Roberto Bautista Agut is getting married later this year and decided to plan his bachelor party at Ibiza for the second week of Wimbledon, not really expecting he would still be in the tournament. However, the Spaniard has been nothing short of excellent this fortnight, scoring wins over Peter Gojowczyk, Steve Darcis, Karen Khachanov, Benoit Paire, and advancing Wednesday with a four-set win against Guido Pella, which forced him to cancel his plans.
Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic overcame a slow start to absolutely demolish David Goffin. Having led 4-3 and 30-0 on serve in the first set, the Belgian lost the next ten games and was defeated 6-4 6-0 6-2. This marks the world No.1’s 9th Wimbledon semifinal appearance.
Doha and Miami success
On paper, the 23rd seed Roberto Bautista Agut might seem like a good draw, especially considering the fact that the other semifinal will give us the 40th meeting between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. However, Bautista Agut will come into the match with a lot of confidence, having already beaten the Serbian twice this year (Doha and Miami).
The Spaniard first made his mark against Novak Djokovic back in 2016, beating the Serbian in the semifinals at Shanghai. One of the most underrated shots in the game, Bautista Agut’s forehand, was absolutely on fire all match with the Spaniard unleashing many beautiful winners from that wing – including the match-ending passing shot:
At this year’s pre-AO warm-up Doha tournament, Bautista Agut and Djokovic squared off in the semifinals once again. The Spaniard survived the initial attack from the world no.1 and managed to come back to win in three sets 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-4. Bautista Agut is one of the very small group of players that can actually keep up with Djokovic in long, grueling baseline rallies and succeeded in frustrating his opponent in the way that the Serbian usually does it – by getting one more ball back. The Spaniard went on to win the tournament and then reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open, losing in four sets to Stefanos Tsitsipas.
After winning the Australian Open, Djokovic seemingly lost some motivation and had trouble forcing himself to work hard for the wins again. At Indian Wells, he dropped his third round match to Philipp Kohlschreiber but by the time he reached the fourth round in Miami, everything seemed to be back in its right place. The Serbian once again came fast out of the blocks, playing great to beat his rival 6-1 in the first set. Bautista Agut owns it to his unbelievable grit and strength of will that he was able to storm back and take the match 1-6, 7-5, 6-3.
Why is it such a bad matchup?
Getting his opponent infuriated by constantly running everything down and putting the ball back into play without making errors is usually Novak Djokovic’s modus operandi. However, in this matchup, the roles often get reversed. Bautista Agut is pretty much impossible to wear down and has the ability to force himself to greater heights even when he’s at the brink of exhaustion. The way he plays his groundstrokes – very flat, penetrating the court – give the opponent very little to work with. Those kinds of shots get rewarded even more on grass courts.
The Spaniard has a pretty wide offensive arsenal as well. His forehand inside-out can do a lot of damage and his serve is good enough to be able to consistently hold, especially on grass.
What will it be like on Friday?
Bautista Agut may have found the recipe for beating the Serbian in a Best of 3 match, but we all know how different it is to play Djokovic at a Grand Slam tournament. The World No.1 is a mental and physical beast, who will be ready to pounce on every Bautista Agut’s slip-up. Trying to infuriate the Serbian and playing long rallies with him just won’t cut it over five sets where Djokovic will have all the time in the world to make adjustments.
The only feasible way for Bautista Agut to win is by actually taking matters in his own hands and dictating play with his flat inside-out forehand. It remains to be seen whether the Spaniard can sustain that kind of game over a long period of time.
Another problem for Bautista Agut lies in his mental preparation. While Djokovic is famous for giving his best in important moments, the Spaniard had some issues closing out sets and matches he was the better player in. A recent example of the quarterfinal in Halle against Roger Federer, where Agut dominated the play over the course of the third set and just couldn’t find the break. Finally, serving to stay in the match at 4-5 he tightened up so much that he didn’t put a single ball back in play (not counting serves).
The Spaniard definitely has what’s needed to beat Djokovic and he’s shown it twice this year already. Nevertheless, it is very doubtful that he has it in him to beat the Serbian in a setting that is so familiar for him, a setting that he excels at – a best of 5 match at the big stage.