Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut will head to the Australian Open boosted by his ability to negotiate a tough path to New Zealand’s ASB Classic crown.
The final itself, which ended with American Jack Sock retiring at 6-1 1-0 through illness, proved an anti-climax for the capacity crowd in Auckland on Saturday.
But to arrive at the last day, eighth seed Bautista Agut had to get past the last two Auckland champions in Czech Jiri Vesely and third seeded American John Isner.
The world No.25 then downed Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the No.2 seed, in the semi-finals in what he described as “an amazing match”, coming from a set down to save match point before finishing the stronger.
His run came after he had arrived in Auckland jet-lagged after travelling from India, having made the quarter-finals of the Chennai Open.
“I’m so happy now,” he said.
“I think I did a great job. I beat many good players. I had a tough draw. I had an amazing win, so I cannot be more happy now.”
The title decider lasted just 28 minutes as Bautista, 27, claimed the third ATP title of his career.
Sock had won his quarter-final and semi-final – against No.4-seeded South African Kevin Anderson and top seed and four-time champion David Ferrer of Spain – over the previous two days despite battling a virus.
But from the start of a final played in warm, sunny conditions, the world No.26 was in obvious discomfort.
He moved slowly between points, sometimes bending over, and didn’t chase down balls he would otherwise have done.
He got a big ovation from the sympathetic crowd when he held serve to trail 5-1.
After the first set, a trainer and doctor came out to talk to the 23-year-old Sock, who decided to continue but lasted just one more drop of serve.
Bautista Agut said he had no idea before the match that his opponent was ill and admitted it was hard to maintain his concentration during the match.
“It’s not easy because the match has no rhythm.”
Sock said he had lost about 3.5kg in the past two days and woken up with a headache and a sore throat.
He said he had less energy than before his semi-final and knew it would be an uphill battle but wanted to make an effort.
“Obviously Melbourne is the bigger picture now” he said.
“I played some great tennis this week and was able to get a bunch of matches under my belt.”