How Roberto Bautista Agut Is Reaching New Heights
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on 8 August 2019. Roberto Bautista Agut ensured his rise to the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings with his third-round win on Thursday at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.
Roberto Bautista Agut grew up watching the likes of Juan Carlos Ferrero, Sergi Bruguera and Carlos Moya. All three were Spanish Grand Slam champions. They were role models for Bautista Agut to look up to, a benchmark to strive towards.
“I wanted to be one of the best players in the Spanish history,” Bautista Agut told ATPTour.com.
Rafael Nadal, who is two years older than him, has become one of the best players in history, and the likes of Fernando Verdasco, Feliciano Lopez, Pablo Carreno Busta, Tommy Robredo and the recently-retired David Ferrer have made waves of their own in the sport. But 2019 has been the year that Bautista Agut has soared to new heights, currently at a career-high No. 13 in the ATP Rankings.
“At the beginning I thought I could make it,” Bautista Agut said of the start of his career. “Then I passed through very difficult moments. But the good thing is that I am here, I am healthy, I am enjoying my career and I keep improving.”
On 21 May 2018, Bautista Agut's mother passed away, and groin and abdomen injuries hindered the middle of his 2018 season. But the nine-time ATP Tour titlist has found some of the best form of his career in 2019. Bautista Agut advanced to his first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon, pushing World No. 1 and eventual champion Novak Djokovic to four sets before succumbing.
In the bigger picture, that effort propelled Bautista Agut into the thick of the ATP Race To London, as the veteran seeks to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals for the first time. In 2016, he finished 14th in the Race, serving as an alternate. But he entered this week’s Coupe Rogers in eighth place, in strong position to make a run at playing in The O2.
“It would be good news for me to have the opportunity to play the [year-end] Masters,” Bautista Agut said of competing in London. “But now, it’s still far. It’s still three months or four months of the season and I have to win a lot of matches and to play very good tennis if I want to be there.”
Taking it one step at a time is how Bautista Agut has put himself in this position in the first place. The Spaniard does not feel he’s made a massive change to his game that has set him on this upwards trajectory. Instead, he has steadily worked on various facets of his tennis.
“The good thing is that I keep improving. I keep working hard and I feel that I am a better player every year, which is the most important thing to move up in the [ATP] Rankings,” Bautista Agut said. “I’m trying to keep doing everything similarly, everything I’ve been doing from the beginning of the season until now. I will try to keep the same things.”
To Nadal, Bautista Agut’s performance this season and his standing in the Race is not a surprise, given his consistency over the years. Bautista Agut has finished inside the year-end Top 25 in the ATP Rankings each year since 2014.
“He's a great player. He has been a great player for a very long time already,” Nadal told ATPTour.com during a press conference. “This year the big improvement is he made the semi-finals of Wimbledon.
“When you are in that [ATP] Ranking, Roberto has been in a very high position in the Rankings for a very long time, the difference being Top 10 or being [No.] 16 is being in the right moment in the right time. He has been there in Wimbledon, winning a couple of matches. [It has] been a lot of points for him. He is a very [consistent] player, very stable player, very strong mentally.”
According to Ferrero, Bautista Agut’s idol, that may be the part of his game that he has improved the most. About a decade ago, Bautista Agut went to practise at the former World No. 1’s academy, doing pre-season preparation in December for two or three years in a row.
“At that time, he wasn’t as good of a player as he is right now because he was like 200 or 150 in the [ATP] Rankings. I thought that he would play a bit better on hard courts than clay courts because of his kind of shots, his forehand and backhand,” Ferrero told ATPTour.com. “But I was thinking that he could improve his way of working, his attitude on the court and physically he could be the player he is right now.”
Before this season, Bautista Agut held a 7-46 record against opponents inside the world’s Top 10. But this year, he has gone 4-4 against the elite group, handing World No. 1 Novak Djokovic two of his six losses. The No. 10 seed at this week’s Coupe Rogers has risen to the occasion against the best in the sport with no apprehension.
“That’s why we practise a lot. That’s why as a kid you dream to play on these courts, big matches,” Bautista Agut said. “With experience now, I can enjoy more those moments and I know how to manage all the difficult emotions during those situations.”
To Ferrero, that is what Bautista Agut has improved the most. The 16-time tour-level champion thinks that goes back to the 2016 Rolex Shanghai Masters, where the then-World No. 19 did not drop a set en route to the final, including a semi-final triumph against Djokovic.
“I think he improved very much his mentality, the way he faces the moments, to go and play the best players in the world on the court,” Ferrero said. “I think what he improved the most is his mentality facing the problems and how he manages the important moments on the court.”
On Wednesday, Bautista Agut was down a break late in the second set of his second-round match in Montreal, with Diego Schwartzman serving to force a decider. But the Spaniard remained calm, and simply kept going about his business and doing what he’s been doing a lot of in 2019: winning.
“I really believe if he stays relaxed like he is, he going to have a good chance to be in the World Tour Finals,” Nadal said. “He's one of the most stable players on Tour.”
Did You Know?
With Kei Nishikori's loss against Richard Gasquet on Wednesday, Bautista Agut can move into seventh place in the Race with a victory against Gasquet Thursday. If Daniil Medvedev loses to Cristian Garin in the Round of 16 in Montreal, a Bautista Agut victory would propel him into sixth.