Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Tennis: Roberto Bautista Agut crowned ASB Classic champion

Roberto Bautista Agut. Photo / Doug Sherring
Roberto Bautista Agut. Photo / Doug Sherring

Mark down Roberto Bautista Agut as one of the more unlikely winners at Stanley Street over the past couple of decades.

The Spanish world No 25 lifted the ASB Classic trophy today, after opponent Jack Sock retired ill with the score at 6-1 1-0.

Sock had been struggling with a virus since Thursday and had lost "eight pounds" (3.63kg) in two days.

To his credit - and against doctors advice - Sock took the court. It was brave but to no avail. He was struggling to stand between points and didn't bother chasing most of Bautista Agut's shots.

After 28 minutes, and another consultation with his medical team, Sock pulled the pin.

But the unusual - and unfortunate - nature of Bautista Agut's victory shouldn't detract from his triumph. It was special. At the start of the tournament, as pundits scanned the field, he didn't rate a mention.

There was David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. There were the ace kings John Isner, Kevin Anderson, Ivo Karlovic and Sam Querrey. Benoit Paire was highlighted, as was Sock and fellow wunderkid Vasek Pospisil. Fabio Fognini was coming off a career year and former winners like Philipp Kohlschreiber and Jiri Vesely got plenty of media interest in the initial days.

Bautista Agut was ignored, not doing a single interview after his semifinal win. And if the world No 25 was under the radar, the man himself was uncertain after arriving late from Chennai.

"I was really tired coming from India and had a lot of jet lag," said Bautista Agut. "My first match was quite complicated, the [defending champion], all the circumstances."

He then took care of Donald Young and two-time champion Isner. Then the coup de grace - the epic battle with Tsonga. He was one point away from oblivion in the second set but found a way back to snap a 17-match losing streak against top 10 players.

"I feel so happy. I couldn't be better than now," said Bautista Agut, reflecting on his third ATP title. "This [one] is the best, for the victories over Isner and Tsonga. This one is more special."

The final was a strange affair. Walking on court, Sock's shoulders were slumped and, as he stopped to watch the Maori welcome, it wasn't certain he would make it to his chair. It didn't help that it was 38 degrees on court and it was quickly apparent something was awry.

"He was playing strange and going so fast for the shots," said Bautista Agut. "I was trying to focus on me and not think about what he was doing because I wanted to concentrate."

The crowd willed Sock on, wondering if they were seeing a repeat of the last two days when he had faltered in the first set before coming back. But it couldn't happen for a third time.

"I knew going in there was going to be no chance - at least on Friday I felt like I had more energy and I could make something happen," said Sock. "Today I felt pretty weak all day. I've lost eight pounds in the last couple of days. It was going to be an uphill battle."

In the morning, Sock said his "head was pounding, throat hurting". His doctor visited him at his hotel and advised him to pull out.

"Melbourne is the bigger picture," said Sock. "As of this morning, it was looking like I wasn't going to take the court. But I wanted to at least warm up and see how I felt. I felt like I owed [the crowd] an effort."

- NZ Herald

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