Janko Tipsarevic has the air of a man seeking answers to life’s mysteries.
And he does it rather fashionably: the sight-correction glasses, the designer stubble, the tattoos that quote Dostoevsky, the ankle socks.
But for the last five years, he has had a more mundane pursuit, a pursuit that draws him to Chennai, entourage in tow.
On Sunday at the SDAT Tennis Stadium’s centre court, a place he loves playing in, the 28-year-old Tipsarevic had a taste of salvation.
“Only one word comes to mind: Finally,” he said. “I’ve come really, really close, last year (against Raonic) I could smell it, but I’m so happy that I finally won a tournament I really wanted to win. It’s a dream come true.”
It didn’t come easy. Roberto Bautista Agut, the 24-year-old who might have played football for Villarreal had it not been for his mother’s love of tennis, put together a striking first set.
Tipsarevic was forced to respond, much like in the semifinal against Aljaz Bedene; he did it with greater verve and style, to win 3-6, 6-1, 6-3.
The match had echoes of the semifinal — indeed Tipsarevic said it was like déjà vu. Bautista Agut drove a hard, ruthless forehand, often inside-out, to exploit the two-handed backhand’s limited reach; the work on the ball — because it had been sheared across — got it to drift further to Tipsarevic’s left, buying another yard of court space.
Bautista Agut also hit brave, deep backhands — flat so they were penetrative, but bereft of the margin of error topspin affords — to push the second-seeded Serb further behind the baseline and open up the shorter angles cross-court. This was first-rate, dominant tennis from a man in his first ATP Tour final against the world’s ninth-best player.
Tipsarevic had chances in Bautista Agut’s service games. Thrice he was up 0-30, but the Spaniard fell back on the inside-out forehand: then he rushed the net to either flash a cavalier racquet at a swing volley or carve the follow-up to the open court. Once Tipsarevic managed the right play: a backhand down the line that had Bautista Agut scrambling, only the Spaniard slapped a forehand long-line himself, low-percentage but point-ending.
In the first set, Tipsarevic’s ground-strokes had risen perfectly into Bautista Agut’s wheelhouse; in sets two and three, he consciously stepped into the court and sought to be the first player in the rally to either change direction or seek depth. This was gutsy, even desperate, play, and Tipsarevic had the skill to pull it off.
The two-hander down the line worked much better than it had on Saturday, allowing him to move Bautista Agut.
Tipsarevic’s coach Dirk Hordorff smoked a nervous cigarette in a stairway, while his employer took charge of the match. Having to play three three-setters back to back was affecting Bautista Agut, who looked physically spent the longer the match went on. He had his knee strapped and later said he had experienced abdominal pain; courage didn’t desert him, much to the vocal appreciation of the crowd, but victory was beyond him.
Tipsarevic broke Bautista Agut twice each in sets two and three, including the final game in which the Spaniard was docked a first serve for taking more than 25 seconds between points.
The end came quickly.
Tipsarevic celebrated his fourth ATP title with a crowd that has come to accept him as a favoured son. He said they would see a lot more of him.
Bautista Agut was cheered no less. A man who masters Tomas Berdych and hangs with Tipsarevic is to be admired. There remained one final question though — would he, with the prize money, add to his stable of horses?
“I don’t have the time for one more horse,” Bautista Agut said, smiling. “But I’d just like to take the opportunity to thank my mother who will be following this from Spain.”
The result (final): 2-Janko Tipsarevic (Srb) bt Roberto Bautista Agut (Esp) 3-6, 6-1, 6-3.