Budapest 2017: Lucas Pouille claims second title to deny Aljaz Bedene his first
Britain's Aljaz Bedene is beaten 6-3 6-1 by Lucas Pouille in the Hungarian Open final in Budapest
Aljaz Bedene’s name may continue to be absent from Great Britain Davis Cup squad after his application to play for his adopted country was rejected again in March, but in reaching the second ATP final of his career in Budapest this week, he was on the cusp of becoming his nation’s No2.
From a ranking of 102 in February, his run to the final assured him of a rise to around 58, with the potential to reach a new career-high of 41 should he go on to win the title—all on the back of one of his best ever runs of form.
He had not lost a match in April—16 straight wins—and prior to qualifying in Budapest, he won back to back Challenger titles, with 20 out of 21 sets, in the space of two weeks. Among that string of wins was Budapest’s second seed, Ivo Karlovic, and remarkably the Briton came into the final leading the tournament stats in aces, service games won, and first serve points won.
But he now had the top seed and fast improving 23-year-old Frenchman Lucas Pouille to contend with, a man tipped for the very top after rising from around 80 just 12 months ago to a current career high of 14. Twice a Grand Slam quarter-finalist already and a semi-finalist in Rome last year and in Monte-Carlo this year, he beat Bedene in their first meeting in Marseille this year, 7-5, 7-5, en route to the final, and was undoubtedly the favourite now to win his second career title.
The difference between the two was soon apparent in the cool and damp conditions. Pouille’s combination of heavy-weight shots from the baseline and great touch and variety of angle around the court managed to break through some tired tennis from Bedene for a quick break and a 3-0 lead. The Frenchman broke again in the sixth game, but then the Briton got a break back as Pouille over-hit a couple of forehands.
Bedene survived 0-40 with five straight points to make it 3-5, but could not fend off the re-focused Pouille, who served out the set, 6-3.
The Briton was having trouble with a finger on his right hand, but after a couple of games, with pain-killer applied, Bedene initially dug in. Again he pulled back from break points in the third game with a change of tempo and a couple of fine volley winners. But he faced break point again, and this time Pouille broke through, broke again in the fifth game, and once more in the last to take the set and title, 6-1, in just 64 minutes.
The Briton is a quietly spoken man, and with just one previous main-tour final to this name, was hesitant in making his speech of thanks, and brought applause for:
“Sorry, I’m a little bit nervous, I’m not used to this.”
He added, “It really was a pleasure to play here and hopefully see you next year.”
Before that, he heads off to Istanbul, where he will hope to garner some more points and perhaps the chance of direct entry into one of big up-coming tournaments in Madrid and Rome, which are lucrative both in points and prizes.
Last year, Bedene reached a career-best third round at Roland Garros but did not play Madrid and had to come through qualifying in Rome, where he lost in the first round. He has a lot of matches in his body—and those blisters on his fingers—but this will be an important few weeks for the Briton to begin making his mark on the rankings again.
This time last year, Pouille had to come through qualifying in Madrid and Rome: In the former, he played four gruelling matches before losing in the second round, and in the latter, made it all the way to the semis. Come Roland Garros, though, he won only two matches.
With less demanding runs in the two imminent Masters, and his constantly improving level of tennis, Pouille can surely expect to go well into the second week in Paris this time around, and will perhaps anticipate a top-10 ranking just around the corner.