Roberto Bautista Agut is hoping to extend the success story of Spaniards at the Dubai Duty Free Championships. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Roberto Bautista Agut is eagerly looking forward to defending his title at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships next month after enjoying a hugely successful start to the new season.

The 2018 champion might well have been an unfamiliar name to many when he proudly hoisted the Silver Dhow trophy last year. But that was because, while many title winners attract the spotlight, the mild-mannered Spaniard prefers to keep a low profile.

While many players need to shake off the rust at the start of a new season, Bautista Agut hits the ground running year after year.

While some top names suffer early defeats in the first few weeks of the season, he collects titles — often by taking advantage of those top players who lack his sharpness when the new season gets under way.

For the last four years he has returned from his break in championship form, picking up the Auckland title in 2016, Chennai in 2017, Auckland again in 2018 when he overcame Juan Martin del Potro in the final and, most magnificently of all, in Doha last month where he claimed stunning victories over three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka and one of the all-time greats and four-time Dubai champion Novak Djokovic before outlasting Tomas Berdych in a three-set final.

“I had a very good pre-season, I had almost two months at home,” he explained. “It is refreshing for us (his coaches) and also for me after ten months travelling around the world. I think my coaches and me handle it well. I did good preparation. I work really hard at home. The best thing I wish is to feel good physically, mentally. And if this happens, I think I can get closer and get better in the rankings and why not be closer to top ten.”

When he first took up the game he didn’t enjoy it at all, but that is now firmly in the past.

“When I was a junior I was not happy with the life of a tennis player,” he admits. “I was getting frustrated about the results when I was not winning matches. My work now is a lot different from when I was starting to learn the game or when I was starting to play when I was a junior. I would say now I’m more focused on the intensity, on the mental things, on the physical work and tactics. I’m more professional.”

“Players from Spain have enjoyed great success at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships ever since it began, with Alex Corretja, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Rafael Nadal winning the title and Sergi Bruguera. Felix Mantilla, Albert Costa, David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez all reaching the final,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice-Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “Roberto Bautista Agut is clearly a worthy name to put alongside so many of his outstanding compatriots.”

Bautista Agut is proud to have followed in the footsteps of so many of his countrymen, especially as he once idolised 2001 champion Juan Carlos Ferrero and 1998 finalist Felix Mantilla.

“Well, it’s a really good tournament, really special tournament for me in my schedule that means a lot, to win this trophy, no? I think the last winners are the best tennis players in the era. That makes me so happy,” he said.

Tournament Director Salah Tahlak enjoyed seeing Bautista Agut’s run to the title and said, “He played magnificently throughout the week and it was a pleasure to see him claim the biggest title of his career. He has continued to enjoy success elsewhere and his early results this season prove that he will once again be posing a threat to everyone he faces.”

Bautista Agut will face a formidable challenge as he defends his crown, with seven-time champion Roger Federer, Australian Open sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas, Dubai two-time finalist Tomas Berdych, former US Open champion Marin Cilic and Asian number one Kei Nishikori just some who will have an equal appetite for success.

Before the men’s event gets under way on February 25, tennis fans can enjoy the very best that the WTA Tour can offer from February 17-23, including newly crowned Australian Open champion and world No. 1 Naomi Osaka, two-time Wimbledon champion and 2019 Australian Open runner-up Petra Kvitova, Dubai defending champion Elina Svitolina, reigning French Open champion Simona Halep, three-time Grand Slam winner Angelique Kerber, 2018 Australian Open winner Caroline Wozniacki and former French Open champion Garbine Muguruza.

Factbox

WTA Dubai Tennis Championship (Feb 17-23):

Top players
Naomi Osaka (JPN)
Petra Kvitova (CZE)
Elina Svitolina (UKR)
Simona Halep (ROU)
Angelique Kerber (GER)
Caroline Wozniacki (DEN)
Garbine Muguruza (ESP)

ATP Dubai Tennis Championship (Feb 25 — Mar 2):

Top players
Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP)
Roger Federer (SUI)
Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE)
Tomas Berdych (CZE)
Marin Cilic (CRO)
Kei Nishikori (JPN)
Borna Coric (CRO)