Roberto Bautista Agut typically flies under radar. The Spaniard is not flashy on the court, nor is he outspoken off it. But in recent years, the 32-year-old has proven himself one of the most difficult opponents on the ATP Tour, and his peers have taken notice.
“He’s probably one of the most underrated tennis players that we have in the past five years,” World No. 1 Novak Djokovic said. “He deserves, I think, more respect than he gets.”
Bautista Agut is mild-mannered, rarely showing excessive emotion on the court. He doesn’t usually crush winners out of the blue. The nine-time ATP Tour champion is methodical. He works the ball around the court and drives opponents crazy with his consistency, giving away almost no free points. Any point a player wins against Bautista Agut is well-earned.
“His style of play is just so consistent. He doesn’t give away much at all. He doesn’t make too many unforced errors. You can always expect him to play at that certain level,” Djokovic said. “He doesn’t drop his level of tennis much at all on any surface.
“He slows you down. He kind of wears you down and tries to, in a way, suffocate you on the court and just wait for his chances, and then he takes it. Mentally, he’s also very strong. He’s resilient. He’s just consistent all around.”
It’s not just his game style that is consistent. The last time Bautista Agut was outside the Top 30 of the FedEx ATP Rankings was in May 2014. Last August, he cracked the Top 10 for the first time aged 31.
He doesn’t win loudly, but he wins a lot. Bautista Agut has earned at least 40 tour-level victories in five of his past six seasons and he is off to a 12-3 start in 2020 after making the Western & Southern Open semi-finals, in which he will play Djokovic.
Just before the ATP Tour resumed last weekend, former World No. 1 Andy Murray did an Instagram Q&A in which a fan asked who the most underrated player on Tour is.
“Good question,” Murray replied. “Roberto Bautista Agut has been in the Top 20 for a long time it feels like!”
“Every time a player like Andy says a good thing about me, it’s always nice,” Bautista Agut told ATPTour.com. “He has all the respect from other players and I’m very, very pleased to listen to these words from Andy.”
Does he believe he’s underrated?
“I don’t care,” Bautista Agut said. “I just want to play.”
That’s what Bautista Agut did in his quarter-final against in-form Daniil Medvedev. Medvedev stormed through the first set 6-1 and held a 0/40 advantage on the Spaniard’s serve in the opening game of the second set. But Bautista Agut kept chipping away until he raised his level, ultimately frustrating the Russian.
“He’s really solid. He knows what he’s doing on court. He knows how to win matches. He wins a lot of matches every year. so he knows his strengths, he knows his weaknesses [and] he tries to play with [them],” Medvedev said. “He’s a smart guy on the court. He’s [been] a top player for years, so for sure he’s going to [beat] many top guys.”
Bautista Agut is never the centre of attention in a players’ lounge. But he is widely respected by everyone, including reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas.
“He’s probably one of my best friends on Tour. We don’t really speak much, but whenever he’s around, we always have a good time, with him and his coach. He’s a really close friend of mine, a really nice guy,” Tsitsipas said. “I think on the court he’s one of the biggest fighters and one of the most consistent and calm players and at the same time, [one of the most] persistent players on the Tour.
“He can play really well. If he’s on a good day, it’s really difficult to play against him.”
Bautista Agut will try to win his fourth consecutive hard-court match against Djokovic on Friday. By doing so, he would advance to his second Masters 1000 final.
“That’s true that I played really good matches against Novak,” Bautista Agut said, before quickly shifting the attention off himself. “I have to tell you that he didn’t lose a match this year. He is the favourite, and I will try to play my game and try to enjoy another good match against him.”