Marbella could be described as the town of tennis. In recent years it has hosted a tournament on the WTA women's tour, two knock-out rounds for the Davis Cup and has become the home for an annual veterans tournament. Now it is the turn of the Casino Admiral Trophy, an ATP Challenger Tour tournament expected the include the largest number of players from Malaga province in many years. Adrián Menéndez (115th in the ATP ranking last week), the best-known local player, is its ambassador and one of the organisers. He will also be competing, at one of the best times of his professional career.
Whose idea was it to organise a Challenger in Marbella?
The idea came from Ronnie Leitgeb, who used to be the coach and manager of former world number one Thomas Muster. He has also coached Jürgen Melzer. He brought many players to Marbella to train, fell in love with the town and moved here. It is his second home now. That's why he decided to start a tournament here.
What does your role as ambassador involve?
In general I work closely with the tournament director and am getting very involved with everything. This is a very attractive project for Marbella and for tennis in Andalucía in general. We have signed with the ATP for three years, and it will always be at Easter, no matter when that is. It means that some years it will be in March, and others in April. It also coincides with the clay court tournaments in Europe and is good preparation for Roland Garros, so we have a very interesting list of players lined up.
I understand that the final round will be made up of 32 players?
Yes, just like in any other Challenger. The final phase will start on Monday of Holy Week and the final will take place on Easter Saturday at 5pm. It will be played on three courts at Puente Romano, including centre court. The players will have access to other clubs to train.
Will this be the first time you have competed at home?
No, I was at the Challenger in 2012, but it was organised by a foreign promotor then. Now we have an Austrian director who lives on the Costa del Sol and the whole organisational team is local. That's very important if it is to last and become a permanent tournament. That's why the one in 2012 wasn't held again.
You are now number 115, close to your best-ever ranking of 111 in the summer of 2015. Do you think you will move up again?
Yes. Maybe even this week. You have to wait (the calculation is complicated) but I believe so. I'm in a good place at present, playing well. My game has matured a great deal and is more consistent now. I believe I have demonstrated that this year, playing against people in the top 50, and even beating [Adrian] Mannarino, who was 25th. I hope everything will continue to be as good as this.
What is the key to the change? Is it mental, or purely technique?
The ATP professional tour is very long, with numerous tournaments. Some players find it hard to maintain continuity. A few years ago I started to have some good moments in the season, but not in consecutive months. Now I'm more able and that is reflected in the ranking.That is the result of many things, mental and physical. At this level small details can make a difference.
-You don't spend many weeks of the year in Marbella...
No. We travel a great deal and sometimes you have to decide if it's worth coming back. Now, after Indian Wells, I've decided to stay in Miami for a week to avoid more jet lag. In Marbella I always train on clay at the Puente Romano, and for speed I alternate between that, El Mirador and Tennis Brothers, which are close to home. A lot of Russian players come to train in Marbella so I play against them.
It's strange that all this is happening when you're 32. Last year when you won your first match in a Grand Slam, the US Open, you were 31. You must admit that your career is rather unusual....
I'd say it is going to be more normal from now on, and that has been demonstrated by players like [Roger] Federer. He is physically at his best now. And Rafa Nadal is only a year younger than me. The physical preparation and care of the players has improved. We are going to see some very good young players, like the future Next Gen. I started competing later than normal on the professional circuit, when I was 19, after finishing my studies. It was very late and it is normal that my physical and mental aptitude came later.
Do you regret any errors you have made in your career?
No. Simply that I grew up in a town where competition tennis didn't exist, only recreational tennis. It was a miracle. I didn't have trainers or experts around me when I was young. The Next Gen players have the best coaches, physical trainers, psychologists... it was difficult not having access to all those advantages.
What do you think of the changes in the Davis Cup?
I'm possibly not the best person to ask because I have never played in it. Other players say it makes the season very long and tiring, with a lot of travel. From outside, the new format under which it is concentrated in one week seems quite a good idea and more like other sports, but of course you can lose the attraction of playing eliminatory rounds at home.