position in the race to London and could stand a chance of being a replacement if few of the top eight players withdraw from the season finale as hinted by them.
The winner of two titles in Auckland and Sofia this year, Agut will be bidding to become the first Spaniard to win the title in Shanghai in the tournament’s eight year history. Rafael Nadal was runner up in the inaugural year in 2009 (lost to Davydenko) and then David Ferrer lost in the 2011 final to Andy Murray who also took the title in 2010 (beat Federer).
It will be the third meeting between the two, Murray prevailed in straight sets in the round of 32 at Wimbledon 2014, and then in Munich 2015 semi finals also in straight sets enroute to winning his maiden title on clay. Bautista Agut is also bidding to become the first player outside the top 10 to beat both the world number one and two in the same tournament, since Argentine David Nalbandian who beat Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the 2007 ATP Masters 1000 in Paris.
Murray comes into the final with a nine match and 18 sets winning streak after capturing his 40th career title in Beijing last Sunday. He is also appearing in his career best 10th final of the year, having won his maiden Rome title, a record fifth Queen’s title, second Wimbledon, second Gold medal at the Olympics and the China Open on Sunday. He will be looking for his 41st career title.
More vitally, he can close the gap to only 915 points in the race to London with Novak Djokovic. Even if Murray wins in Shanghai, Vienna and Paris, Djokovic would hold a 15 point lead if he reaches the final in Paris and the year end number one ranking would be settled at the O2 arena in London when the top eight players contest the ATP Final (November 13-20).
In the second semi final on Saturday, the stylish Frenchman Simon who had upset the U.S. Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland on Thursday, broke Murray three times in the opening set, including once when Murray was serving for the set at 5-3. But Murray would break in the next game for the fourth time in the set to clinch the opener 6-4 on his first set point.
Murray looked to be cruising in the second set, serving for the match at 5-1 in the second set with two service breaks. Simon would not surrender tamely and got one break back. Murray was not to be denied serving for the match for the second time at 5-3. He improves his career head to head 15-2 against the Frenchman and is now 20th on the list of matches on the tour. He surpasses the Australian Lleyton Hewitt after registering his 617th win.
Just for the record Murray is 64-9 in 2016, while Bautista Agut is 48-19 for the year. The final should be a closely contested affair and if Bautista Agut can stay level with Murray in the earlier stages of the match then it can put a lot of pressure on the two time champion. The Dunblane native should prevail in two tightly contested sets, perhaps he may see his 18 set winning streak end, but will be heavily favoured to extend his match winning streak to ten.
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: email@example.com]