Pablo Carreno Busta, the 2013 Most Improved Player of the Year, has his sights set on breaking into the Top 40 of the Emirates ATP Rankings.
Pablo Carreno Busta stands tall and, at 163 lbs, his clothes hang off him - like so many fledgling stars, who favour the court over long runs or lengthy gym and weight sessions, to which so many older players are dedicated. "It's something I have to do, but I try not to complain about it," Carreno Busta told ATPWorldTour.com, with a smile. At 22 years of age, his office is the tennis court. His body is supple and his legs are light. Dumbbell work can wait.
Outside the locker room at last week's Internazionali BNL d'Italia, his fifth ATP World Tour Masters 1000 main draw appearance, his clear blue eyes widened as members of the ATP establishment warmed-up for their matches, wandered by, or shared jokes to lighten the mood.
As the youngest of 15 Spaniards in the Top 100 today, the World No. 70 has become a well-known and popular figure. Albert Ramos told ATPWorldTour.com, "Pablo is a very funny guy. He is polite, but also likes to joke. He is a good friend and a good person." Fernando Verdasco agreed, admitting, "He is a very nice guy. We all get along very well with him as he is very friendly and lively. So if he gets above himself, us veterans calm him down a little."
Of course, Carreno Busta is still learning in his 13th month on the ATP World Tour. He is absorbing the intricacies of life as a professional. He readily admits that "tennis was only a hobby until I was 15. I used to play with friends at my local club in Gijon."
At his training base in Barcelona, the city to which he moved when the Spanish Tennis Federation offered him a scholarship seven years ago, his ongoing education is fuelled as a practice partner to Marcel Granollers,Pablo Andujar, Albert Montanes and Ramos. "Once I started to live in Barcelona, my mentality had begun to change. I felt like a professional and tennis was the way I wanted to earn my living. By travelling to other countries, I learned what the tennis world was about."
On occasion, David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro come to train. "When I train with these players, I can only improve," said Carreno Busta. "If I do my best, I automatically improve. It is always intense training with David. He works so hard and fights for every ball. His desire to improve is incredible. It makes me realise what I have to do if I want to attain my goals."
As a player who "loves competition", losing seven months due to a herniated disc injury - that required surgery in June 2012 - was an eternity for Carreno Busta. In convalescence, "I learned that I could come back from my injury if I fought. You can pass the bad moments."
Carreno Busta made up for lost time in a meteoric rise last year, which ended with his peers voting him the Most Improved Player of the Year. He surged from World No. 654 to No. 66 in the Emirates ATP Rankings via the ITF Future circuit - winning 35 straight matches and seven titles; through the ATP Challenger Tour - reaping four titles - and dipped his toes into ATP World Tour events - highlighted by reaching the Portugal Open semi-finals as a qualifier - and his Grand Slam debut at Roland Garros.
"Perhaps I inspired fellow Spaniards in what I achieved," he said, looking back on his 2013 season. "Certainly, I can say that I'm at the level of the best players, maybe not a Top 10 player, but that will come. Importantly, I realise that I love the sport and I know this is what I want to do for a long time."
With confidence, passion and desire, Carreno Busta is working with his coach, Javier Duarte, to break into the Top 40 - his short-term goal. "My mentality has changed over the past 12 months," said Carreno Busta. "Physically I've improved. My serve has also improved, but not enough. But I need to win a lot more matches." To date, he has six tour-level clay-court match wins to his name.
Two years ago, Carreno Busta often ran around his backhand in order to hit a forehand. This weakness was exposed on the ATP World Tour, but it has since been tightened up. In recent months, his forehand has dramatically improved and so has his movement. "It usually takes me four or five days to adjust to any change," admits Carreno Busta. "But the tough part is doing it at a tournament, where you have the pressure of results. Often, you need to remind yourself that you have to do it because it's the right way.
"Maybe last year, I achieved two years of goals in one. It favours me mentally, because making that big jump in such a short time gives me a greater amount of patience for my grander goals. If I don't get to the Top 40 this year, it will happen next year with the experience I get in tournaments and facing better opponents. I will climb there."
Verdasco and Ramos are certain of Carreno Busta's potential.
"He has a good service and forehand," said Verdasco. "His backhand holds up well and he returns very well. He has the height and there are a lot of positives for him to become a good player." Ramos agrees, adding, "He is a very balanced player on his forehand and backhand. He holds his own on the baseline, where he plays very well. I think he plays well on all surfaces and has a great future."
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