In October 2018, tragedy struck the town of Sant Llorenc in the Spanish island of Mallorca. 13 people died after the town received 230mm of rainfall in just two hours. The next day, images of Rafael Nadal helping covered in mud and helping with cleaning the streets of Sant Llorenc emerged.
"The next day, we went on court and after 10 minutes, I said 'Guys, I can't practice. I came back and I was here with the friends and after that, we decided to go there," Nadal told CNN.
The sight of a 17-time Grand Slam champion scraping mud off the streets may have come as a surprise to many, but for fellow Mallorca native Jaume Munar, that is Rafa Nadal for you. Champion on the court and a normal man off it.
21-year-old Munar is the product of Nadal's Rafa Nadal Tennis Academy in Mallorca and is tipped to lead the next generation of Spanish tennis stars. A junior French Open runner up in 2014, Munar trained in Barcelona for six years before moving back to his hometown to join Nadal's academy. Since then, the King of Clay has mentored Munar and that is reflected in the youngster's perspective in the game.
Nicknamed Jimbo after Jimmy Connors for his tenacious style of play, Munar is the youngest Spaniard in the top-100 since Nadal in 2007. The youngster secured the biggest win of his career when he beat his idol and compatriot David Ferrer in an epic five-setter in the first round of the French Open.
Munar made the cut for the year-ending ATP NextGen Finals on the back of impressive results at Kitzbuhel, Winston-Salem and Brest.
"It is special to be part of the group, we know each other from a long time. Young people are coming into tennis with great level. It is one of the special tournaments I have played in my 21 years," Munar told Firstpost on the sidelines of the Maharashtra Open.
While the tournament has been praised not only for giving youngsters a platform but also for it's technical innovations, not everyone is happy with the attention lavished on the NextGen players.
At the French Open last year, Italian star Fabio Fognini slammed the ATP for giving preferential treatment to the NextGen players and termed the tournament as "b******t". Munar, for obvious reasons, didn't share the same opinion.
"Everyone can have an opinion. I think the ATP is working in the right way. The important thing is to have the stars of tomorrow and have the fans involved in the tennis world," said Munar.
"Fabio or other players can have an opinion and I understand them because maybe the tournament comes with a lot of prize money and it is special. But if they have the prize money to bring us in the tournament, it is because we are doing well," he added.
In Milan, he reached the semi-finals before being ousted by Alex de Minaur. The Milan Finals was Munar's 30th tournament of the season, the most among the NextGen players along with Stefanos Tsitsipas. It shows the hunger and desire to compete at the highest level, something which he shares with his illustrious mentor.
"You are young and on the way up. So you look forward to playing at bigger stages in big events against great players and this is the way. The path is amazing and it is important to enjoy what you are doing," said Munar.
"It's not just about the ATP tournaments though. One day you are playing as an 18-year-old in the middle of nowhere and the next day you are trying to play in Paris, New York and the biggest cities in the world. You have to enjoy it. I did it myself and I am just trying to do it as much as I can," he added.
Playing at elite tournaments like the NextGen Finals also come with their own set of difficulties. Not only are players earmarked for greatness, the spotlight on them is intense at a very young age increasing the pressure on them to succeed.
"There is pressure, but it is good pressure. You have to deal with it if you are going to play for a long time and are up there in the rankings. The pressure is something normal in our lives. It is travel, travel, travel. We change balls, courts, countries and different cultures. But, it is a beautiful pressure," replied Munar when asked about the pressure to perform.
This attitude, Munar revealed, is the result of two important things that Nadal never forgets to tell him.
"One: Outside the court, be simple, be just another person. Two: Work as hard as you can and put hours in practice and compete."
From the 2019 season, a number of changes have been made to the professional tour. The ATP will allow only the top 750 players in the world to compete on the Tour. At the same time, the ITF has introduced the transition tour to provide players ranked outside the top 750 to earn ATP points. Both changes have been met with some skepticism with critics claiming it would prevent youngsters from taking up the game.
"First of all, the most important thing is that a good player is going to be a great player for sure. It doesn't matter if they are 18, 21 or 25. If you are a good player, then you are going to be on the ATP Tour," differed Munar.
"Ultimately, it’s the same way. You're going to play transition, then challengers and if you're good enough, then on the ATP Tour," he added.
With this philosophy, Munar embodies the spirit of the generation of players who were part of Spanish tennis' most illustrious era.
"Players like Nadal, Ferrer, Verdasco are special people and they show a mirror to us. It's important to let people know that the generation of players we had, we're not going to have like that again," said the youngster.
While that generation may not return, Munar is proof that the new generation will flourish on their own.
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Updated Date: Jan 04, 2019 08:28:47 IST