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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Roberto Bautista Agut can use Dubai success as springboard for tilt at Indian Wells and Miami

Spaniard's title-winning campaign holds him in good stead ahead of the upcoming Masters events, particularly with so many top players missing with injury.

Roberto Bautista Agut claimed the biggest title of his career in Dubai last week. Mahmoud Khaled / EPA
Roberto Bautista Agut claimed the biggest title of his career in Dubai last week. Mahmoud Khaled / EPA

Roberto Bautista Agut had never been beyond the quarter-finals in his previous five visits to the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships before this year.

However, the Spaniard certainly enjoyed his sixth visit to the tournament when, as the third seed, he defeated second seed Lucas Pouille in straight sets in the final.

The success for Bautista Agut in claiming his first ATP 500 Tour title almost 12 years after turning professional highlighted the changing face of the men's game in 2018 and the land of opportunity that is now available to many of the players.

With world No 1 Roger Federer choosing not to compete this year, preferring to rest after winning in Rotterdam last month, and both Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray ruled out with injury, the Dubai field lacked the big names the event has traditionally been able to draw.

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Read more:

Roberto Bautista Agut says winning Dubai Tennis Championships 'very special'

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Juan Martin del Potro ends Kevin Anderson's run to clinch Mexican Open title

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But their absences opened up the field. Even more so when world No 4 and tournament top seed Grigor Dimitrov crashed out in the first round to Tunisian Malek Jaziri.

Bautista Agut was the man who seized the chance with both hands. The result also moved him up to No 16 in the rankings.

Pouille is up to a career high No 12 on the back of his run to the final, and he would have become a top-10 player had he prevailed in Saturday's decider.

The Frenchman broke into the top 20 for the first time back in August 2016, but like many of the playing field, has found chances to challenge at the top of the game limited by the presence of Federer, Djokovic, Murray and Rafael Nadal.

The latter trio have all been struggling with injuries, and when you add other players including Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic to that, the face of the game has been transformed over the past year.

With so many of the players who have dominated the game in recent years sidelined, a chance has opened up for new names to step forward.

It was not just in Dubai last week that injury led to the draw being altered. Nadal pulled out of the Mexican Open due to a leg injury, leaving Alexander Zverev, the world No 5, as top seed.

Of the seven seeds left, only Juan Martin del Potro, the eventual winner, had won a grand slam.

It is a new era in tennis, at least in the short term, and the first ATP Masters 1000 event of the year in Indian Wells, which started on Monday, will highlight that even more so.

There are plenty of ranking points to be won at the tournament and a lot of potential ground to be gained.

Federer may be out on his own at the top on 10,060 points, with Nadal next on 9,460, but after that it is considerably tighter.

Only 2,775 points separate world No 3 Marin Cilic from No 21 Sam Querrey, so there is scope for anyone who can have a strong result in Indian Wells, or Miami, the following Masters event, to make a big leap up the standings.

Certainly it is a great chance for Bautista Agut to climb even higher than No 16.

He reached the third round at Indian Wells 12 months ago, and given his form in Dubai, he will be confident of improving on that this time around.

Likewise Pouille, who was also knocked out in the last 32 in 2017 and a good run this time around will likely get him in the top 10.

Dubai could be the platform for both players to kick on and have strong seasons and it could well be they return to the UAE in 2019 considerably higher up the rankings than they were this year.

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