Already at night, the Scottish parishioners who a few hours before were happily lining up the access to Melbourne Park along the sidewalks of Batman Avenue reluctantly undo the path. His boy, his hero, the man who two days ago starred in a historic comeback well into the night, has already disappeared from the picture. The stoic Andy Murray leaves limping and feted by the stands, but today the tennis of Roberto Bautista prevails. The 34-year-old from Castellón makes his way to the round of 16 in Australia (6-1, 6-7(7), 6-3 and 6-4, after 3h 29m) and once again remembers that beyond the spotlight and the glitter that covers the first line of the circuit, there is a second of bells.
“I am very happy with how I have handled the tension,” says the Spaniard, already the only national representative in the second week of the tournament after the morning elimination of Nuria Párrizas, denied by Donna Vekic (double 6-2, in 64 minutes). Bautista has celebrated it at the top of his voice and at a thousand revolutions, after neutralizing the incandescent Briton and resisting a highly demanding test, with the public turning to the other side. “There has been tons of love for Andy today,” he qualifies when the interviewer conveys that he is highly appreciated in Melbourne. “Maybe in the next round there will be a little more towards me”, he continues wryly before leaving the Margaret Court Arena and beginning to recover from the effort, thinking about the American Tommy Paul, the next stumbling block.
With Nadal down, Alcaraz and Badosa injured, and with Garbiñe Muguruza out of the loop in recent times, Bautista continues to establish himself as a guarantee. The years go by, the names go up and down in the ranking and he is still there, fixed gear and from that discreet background that he prefers. He is not a player of noise or explosions, of raising his voice or of being artificially noticed, but of regularity, firm step and certainties: whatever the waters go down, he almost always complies. At the foot of the canyon course after course, he settled in the noble zone of the circuit a decade ago – he became top-10 in 2014– and it established itself as a toothache for anyone. Novak Djokovic says it: “He is one of the most undervalued tennis players in recent years, he deserves more respect.”
For the fifth time in his career, the Spaniard is in the round of 16 of the Australian great and jumps the barrier previously broken by Nadal (15 times), David Ferrer (9) and Tommy Robredo (5). Bautista (25th in the world) does it based on pride and mettle, because the duels with Murray require an extra point of calm and gnaw each rally. The Scotsman, 35 years old and apparently blown out by excess mileage in the first two rounds, reclaims his people and environmental pressure tilts the slope, but when it threatens to grow and curl the loop again – as it did in the first two tournament commitments–, the man from Castellón looks manual and aborts the takeoff attempt. With serenity at first and fury in the celebration, Bautista, a luxury Praetorian, sings victory. There are already 13 presences in the sweet week of the majors.
“It has been hard, I did not remember that the environment of 2019 was so horrible. It has been difficult. Andy knows how to play very well with the public and with everything that a Grand Slam match entails; he knew what he was doing and got out of very difficult moments with magic. I told myself: ‘I already have it’, but he came out brilliantly ”, he recounted to journalists; “I don’t think about going beyond the round of 16, you have to go step by step. They are very long matches in which your head sometimes gets ahead of you”.
Double medical care for Nole
Half an hour before, the public on the center court witness another survival exercise by Djokovic, who suffers from his left leg and during the 77 minutes that the first set against Grigor Dimitrov lasts, he competes on a fine wire according to his gestures; Not so with the result: 7-6(7), 6-3 and 6-4, in 3h 07m.
does not lose the rictus of concern Nole, sore and pensive, trying to park the pain and focus on defusing the optimistic initial attempt by the Bulgarian. What has been said is the pending story of a thigh; what happens in there (quadriceps? adductor? hamstrings?) and what this endurance depends to a large extent on the design of this tournament. The Serbian, who in the previous scale recognized that he plays between cotton and much more aware of the muscles than he would like, watches each maneuver to avoid a step that could be fatal; he rolls on the floor, he contracts, he avoids that extension so characteristic of the bubblegum man. Again, emergency light. And controlled situation, actually. Escapist par excellence, Djokovic emerges in his own way.
With 5-4 in his favor, he wastes three options to close the set and the rival insistently opens him upside down, knowing that he suffers in support and that he must exploit the vein. Load around Dimitrov – the one who was baptized Baby Federer, big mistake – and ends up drilling, although not completely. It’s missing a couple of centimeters. Nole, 35 years old and treated twice by the doctor –with his thigh covered by a towel–, escapes from a double fire and later, in the tie-breaker who is going to decide the final course of the game, draws a third to lethally counterattack. The one in Belgrade closes and falls on the cement, a tumble that is repeated later and that does not lead to greater evils.
Once again, Djokovic resisted, and the opponent also did his part with the 50 unforced errors he made, to the 22 of the winner. He is happy to see Dimitrov rally, but once again he falls apart. And by fits and starts, the Balkan continues to progress amidst suspense and is only four wins away from his goal.
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