How They Can Win: Andy Murray Faces Roberto Bautista Agut in an Interesting Matchup in Doha

Andy Murray US Open Warm up 2020
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Another early round victory in great form has Andy Murray set to face second-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut in Round 2 of the ATP Qatar Open Doha, as the Spaniard comes off a bye. Murray has played some excellent matches early in tournaments recently, and should compare favorably to his much-higher-ranked opponent. Bautista Agut has had a mixed start to the season, with a couple Top 10 wins in the ATP Cup as an early highlight, followed by uninspiring showings. The two are very similar players, so the match doesn’t feature easily-exploited weaknesses. And the similarity in styles yields some difficulties in strategy. But holes always exist, and there are a few things each player can look to exploit.

Andy Murray vs Roberto Bautista Agut

A Test of Endurance

The story of the match will be whether Murray can string together a couple wins and beat a high-quality opponent outside of the first round. To that end he should be greatly helped by the shortness of his first round match against Taro Daniel, which finished in just over an hour and a quarter. That doesn’t mean that RBA can’t take advantage of Murray’s endurance issues, though, especially in a match that figures to have a lot of long, grinding rallies. And this would certainly be a strategy that RBA could employ.

Both players are counterpunchers, and neither likes to attack with regularity, which means either the rallies will be lengthy, or one player will have to break out of his comfort zone and play offensive tennis. Since endurance favors Bautista Agut, look for Murray to try to take the offensive, and Bautista Agut to play patient defense. Murray should look to attack off his first serve especially, which he landed well in Round 1. Each player can also attack the other’s second serve, which again would be more important for Murray, in order to try to limit rallies.

Dominant Forehands Call for Targeting Backhands

Both forehands are strong and solid in this matchup, and each player has a stable and accurate backhand. More than likely, they will try to stay away from each other’s forehands when they can, and long backhand rallies could be the order of the day. Bautista Agut, in addition to maintaining rallies, may try to expose Murray’s movement with tricky drop shots from time to time if he can push him behind the baseline.

Another strategy available to each player is to attack the backhand wing with powerful inside-out forehands. Both players hit heavily from the forehand side with shoulder-dominated strokes, whereas each of their backhands is generated more from the small muscle groups around the elbow. The latter strokes tend to break down under heavy fire, and either player could strategically run around a ball hit too near the center line and fire a heavy forehand to the opponent’s backhand wing. This increases the likelihood of a poorly-managed return, compared to a similar stroke sent to the forehand, and might lead to a short ball that can be put away easily. The elbow-dominated strokes tend to hit with less depth anyway.

Matchup History and Current Goals

There is an interesting history to this matchup, which is that the last match between these two was during the unfortunate Australian Open in 2019 where Murray announced his impending retirement. Bautista Agut won the match in five sets. However, he had lost their previous three encounters, when Murray was feeling better physically. This current permutation of Murray is somewhere in between the two versions that the Spaniard faced in the past, neither at the level of skill and endurance of the early Murray that reached #1 in the world, nor at the level of pain of the 2019 version that retired. But the AO loss was a fiver-setter, and the previous three wins over Bautista Agut were best-of-threes, where he’s played quite well recently. Doha is, of course, best-of-three. Bautista Agut may find a rejuvenated opponent compared to the last time they squared off.

Undoubtedly Murray will want this match badly. He is likely seeking to prove to himself and to others that he is not just a One Match Wonder every tournament. A test against a Top 20 player (with a pretty easy first round match leaving him as fresh as he can be) is an ideal way to notch another confidence-building win. It’s not ideal for the rest of the tournament, as a likely-grindfest against a quality opponent wouldn’t bode well for him in subsequent matches. But as far as this match is concerned, Murray’s spirits and determination should be high. Perhaps this will counterbalance Bautista Agut’s freshness, with the Spaniard coming off a first round bye.

The Matchup Summary

In the end, this should be a long, difficult match filled with extended rallies, with each player trying to get creative in order to break counterpunching stalemates. Andy Murray should serve heavily to Roberto Bautista Agut’s backhand wing, and should attack the Spaniard’s second serve. Bautista Agut should stay patient on long rallies in an effort to wear Murray out, and try to take advantage of Murray’s compromised movement with strategic drop shots.

Main Photo from Getty.