RBA Hopes Glory Will Replace Grief
Following his second-round win at Roland Garros (d. Giraldo 6-4, 7-5, 6-3), Roberto Bautista Agut didn't avoid the media. He also didn't dodge questions about his mother who passed away on 21 May, or the toll it's taken on him at Roland Garros. The Spaniard is set to play 20th seed Novak Djokovic for a place in the fourth round.
"Honestly, being here helps take my mind off everything that's happened over the past several days. I'd rather be playing here at Roland Garros than sulking at home," Bautista Agut said. "I need to keep pushing on. Tennis is my life, these tournaments are my life. As soon as I was able, I got back to my usual routine and that's helped so much. I played really well against Santiago and I felt great doing so. They say it isn't good to bring your personal life or feelings on to the court and I agree, but I'm playing well so that's all that matters."
It's hard to believe the 13th-seeded Bautista Agut is even competing at Roland Garros, let alone at the level he has performed so far. His determination has never been questioned, but the Spaniard has demonstrated the ultimate amount of heart so far in Paris.
"What has happened to me has been a terrible thing and it takes time to overcome," Bautista Agut said. "All the support I've had from back home, from friends of my parents, from acquaintances ... everyone is helping me through this. I've gained strength from their support. I'm thankful, from the bottom of my heart."
Several of Bautista Agut's comrades have rallied behind him during these difficult times, including fellow Spaniards Pablo Carreno Busta, Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez. The players sent their condolences, along with a flower wreath in a show of support. They also praised Bautista Agut's courage to play and show a brave face when others might have folded.
"Things that happen off the court have an effect on a player when he steps on the court," Carreno Busta explained. "People don't realise it or consider it as a factor during a match, but a personal issue affects how a player performs and the outcome of a match. I've never gone through what Roberto is going through right now so I can't say 'I know how you feel.' All I can say is he's won a lot of support by soldiering on. I'm always happy for him, but even more so considering how much he has suffered."
Verdasco credits Bautista Agut's work ethic and will power as the reasons he's been able to perform despite playing with a heavy heart.
"Honestly, if I put myself in his place, I don't know if I'd be able to show up and play at Roland Garros," Verdasco said. "Roberto is a very disciplined professional with solid routines and I think that helps him get into this 'bubble' and just detach from his personal issues. His mental fortitude is worthy of admiration."
Lopez found himself in a similar situation as Bautista Agut a year ago.
"I do not know how I would have reacted," Lopez said. "When I went through something similar when Casper [Fernandez] passed away, I was playing at Wimbledon. (Lopez's father taught tennis to Fernandez in Spain.) I found out that he was very sick, that he had days to live, just as I was about to play a doubles match. I was lucky to be able to say goodbye to him, even though he was sedated. Every case is different and I wasn't related by blood to Casper, but for me it was very hard. Right about now, he'd be sending me a text asking what I'm up to or just something about whatever. But now he's gone."
Bautista Agut is doing his best to stay focused on the task at hand, and is well aware he'll need to perform at his best against Djokovic, whom he trails 1-6 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.
"Everything that has happened is taking its toll on me," Bautista Agut said. "In the end, everything is linked to our profession. What we eat, how much we rest, the family issues ... all that is linked to the life of the tennis player and when there are problems off the court, you have to put in that much more effort to achieve good results on the court.
"My match [against Djokovic] is obviously a difficult one, even more so considering the circumstances. All I can do is leave it all on the court."