WIMBLEDON, England – Roberto Bautista Agut came to Wimbledon this year with big plans – none of which consisted of reaching the semifinals. At age 31, the Spanish baseliner had never gone past the fourth round at the All England Club before, and he was not expecting this pattern to change. He had planned to go to an island in the Mediterranean this week to enjoy his evening between singles.
"We had everything organized," said Bautista Wednesday after defeating Guido Pella, 7-5, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, in the quarter-finals of the No. 1 tour. "My friends, six of them! 39, between them, are all there. "
The sunny beaches of Ibiza can wait. Instead of Bautista, seeded number 23, will remain in the company of the Big Three of men's tennis on Friday. She will meet Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, in the semi-finals, while Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will face each other.
"It's better to be in London," said Bautista, pointing out that he was expecting his friends to be there as well, moving the game to Friday's match site.
Federer, Djokovic and Nadal total 53 titles in singles Grand Slam; Bautista will participate in his first Grand Slam semifinal.
He beat Pella, 26th seeded and another dedicated baseliner, in a foreground battle that reflected how much the grass field at Wimbledon had slowed down since the days when the service and volley had prevailed.
Their quarter-final was largely devoid of aggressive forward thrust or stunning points, filled instead of constant twists between the competitors who resembled each other in guts and played as if they had a phobia of the net.
Bautista and Pella entered the quarter-finals with great confidence. Bautista He did not lose a set in the tournament and he said he felt the fruits of the many years he had worked to improve his game.
"My shots are really very low," he explained about his style of play. The low-rebound balls he usually hits are good for Wimbledon.
Pella, a 29-year-old American, reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal by beating Wimbledon's 2018 runner-up Kevin Anderson in the third round and 2016 finalist Milos Raonic in the next. These two players are among the most powerful players on the circuit, always trying to get to the net and cut the winning flyers.
Formerly, at the time of Wimbledon, a middle-ranked solstroker like Pella would have had little chance of winning consecutive wins against such aggressive players.
But the shorts used in professional tennis have lost much of their variation over the last ten years. Today, Melbourne is about the same as Miami, which is similar to the courts in Doha and Stockholm. Even with its relatively distinctive surface, Wimbledon is not immune.
"It's a lot slower," said Pella about the Wimbledon grass. "I think the games are more playable than in previous years. You can play from the baseline without any problem. It was much easier for us to move, to play like a clay court.
Example: While Bautista dictated the game on Wednesday with his hard, flat and metronomic ground shots, he rarely progressed. In a match that totaled 273 points, he scored the goal only 26 times, usually when forced by a wrong shot or a fall. This is a line of statistics expected on red clay at the French Open, not here.
The base players won Wimbledon, but each of them – from Bjorn Borg to Chris Evert to Nadal – sought to score points faster than Bautista.
Nadal did not often score in the quarter-final win over Sam Querrey on Wednesday, but he continued on the pace with just seven spins of nine or more shots. On the other hand, Bautista and Pella participated on 39 occasions, many of which lasted much longer than nine shots.
Talking about style of play is one thing. At this point, all that matters is to win, and Djokovic seemed extremely confident Wednesday after defeating David Goffin, 6-4, 6-0, 6-2, on Court Center.
"I played my best tennis of this tournament in the last two rounds, fourth and today," said Djokovic, whose match lasted just under two hours. "I had the impression of having managed to dismantle his game."
In the run-up to Friday's game, Bautista can rely on the fact that he has two wins over Djokovic in 2019.
However, the first, in Doha, Qatar, took place in early January, just after the winter break. And the second, in Miami, arrived while Djokovic was struggling with burnout after winning the Australian Open.
Pella was asked what he would say if he coached Bautista for the semifinal.
Be more aggressive, he said, and keep Djokovic's hammering service at bay.
And this: "He can not miss a single ball."