"It made me who I am": Bautista Agut converts grief to courageous play

"It made me who I am": Bautista Agut converts grief to courageous play

In his upload to Behind The Racquet, the Spaniard opens up about the death of his parents, and becoming a better tennis player to honor their legacies.

For the past several seasons, Roberto Bautista Agut has been widely regarded as one of the hardest working players on tour. Once a promising young soccer player, the Spaniard blossomed into a thriving late-bloomer on the ATP tour by winning seven of his nine titles from 2016-2019, and reaching a career-high No. 9 last November.

But beyond the countless hours of sweat and grueling training to gain his place among the game’s elite, Bautista Agut was pushing himself to the limit for a lot more than just personal gain.

Just days before he was due to represent his country at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Bautista Agut’s father, Joaquin, became a quadriplegic after suffering a catastrophic fall while cleaning the family’s horse stables. He could no longer move from the neck down and required an artificial breathing machine. As Roberto traveled the world to earn a living and help pay for costs of daily care, Joaquin's wife Ester acted as one of his primary caregivers. Sadly, two years later, she unexpectedly passed away in her sleep at just 52.

In the face of tragedy, Bautista Agut chose to honor his parents by channeling his emotions to the battles in front of him on the tennis court.

“My parents wanted me to make my dreams come true no matter the situation. I kept playing and fought harder than I ever did. That was my way of making it worth it,” Bautista Agut reflected in his upload to Behind The Racquet (BTR). “During this horrible time is when I played some of my best tennis. I am sure people cannot understand that. I was there for my family as much as I could, but I couldn’t throw away what I have worked all my life for. I wanted to keep working, and harder than ever.” 

His resilience led to a year to remember in 2019. In addition to cracking the Top 10, Bautista Agut twice defeated Novak Djokovic, won a memorable five-setter over Andy Murray to begin his quarterfinal run at the Australian Open, and progressed to his first major semifinal at Wimbledon, where he infamously had to push back his bachelor party plans in Ibiza. In November, he arrived to Madrid to join Rafael Nadal among others for the Davis Cup Finals, when tragedy struck again.

Getty Images

Bautista Agut returned home to Castellon to be by his ailing father’s side. The two were together until Joaquin stopped breathing, a moment Roberto knew could come at any point in time. After his father’s funeral, Bautista Agut showed extraordinary strength by returning to help his team the following day. Embraced with a giant hug from the capacity crowd inside La Caja Magica, the right-hander defeated rising Canadian star Felix Auger-Aliassime to win the first point of the championship clash.

“These tough moments made me stronger and more powerful. It gave me a strength others didn’t have,” Bautista Agut continued in BTR. “Through all the tough times I had at home and didn’t want to travel because I was so tired, it made me who I am. It made me more focused and motivated. I did everything I could to fight hard on the court to show my mother and father that their hard work was worth it.”

Nadal clinched the trophy for the host nation over Denis Shapovalov. The then-world No. 1 was awarded the Davis Cup Most Valuable Player after winning all eight of his singles and doubles matches, but to Rafa and everyone watching, his teammate’s heart was an irreplaceable component of the team.

“What Roberto did today is something out of this planet," Nadal said. "Roberto has been an inspiration to all of us. “Whatever happens this cannot be a climax for someone who has lost his father this week.”