It’s essentially become the norm on the ATP Tour now, players either proving they’re far from done past the age of 30, as seen by the Grand Slam-winning ways of the current Top 3, or posting their career-best results at a stage when athletes of the past would be eyeing the end of their time on the court.
Roberto Bautista Agut can definitely be counted among the latter group.
The Spaniard, 31, is in the midst of his best season and is the top seed at this week’s clay-court tournament in Gstaad, Switzerland. Sitting at a career-high No. 13 in the world, to match his best place in the standings first reached nearly three years ago, Bautista Agut is seemingly poised to make it to that next rankings milestone, the world’s Top 10—only 215 points behind Fabio Fognini—and given the forward progression of his career thus far, once he makes it, he could stay there for a while.
From the start of 2019, the year promised to be a special one: In his first event, in Doha, the seventh seed swept through his first three matches without dropping a set, a run that included a win over three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka. Facing world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals, he rallied to defeat the Serb in three sets, then topped Tomas Berdych in the final.
Roberto Bautista Agut won his ninth career ATP title in January. (Getty Images)
With that perfect preparation behind him, all eyes were on him for his first-round match at the Australian Open, where he faced former world No. 1 Andy Murray in the opening round. In their three prior matches, Murray had never dropped a set to Bautista Agut, but the circumstances were entirely different for this match. Questions abounded on the state of Murray’s injured hip, and though he fought gamely, he ended up falling to Bautista Agut in five sets. From there, the Spaniard would go on to reach the quarterfinals for the first time at a major.
Through the subsequent hard-court season and the spring clay-court stretch, the 31-year-old’s results were fairly inconsistent, though he did post another three-set win over Djokovic in Miami.
Given his performances, few would have predicted what he accomplished at Wimbledon.
Having missed the tournament in 2018, Bautista Agut—whose best showing there was a pair of fourth-round finishes—advanced to his first Grand Slam semifinal, where he faced Djokovic for the third time this year. As in the other two matches, Djokovic easily won the first set before Bautista Agut leveled the score. This time, the world No. 1 was able to halt any comebacks by storming through the next two sets to clinch the match.
Bautista Agut has beaten world No. 1 Novak Djokovic twice in 2019. (Getty Images)
Now, after a week off, Bautista Agut is back in action in Gstaad, where, after a first-round bye, he prevailed over his young countryman Jaume Munar, 7-6 (7), 6-4, to move into the quarterfinals. It was a rematch of their round-of-16 encounter last year at the tournament, which Bautista Agut won in three sets, on his way to the final.
Defying any notion that Spaniards are always at their best on clay, that 2018 result was only the second final of his career on the surface, with his other 14 championship matches coming on hard courts and grass.
As the summer season leading up to the US Open heats up, Bautista Agut has earned a spot among the players likely to have a significant impact on the draw. And by the time the tournament rolls around, he could find himself among that rarefied status of the world’s Top 10.