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Rafael Nadal and Roberto Bautista Agut invested huge amounts of intensity and commitment into every training session they shared in Mallorca before making their way to Australia. This level of dedication before they begin their season is a clear sign of their intentions: to reach fifth gear for the start of 2021.

Both of them will be members of Team Spain at the ATP Cup, a competition in which they were on the verge of the title last year. Before stepping on the plane for the first event on the calendar, José Vendrell, Bautista Agut’s coach, spoke to ATPTour.com to analyse his player’s form.

We covered his successful recovery from an elbow injury, Bautista Agut’s aptitude for the early season, the training sessions at the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar and this year’s ATP Cup.

The last time Roberto played was 17 October last year. An elbow injury prevented him from participating at Cologne-2 and Paris-Bercy. How is he feeling?
He’s feeling good, he hasn’t lost anything and he’s been training pretty well throughout the preseason. The injury at the end of last year forced us to change our schedule. He had a period of forced holiday, and later rehabilitation and training. I’m very happy that Roberto has been able to put this injury behind him, although with caution because the elbow is a very particular and sensitive issue.

Once he was able to return to the courts, what have you focussed on in preparation for the 2021 season?
[We focussed] on the aspects that we considered important for him to be consistent and competitive, but without making big changes. Roberto is 32 years old and what you have to do is make small adjustments and progressions and detect in which areas he can improve. For example, the speed of his crosscourt [strokes] early in the point. It’s a factor that sets you apart in today’s tennis. The first shots with the top players make a big difference and you have to try and focus more on that.

And to work on those margins you travelled to Mallorca to train with Nadal.
Because Rafa improves every aspect of your game. He sets a high bar and superhuman demands with huge intensity in training. That really helps. They were really good days, with a lot of quality from both of them.

What does Bautista get from training with Nadal?
Rafa erases the margins for error. If you make a small mistake, he takes advantage straight away. A lot of intensity is required, starting every point with aggression. Even if you hit hard, you know that you may reach a defensive phase because he counter-attacks… He improves your fitness, mental, technical and tactical games. It’s like a centrifuge. He takes you out of your comfort zone and mixes you up and it demands a lot from you.

And vice versa? What would you say Bautista brings to the table?
Both players train in a very real way. I don’t think there’s much difference between how they train and how they compete… But in terms of intensity and seriousness, they really invest themselves. It’s been positive for both of them because having a player of the quality and intensity of Roberto will also have helped [Rafa] and focussed him even more, if that’s possible, before the season.

From your words it seems you are very happy with this pre-season experience.
Of course. The experience was very good, both Rafa’s team and the academy treated us wonderfully. It’s a place that lives and breathes tennis, ideal for preparing. It’s a world-class centre. Also, if you’re lucky enough to train with Rafa, as we did, it’s wonderful. It was really good for Roberto to fine-tune that final bit of quality that isn’t easy to find in such a long preseason.

If there’s one thing that sets Bautista apart, it’s his ability to come flying out of the blocks when competition starts. His record proves that.
He’s very competitive. He’s a quality player and not someone that needs much of a warm-up where maybe others need two or three tournaments to find their “A” game. He likes to always be playing well and that means he is ready after a while without competing.

And to what do you think he owes his great performances in the first month of competition each season?
The circumstances are favourable to him. [He has] rest, good preparation, the conditions of the Australian swing and being at home for a while, where he always feels good. All this means he feels fresh and makes him comfortable on court. He’s an awkward opponent as the stats demonstrate. There’s not much more to it. It’s obvious he’s one of the players with the best numbers at the start of the year.

At the ATP Cup last year he won all six matches he played. In 2021 he will be back in the Spanish side.
We’re really excited, whenever there are tournaments where you represent your country he is very happy to play. Playing in teams with the rest of his teammates really motivates him.

What are you expecting from this year’s ATP Cup?
The tournament has had to be adapted this year, but it is well-conceived because for the players it was a high risk to start without competing in the weeks leading up to the Australian Open. It’s a good opportunity. It also takes place in Melbourne and I think that it’s a good litmus test for everyone. We’re very excited like in 2020 and hopefully we’ll have a chance like last year when we were very close to the title.


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