Bulgaria’s world #8 Grigor Dimitrov takes on Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut, who is seeded fifth in Beijing. Dimitrov made it all the way to the final last year (lost to Murray) and that run was a major stepping stone for him as he made his way back to the top of the game. Bautista Agut too has a history of success in China. Last year he upset the ailing Djokovic in the semis in Shanghai before also falling to Murray in the final. But which man will find themselves in the last four?
Somewhat surprisingly, Dimitrov and Bautista Agut have met just twice on Tour so far in their careers. They have also not played for three years. However, they did also clash at Future and Challenger level, with their first ever meeting coming nine years ago. Bautista Agut won that match in three sets at a Spanish Futures event in the round of 32. They met again two years later, this time at Challenger level in the quarterfinals in Orleans. This time it was Dimitrov who came away with the win, as he came back from a set down to triumph 3-6 6-2 7-6. Their first Tour meeting came at the China Open in 2013 where Bautista Agut dismissed an out of form Dimitrov 6-4 6-2. Dimitrov had his revenge a year later at the Australian Open. After splitting the first two sets the Bulgarian ran away with the match.
The two are fairly evenly matched in both form and experience. So far in his career Dimitrov has won 245 matches, and lost 157. He has seven titles, three of which have come this year including the Cincinnati Masters, the most prestigious event Dimitrov has won. Bautista Agut has 207 match wins against 126 losses on Tour, and 6 titles. Both men lost early at the US Open, with Bautista Agut falling to Juan Martin del Potro in the third round. Dimitrov, meanwhile, bowed out at the hands of Andrey Rublev in the second match. Whilst the China Open is Dimitrov’s first tournament since the US Open, Bautista Agut played in St Petersburg where he reached the semifinals, losing a tight contest to Fognini.
Path to the quarterfinals
Dimitrov, seeded third in Beijing, began his campaign against Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia. Dzumhur has been in terrific form of late, winning the title in St Petersburg before reaching the semifinals in Shenzhen (loss to Dolgopolov). But he looked outclassed by Dimitrov early on in their match as the Bulgarian swept to the first set six games to one. Dzumhur dug in, however, and fought back to level the match. Going into the decider it was Dimitrov who got the crucial break, and he sealed the three-set win 6-1 3-6 6-3. Next up for him was Juan Martin del Potro, with the Argentine playing his first tournament since reaching the US Open semifinals.
The ‘Tower of Tandil’ began well, breaking Dimitrov in the first game of the match. But Dimitrov fought back well, breaking Del Potro in turn and forcing a tiebreak. The tiebreak was evenly matched, but Del Potro double-faulted down 6-7 to hand Dimitrov the set. Whilst most would have been disheartened by such a turn of events, Del Potro merely rededicated himself to his task. He was rewarded with another break of the Dimitrov serve. The match looked to be heading to a decider with Del Potro up 5-2 in the second. But from there his form deserted him and Dimitrov capitalised to win five games on the bounce and book a place in the quarterfinals.
Roberto Bautista Agut began his China Open against home hope Zhang Ze. The Chinese #1 was doubtless desperate to perform well on home soil, but he had no answer for Bautista Agut’s quality. The Spaniard beat him handily 6-1 6-3 to move into the second round. There he faced Britain’s Aljaz Bedene. Bedene was unfortunately clearly hampered by injury, and after losing the first ten games of the match understandably retired.
How do they match up?
Both men are amongst the best movers on Tour. Their defensive skills are superb and below the truly elite defenders Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray there are few better than Dimitrov and Bautista Agut. Of the Spaniard, though, it has been fairly said that he is more of a natural athlete than he is a natural tennis player. Though he has worked hard to create his game, with his forehand being a particular strength, it doesn’t match up to the very best. His second serve is also sometimes vulnerable to being attacked.
Dimitrov, in contrast, is an incredibly naturally gifted player. He has every shot in the book, but what he lacks is one defining weapon. That being said, his forehand has allowed him to dominate matches this year and was excellent during his title run in Cincinnati. If he can continue to hit the shot that well then he will continue to climb up the rankings.
Bautista Agut is never an easy proposition to come up against, but Dimitrov looks comfortable in Beijing. It won’t be an easy match for Dimitrov, but he should have enough in his game to get through the Spaniard. Dimitrov in three sets.
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