Roberto Bautista Agut produced the performance of the day on the Centre Court of the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex when he withstood a barrage of aces blistering forehands to defeat the American giant Reilly Opelka in three sets.
I am just happy to be here again in Qatar and more happy because I played a really good match and I beat a really good opponent. I am really happy that I won today, now I want to recover well for the next match Roberto Bautista Agut
On a day when the schedule produced no surprises and the talk was still of Roger Federer’s midweek-return to the Tour, the Spaniard’s battle with the 6’ 11” American powerhouse, the tallest player on the Tour, was an excellent final act on the day’s programme.
The fifth seed and 2019 champion, defeated the 39th world ranked Opelka, 4-6 6-3 6-4 converting only two of 11 break points to secure his opening round victory after two-hours and 4-minutes.
Opelka relied on raw power and for much of the match, Bautista Agut was left stranded as shots were blasted into the corners of the court and unreturnable serves, including 22 aces, kicked and fizzed around him.
The American saved a total of three break points in the fourth and sixth game before breaking serve at 30 to take a 4-3 lead — enough for him to go on and claim the opening set.
The 32-year-old Spaniard won the second set with his first break in the fourth game to draw level and setup an exciting end to the first day.
Opelka saved three break points in the fifth game of that deciding set as Bautista Agut defended his side of the court with vigour, eventually converted his second break point chance in the seventh game to take a 4-3 lead.
He held his nerve and served out for the match in the 10th game after fending off some powerful shots and saving a break point in the process.
“I feel very good on this court. I have a lot of good memories from 2019. I am just happy to be here again in Qatar and more happy because I played a really good match and I beat a really good opponent. I am really happy that I won today, now I want to recover well for the next match”, said Bautista Agut in his on-court interview.
The Spaniard, ranked 13th in the world, reached the Montpellier final just over a week ago and will face Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik in the second round after Kazhak beat Indian qualifier Ramkumar Ramanathan 6-4 6-2 in 73-minutes.
Australian John Millman got off to a good start but lost to Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili 2-6 6-4 6-4 in his first-round clash.
Surprise Australian Open semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev had a relaxed return to the court with a 6-4 6-0 win against Qatari player Mubarak Shannan Zayid, a wildcard entry who has yet to make the ranking lists. The match took 63-minutes and Karatsev’s reward is a meeting with the top seeded Dominic Thiem and can expect a more strenuous task against the US Open champion.
Taylor Fritz was 4-2 down in the second set before beating Lorenzo Sonego 7-6(5) 6-4 and awaits his next opponent which will be either sixth seeded David Goffin from Belgium or Serbia’s Filip Krajinovic.
The veteran French player Richard Gasquet, the 2013 champion, also made the second round following a comfortable 6-4 6-4 victory over Slovenian qualifier Blaz Bola but can expect a very different match when he takes on the third seed Andrey Rublev, the in-form Russian who won Rotterdam last Sunday,
“Of course it’s great for me to come here… I have great memories playing here. It’s one of the best tournaments in the world, so of course it’s great for me to come back and I hope to play good,” Gasquet said in his on-court interview. “I know the next opponent will be tough, but I have nothing to lose and I’ll try my best to win.”
Meanwhile all eyes remain focused on Federer who awaits news of his second-round opponent having, as the second seed, been granted an opening round bye.
The match between Frenchman Jeremy Chardy and Britain’s Dan Evans, the first match on Tuesday’s schedule, will decide who will progress to test the great Swiss’s knees after a year on the sidelines.