Getting To Know Carballes Baena, Who Faces Djokovic At The US Open
Roberto Carballes Baena began playing tennis when he was three, hitting balls with his father. The Spaniard’s dad was not a coach, but an avid tennis fan. Pio worked for 20 years in London as a restaurant manager, and he would always visit Wimbledon to watch the sport’s biggest stars in action.
Now his son will play the best player in the world on one of tennis’ grandest stages. Carballes Baena will face World No. 1 Novak Djokovic for the first time Monday afternoon at the US Open.
“For me it’s a great experience. I am very happy because it’s the first time I’ll play on the centre court here and I get to play against the No. 1 player in the world,” Carballes Baena told ATPTour.com, noting his excitement about competing in Arthur Ashe Stadium. “I think this is the biggest stadium in the world. But I’ve played on the centre court in Barcelona and a lot of courts with a lot of people. I will try to do my best and enjoy the match.
“I will try to focus on my game and do the best to try to win the match. But for sure I will try to enjoy it a little bit, because I don’t play all the matches on centre court.”
Carballes Baena has played highly-ranked players before, including then-World No. 1 Rafael Nadal in Barcelona last year. But the Spaniard, the No. 76 player in the ATP Rankings, has never defeated a Top 10 opponent (0-3). He also knows that battling past Djokovic, who has failed to reach the US Open final just once (2014 semi-finals) in eight appearances this decade, will be a tough task.
“I’m a little bit nervous because I think he’s the most solid player in the world,” Carballes Baena said. “He plays amazing backhands, forehands, returns. He does everything good. So I don’t know, maybe tomorrow I’ll play very well and play a great match.”
The 32-year-old has watched plenty of Djokovic matches, specifically remembering the Serbian’s Australian Open final this year against Nadal and his recent Wimbledon triumph against Roger Federer. But make no mistake, regardless of the score, Carballes Baena will be battling hard, just like his idol David Ferrer.
“I spoke with him a lot of times and I tried to learn from him, because I think he’s a typical Spanish player. He fought every point, he was very solid and he ran during all the match. So I tried to learn from him and do my best,” Carballes Baena said, noting advice Ferrer gave him. “I have to work a lot, because the way I play the points I have a lot of rallies and it’s very tough, all the matches. I have to work on my fitness. My fitness is the most important thing.”
Carballes Baena has followed in the footsteps of plenty of great Spaniards. At 14, he made the tough decision to move from Granada to Barcelona to improve his training.
“It was difficult because when I was 14, I think it’s very early to go out from your home. But I think it was good because I practised a lot. I think I learned a lot going there,” Carballes Baena said. “Tommy Robredo was practising there and then I was in the same room with Carreno Busta. He was there in Barcelona in the Spanish Federation. So I practised with a lot of good players.
“I think this is important because in Granada, the problem was I didn’t have partners for practice and I think in Barcelona we have a lot of players — Robredo, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Carreno Busta — so you can practise a lot and then you learn a lot from that.”
The Spaniard, who is just four spots off his career-high ATP Ranking of No. 72, is set on pushing for a breakthrough into the world’s Top 50. He carries the mindset that if he does well at tournaments, his Ranking will reflect that, and vice versa.
For now, he is focussed on Monday’s match, knowing it will be one of the most important ones in his career thus far, competing against the top seed at a Grand Slam in a stadium that holds more than 23,000 fans. And although he will try his best to focus on the match itself, he’ll also take in the moment.
“I’m a little bit nervous because I think it’s an amazing court. I practised [on it] today and yesterday a little bit," Carballes Baena said. "I will try to play my best game. I know it’s difficult to enjoy the match because you’re running and nervous and you’re trying to win the match. But I will try to enjoy it.
“In Barcelona I have a lot of friends and my family. I think when I played against Rafa I was a little bit more nervous. But here there will be a lot of people. When you start the match, you will only think of playing tennis, you’re not looking around the court. [It’ll] be very special.”
Did You Know?
Carballes Baena won his lone ATP Tour title last year in Quito.
“It was amazing because I forgot to sign in for the main draw. And then I had to play the qualifying and then I played a lot of hard matches and I couldn’t believe it,” Carballes Baena said. “I was No. 107 and then I won my first title. For me, that was amazing.”