It has been a long time since it is surprising to see Bernabé Zapata winning a Challenger tournament, competing in an ATP draw or beating a Qualy in Grand Slam. And not precisely because it has happened many times, but because of the level that it has been showing us for a year and a half. The Valencian has grown as a player and this shows in the results, which have led him to jump almost a hundred positions in the last 15 months. But this path does not travel alone, next to it we find the figure of Carlos Navarro (Valencia, 1977), the coach who has been guiding his steps for a decade. The technician attends Break Point since Wimbledon, where Zapata became the only Spaniard able to pass the qualifying phase on Thursday.
“One of the objectives of this season was to train on different surfaces and improve Bernabé’s tennis. We knew that it was going very well on the ground, so we had to improve other shots ”, Navarro begins by explaining to us. “This year was the first time I played on grass, so we worked a lot on the serve and the volley. In the first round of the Qualy it was Alessandro Giannessi, a difficult southpaw who had already done the last round here several times. Berni started 3-0 down, he was very nervous, but then he calmed down and pushed it forward. Against Bernard Tomic he increased the rhythm a little more and that favored him in the second set, where the Australian had a small slump. With Matusevich we knew that he was a promising young local and the truth is that he played spectacularly, an impressive game, he gave a level that had nothing to do with his ranking ”, the coach analyzes.
Three games, three wins. It is all it takes to get out of a qualifying phase at Wimbledon alive, although there are months and months of work behind it. “We were clear that we could not stagnate. Bernabé is a clay court player, but for a long time we have been pursuing the goal of improving on fast courts, a task that all Spaniards have gone through, ”says his coach. “We are doing a different schedule, we even changed training sessions to work on some shots that we didn’t look at so much before. We made a bet on the top, going to more ATP tournaments and trying to train with the best, knowing that in the short term the results may not arrive, but in the medium term they have ended up arriving. It has been a year and a half working on other aspects, adding new formulas to his solidity from the back of the track and that aggressive style that he has. Tennis has changed a lot and you have to adapt, but the philosophy has always been to improve. Nowadays, to be a complete player you have to improve on the fast track ”, says Carlos, the person who knows him best.
And is that if we dive into the men’s circuit, few tennis players will find that they have not changed coach for ten years. One of them is Zapata, who started working with Navarro in 2011. At that time, the technician was in charge of the career of Carlos Taberner –One of the best friends of Bernabé–, moment where the Sporting Club de Tenis Valencia signs him to take the competition school. There he met Zapata and, since then, they have been inseparable. “The road has been very hard, with a very low budget, but that year he was already runner-up in Spain cadet. Then at the age of 18 he won his first Futures in Gandía and was runner-up in Europe. The most complicated thing has been to combine everything with the economic issue, he has had to travel alone for many weeks ”.
A relationship that goes beyond the professional
And what is the secret to staying with the same coach for so many years? Winning games, of course, but it is also essential to generate that spark off the court that makes it easy for you on a day-to-day basis. “Our relationship is spectacular in every way, we know each other very well and something very personal unites us, we try to make each day special,” says the coach. “Bernabé is very good people and that is why I am delighted, also He is someone very faithful, as a person he is a ’10’. We know about our strengths and weaknesses, so what we try is to make life easy for us, now that he has grown up it is easier to travel with him. I have known him since I was 14 years old so, more than a coach-player, I can say that we are united by a bond of friendship. Of course there are also problems, tennis is a stressful sport, but we always know how to push forward ”, agrees the Valencian.
It was precisely from 2020 where Zapata began to gather all the necessary pieces to give the leap in quality that we all expected. After winning his first two Challengers (Cordenons 2020, Heilbronn 2021) and overcome their first two Grand Slam Qualys (Roland Garros 2021, Wimbledon 2021), the top 100 begins to be a real goal on the horizon of the current world No. 125. “Tennis requires you to be mature from a very young age and everyone achieves it in their own time. We are talking about maturity to eat well, to travel every week or to win certain matches ”, Navarro resolves about the impulse of his pupil. “These years we have dedicated ourselves to improving his entire game, especially his serve and the rest. I remember the first time we played on an indoor court and they nailed us 16 aces, there we started to watch videos and train like two crazy people. We also talked a lot with David Ferrer to help us improve, be more aggressive and gain strength.. Over time it has been assimilating these new ideas and has been improving, now we can make an ambitious calendar and compete everywhere ”.
Spontaneity and simplicity, two virtues that are in short supply
“I have had a very bad time, Charly. I can not believe it!”. These were the words of Bernabé after the match ball against Matusevich, prostrate on the grass and about to burst into tears. A player without fear of showing his emotions, transparent and always original. “Well, in that sense we both got quite excited,” Navarro shares with a laugh. “He is like that, on the court he is a reflection of how he is outside, a very expressive boy full of charisma, He even has a fan club there in Valencia! In their matches I can assure you that you do not get bored. Each player is in a way, but I like players who generate that feeling with people, and Berni has that. Every tournament that I go I meet people who did not know him and who later come to congratulate him. Sport also has that show factor that should not be missed, so I am not considering changing anything at all, it is the way it is, ”he proudly emphasizes.
The first five-setter on this year’s grass –
And what a way to seal a #Wimbledon main draw spot by Bernabe Zapata Miralles – pic.twitter.com/aUBGiBGNYT
– Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) June 24, 2021
After overcoming the Qualy at Roland Garros and falling in the first round to Carlos Alcaraz, the opportunity to add his first Grand Slam victory reappears on the horizon for Bernabé. It will be at Wimbledon, where the draw has paired him in the first round with the seventeenth seed, the Chilean Cristian Garin. A special date where Zapata will add two new supports in the stands: his father (Wifredo) and his physical trainer (Nacho Márquez). Of course, there will be one more day Carlos Navarro, ready to continue harvesting all that has been sown in the last ten years.