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Bautista Agut: 'Tennis Has Been My Escape'

  • Posted: May 18, 2020

Bautista Agut: ‘Tennis Has Been My Escape’

Spaniard talks exclusively about the highs and lows of his life

It says much for the character of Roberto Bautista Agut that some of his greatest moments in recent years accompanied an inner turmoil that enveloped his family for too long. There was resilience when his mother, Ester, a manager of a clothing store in Castellón de la Plana, passed away in May 2018, shortly prior to Roland Garros, which the Spaniard contested. Then, there was another glimmer of his spirit, when he returned to national colours for the 2019 Davis Cup Finals, one day after the funeral of his father, Joaquin, who suffered an accident at home four years earlier and, subsequently, needed a great deal of care. He not only beat Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime in Madrid, three days after his father’s death, but his unexpected return set the tone for Spain’s sixth triumph in the international team competition.

“I felt stressed 24 hours per day for four years,” Bautista Agut told “It was very difficult. Many times, when I was by my father’s side, I found that it was difficult and stressful, and I needed to stay away for a while. I’d seen my father in intensive care for six months and a further five months at the Institut Guttmann in Barcelona, witnessing tetraplegic babies and 15-year-old kids, who were in motorbike accidents, and were in the same situation as my father. But, whenever I left home to go to tournaments, I felt that my father needed me. Both of us wanted to support each other, it was a reciprocal feeling. I was fortunate to be able to say goodbye in the last minutes of my father’s life.”

The emotional finale, in November last year, capped the best season of his career, that included six of his friends flying from his pre-planned stag-do — booked six months earlier — in Ibiza to sit on Centre Court and watch him play in the semi-finals of The Championships. Bautista Agut may be straight-faced on the court, belying emotion, but you know it’s there in his mind, accompanied by occasional fist pumps and screams of ‘¡Vamos!’. To beat him, as Novak Djokovic did in the Wimbledon semi-finals, is often a grind: a quest of patience and determination, as his demeanour is so controlled that there’s little chance an opponent can get a mental edge. His strokes are compact, so little can go wrong.

“I’ve been through very difficult times, it’s been a really tough experience,” says Bautista Agut, who has maintained his place in the Top 20 of the FedEx ATP Rankings for much of the past four years. “They have taught me a lot about life. Tennis helped me to have a free mind, as I was very focused on my job as much as I could, so to not be thinking all the time about the problems I had back home. Tennis has been my escape, my help to deal with everything that happened in the best possible way.”

Bautista Agut horses 2020

Ana, whom he married five months ago, his dogs and horses have all provided the softly spoken Bautista Agut much-needed support to recovery. “Ana has helped me a lot,” says the 31-year-old. “Right after starting our relationship my dad had his accident. Ana has always been by my side and supported me. She gave me a bigger perspective and our wedding day was incredible. I’d never imagined how a wedding could be; but being together with all the people we love made it very special. It was an unforgettable moment and one of the best parties of my life.

“We have some animals: dogs, horses and all live together… We love them. Maybe I love them more, but Ana has to accept it! We live in calm, together at home. I have been traveling for a long time [Bautista Agut turned pro in 2005] and I’ve spent a lot of time in hotels, so when I’m at home I relax.”

In the space of 10 days in November 2019, when Bautista Agut rose to a career-high World No. 9, he experienced the very best and lowest moments of his life: the passing of his father, helping Spain capture the Davis Cup and, six days later, his wedding to Ana. For all of the Spaniard’s steely on-court resilience, those three chapters provided an intimate snapshot of a player who is held in very high esteem on the ATP Tour.

The highlight this year has been Bautista Agut going 6-0 at the inaugural ATP Cup and helping his beloved country reach the final (l. to Team Serbia). And for all of his nine ATP Tour titles, with a high-point being the ATP 500-level Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in March 2018, and his 11 victories over Top 10 opponents, what he needs now is an element of good fortune.

Having served as an alternate at last year’s Nitto ATP Finals, Bautista Agut has his sights set on competing at the season finale, the 50-year anniversary this year at The O2 in London, or, once the tournament moves to Turin in 2021. “It is one of the goals I would like to achieve before retiring,” he says. “I know how difficult it is, I know that I have been very close some seasons. It’s not something I’m obsessed about, but it remains a goal I’d like to achieve some day.


“What keeps me motivated is my competitiveness. I’m very competitive both as an athlete and person. I’m always trying to improve and win, adding minor details to my game, because it’s a feeling I love. I’m also aware of my main strengths and the foundations of my game, one should never lose them. I fought all my life to play in a Davis Cup final, so to return after a few days away and have the support of [captain] Sergi Bruguera and the whole team, made my decision easy. I work a lot at home, I keep a very healthy lifestyle. I give my all for the sport, working hard and keeping healthy to compete at a very high level and live the best moments of my career.”

Few would begrudge ‘RBA’ anything.

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How Wawrinka Made A 'Dream Come True' In Geneva

  • Posted: May 18, 2020

How Wawrinka Made A ‘Dream Come True’ In Geneva

Learn about the Swiss’ breakthrough in his home country

Stan Wawrinka was borne in Lausanne, Switzerland, about an hour’s drive from Geneva. So, it’s only fitting that the Swiss star has enjoyed a love affair with the city’s ATP 250 tennis tournament.

Wawrinka made his first ATP Tour final at home in 2005, when he advanced to the Gstaad final. But it took him 11 years to make another championship match in Switzerland, and that came at the 2016 Geneva Open.

Then 31, Wawrinka arrived in Geneva searching for form. He had lost three of his previous four matches entering the tournament.

But the home favourite, who was World No. 4, lost only six games in his first two matches against strong clay-court players Albert Ramos-Vinolas and Pablo Carreno Busta, respectively, and he didn’t look back. After outlasting Lukas Rosol in a three-set semi-final, Wawrinka defeated then-World No. 11 Marin Cilic 6-4, 7-6(11) to capture his first ATP Tour trophy in Switzerland.

“It’s a dream come true to be able to win a title in Switzerland, after all these tournaments,” Wawrinka said. “To be able to do it here in Geneva, in the event’s second year, is something special. The fans were great. They made a lot of noise today.”

The stands at the Tennis Club de Geneve Eaux-Vives were completely packed. When Cilic missed a final backhand long, everyone rose to their feet in celebration after their man won a hard-fought final.

“Marin is a great player,” Wawrinka said. “He really ramped up the pressure toward the end, with those set points, so it was nice to be able to finish off the match.”

Wawrinka wasted little time winning another tour-level title in Switzerland, retaining his trophy the following year in Geneva.

Once again, the Swiss arrived at the tournament having lost three of his previous four matches. But Wawrinka was inspired by his home fans and one extremely special fan: his daughter, Alexia. He beat Mischa Zverev 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the final.

“I’m extremely happy to win my second title in Switzerland. It means a lot to me,” Wawrinka said. “This is the first time that my daughter is in the stadium when I won a title, and that makes it even more special.”

Did You Know?
Wawrinka also enjoyed success in Geneva on the ATP Challenger Tour. He earned two of his six titles at that level in Geneva, triumphing in 2003 and 2004.

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Pressure? Murray & Rashford Explain There Is A Difference Between Tennis & Football

  • Posted: May 18, 2020

Pressure? Murray & Rashford Explain There Is A Difference Between Tennis & Football

Learn more about Murray and Rashford’s recent conversation

Former World No. 1 Andy Murray and Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford excel at tennis and football, respectively, and both men compete on the world’s biggest stages. But according to the two stars, the pressure they face isn’t quite the same.

“One of the nice things about an individual sport is that the outcome of the match is solely reliant on you, so if you go out and have a great performance, the chances are that you win,” Murray told Rashford. “In a team sport, you might play badly and the rest of your team plays great, and you still win. That’s where I feel like in the individual sport it puts quite a lot of pressure on. You put quite a lot of pressure on yourself to perform. But I guess in a team sport as well, you don’t want to let your fans down, you don’t want to let your teammates down as well.”

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Growing up, Murray greatly enjoyed playing team sports, including football. The Scot enjoyed the camaraderie of competing with his friends, and he remains a massive football fan. 

“I did love that and I still just love the team competitions in tennis a lot, but it is quite different because the losses as well that you have are maybe tougher because you don’t have really a group of people around you that are dealing with the same thing,” Murray said. “There are pros and cons I think to both, but I love the fact that in tennis if you put in the work yourself you solely can influence the outcome of the match. You don’t need to rely on other players as well.”

With that said, there are moments for Rashford on the pitch when all the pressure falls squarely on him, or another individual on the club.

“I think the moment of a penalty is the one time where a footballer’s mindset is in the similar mindset to what you just spoke about,” Rashford said. “It’s just you against the keeper, and if you take a good penalty, you’re going to score and ultimately win the game for your team.

“With tennis, you’re doing that all the time against one opponent. I’d probably say you’re in more of a rhythm of doing that, so I’d probably say the penalty is more difficult, purely because there aren’t that many of them that come about in games.”

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Murray is used to the pressure of trying to serve out a match, or save break points. But when a football player has to take a crucial penalty, it is a completely different pace compared to the rest of the match.

“I think as well [that is] one of the things that I would imagine… is unbelievably difficult. Because if you got a penalty at the end of a Champions League final, there would be a good few minutes before you’d actually take it,” Murray said. “There’s a really big build up to it, like the suspense to it which is probably a lot of what creates that pressure and drama. If someone got fouled and immediately ten seconds later you just went up and took the penalty, it would probably be a lot easier. But you have a lot of time to think as well when you have the penalties and that’s one of the things that must be very tough.”

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Resurfaced: How Zverev Rode Locker Room Motivation Back To London

  • Posted: May 18, 2020

Resurfaced: How Zverev Rode Locker Room Motivation Back To London

Alexander Zverev, who last season was the youngest champion in a decade, has returned to the Nitto ATP Finals. Profile by Mark Hodgkinson.

Editor’s Note: is resurfacing features to bring fans closer to their favourite players during the current suspension in tournament play. This story was originally published on 5 November 2019.

Bathroom breaks don’t come any more star-powered, or momentous, than the one Alexander Zverev took in Geneva this year. As well as stars, there were asterisks, as it was a colourful intervention backstage at the Laver Cup.

Walking from the court to the locker-room, Zverev was accompanied by two of his Team Europe colleagues, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who between them have qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals 32 times. That was 39 Grand Slam titles’ worth of emotional intelligence that Zverev was listening to during that interlude. If the language was spicy, then that only demonstrated the strength of feeling, with Federer telling Zverev that he wanted to see him pumping his fist, or shouting “C’mon”, every time he won a point. And when Zverev lost a point, he should “take it like a man”. Nadal chipped in: “No more negative face.”

Any account of how Zverev has made it back to the Nitto ATP Finals – where last year, aged just 21, he became the youngest champion in a decade – must surely start with what happened in Geneva.

“I yelled at him all the way to the locker-room, in the locker-room, and on the way back,” Federer has disclosed. Going on a bathroom break can turn your night, your season, perhaps even your career around – just consider Andy Murray, who, before the fifth set of his 2012 US Open final against Novak Djokovic, locked himself in a loo, stared into the mirror and gave himself a pep-talk that changed British tennis history.

Up until the Laver Cup in September, Zverev hadn’t been at all satisfied with the tennis he had been playing this year. He felt as though he had lacked belief and had played too defensively. He had been too down on himself and had been doubting his own talent. But it seems as though Federer and Nadal’s words refreshed Zverev’s mindset, as he played with conviction and an aggressive edge during the Asian swing, reaching the semi-finals in Beijing and the final at the ATP Masters 1000 event in Shanghai, where his run included a three-setter against Federer in the last eight, having had match points to beat the Swiss in straight sets.

If anyone was in any doubt that this was a rebooted Zverev, he screamed out at the end: “This is my [expletive] time.” You could forgive Zverev’s language, just as you could excuse Federer’s in Geneva. “I told him at the net that he showed great character and that he had been strong, and that he didn’t show any frustrations or too much negativity,” Federer has said. And if you’re not going to listen to the twin force of Federer and Nadal, then who exactly will you listen to?

But it would be remiss not to mention the others who have helped Zverev stay strong. While Zverev’s player-coach partnership with Ivan Lendl came to an end in the summer, the German is still coached by his father, his brother Mischa is also a professional tennis player (they won a doubles title in Acapulco this season), and his mother travels the tennis road. “It is obviously great to have your family around, you never really get homesick. You never really have the urgency to go home like other players maybe do,” Zverev said. “It is obviously great to have the close ones that know you the best and to always have them around.”

Just as important has been Zverev’s dog. “My dog always keeps me in a good mood. He is the easiest dog to travel with – you get him on a 16-hour flight and he sleeps. He doesn’t bark, he doesn’t walk around, he doesn’t do anything.”

Even when he went through a rough patch, Zverev tried to stay positive. After all, his season wasn’t as disappointing as some were making it out to be. He was still competing at the biggest tournaments in the world, and he won a title at the clay-court event in Geneva in the spring. As he remarked in August: “You can see things with the glass half empty or half full. It has not been the best year for me. For me, the year can also get better. It’s not all as bad as everybody thinks it is.”

When beating Federer in Shanghai, one of Zverev’s first thoughts was of this court in Greenwich, and the ‘Race to London’. This is the third year in a row that Zverev is among the world’s leading eight players at The O2. Zverev’s astonishing tennis here last November brought him the biggest title of his career to date – with his victories over Federer and Djokovic in his last two matches, he became the first player since Andre Agassi in 1990 to defeat the top two seeds in the semi-final and final. Plenty of history was made that day, with Zverev also the youngest champion since a 20-year-old Djokovic won the tournament in 2008, and the first German winner since Boris Becker in 1995.

And plenty more history would be made this week, should Zverev retain his title. Winning this tournament is an astounding achievement, but becoming a multiple champion brings a real elevation in status. Murray only won this title once. Agassi just has one title. Jimmy Connors and Stefan Edberg also won this tournament just the once. Zverev can this week move above those champions on the leaderboard. If he does, he might care to think back to that bathroom break in Geneva.

And if Zverev shows plenty of positive emotion this week, and avoids what Nadal calls “negative face”, you’ll know why.

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Frenchmen Find Form In Lyon

  • Posted: May 18, 2020

Frenchmen Find Form In Lyon

Learn more about the Open Parc Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Lyon, an ATP 250 event

After hosting an indoor hard-court tournament from 1987 to 2009, Lyon returned to the ATP Tour in 2017 with a new clay-court event: the Open Parc Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Lyon.

The tournament, one of five French ATP Tour events, would have been held this week if not for the Tour suspension due to coronavirus. looks at five things to know about the ATP 250-level tournament.

1) French Finalists
In each edition of the Open Parc Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Lyon, a French player has reached the final.

In 2017, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga survived two three-set matches before overcoming Tomas Berdych in straight sets to lift the trophy. Last year, Benoit Paire defeated #NextGenATP Canadians Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime en route to the title.

In 2018, Gilles Simon fell in three sets to Dominic Thiem in the championship match.

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2) A Stellar Debut
The first edition of the Open Parc Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Lyon featured Top 20 stars Milos Raonic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych and Nick Kyrgios. The draw also included French hopes Simon and Paire, as well as Juan Martin del Potro and Borna Coric.

The top three seeds — Raonic, Tsonga and Berdych — advanced to the semi-finals. Tsonga and Berdych contested the championship match in what proved to be their 13th and final ATP Head2Head clash (Berdych leads 8-5), with Tsonga prevailing 7-6(2), 7-5.

3) Fantastic Felix
Three months after reaching his maiden ATP Tour final at the Rio Open presented by Claro, Felix Auger-Aliassime made an impressive debut in Lyon. After a straight-sets win against John Millman, the #NextGenATP Canadian earned back-to-back three-set victories against Steve Johnson and Nikoloz Basilashvili to reach the final. The 18-year-old was unable to capture his maiden ATP Tour title, as Paire claimed the trophy after 80 minutes.

4) Doubles Drama
In 2018, Nick Kyrgios and Jack Sock captured their first title as a team in dramatic fashion. The Australian-American duo did not drop a set en route to the final, where they faced Roman Jebavy and Matwe Middelkoop.

Kyrgios and Sock, who entered the contest with a 10-2 team record, trailed 8/9 in the Match Tie-break before claiming three straight points to earn the title. It was Kyrgios’ first ATP Tour doubles crown and Sock’s third trophy, with as many different partners, that season.

Sock, Kyrgios

5) The Final Preparation For Roland Garros
Held the week before Roland Garros, alongside the Geneva Open, the Open Parc Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Lyon provides ATP Tour stars with a final opportunity to prepare for the clay-court Grand Slam championship.

In the past two years, Lyon champions have reached the Round of 16 or better at Roland Garros. Dominic Thiem advanced to the championship match in 2018, while last year’s champion Benoit Paire reached the fourth round in Paris.

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