It may not be flashy in style, but the battle of the Spaniards on Monday could well be the highlight match of the day when Roberto Bautista Agut and Pablo Carreno Busta meet for the third time. Their two previous matches at this level have both gone the distance.
(16) Roberto Baustista Agut vs (21) Pablo Carreno Busta
Both Spaniards won by identical 7-5, 6-2 scorelines in their round two debuts at the BNP Paribas Open. Bautista Agut beat Adrian Mannarino, consistently getting into the Frenchman’s service games. RBA crafted eleven break chances against Mannarino and converted on three. He was solid on serve, fending off all three break chances he faces. The 16th seed would win a solid 79 percent of the points off his first serve and did really well to win 64 percent on his second serve. Bautista Agut will be seeking to make it past the third round for just the second time at Indian Wells.
Carreno Busta took down Peter Gojowczyk in his opener. PCB was broken once on three chances, winning 72 percent off his first serve and 50 percent off his second. The 21st seed did well in converting four of eight break chances against the German’s serve. It’s the second straight year that PCB has won his opener after losing his first two trips to the desert. Last year, PCB fell in round three to Gael Monfils 7-5, 7-6 (1).
Carreno Busta Carries Good Form
PCB transitioned nicely from clay where he made the semifinals in three straight tournaments in Buenos Aires, Rio and Sao Paulo. Carreno Busta made the final in Rio, where he lost to Dominic Thiem. Since making round four at the Australian Open, Bautista Agut has made the semifinals in Sofia and then fell in round two to Fernando Verdasco last week in Dubai. The slower conditions in general at this tournament should play well to Carreno Busta, so he has every chance to continue his good recent run.
Going the Distance, Part Three ?
Carreno Busta won their last clash at Winston-Salem last summer, where he won his first ATP tournament. It was a very tight match-up with the pair splitting two tiebreak sets before PCB won the third 6-4 to claim the crown. The biggest difference in that match was Carreno Busta’s sercond serve that won 27 of 36 points, while RBA struggled to win 19 of 39 second serve points. In the end, PCB broke RBA twice on two chances, while Bautista Agut could only secure one break on two chances. Overall, Carreno Busta won 112 total points to 98 for RBA.
Their earlier ATP meeting was at the 2015 U.S. Open, where Bautista Agut edged Carreno Busta 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 2-6, 6-4. Carreno Busta again had some advantage with the service numbers, but RBA was better converting breaks with eight on 13 chances. PCB would only net six breaks on 16 chances. RBA would win just six more total points than Carreno Busta in what would ultimately end as a fairly even match despite a couple lopsided sets.
RBA is reknowned for his attention to detail and a great work ethic. It was a change in his overall preparation to start 2016 that has reaped the most benefits for the Spaniard. He took a more aggressive approach to his game and since then, he’s won three of his five career titles and moved inside the Top 20. His ground strokes won’t wow with power, but he’s got good precision and accuracy for the most part off both wings. He uses topspin on his groundies that helps him craft better court positioning for himself and his fitness is now to the point where he doesn’t mind ore maybe even prefers to play extended rallies. RBA now has a strength in getting to balls and forcing his opponent to make that extra shot.
For Carreno Busta, he brings more power to his game. His serve as evidenced in the previous meetings with RBA can give him an edge. He’s still going to face break points off of it, but he has the ability to come up with some pop when needed. Off the ground, PCB is a patient baseline hugger. He isn’t afraid to come in, but definitely picks his spots more than using it as a consistent tactic. PCB does have a backhand slice, but it’s his double hander that carries more force and is the better weapon. His opponent is almost exclusive with the double hander, so you’re sure to see plenty of those exchanges.
The Pig’s Bottom Line
It’s consistency normally that Bautista Agut has over many of his opponents. It’s what has turned him into a Top 20 player in the past two seasons. PCB has turned up his own game in that category over the last year, so this comes down to who has the most patience. Expect plenty of baseline rallies with execution at the end of those rallies as a huge deciding factor for the eventual winner. I think you could play this one ten times and they’d probably split down the middle. It’s extremely difficult to call a winner here, but I’m going to go with PCB at hus current confident level. That RBA has not been past this round since 2014 adds a bit to that, but it will be close and this feasibly could go either way.
Prediction: Carreno Busta wins in three sets