Roberto Bautista Agut's Auckland reign goes on.
The Spaniard continued his remarkable streak at the ASB Classic, beating Juan Martin del Potro 1-6 6-4 7-5 in an enthralling final on Saturday.
Bautista Agut has now won nine consecutive matches on Stanley Street, dating back to his 2016 triumph here.
He flew under the radar for most of the week – as focus fell on the top four seeds as well as four time champion David Ferrer.
The Spaniard was perhaps lucky that Jack Sock and Sam Querrey fell early on his side of the draw, but there was nothing fortunate about Saturday's result.
He was unquestionably the best player, though Del Potro edged him right until the end.
It's Bautista Agut's seventh ATP title, and surely his best, considering the opponent. He has displayed a surgical like precision in his play for most of the week and left his best for last, with a stunning display in the final.
It was a strange start to the match, as Del Potro couldn't get going. There was an early 32 stroke rally, both players resembling prize fighters throwing jabs from distance. But that rally was a false dawn, as Del Potro struggled to summon any decent knock out blows.
After only being broken once in the entire tournament, holding for 29 of 30 service games, Del Potro dropped serve three times in the first set.
The Argentine couldn't get any part of his game going; not his serve, not his fabulous forehand, and he struggled to anticipate the Bautista Agut serve. The 29-year had no excuse to be tired – Bautista Agut had spent much longer out on court across the week – but maybe it was the transition from a night match to an afternoon start.
Whatever it was, the crowd were stunned. The cries of "Vamos Delpo"- so common across the week, fell silent. Del Potro has a natural loping gait on court – he's almost never in a hurry – but the shoulders were slumped, the heads was bowed. There was no spring in the step.
Del Potro broke back once, but it was a brief respite. Bautista Agut closed out the first set in just 31 minutes, as fans wondered if they were headed for an anti-climax in the final.
Thankfully Del Potro, whose ranking slipped down to 581 in 2015, found something. He started the second set with an ace – to huge cheers from the crowd – and then held for the first time in the match.
He still didn't look in great touch, but was hanging on, and slowly began to find his range and game.
Bautista Agut remained the dominant player in the second set, but he could surely feel Del Potro lurking.
Games went with serve for most of the set and followed a familiar pattern. Bautista Agut would constantly pepper Del Potro's backhand – reminiscent of Nadal's persistent targeting of Federer's off wing in their battles earlier this decade – while the Argentine would move around onto his forehand at any opportunity.
Then, serving at 4-5 down, Bautista Agut began to wobble for the first time in the match. An elongated rally at 30-30 ended with a Hawkeye call in the Spaniard's favour, but Del Potro sensed an opportunity. He gained a rare break point opportunity, the first for either player in the set – then levelled the match as Bautista Agut dumped a backhand groundstroke into the net.
Game on, as the Spanish ambassador to New Zealand watched on nervously from a box overlooking the court.
The third set was the cagiest of the match. Del Potro finally began to hold serve with some authority, but Bautista Agut was also relatively untroubled on serve, as the Argentine couldn't summon his best returning game.
The quality also seemed to increase in the final stanza, with precise volley, ambitious drop shots and crunching ground strokes all thrown into the mix.
The best was an audacious Del Potro drop shot third set from the junction of the baseline and the sideline.
But Del Potro was never completely comfortable, and Bautista Agut found a chink in the 11th game. At 15-40 Del Potro saved one break point with an ace, but Bautista Agut cleverly sealed the next.
The match reached new heights in the final game, with some superlative tennis. Del Potro caused pandemonium as he forced a break point after a lengthy rally, before Bautista Agut saved it with an ace. The Spaniard then converted his first match point, as Del Potro backhand sailed long.