Bautista Agut Goes Back To Basics For Success
Roberto Bautista Agut speaks exclusively to ATPWorldTour.com about his fine start to 2016
Story published 23 February 2016
The more time you spend watching Roberto Bautista Agut, the more you realise he is a remarkable player: a Spaniard dedicated to method and hard work day-in, day-out. Neither tall or muscular, he possesses a steely determination and his training is about repetition.
Once he walks onto court, his focus is the ball and he's started to make waves by keeping his emotions in check. "I do get annoyed when I lose points, but I try to hide my emotions and use them positively in a match," said Bautista Agut in Dubai.
He wasn't always calm under pressure as Esteban Carril, his coach from 2010 to 2013, remembers. "It is something he has worked extremely hard to achieve, credit to him. He is a very smart player, who understands the game perfectly, and it has made him maximise his potential. It is one of his greatest strengths."
Bautista Agut admits, "I feel strong mentally and I've managed everything well on court in tough situations. I don't under-estimate any match, but I have a lot to improve. Last year, I focused too much on results, thinking too much about winning matches. I forgot to focus on how I worked, how I went about winning tennis matches."
It was in failing to convert match points against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Coupe Rogers and Milos Raonic at the Shanghai Rolex Masters last year, that Bautista Agut resolved to go back to basics in order to begin to beat the top players.
Patience, hard work and repetition are central to his plan.
"You have to play every point like it is the most important point," said the 2014 ATP Most Improved Player of the Year. "It's about being consistent, being present on every shot, and having the right ideas. It's okay to lose matches, but if you have the right ideas and work hard then, over time, you will become a great player.”
So far this year, his off-season work has reaped dividends and he has lifted two ATP World Tour trophies (Auckland and Sofia) to move four spots shy of his career-high (No. 14 on 20 October 2014). Wins over John Isner and Tsonga at the ABS Classic in Auckland last month, proved to be a turning point.
"That week was really important for me," he admitted. "Last year, I didn't have the confidence to beat the top guys. I played some great matches last year, but lost matches against Tsonga and Raonic with match points. The difference is always the important matches, the final rounds at the big tournaments. To win a match, to get confidence, and step up a level. I need more wins like Isner, Tsonga or Cilic, as I did last month."
His compatriot, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, has noticed the difference. "I think Roberto has improved a lot. He's very strong and has a winning mentality, he attacks very well. He takes care of all the details to improve and that’s very important. I think more than working hard, the important thing is working well and that is what has been done with his coach, Pepe Vendrell, and also with his previous coach, Esteban Carril."
Hard work has been central to Bautista Agut's life.
First overcoming elbow surgery then making his name in a country with profligate players. Hard work, and three off-season training camps with former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, brought him to the Top 100 of the Emirates ATP Rankings at the relatively ripe 'old' age of 24.
"The way I play tennis now is natural to me," said Bautista Agut. "It is the same way I've always played. Growing up, I often played against older players, which forced me to develop different parts of my game. In Spain, we have a tradition of players who are very consistent and can rally very well, but I wanted to push myself to be different, more aggressive."
Carril, who now is coach to British women's No. 1 Johanna Konta, the recent Australian Open semi-finalist, remembers, "He was the greatest fighter, especially in those days where nothing was going his way or during the years when there plenty of clouds and not so much sunshine around him and his tennis.
"I remember plenty of matches where he was playing far away from what he was capable of and still fought like no other. He had solid weapons to build on and that is what we did. We created a plan to follow and one that could be measured over time and most important... repeatable for him."
In playing closer to the baseline, like his friend David Ferrer, whose words he absorbs likes a sponge, Bautista Agut has become more pro-active than reactive.
Under the guidance of Vendrell, Bautista Agut admits, "We know one another very well, we push ourselves 100 per cent and focus our work in the same direction. He helps me about how to recover and train. That can only bring good things, not always results, but the direction is moving forwards."
With a growing confidence, Inigo Cervantes believes, "If he can stay healthy and plays consistently, he can get even higher in the rankings, for sure."