Roberto Bautista Agut came up against an in-form Thanasi Kokkinakis backed by a vocal home crowd on Friday at the Adelaide International 2, but the fourth-seeded Spaniard kept his cool to secure a hard-fought 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-3 semi-final victory at the ATP 250 event.
An impressive serving performance and several moments of forehand magic from local favourite Kokkinakis ensured Bautista Agut was given a stern test in South Australia. Yet the 34-year-old’s trademark flat baseline hitting helped him save all nine break points he faced in a tense deciding set to seal a two-hour, 35-minute win and set a final clash against Soonwoo Kwon.
“He’s a very good player, he was serving unreal,” said Bautista Agut of Kokkinakis after the match. “He’s very good on this court. I think he has a great potential, I wish him the very best. Today was very tough to beat Thanasi on this court.”
Kokkinakis was enjoying another strong run in his hometown after lifting his maiden ATP Tour title there in 2022. His precise serving gave Bautista Agut few chances on return in an opening set in which the Australian dropped just three points behind his first delivery, but the Spaniard stayed calm and made his move early in the tie-break by opening an ultimately unassailable 4/1 lead.
Home wild card Kokkinakis clinched his first break of the match in the eighth game of the second set to ensure the pair’s maiden ATP Head2Head meeting went to a decider, before the match hinged on Bautista Agut’s ability to consistently raise his level when break point down. A break of Kokkinakis’ serve in the second game proved enough for the World No. 26 to book a spot in his 22nd ATP Tour final.
The 11-time tour-level champion Bautista Agut’s run in Adelaide has added to his track record of performing strongly in the opening weeks of the ATP Tour season. Should he defeat Kwon in Saturday’s championship match, it will be the Spaniard’s fifth tour-level title won in the month of January after his previous triumphs in Auckland (2016 and 2018), Chennai (2017) and Doha (2019).
“It feels good to be back home after spending all year travelling and working, so for me to take a few days off after the end of the season and practise hard, feels good for me,” said Bautista Agut when asked about his January record. “I’ve been feeling well during my whole career at the beginning of the season.”
Kwon had earlier delivered his own display of high-quality baseline hitting in his 7-6(6), 6-7(2), 6-3 semi-final victory against Jack Draper.
The South Korean, who lost to Draper last week as a qualifier in Adelaide, was set to miss out on this week’s ATP 250 after a defeat to Tomas Machac in the final round of qualifying. But after finding himself in the draw, he immediately avenged his loss to Machac in the opening round before downing second seed Pablo Carreno Busta and Mikael Ymer to reach the last four.
“It was a very difficult match today,” said Kwon when asked about how he had kept going in his two-hour, 45-minute battle with Draper in the Adelaide heat. “I’m just really happy to win today… Last week he played very well, so I tried to just tried to enjoy this match and tried to be positive. I tried to be more aggressive.”
The key to Kwon’s victory in an engrossing semi-final encounter was his consistent clean ball-striking from the baseline, particularly off his forehand wing. The World No. 84 struck 44 winners to his opponent’s 36, and he also excelled whenever he came under pressure on serve — Kwon saved nine of 10 break points he faced en route to levelling his ATP Head2Head series with Draper at 1-1.
After gaining payback on Draper, he is through to his second ATP Tour final after his 2021 title run in Astana (then Nur-Sultan). Kwon is the first lucky loser to reach the final in Adelaide’s tournament history, with six editions of the event played since 2020.