Pune: Jaume Munar is the youngest Spaniard to finish in the ATP top-100 since another 21-year-old back in 2007. That was a certain Rafael Nadal who, more than a decade later, is a mentor and friend to the youngster from his hometown of Mallorca.
But early success is not the only thing the two have in common. Munar has been with the Rafael Nadal Tennis Academy for close to two years now and is the first full product of the 17-time Grand Slam winner’s venture.
And in Munar’s description of the advice he gets from Nadal, you get a clear idea of just what it is like to be mentored by the one of the greatest players, and possibly the greatest competitors, of all time.
“There are two most important things he is always telling me,” Munar told Scroll.in in Pune during the Tata Open Maharashtra. “One is outside the court: be simple. You can hit the yellow ball better or worse but you still are a person.
“Two, speaking about the sport: he just wants me to work as hard as I can, put the hours I need and then to compete.
“I am sharing a lot of moments with him right now because I am from Mallorca. His best friend is on my team, so it is special” he added.
Growing up in golden era
Nadal’s involvement isn’t incidental or geographic. The 21-year-old Munar is a promising player to watch out for. Currently the world No 81, he had begun 2018 in 188th position before taking a giant leap of over 100 spots in the ATP rankings, and qualified for the year-end Next Gen ATP Finals.
He played in three of four Grand Slams after coming through the qualifiers. At Roland Garros, he notched an important and symbolic win, beating his idol David Ferrer after being two sets down in a match he called the turning point of his career.
Munar grew up at a time when Spanish tennis was enjoying a golden period – Nadal, Ferrer, Carlos Moya, Fernando Verdasco, Feliciano Lopez, were all top players and their success has influenced his career a lot.
“They are a mirror for us, they are special people and I have so much respect for them,” he said. “Ferrer is one of my idols.
“It is important to know and let people know that the generation we have is not going to be there again. We had a generation with maybe 10, even 15 players in the top-100 which is unbelievable.”
Can the next batch of Spanish tennis players continue in the legacy of Nadal and Co? Munar believes they can. “Keep me outside of this, but my generation is quite good,” he said, with the laugh.
“Many young players are coming to a good level… Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (19), Carlos Alcaraz Garfia at the Davis Cup Under-16, Carlos Taberner (21), Pedro Martinez (21) are all around in my age.
“We are keep doing good things with tennis in Spain and I am pretty sure that in maybe in the next decade, Spain is going to be toughest country to beat.”
Not just in Mallorca or Spain, Munar has built his reputation all over the ATP circuit in 2018, capping it with his semi-final finish at the Next Gen Finals, a tournament for the eight best Under-21 players on tour. Is being earmarked early on a challenge or an opportunity? For the eloquent Spaniard, the pressure as “beautiful.”
“It is special to be part of the group,” he said. “I think we will have a change of rankings in tennis now [as a] lot of young players have a very good level.”
However, Munar admitted it won’t be easy for the Next Gen to break through in a tour dominated by the golden oldies, his mentor included.
“It is difficult, but it also a special moment in your career and you have to enjoy it,” he said. “You are young, you look forward to playing bigger stages, big events against great players and [playing smaller tournaments first] is the way... the path is amazing and everyone has to go through to this. I did it myself and I am just trying to do it as much as I can even now when I am playing ATPs.”
Munar also doesn’t think much of players like Fabio Fognini criticising the ATP Gen Next Finals for rewarding players who achieved little. As long as the fans, for whom they play tennis, are happy, the tournament is a good thing, he believes.
“Everyone can have an opinion… I understand them because maybe the tournament comes with a lot of prize money,” he said. “[But] if they have the prize money to bring us in the tournament it is because we do something in a good way,” he added, displaying impressive maturity.
The way Munar plays, and talks about the game, the 2018 breakthrough is just the beginning for a player who is destined for big things. And with the backing of Nadal and Co, it won’t be long before he adds his name to the list of Spanish greats.