Bautista Agut topples Rublev as Djokovic advances

3 January 2023, by Dan Imhoff

Roberto Bautista-Agut does not take it personally that his son prefers to nap rather than watch his dad bundle out the Adelaide International’s fifth seed Andrey Rublev.

In a tricky first round at The Drive on Tuesday night, the 34-year-old surged back against an increasingly frustrated Rublev for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 triumph, his fourth from the pair’s eight encounters.

While the near two-hour affair under lights was always a stretch for his two-year-old son Roberto to see through, he at least awoke in time to witness its completion alongside mum, Ana, courtside.

“For me it’s been very important to travel with them,” Bautista Agut said. “They are doing it just for the family, for us to feel good.

“For me, it’s not easy now to leave home without them so we are really enjoying the tour, travelling together.”

Trailing a set and 1-3, the world No.21 turned the match on its head against the increasingly despondent 2020 champion.

Rublev’s seventh double fault surrendered the crucial break in the third set and the Spaniard never looked back for his 19th win against a top 10 opponent.

Sebastian Korda later became his second-round opponent after the American accounted for Andy Murray 7-6(3), 6-3, while seventh seed Denis Shapovalov withstood a spirited fight from Australian qualifier Rinky Hijikata, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.

“I’m really happy the way I played today. I think Andrey is a very good opponent and he’s really tough to beat in these conditions on this court,” Bautista Agut said. “I had to do very well. I played very aggressive. I didn’t want to give up until the last moment.”

It left sixth seed Jannik Sinner as the sole surviving seed in the bottom half of the men’s draw after the Italian eased past Briton Kyle Edmund 6-3, 6-2.

Constant Lestienne’s monumental task was laid out in no uncertain terms given the man warming up across from him, Novak Djokovic, had not lost a singles match in Australia since 2018.

On Tuesday, the Frenchman was reminded how difficult that summit was to conquer when he became the Serbian’s 30th straight victim on Australian soil in the opening round of the Adelaide International.

The win kept a potential Djokovic versus Daniil Medvedev semifinal on track after the third seed earlier advanced when Lorenzo Sonego retired with a right arm injury at 7-6(6), 2-1 (ret).

While Djokovic and Lestienne were evenly matched through the first five games, once the top seed broke the floodgates opened for a 6-3, 6-2 victory, much to the delight of a packed centre court at The Drive.

“For the first match I can’t complain, I played very well,” Djokovic said. “I thought the first probably six games were very competitive.

“I’ve never faced him before today’s match. He’s a counter-puncher. He doesn’t make too many mistakes and he kind of absorbs the pace from his opponent, kind of tricky serve, hits his spots but once I made that break at 3-2 first set I felt like I stepped it up one or two levels and played really good tennis the rest of the match.”

Not since the Australian Open fourth round five years ago had the former world No.1 lost a singles match Down Under.

That came against Hyeon Chung and while world No.65 Lestienne was ranked only seven places below the South Korean at the time of that boilover, this always presented a tough opening ask for a 30-year-old whose best had come at Challenger level.

Djokovic faces another Frenchman Quentin Halys for a return to the quarterfinals at the event he won back in 2007. Halys downed Australian wild card Jordan Thompson 6-3, 6-4.

The top seed’s win was made all the more special as one of his first coaches on tour, Dejan Petrovic, was watching from the stands.

“It was a nice moment also to see my ex-coach, tennis coach. Dejan Petrovic is Serbian but born in Adelaide,” he said.

“He was with me at the time, and Marian Vajda, as well, so kind of brought back nice memories.

“To see the packed house for my first match was definitely a very pleasant surprise, and lots of support, lots of love. That obviously motivated me and allowed me to express myself in the best possible way on the court with my game.

“I thought I played very solid, competitive start. I think for six games, we were kind of close. He had also break point.

“I managed to play solid in important moments and got rewarded with the break, and after that I didn’t look back. I played really well in the second set.”

Earlier, Medvedev produced an almighty escape, saving nine set points against Lorenzo Sonego before the Italian retired hurt.

In his first singles clash on Australian soil since last year’s agonising five-set defeat to Rafael Nadal in the final at Melbourne Park, the third seed was clutch under pressure to deny the world No.45 the early advantage.

“Yeah I didn’t know it was nine [set points],” Medvedev said after the 7-6(6), 2-1 (ret) victory. “That’s actually crazy. Probably maybe the first time in my life I’ve saved nine set points.

“What a match to start the year. Unfortunate for everybody that it finished early in a way even if we played one hour and 40 minutes but happy to be through.”

Sonego, a champion in Metz last year, had never faced the former world No.1 but dictated for much of the opening set, frequently forging his way to net to keep his 26-year-old opponent on the back foot.

The Italian held six set points on his opponent’s serve at 5-4 but time and again Medvedev came up with the big serves when he needed them.

Again Sonego had his chances two games later when three more set points went begging from 0-40 on his opponent’s serve, but the seeds of doubt were now planted and after 80 minutes Medvedev finally turned the tide in his favour to snatch the first set in a tiebreak.

“I mean to be honest 0-40 was a tough moment. I didn’t count but I knew I saved a lot of set points,” Medvedev said. “But if I’m not mistaken we didn’t have a lot of rallies to play. A lot of them were from my good serves or him missing a couple of returns, so I’m like ‘OK I saved this great game, now I have to bring the momentum to my side and now I’m 0-40 in the next one’.

“That’s not so good in terms of tennis but I knew I had no other choice but to try to come back in this game also and I’m really happy that I managed to stay strong and bring the set to my favour.”

Trailing 1-2 in the second set, Sonego called for treatment on his right arm before calling time on the match.

Medvedev will next meet Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic for a place in the quarterfinals.