2018 in review: Roger Federer, Anderson and Thiem steal February show

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2018 in review: Roger Federer, Anderson and Thiem steal February show

* ATP 250 Quito: Roberto Carballes Baena (ESP) vs Albert Ramos-Vinolas (ESP) 6-3 4-6 6-4 The Spanish qualifier Roberto Carballes Baena was the last man standing in Quito, winning six matches to become the first ATP winner on clay in 2018 and lift his maiden ATP trophy from the first final he entered! In the title match, Roberto toppled the 2nd seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-3 4-6 6-4 in two hours and 27 minutes for his biggest achievement in a career so far, previously winning four Challenger crowns on clay.

The 24-year-old arrived in Quito with just 13 ATP wins and two of those had come here 12 months ago when Ramos-Vinolas beat him in the quarter-final in three sets. The more experienced Spaniard had won their first meeting in Bastad in 2016 as well but he couldn't go all the way in this one, facing 11 break points and losing serve three times.

Roberto served well, losing just 21 points in 15 service games and giving the serve away twice from five break opportunities he offered to Ramos-Vinolas. The younger Spaniard was off to a flying start, losing just one point on serve in the opening three service games scoring two comfortable breaks to find himself 5-1 in front.

Carbalees Baena grabbed the first break in game four with a forehand winner and again in game six after a backhand unforced error from Ramos-Vinolas who was yet to find his strokes. The 2nd seed pulled one break back in game seven when Roberto served for the set and he saved a set point on own serve in the following game with an ace to reduce the deficit to 5-3.

Carballes Baena closed the set with a service winner in game nine and he was just a set away from his first ATP title, overcoming that loose moment and staying focused before the start of the second set. Carried by this momentum, Roberto continued to dictate the pace in his service games in set number two as well, dropping one point in four games to put Ramos-Vinolas under all kind of pressure.

A left-handed Spaniard saved three break points to avoid an early setback and he did the same in game three, fending off another break chance to remain on the positive side of the scoreboard. Roberto served to stay in the set at 4-5 and he suddenly collapsed despite the fact he lost just seven points on serve so far since the start of the match.

He double-faulted to give his serve away in the worst possible moment and it was interesting to see if he is capable of holding his nerves in the decider. The first few games were crucial and he stayed in touch with Albert, saving a break point in game six with a solid serve&forehand combo.

This gave him even more confidence and he converted his fourth break point in the following game to move 4-3 in front when Ramos-Vinolas sent a forehand wide. Roberto wrapped up a win with a smash winner in game 10, falling to the ground in disbelief after going all the way and becoming an ATP champion at the age of 24.

* ATP 250 Montpellier: Lucas Pouille (FRA) vs Richard Gasquet (FRA) 7-6(2) 6-4 In the fourth all-French final in Montpellier in the last six years, the second seed Lucas Pouille defeated the three-time champion Richard Gasquet 7-6 6-4 in an hour and 27 minutes to lift his fifth ATP title and the second in front of the home crowd.

This was their fifth meeting, as it all started here in Montpellier three years ago, and Lucas claimed the fourth win in a row over the more experienced rival who played in his sixth consecutive Montpellier final, missing the opportunity to win the fourth crown.

Lucas fired 10 aces and he never faced a break point while Gasquet had to play against six in his games, fending off five of those which wasn't enough to keep him in the match longer or to send it into the third set. Pouille barely escaped a defeat in Saturday's semi-final against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, saving two match points on serve in the ninth game of the second set before Jo was forced to retire at 5-5, earning a huge boost from this win and building the momentum for Gasquet clash.

Lucas found his shots right from the start and he held in the opening game with a beautiful backhand lob three meters behind the baseline to get his name on the scoreboard. He played with more power and depth and Gasquet couldn't follow that pace, facing three break points in game six after a forehand winner from Pouille.

Richard repelled them with three service winners and the game was in his hands when Lucas netted an easy forehand, missing a nice chance to create a gap and move in front. Both players held at love in the last two service games to bring on the tie-break after 44 minutes of play and Lucas was the dominant figure to clinch it 7-2.

Pouille scored mini-breaks in the third and seventh points and he wrapped up the set with a service winner. The second set was also close and it was decided by a single break in game five when Gasquet lost his serve to find himself a set and a breakdown.

He saved the first two break points with volley winners but the third proved to be crucial, missing an easy backhand to give his opponent a commanding lead. Serving for the title, Lucas wasted the first three match points in game 10 but he completed the triumph on fourth after firing a bullet from his forehand that stayed out of Gasquet's reach, celebrating his only ATP title in 2018.

* ATP 250 Sofia: Mirza Basic (BIH) vs Marius Copil (ROU) 7-6(6) 6-7(4) 6-4 The 26-year-old Bosnian Mirza Basic had barely escaped a defeat against world number 495 Alexander Lazov in the opening qualifying round in Sofia last weekend and eight days later he became a champion, claiming his maiden ATP title after a hard-fought 7-6 6-7 6-4 win over the Romanian Marius Copil in two hours and 19 minutes! Mirza is currently ranked 129th and he played in only one ATP semi-final prior to Sofia last year in Moscow, achieving the biggest result of his career after two Challenger titles.

Those two have met three times before in Challengers and the Australian Open qualifications and the Bosnian scored his third win over the Romanian rival in what was by far the most interesting clash in their rivalry. Nothing could separate them in the opening two sets, both scoring one break in each set, and Mirza made the crucial difference when he broke in the ninth game of the decider, closing the match on own serve a few minutes later for a huge celebration.

Basic is the second first-time winner on the Tour in 2018 after Daniil Medvedev who claimed Sydney crown in the second week of the season and with those 250 points, he cracked the top-100 for the first time on the following day.

Copil hit 19 aces but also eight double faults and his first serve was more effective than Basic's. On the other hand, the Bosnian defended his second serve better and he saved six out of eight break points, stealing rival's serve three times from 10 opportunities to cross the finish line first.

Basic was off to a better start, converting the third break point in game three when Copil netted an easy forehand, with the Bosnian moving 5-3 in front after four easy holds. He served for the set in game 10 when the nerves started to show up, sending a forehand long to get broken and the winner of the opening set was to be decided in the tie-break.

Copil had an early lead before Basic bounced back to create a set point at 6-5. Marius saved it with a volley winner but he made a forehand mistake two points later to lose the breaker 8-6. The Romanian left the opening set behind him and he started strong in set number two, breaking in the opening game and serving well to gain a 5-3 lead.

Mirza saved a set point with a service winner at 3-5 and that could have been crucial since he broke back in the following game with a forehand winner to level the score at 5-5 and send the set into another tie-break. The pressure was on Copil and he delivered a solid serving to grab the breaker 7-4, nailing a smash winner at the net in the 11th point to bring the decider.

Mirza received a treatment on his lower back in the break between the sets and he saved two break points in the second game of the final set, the last critical moments in his service games. He served well in the remaining part of the match and the pressure was on Copil, who couldn't deal with it.

The Romanian saved two break points in game seven but Basic broke two games later to take a 5-4 lead and serve for the title in the next game. Three service winner did the magic for him, holding at 15 to cross the finish line and lift his maiden ATP crown.

* ATP 500 Rotterdam: Roger Federer (SUI) vs Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) 6-2 6-2 Back in 1999, the 17-year-old Roger Federer had come to Rotterdam for the first time with the rank of 178th and he enjoyed a great run, reaching the quarter-final before losing to world number 2 Yevgeny Kafelnikov in three tight sets.

19 years later, Roger left Rotterdam with his third title (2005 and 2012) and world number 1 ranking by his name after a commanding 6-2 6-2 win over Grigor Dimitrov in just 55 minutes! This was the 97th ATP crown for Roger in his illustrious career and the second of the season after defending his Australian Open title two weeks earlier, keeping a perfect 12-0 score in 2018.

This was their seventh meeting and Roger was yet to lose a match against the Bulgarian, scoring his most dominant win so far against world number 5. Grigor was toe to toe with Federer in the first four games of the match but the Swiss raced through the rest of encounter, never facing a break point and breaking Dimitrov four times from eight opportunities he created.

The tournament director Richard Krajicek later had said that Dimitrov got sick on Saturday night and that he couldn't play at his best, which was evident on the court. This was the 20th ATP 500 crown for Roger, leaving Nadal on 19 and also reaching the 10000-point mark for the first time since January 2013! Federer was flawless in his service games, dropping seven points and keeping Grigor away from breakpoints.

On the other hand, Dimitrov was powerless with his initial shot, hitting only one ace and losing 45% of the points in his games to find himself in trouble in almost every service game after the initial two. This was the most desired final once the draw came out and they were off to a great start, with just three points for the returners in the opening four games.

Out of sudden, Grigor faded from the court and he never regained his composure after netting a backhand that cost him his service game at 2-2. Roger took full control and he broke again in game seven after another groundstroke error from the Bulgarian, racing into a 5-2 lead and serving for the set in the following game.

A service winner gave Roger the opening set a few minutes later, winning 20 of the last 26 points to bring the set home in 25 minutes and looking for more of the same in set number two as well. Grigor continued to struggle and he sprayed a backhand error to drop serve in the first game of the second set, drifting further and further away from the title or any kind of positive result.

He saved a break point in game three to end his drought but Roger moved 4-1 up when Dimitrov double-faulted in game five. A volley winner gave Federer the title in the eighth game, completing one of his fastest triumphs in the ATP finals and celebrating a historic week that brought him so much and made him the oldest world number 1 since the start of the ATP ranking in 1973.

* ATP 250 New York: Kevin Anderson (RSA) vs Sam Querrey 4-6 6-3 7-6(1) World number 11 and the top seed Kevin Anderson will be remembered as the first winner of the new ATP event in New York and the first winner of the ATP title on the black hardcourt! The South African lifted his fourth career title and the first since the summer of 2015 after a tight 4-6 6-3 7-6 win over the 2nd seed Sam Querrey in two hours and 13 minutes.

This was already their 16th meeting on the Tour (the first since that memorable US Open quarter-final last year) and the third straight win for Kevin who levelled the overall score at 8-8. He fired 16 aces and went on to save five out of eight break points, stealing Querrey's serve thrice from seven opportunities and prevailing in the deciding tie-break 7-1 to seal the deal and lift the trophy.

The players traded breaks already in games two and three, a rather unexpected outcome for such strong servers, and Sam claimed another one in game seven to move in front after a terrible forehand from Anderson. He was the better player in the closing stages of the set, with four easy holds after that break of serve he suffered and with three set points on the return in game nine.

Kevin saved them to prevent an even bigger deficit but the set went to the American's side when he held at 30 in game 10, clinching it with a service winner after 38 minutes. The better-ranked player started to play better in set number two, racing into a 5-0 lead with breaks in games two and four and wasting three set points at 5-1 before Querrey pulled one break back following a poor forehand from Anderson at the net.

The American saved a set point on own serve in game eight but Kevin delivered a nice hold in the following game for a 6-3, firing a service winner to send the match into the final set. They saved the best for last and there were no breaks of serve in set number three, with Querrey fending off two break points in game five and Anderson a single one in game six to remain on the positive side of the scoreboard.

Commanding holds sent them into the tiebreak and the South African played it with more focus and stamina, scoring four mini-breaks and wrapping up the win with a forehand crosscourt winner in the eighth point that allowed him to lift the trophy after such a long period without a title.

In addition, the South African entered the top-9 for the first time in his career with those 250 points when the new ATP ranking list came out on the following day. * ATP 250 Buenos Aires: Dominic Thiem (AUT) vs Aljaz Bedene (SLO) 6-2 6-4 The top seed Dominic Thiem completed a solid week in Buenos Aires with a 6-2 6-4 triumph over Aljaz Bedene in an hour and 30 minutes, claiming his ninth ATP crown and the first since Rio de Janeiro 12 months ago.

2016 winner of this event saved both break points he faced and he had the upper hand on the return as well, winning almost 50% of the points on Bedene's serve and scoring three breaks from nine opportunities he created.

The Slovenian landed only 48% of the first serve in and that was far from enough against the strong rival who dominated from the baseline with his deep and powerful groundstrokes. This was the 11th win for Thiem in 12 matches since the start of the season, suffering the only defeat in the fourth round of the Australian Open against Tennys Sandgren in gruelling five sets.

They had a chance to play in the opening week of the season in Doha as well and Dominic grabbed that one 7-5 6-4, having to work much harder to emerge as the winner than here in Buenos Aires on clay. Bedene had to dig deep right from the start, saving two break points in the opening game of the match and he had a break point of his own in game four.

Dominic saved it with a service winner and he moved in front in the following game when Aljaz sent a backhand long to give his serve away. Another groundstroke error from Bedene gave Thiem a double break lead in game seven and he sealed the set with a service winner in the following game for a rock solid 6-2.

Bedene managed to save four break points at the start of the second set to end his drought, raising his level and staying in touch with Dominic in the following seven games, locked up at 4-4 before the crucial part of the set.

Thiem made a decisive move in game nine when he broke after four errors from his opponent, serving out for the title in the following game. He wasted two match points and Bedene earned a break point that could have prolonged the match and his chances, only to be denied by Thiem's good serve that he failed to return.

The Austrian completed the win on his third match point when Bedene sent a backhand wide, happy with the way he performed and with the trophy in his hands after almost a year.