07:52 PM GMT January 11, 2018
“Come on, Jimbo!”
Those were the words of encouragement from Rafael Nadal, who showed up in the stands of Court 14 on the Australian Open grounds, to the surprise of Jaume Munar. The young Spaniard was playing his first round Australian Open qualifying match. “Jimbo” ultimately prevailed against Andrea Arnaboldi, 6-2, 6-4, and moved on to the second round of qualifying.
“Having the support of Rafa is very special to me,” Munar told ATPWorldTour.com after the victory. “It wasn't like I was expecting him to come see me play. I know it isn't easy for him to get to a match with all the attention he draws, and despite all that he still managed to get up close to the court. It didn't add any pressure to the match; it took some of the pressure off, actually.
“I get along well with Rafa and I also have an outstanding relationship with his team. We've all gone out for dinner several times. Tennis is an individual sport so it means a lot to have Rafa in the stands, as he's someone close to me and that kind of support goes a long way.”
Nadal, who attempted to go unnoticed through Melbourne Park by wearing a towel over his head, had no problem embracing fans once he made his way to Court 14. The ATP World Tour No. 1 took photos with fans in between breaks on the far side of the stands, in an effort to avoid causing a commotion.
Despite his young age, Munar has been making critical decisions to advance his own progress. In 2017, Munar made a pivotal move, relocating from Barcelona back to his home island of Mallorca to train at the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar. Munar said he made the change for several reasons.
“It's important for me to be close to my family,” the 20-year-old said. “There was a lot going on in Barcelona, and there was a lot on my mind like friends, hanging out, living on my own ... It was easier to be distracted. The lifestyle in Mallorca is totally different from Barcelona. I'm antsy; it's hard to sit still so the calmer lifestyle in Mallorca benefits me. It allows me to be more focused on achieving my goals.”
At the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar, Munar trains under the tutelage of Tomeu Salva, one of Nadal's best friends and a current coach at the center.
“Tomeu is the kind of person who brings me peace of mind,” Munar said. “He knows a lot about the game from a technical standpoint. He also lived through what I'm going through now, having been ranked in the Top 200. So his life lessons are important. He's close to Rafa, they've been close for a long time, so that helps even more.”
Salva was courtside when Nadal paid his surprise visit to Munar's match and noticed his student's positive reaction.
“Jaume was thrilled when he noticed Rafa in the stands,” Salva said. “And Nadal was just as thrilled to be there, and not just because Munar is in the academy. Nadal wants to follow his evolution; he likes to be involved with the young players as they come up. On top of that, both Rafa and Jaume are from Mallorca. He had an opportunity to see Jaume in match play, and Rafa took advantage of it.”
The relationship between Nadal and Munar has been a strong one for some time. The pair played doubles together on the ATP World Tour level at the German Tennis Championships 2015 in Hamburg. This past August, Munar celebrated his Segovia Challenger win by biting the championship trophy as a nod toward Nadal's celebratory ritual.
Munar might be biting into a lot more trophies in 2018 if he continues to show the poise he demonstrated in his first qualifying match at Melbourne. The Spaniard is aware this is a key year in his career, and he's put his academic studies on hold to focus solely on tennis.
“For six or seven months now, I've realised that tennis is my life, my job, my day-to-day work,” Munar said. “I think this semester will be the last one [with] my studies because I have to focus on what I do to make a living. That doesn't mean I'm done with school, but the exams, the studying, they make me anxious. I was studying economics and I've put that on hold for now, but I know that at any time I can resume that.”
For now, Munar is focused on fine-tuning his game and tweaking small things, which he knows can end up making a big difference in the end. The move back to Mallorca, the harder training regimen and the hours put into analysing his game have helped him become the player he is today. Munar credits his team and his own approach for the positive results.
“There were things I wasn't doing right, or not as well as I could do,” Munar said. “Like, I changed my diet and as a result, I lost a lot of weight. I've always been competitive and in the right state of mind but I lacked weapons from the baseline and it was harder for me to fire shots from there, especially in today's game when you need heavy fire. We've focused on changing those things, and how to position myself more inside the court. Right now, I'm certain in what I'm doing. I've found a way to improve and I have these clear ideas of how to keep improving. The outcomes of matches depend on me, and not the other way around.”
If there's one thing that's clear in the early stages of 2018, it's that Munar is forging a way forward.