© David Gray/ATP Tour

Roberto Bautista Agut, who broke into the Top 10 in 2019, opens his 2020 campaign with Team Spain at the ATP Cup.

Bautista Agut: “I’m Sure My Parents Would Have Encouraged Me To Carry On”

Spaniard reflects on a year that featured career-highs and the loss of his parents

During the 2019 ATP Tour season, Roberto Bautista Agut broke into the Top 10 of the FedEx ATP Rankings, reached his first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon and collected a handful of other impressive results, including the title at the QatarExxonMobile in Doha.

However, 2019 also proved to be a huge mental challenge for the World No. 9. Shortly after losing his mother, Bautista Agut said goodbye to his father with admirable fortitude as he decided to face the situation by stepping forward to continue with his life in sport.

After Spain’s first victory at the ATP Cup, where Bautista Agut won the first point for the team, the 31-year-old sat down with ATPTour.com to look back on his 2019 and the obstacles he faced on the way.

How would you rate your 2019?
Very positively. Besides the results, the most important thing is my game. I played similar tennis all year, with a few dips in form. It’s obvious that you can’t win points all season at every tournament, but I had a very consistent 2019 and it was very good from start to finish.

You started to smash your way through barriers…
Last year I broke several barriers that I had been after for some time. I had been among the Top 15 for five or six years in search of it. It was very important beating [Novak] Djokovic in Doha and then lifting the title. It was very good for me in terms of confidence. Then I played great at the Australian Open, getting through to the Last 16 of a Grand Slam for the first time. From there, the year just got better: semi-finals at Wimbledon and the Top 10 after the quarter-finals in Cincinnati, which was a significant mental challenge.

You entered the Top 100 at 24 years of age. At that time, did you ever imagine reaching these heights?
No, no, of course not. Eight years ago, when I broke into the Top 100, I didn’t see myself as a Top 10 player. I was a long way from that level, but it’s true that when I won in Chennai against [Tomas] Berdych, who was the World No. 5, and then against [Juan Martin] del Potro in Australia, I felt that I had a chance to get higher up. That made me think that I could get better every day. Everyone works to be better, and anyone who says otherwise is lying. It’s our goal at the start of every year, and it’s what has driven me during all this time.

Improve. Work. Evolve. It’s as if it is written in your DNA.
For example, I’ve improved a lot emotionally. I’m better under pressure, and that gave me a bit of peace of mind to overcome those barriers in 2019. We go out on court every day to train for two or three hours in a bid to improve everything: our serve, our return, our forehand, our backhand, our volley... We try to be better every day, and the only way of doing that is by evolving every aspect of the game.

What do you feel most proud of right now?
That the average level of my competitive game is very high. I make it difficult for the person opposite me, whoever the opponent is. You have to play very well to beat me.

[VISIT ATP CUP]

What do you do to prevent that average level you mentioned from dropping throughout the whole year?
At the end of the day, that’s the hardest job, the most difficult, but also the most important. There are many difficult days; training, at home, with your family, with your wife... You have to get up, get into work mode and face it. You have to accept that it’s impossible to always be well, and make an extra effort so that the bad days don’t take anything away. On those occasions, the idea is not so much to make gains, but to at least maintain your game.

You lost your father last November. Shortly before that, your mother passed away. Have you surprised yourself with the way you handled it?
I do surprise myself, yes. I look back and... I’m not just talking about the death of my father, also that of my mother. I didn’t turn my back on my work and I maintained my game despite everything I’ve been through in recent years. I’ve got up every day as if nothing was the matter, I packed my suitcases to go to the tournaments, doing long tours. When I think about it, it was very difficult. I’ve been through really hard, overwhelming moments. It may have been too much for most people, but I decided to put my problems to one side and focus on sport. Tennis, living on tour, really helped me. It would have been much more difficult to deal with my father’s situation at home every day. For example, if I were a tennis coach working in Castellon and returned home every day... that would have been torture. Being able to disconnect a little from everything there helped me

What did you tell yourself during those times?
That I’ve been working for one thing my whole life. Am I going to throw it all away because of what’s happening? I asked myself a lot of questions and that was one of them. I didn’t want to miss this chance to be on tour, to earn a living, to keep fighting for the same thing I’ve been fighting for all these years. I’m sure my parents would have encouraged me to carry on with my life. Family apart, at the end of the day, you have to continue on your own path. That was the main thing in my head.

From outside it seems as if everyone treated you incredibly well.
I felt well supported, well loved. A lot of people could identify with situations that have happened to me. I found out about great tragedies... I had my father in intensive care for six months, and a further five in the Institut Guttmann in Barcelona. I’ve seen tetraplegic babies and 15-year-old kids who were in motorbike accidents, and were in the same situation as my father. It’s very eye-opening. I have a more open mind now.

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What’s your main hobby?
Horses. The first mare I had was when I was 10, and I’ve had horses for 21 years. It’s something I’m passionate about, and I’ll have them for my whole life. I don’t know if it will be my job, but it will definitely be one of my biggest pastimes like it is now.

How many do you have?
Eight. I’m building some new stables in Castellon, and I employ someone to look after them as if they were people. They are animals that require very similar things to an athlete: care, food, treatment... you really have to be very attentive, looking after all the details.

<a href='https://www.atptour.com/en/players/roberto-bautista-agut/bd06/overview'>Roberto Bautista Agut</a> and some of his horses

Do you like riding or taking care of everything they need?
Everything, but the thing I like most is getting up in the morning, having breakfast and going to feed them, being with them for a while. I normally spend an hour there before training, I talk to my employee about the work they have to do and check that they are all okay. Then I can go to training happy.

The other day you started 2020 with a victory in the ATP Cup. How will you surpass your 2019 in 2020?
The most important thing in my tennis career is that I’ve taken it little by little, but always being the best player. From 10 years ago to now, I’m a completely different player, and that’s the most important thing. Doing a good job with the team, being well advised and staying excited about training. The improvements don’t come from one day to the next, they take a lot of hard work, but the most important thing in my career is that I’ve always been moving forward.

You were on the brink of qualifying for the Nitto ATP Finals last season. Is it a goal for you now?
Last year, if I’d won the match against [Matteo] Berrettini in Shanghai, I would possibly have been at the Nitto ATP Finals. I was on the verge... It will be a goal until I retire. My goal at the start of the season is to try and always reach 2,000 points, and from there see how the year goes. In 2020 it will be the same, but without being obsessed about results. I’m 31 and I’ve had a very good career, no matter what happens.

Do you talk about other goals with your team?
I don’t like talking about it, no. I don’t let my coach Pepe [Vendrell] talk about results or rankings. He has a very similar daily philosophy to me, so we don’t talk about that. When I had a streak of 12 or 13 consecutive Last 16's, I would be destroyed when I got to the changing rooms because I couldn’t get past that barrier, and we talked a little more about that than normal, but it’s not a topic of conversation that comes up every day.