Roberto Bautista Agut has become a nightmare for top players especially Novak Djokovic beating three times and nearly a fourth in a row on a hard court.
At 32 he has been playing his best tennis including multiple wins over Novak, Stan, Andy, Khachanov, Medvedev, Cilic and many other top players over the last year.
We get excited about players games and defensive ability and movement around the court but we don’t talk about this relentless and tactically astute Spaniard enough!
Not only is he a brick wall in defence but he can be unstoppable on the offence and it’s fascinating to watch him play.
He always seems well prepared, he has a plan in place and you can see it but stopping it has proven extremely tricky.
He has been a problem player for Novak Djokovic and sits an impressive joint fourth in wins over Djokovic whilst he has been world number one. Nadal has seven, Federer and Andy on five and Agut and Del Potro on three.
For someone to have a plan that works against Djokovic on a hard court repeatedly deserves incredible respect but what is it?
First shot after first serve?
The first shot after the first serve is nine times out of the forehand. In Miami last year when he defeated Djokovic it was this ratio of 9-1 and in Cincinnati it was the same to, but why?
Around 60% of the time the forehand of Agut is going into the backhand corner of Djokovic, it locks him up quickly. One shot early one into the backhand extends the forthcoming rally.
This is from Miami last year, 59% of shots after first serve were forehands deep into the backhand trying to put Novak on the back foot. Despite the Djokovic backhand being one of the most difficult shots to break down he can give himself more attacking lifelines on the forehand side where he can from a much deeper position gain control of the rallies.
It’s a brave move but one that works winning 91% of these forehands into the Djokovic backhand corner grinding out the rallies and stopping him from building a productive point.
Agut is a smart defensive player and also a smart player who bides his time. Playing tennis and winning points isn’t about just going for it but working the opponent which he did with his backhand in the first set in Cincinnati.
The intention was obvious, not one backhand down the line during the first set with all of Agut’s backhands going crosscourt.
There was a theme with this too, Agut didn’t go through with the backhand but why? You can see the circle on the court he didn’t pummel into the corner…
This was intentionally done, the problem is with going right into the corner is that you create the angle then for Djokovic to go up the line or cross-court and suddenly you are on the back foot. You can see that most of them went cross-court but quite central forcing Djokovic to try and force an opening which he struggled with.
I really thought we were seeing another Agut win but he did slightly slip up at the end of the match and put the brakes on but he is super dangerous and someone top players want to avoid and that is an incredible compliment to pay someone.