For Facundo Bagnis, it was the moment he had been waiting his entire career for.
The 31 year-old had never been in the final of an ATP Tour singles event, yet here he was battling with the top-seeded Cristian Garin deep in the third set. In fact, at 5-5, *15-40 on the Garin serve, he was only five points away from his first ATP Tour title. But tennis has always been a game of small margins. Opportunities can disappear in an instant and that is exactly what happened to Bagnis.
Missing out on both break points put the pressure right back onto his shoulders. It left Bagnis serving to stay in the match, rather than serving for it, and, as might be expected for a player making his debut in an ATP final, he did not cope with that pressure. Garin broke him to 15, completing a 6-4 6-7 7-5 win and claiming the title. In truth, the match might have gone either way, but the Chilean was a little more clutch, notably winning six of his eight break points.
Bagnis, in contrast, converted only four of the eight opportunities he created. But more important even than his ability to stay cool under pressure was Garin’s advantage on serve. That proved to be the biggest difference in the match, with Garin winning a higher percentage of points behind both his first and second serve, as well as firing down 18 aces compared with just two double faults.
Bagnis did manage to hit eight aces, but he also made six double faults. In such a close match, Garin’s ability to hold his nerve on his serve proved decisive. Indeed, thee Argentine only won 62% of his service points, whereas he hadn’t been below 66% in any other match in Santiago. Perhaps it was tired legs in the final, perhaps some nerves, perhaps a better opponent, but most likely a combination of all three. Either way, it ended up dooming his chances.
Even so, this was still a week, and a Golden Swing, for Bagnis to be proud of. In Cordoba, Bagnis qualified and then beat Nicolas Kicker, Federico Delbonis and Jozef Kovalik before falling in three sets to Albert Ramos in the semifinals, the first time he had ever made it to the last four at ATP Tour-level. He was one set away from the final, but ran out of gas. After an early exit in the next Golden Swing event in Buenos Aires, Bagnis rediscovered his form in Santiago.
Winning four straight matches, including impressive victories over Laslo Djere in the quarterfinals and Delbonis in the semifinals, Bagnis was able to reach the final against Garin. His run to the final in Santiago was a culmination of hard work over the course of his career which began in earnest back in 2008, the year in which Bagnis won his first Futures title. Bagnis went on to win four more Futures events, as well as an impressive 13 Challenger titles, all on the clay. In fact, Bagnis has won 544 matches in his career and, remarkably, 516 of those wins came on the clay.
The Argentine has also been inside the top 100, achieving a career-high ranking of world #55 in 2016. But he had never really broken through to establish himself as a regular on the ATP Tour. Until this year that is.
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It’s clear, then, that Bagnis had worked towards those break points at 5-5 against Garin for his entire career. Yes, he has won an ATP 250 doubles title in Stuttgart with Thomaz Bellucci, but Bagnis plies his trade in singles and surely covets a title in that discipline above all. So to come so close only to fall short, must have been a tough pill for Bagnis to swallow. Still, there is much for Bagnis to build on over the next few weeks.
His forehand hasn’t been as potent in years and it allowed Bagnis to control points from the baseline. He was patient and picked his opportunities to attack well. What was more impressive still was how well his backhand held up, with Bagnis’ backhand having long been the biggest liability in his game. But over the past few weeks, he was able to find the range and consistency needed from that wing to hold up at ATP Tour-level.
Following the semifinal win over Delbonis, Bagnis told the ATP: ‘I’m really happy and enjoying every day this week. It’s my first final, and I’m trying to take things with a balanced approach: enjoy it, but also stay mentally focused’.
And while Bagnis probably didn’t end up enjoying the final as much as he had hoped to, if he keeps up this level, he might just find himself in another ATP Tour final sooner rather than later. Of course, the Golden Swing this year was without the ATP 500 Rio Open, which may have weakened the fields a little, whilst it will be interesting to see if he can maintain this sort of form on the European clay, where he has not thrived historically.
But the future does look bright for Bagnis. After grinding out results for so long in the relative obscurity of the Challenger Tour, he finally enjoyed his moment in the sun in Santiago. He may have come up short, but that is tennis. The difference between winning and losing is invariably marginal, often coming down to nothing more experience.
Garin unquestionably had the edge in that department, having already played five ATP finals, winning four of them. As a result, he knew how to handle the most important moments. Bagnis did not and was beaten. But the Argentine is in good company after losing his first ATP final. Garin did too. It seems unlikely that Bagnis will go on to match Garin and win five ATP titles. But, after a career of waiting for an ATP singles title, Bagnis would surely settle for one.
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