Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

Wimbledon 2014: Andy Murray set for the maiden battle with unique Spaniard

Andy Murray
Andy Murray

If they had not made similar career decisions at about the same age they might have met for the first time at Ibrox Stadium or Estadio El Madrigal, but instead Andy Murray and Roberto Bautista Agut will first cross swords here on the lawns of the All England Club this afternoon.

Considering that they are ranked No 5 and No 23 in the world respectively, the Scot and the Spaniard clearly made good choices when they opted to concentrate on tennis rather than football.

Murray, who grew up as a Hibernian fan, was offered a place at Rangers' academy as a boy but turned it down, even though he preferred playing football at the time.

Bautista Agut, who at 26 is a year younger than Murray, was on Villarreal's books but also chose tennis.

"I was playing (football) with people one year older than me and it was not easy," the Spaniard said.

"I was not feeling well with this team. But I was enjoying my tennis.

"I was playing well. I had to choose one of the sports.

"I was a striker at Villarreal. Nobody from my time at the club really made it, but I know a lot of the players there just now.

"I think I made the right choice when I opted to become a tennis player – although I think I would have more chance of beating Andy at football (rather than tennis)."

Bautista Agut and Murray did not know each other as juniors but have become friends since.

Earlier this year they practised together when Murray went to train in Valencia, which is where Bautista Agut is based, in the build-up to the clay court season.

They also took the opportunity to watch a football match together. "We practice quite a lot together and we always talk about football rather than tennis," Bautista Agut said.

Although Bautista Agut won a title – the first of his career – on grass in the Netherlands earlier this month, he prefers clay.

"We don't have grass courts in Spain," he said. "I was practising on clay before I went to the Netherlands. I grew up on clay.

"I like to play from the baseline like every Spanish player. I like to play more on slow courts."

Murray, nevertheless, pointed out that Bautista Agut's game was not like that of most other Spanish players: "He plays very flat, without much top spin.

"The grass courts suit his game pretty well."

The Scot added: "He's a very nice guy. Very quiet. Very polite, very good manners. He works hard. He has a very good attitude."

Bautista Agut is a late developer, having broken into the world's top 100 only two years ago and the top 50 just three months ago.

"He has been improving a lot in the last couple of years playing at this level," Murray said.

"He has never really got stuck at a ranking. He has kept moving up."

The Spaniard said his win in this year's Australian Open over Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, then the world No 5, had done much for his confidence.

"After this match I thought I could beat every player," he said.

Bautista Agut said that being fit has also made a difference to his fortunes this year. "My body is healthy, but last year it wasn't," he said.

"I feel fit. This is one of the big reasons that I keep playing and winning matches."

Asked if he might feel any fear against Murray, Bautista Agut said: "No, I'm not scared. I will try to play my game.

"I am winning a lot of matches.

"I will try to be aggressive, to play my game. I will try to enjoy playing against Andy here on grass."

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