Djokovic has too much for Bautista-Agut

WIMBLEDON – Roberto Bautista Agut has a lot to be proud of this Wimbledon.

It’s not just that he reached his first Grand Slam semifinal. After overcoming some understandable early nerves, the 31-year-old can also be proud of what he came up with during the biggest match of his career.

Centre Court at Wimbledon, against the defending champion, with Novak Djokovic the heavy favorite. And, almost everyone dismissing even a whiff of a possibility that the 31-year-old Spaniard could pull off the upset.

He just wasn’t quite good enough.

Not only that, it was an overlooked match because of what was to come in the nightcap – a “rematch” of the iconic 2008 singles final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

But for a “oh, get on with it to we can see Fedal” match, it was a good one.

For about a set and a half, a very good one.

Too much experience from the defending champ

Unfortunately for Bautista Agut, Djokovic had just too much experience in these moments. And he simply had more tennis options at his disposal in a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory that put him into the final.

As it turns out, against Roger Federer.

Bautista Agut had actually beaten Djokovic the last two times they met – both this season, in Doha and Miami.

Both times, he came back after losing the first set to squeeze out a tight second set, and then close out the victory.

If there were moments of patchy play from Djokovic in the first part of the match, it could well have been because he had those losses somewhere in his mind. He had every reason to be confident. But he also knew what could happen, if things didn’t go right. 

Djokovic

When innate confidence battles occasional spurts of doubt, the level necessarily drops while the two duke it out.

The other element was that Djokovic sometimes seems to need an enemy to fight against. It’s a mechanism that charges him up, that he uses to good, not bad effect.

Against Federer or Nadal, who are chasing the same history, there’s no need to look further.

But a player like Bautista Agut is, in some senses, like a blank canvas. He doesn’t give you anything to fire you up. He doesn’t create much on the tennis court to inspire you to create something better.

He’s just there, gracious, fighting hard, solid, waiting for the better player to come up with the goods to beat him.

So Djokovic engaged the crowd a little bit when it got behind the underdog, just to give him something to battle against.

And in the end, Djokovic came up with those goods.

Forward-thinking Djokovic

Perhaps he could have beaten Bautista Agut from the baseline. It is both their strengths. Obviously, the No. 1 is better at it. But limiting it to baseline rallies would be to play into Bautista Agut’s hands. 

The longer he let his opponent remain in his comfort zone, the better the chances that he could get grooved.

The Djokovic of 2019 has a lot more than that. His game plan Friday was not to win the rallies every time – he did win that 45-shot rally that will live on in infamy to grass-court purists), but to create, to push the envelope.

Was it in the back of the Serb’s mind that it was in his interest to bank every bit of energy he could for what was going to be a tough final on Sunday – regardless of who won the other semi? Possibly. If so, the game plan served a dual purpose.

If Djokovic’s volley and his slice backhand are the least technically-sound weapons in his arsenal, he has become at home with them. And he has improved them over the years. He used both very well on Friday.

Djokovic

Djokovic came to net 53 times in those four sets, and won 42 of those points – a shade below 80 per cent. 

It was the most he had come in through six matches, although in his first five, he also committed to moving forward. Djokovic kicked off his Wimbledon going 17-for-21 at the net against Philipp Kohlschreiber. And in none of the matches was his success rate at the net below 70 per cent.

Those were extra levels of tennis that Bautista Agut doesn’t have. And in the end, the defending champion survived a high-quality period in the second and the first part of the third set from his Spanish opponent, and rolled from there.

Tennis (Life) Birthdays – April 14, 2019

Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP), 31

Too often overlooked because of his low-profile personality, Bautista Agut has been one of the steadiest performers on Tour in recent years.

He’s been in the top 30 (and often in the top 20) every single week since May 5, 2014.

Occasionally a great result. Almost always a good result. And always a full-out effort.

Do that week after week, and you’re going to have both a solid ranking and cash in the bank. Bautista Agut likely will top the $10 million mark in Monte Carlo this week.

In his 15th year as a pro, Bautista is currently at No. 23. His career high of No. 13 came in October, 2016.

He has won two tournaments a year for the last three years. In 2019, he’s already a champion in Doha.

And it should be pointed out, because he’s a Spaniard, that eight of his career titles have come on hard courts. The other – his first, back in 2014 – came on grass.

Ouanna
Bautista Agut has been in the top 30 every single week for the last five years. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Bautista Agut is 14-4 on the season going into Monte Carlo, where he’s unseeded and will play John Millman in the first round. The winner gets Rafael Nadal in the second round. And given there are hints that Nadal is not at 100 per cent, who knows what could happen?

The two, a bit surprisingly, have only met twice, with Nadal winning both.

Bautista Agut opened 2019 with a title in Doha, beating Stan Wawrinka, Novak Djokovic and then Tomas Berdych in the final. 

And he supplied plenty of drama in reaching the quarterfinals at the Australian Open. Bautista Agut was the protagonist in Andy Murray’s emotional five-set loss in the first round. He also defeated Marin Cilic and homeboy Millman in five sets. Ultimately, he lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas in four close sets.

Ouanna

Bautista also reached the quarterfinals at the Miami Open – again defeating Djokovic after losing the first set 6-1.

The Spaniard will come into this year’s French Open with a heavy heart, after he lost his mother just before last year’s tournament.

Mourning his mother, Bautista-Agut perseveres

Jan Siemerink (NED), 49

Ouanna

The Dutch lefty reached the top-20 in both singles and doubles during his career.

He won four ATP Tour titles and more than $4.3 million in prize money, despite having a career won-loss record one match over .500 at 273-272.

In doubles, he won 10 titles, including the Miami Open and Monte Carlo Masters.

Siemerink was captain of the Dutch Davis Cup team until 2016, and also technical director of the Dutch Tennis Federation.

And in Feb. 2018, he was named team manager of the Amsterdam professional football club AFC Ajax, a team he had long supported.

Jim Grabb (USA), 55

JimGrabb
Ouanna

Grabb was another versatile player.

But although he reached an impressive No. 24 in the world in singles, he got to No. 1 in doubles in 1989.

Grabb won the French Open and the year-end championships with Patrick McEnroe, and the 1992 U.S. Open with Richey Reneberg.

He was captain of his tennis team at Stanford, and played on two NCAA Championship teams. He also played Davis Cup, and he served as vice-president of the Player Council.

What else? He graduated from Stanford with a degree in economics, became a chartered financial analyst and worked in the investor relations department of a global hedge fun firm.

He also coached.

And these days, he’s a Mindfulness Institute Accredited Teacher, who helps athletes (and corporations) with elite performance training

He also had – and presumably sill has – a massive head of hair.

Josselin Ouanna (FRA), 33

Why do two players, similar in height and build, similarly touted, end up on the opposite ends of the tennis success spectrum?

This Frenchman is a living, breathing example that junior success doesn’t necessarily translate into success on the ATP Tour.

Ouanna was a very, very good junior in the time of his friend and compatriot Gaël Monfils. He came along in a pretty great French tennis generation that included Gilles Simon, Jérémy Chardy, Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

He got to No. 9 in the ITF junior rankings in 2004, after he beat Novak Djokovic in the semis of the junior Australian Open before losing to Monfils in the final.

He also got to the semis of the Orange Bowl late in 2003, coming within a point or two of beating Marcos Baghdatis in straight sets before going down in three.

Ouanna

Where is he now?

Ouanna  played most of his junior doubles with Monfils, although he also teamed up with current pros Chardy and Simon. And all the other guys made it.

He didn’t.

The 6-4, 200-pound Ouanna cracked the top 100 at No. 88, late in the 2009 season. It was brief. He ended up playing 26 matches at the ATP Tour level, winning nine of them.

OuannaHis last singles matches were first-round losses at Futures in France, both by retirement, in 2015. He played one Futures in doubles in 2016. But that was it for his pro career.

According to this piece last year, he has continued to play the money tournament in France.

“I was never a big fan of travelling. If the circuit was only in France, I’d have continued. But that’s not the case,” he said, noting that on the Futures circuit, you’re responsible for all your expenses while in these French events, you get food and accommodations in addition to (smaller) prize money.

True fact: Ouanna seemed to play his best tennis in France (that’s true of many of the French players). 

At the French Open in 2009, the beneficiary of a wild card, he beat good clay-courter Marcel Granollers in five sets in the first round, and then pulled off a five-set, 10-8 in the fifth win over Marat Safin on the big court.

He went down to Fernando Gonzalez in three competitive sets in the third round.

Ouanna

Ouanna reunited with his old partner Monfils in 2011 at the French Open. They played on Court 7, losing to Daniel Nestor and Max Mirnyi 7-6, 6-3.  

Mourning his mother, Bautista-Agut perseveres

PARIS – When you’ve just turned 30, you don’t expect to lose your mother.

But that’s what happened to Spaniard Roberto Bautista-Agut a week ago, suddenly and unexpectedly.

There is still no confirmed information about exactly what happened.

And so it was with a heavy heart that he took the court against Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan Monday, for his first-round match at the French Open.

Down two sets to one, Bautista-Agut prevailed 6-2, 6-7 (3) 1-6, 6-4, 6-4 in 3 1/2 hours to advance to the second round. He’ll play qualifier Santiago Giraldo.

Esther Agut managed a clothing store in Castellón.

Bautista-Agut, who pulled out of Rome as a preventative measure because of a hip issue, decided to carry on.

“Today, it was not easy to get the right feelings on the court. I just wanted to stay there, to fight until the last point. I think in some moments, I fell down, but then I could recover and I finished the match playing very well,” Bautista-Agut said afterwards.

“The best thing I thought on the court was to fight until the end, to give everything on the court, and that’s the most important thing.”

“It was a very emotional match, very intense,” he said afterwards, in Spanish. It was hard to manage everything.”