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Bautista Agut: 'You Have To Keep The Flame Burning'

  • Posted: Dec 21, 2021

Roberto Bautista Agut has never been in a rush. The Spaniard, one of the most consistent players on Tour, broke into the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings at 24 years of age. His journey has been a steady one, completing each phase with measured aplomb. Now, with an already impressive career under his belt, he is looking to prolong his prowess on Tour.

The Castellon-native will embark on the 2022 season having ended his professional relationship with Pepe Vendrell, his coach for the past 11 years, time during which he made his way into the elite. With Vendrell by his side, he produced the most brilliant moments of his successful career: his nine ATP Tour titles, Grand Slam semi-final, ATP Masters 1000 final and many other milestones.

“It’s a moment you never see coming,” Bautista Agut admitted to “Pepe and I have practically been one person for all this time. We were by each other’s sides for many years and I’ve enjoyed some of the best moments of my career with him in my corner. It’s a big change, especially at first. You have some well-drilled routines, you’re really used to certain things, the way you work with a person.”

Bautista Agut will start this new phase of his career with a new formula, bringing former Top 50 players Daniel Gimeno-Traver and Tomas Carbonell onto his team. They will split the weeks by his side throughout the season.

“I believe in a dual team. It’s a very demanding sport for just one coach and I think splitting the weeks is the best way,” Bautista Agut said.

Roberto Bautista Agut
Photo Credit: Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour
“Dani has started out very keen and excited. I have approached it with the same attitude and I feel very happy. Dani is great, a very good guy,” Bautista Agut said. “We already had a good relationship off the court. Now I guess the relationship will be even stronger.”

The bond between the two Castellon men is a strong one, and Bautista Agut will be hoping that trust provides a driving force to help him maintain his best tennis in the season during which he will turn 34.

“We’ve met up quite a lot, we’ve even played each other in the odd match,” Bautista Agut recalled. “We’ve played doubles tournaments together. Dani is a player who has had a very long career. He’s someone who has a lot of experience after being a good player. He has a different background to Pepe, who has been fantastic and fundamental for my career.

“Dani will tell me new things, he’ll help both technically and tactically. They are both quite different. Also, I’m also going to be with Tomas this year. I’ve worked with him before, we know each other and it will be important to get his advice.”

Roberto is looking to get the ball rolling again after his 2021 season came to an abrupt end. When he was ready to lead out the Spanish team in the Davis Cup Finals, Bautista Agut had to withdraw from the event at the Caja Mágica due to an abdominal injury that forced him to be cautious and take a step back.

“Injuries are like accidents, they happen when you least expect it,” Bautista Agut said. “It was a shame, but it didn’t hold me back much. Luckily it wasn’t very serious, but a tear means you have to stop everything. I couldn’t train for 15 days, although a week after the tear I started working in the gym.

“Now I’ve been doing fitness and tennis for 10 days. But I’m happy and excited and keen to play next year.”

Roberto Bautista Agut defeated three seeded players en route to the Miami Open presented by Itau semi-finals.
Photo Credit: Michael Reaves/Getty Images
The 2022 season presents a huge challenge for Bautista Agut. The elite of the game is packed with young talent and the average age of the Top 10 at the end of the year was 25.6, the youngest since the 2009 season. What does a player like the Spaniard, who will be celebrating his 34th birthday in April, need to maintain his place among the best players in the world?

“You have to keep the flame burning. Personally I think you have to nurture your passion, take care of it,” Bautista Agut said. “After what happened at the Davis Cup I had three days of holiday, then I started to work straight away. I’m not short on desire! I’m looking forward to having a good year next year and to continuing to compete at the top.”

The Spaniard, who will compete in the ATP Cup in Sydney and the Australian Open to kick off his 2022 season, has no doubt about what he wants from the new year.

“Firstly, to have a consistent year,” said Bautista Agut, who has finished the last eight seasons among the 25 best players in the world. “I’d like to complete the year without any frights or injuries. My second wish is to be able to enjoy tennis and the level of my play, to come off court and feel good about myself and the standard of my game.

“To do that, you have to have a lot of desire, to be very professional, train every day with a goal. There is a key expression that I like to repeat to myself: I have to live and breathe tennis. This sport demands a lot. There has been a change of generation, there are very young people that are already at the top with a different style of tennis to that of a few years ago. Facing that is extra motivation for me. I’m happy to be there for another year and to fight for the top positions again as I have done in recent years.”

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Djokovic Doubles Up In Best Grand Slam Matches Of 2021

  • Posted: Dec 21, 2021

Yesterday, looked at three of the five best Grand Slam matches of 2021. Now, continuing our review of the 2021 season, we will look back at the top two Grand Slam clashes of the year, featuring hard-fought victories for Novak Djokovic.

2) US Open, SF, Novak Djokovic d. Alexander Zverev 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2
All season long, as the pressure and tension mounted, Novak Djokovic remained remarkably poised as he hurtled toward history.

He had won his eighth Australian Open to open the major season, then taken the titles at Roland Garros — beating 13-time Rafael Nadal along the way — and Wimbledon. Thus, he entered the US Open with almost unimaginable possibilities: a Grand Slam not seen in men’s tennis since 1969 and the chance to pass Roger Federer and Nadal with an unprecedented 21st major championship.

But the obstacle was formidable. For six weeks earlier, Alexander Zverev – in another match laced with historic implications – had beaten Djokovic in the semi-finals of the Tokyo Olympics. Zverev erased a one-set deficit by winning 12 of the last 16 games (and then continued on to beat Karen Khachanov in the final). That deprived the 34-year-old Serbian of a chance for an exceedingly rare Golden Slam.

And so it was, appropriately, World No. 1 versus No. 4 in the season’s last major semi-final. Djokovic, perhaps feeling the weight of expectation, did not start well in Arthur Ashe Stadium. For the fourth straight match, just as he had against Kei Nishikori, Jenson Brooksby and Matteo Berrettini, Djokovic dropped the first set. Zverev, a decade younger, looked far fresher.

For the 10th time in 27 major matches, Djokovic was forced to rally from a one-set deficit at the start. Elevating his game, he took the next two sets – the third featured a ludicrous 53-stroke rally – before the German leveled the match with an impeccable fourth. It was Zverev’s lethal serve that got him there, even against the man many people view as the best returner ever.

With Rod Laver, the player who had achieved the last Grand Slam in men’s tennis, watching from the President’s Suite, Djokovic displayed the righteous stuff of a champion. A classic drop shot followed by a whistling forehand pass broke Zverev’s serve for a 2-0 lead. A framed would-be overhead gave Djokovic an insurmountable 4-0 lead – and he responded with a roar in the direction of his team.

Novak Djokovic
Photo Credit: Sarah Stier/Getty Images
After three hours, 43 minutes his dazzling quest remained alive. Djokovic had now won all 27 of his major matches for the season and was 4-0 when it went to a deciding fifth set.

“I would like to say thank you, because the atmosphere was amazing, the best atmosphere of the tournament so far,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview. “These are the moments we live for. These are the kind of unique opportunities that we dream of every day when we wake up and are trying to find motivation to go out there and do the same things over and over again.”

Daniil Medvedev would end Djokovic’s historic pursuit in the final at Flushing Meadows with a comprehensive straight-sets performance.

1) Roland Garros, SF, Novak Djokovic d. Rafael Nadal 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2
The 58th instalment in one of the greatest rivalries of all time well and truly delivered on the hype when World No. 1 Djokovic squared off against 13-time Roland Garros champion Nadal in the semi-finals in Paris.

Esteemed coach and commentator Darren Cahill deemed it “one of the very best matches I’ve seen”, while Andy Murray declared “you cannot play better clay-court tennis than this. It’s perfect”. After four hours and 11 minutes, the Serbian prevailed 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-2.

“It was one of these matches you can remember forever. It was one of the top three matches in my life,” Djokovic said. “To win against Rafa on this court you have to play your best tennis, and tonight I played my best tennis.

“It’s hard to find the words to sum up how I feel. You tell yourself there is no pressure but there is. Pressure is a privilege – to test my game and my character in matches like this.”

Only seven months prior, Nadal had allowed the top seed just seven games in the 2020 final – including a 6-0 opening set – and when the Spaniard charged to an early 5-0 lead in their 2021 rematch, there was a worrying sense of déjà vu for Djokovic.

The numbers were already daunting. Nadal had fallen on clay in the French capital just twice before from 107 matches in 16 years. He was a perfect 26-0 once he reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros and had won 35 straight matches there.

Although Djokovic conceded the opening set, he had already steadied the ship as he won three straight games, saved six set points and two break points before his opponent took it 6-3. It was a small but telling momentum shift as the Serbian levelled the match at a set apiece before the showdown reached its shot-making crescendo in a gruelling 92-minute third set, in which the pair shared 37 winners.

Nadal pegged back a 3-5 deficit and held a set point against Djokovic’s serve at 6-5, before being denied in a tie-break. Such was the magnitude of the match, French authorities made an exception to their Covid-19 pandemic night curfew and allowed spectators to stay until the match’s completion.

The clash looked destined for a fifth set when Nadal jumped to an early 2-0 lead in the fourth set, but Djokovic again showed extraordinary mental resolve as he reeled off six straight games to seal a definitive triumph in the pair’s ATP Head2Head rivalry, which he now leads 30-28.

“I had the big chance with set point at 6-5 on his second serve. That’s it. Anything could happen in that moment,” Nadal said. “Then I made a double fault and missed an easy volley in the tie-break. These kind of mistakes can happen. But if you want to win, you can’t make these mistakes.”

It was Djokovic’s first clay-court win over Nadal since the 2016 quarter-finals in Rome and made him the first man to defeat the Spaniard twice at Roland Garros. No player had beaten Nadal in Paris and gone on to claim the trophy, but that was achieved two days later against Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Victory meant Djokovic closed to within one title of tying Nadal’s and Federer’s record haul of 20 majors, which he went on to do at Wimbledon.

Read more from our Best of 2021 series here. 

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