His groundstrokes, in general, were potent and proved difficult for opponents to handle. His one-handed backhand specifically, was as powerful as the blunt side of a hammer. And that fire in his belly, a desire that sometimes burned fiercely for years, fueled Nicolas Almagro on the court while lighting up fans in the stands.
Almagro, a regular face around the men’s locker room for the past 16 years, isn’t completely extinguishing the fire that once propelled him into the Top 10 in the ATP Rankings, but instead he is channeling it in a different direction as he retires from the ATP Tour and moves on to the next phase of his distinguished career.
“I did my best to extend my career for as long as possible and hold off announcing my retirement, but it just wasn’t meant to be,” the 33-year-old told ATPTour.com. “My knee wasn’t co-operating. The only thing left was to step away to avoid further suffering and damage to my body, and to guarantee a life as healthy as possible down the road.”
Almagro was a formidable figure during his years on the ATP Tour, and his legacy is backed by impressive numbers. A career-high No. 9 ranking in May 2011, the Spaniard earned 13 ATP titles and won nearly 400 professional matches during his career. Complicated by injuries, including ones to his foot and left knee, Almagro’s career might have been cut shorter than he would have wished, but he’s proud of what he achieved given the circumstances.
“It’s all been so beautiful,” Almagro said. “I competed in what many might one day consider the golden age of tennis, against some of the best to ever play the sport.
That goes for all surfaces, and even more so on clay. That will always stay with me. In the end, I don’t want to be the one who weighs my place or to measure my accomplishments. I can only assess and reflect on what I’ve achieved.
“No matter the event, I strived to go as far as I could; do as well as possible. Could I have won more? Maybe. Less? I think that’s possible, too.”
Not one to seek out the spotlight, Almagro’s final singles match resulted in a 6-2, 6-2 loss to Mario Vilella Martinez on Tuesday last week, at an ATP Challenger Tour event in his hometown of Murcia, Spain. It’s the kind of send-off the classy Almagro wanted: without a multi-city farewell tour, but in front of an audience of those close to him and who saw him develop as a player.
“The farewell in Murcia was special to me,” Almagro acknowledged. “I was aware that I could not compete at the same level and fight on the same terms with my opponents as I once was able. In the end, what I wanted was to play one last time, accompanied by my family and my friends, surrounded by the people who have supported and loved me for so many years. The result of that match was the least important. The main thing was to be able to dedicate some final shots to all the people who have believed in me and who have supported me. I want that to stay with me.”
With a long list of victories to look back on, some of Almagro’s most memorable matches came at Grand Slam championships, where he was a four-time quarter-finalist, including three occasions on clay at Roland Garros in 2008, 2010 and 2012.
With a career that extensive, it’s hard for Almagro to highlight specific moments in time; he’d rather appreciate the enjoyment that came with the journey.
“I’ve been lucky to win 13 titles and play another 10 finals,” Almagro said. “Choosing just one moment would be to exclude a bunch of other moments; picking one title I won over the other 12 wouldn’t be doing them justice. Looking at it that would be crazy, so I don’t. In the end, the sum of those moments is worth more than if you were to add them one by one.”
How, then, does the Spaniard want to be remembered?
“I hope you remember me as a fighter, one with a huge heart who wanted to have fun every time he stepped on to the court, but was always ready for a tough battle,” Almagro said. “I know people say I have a peculiar personality and I can’t argue that; but those who know me on a personal level, off the court, can tell you that I’m very sincere. I say what I think, and that sometimes play mind games, even within my own mind. I know everyone has their opinion about that, but what matters is that I stay true to myself.”
Almagro was involved in numerous memorable clashes against the sport’s finest players over the years, matches that were thrilling to the fans and grueling to the Spaniard and his opponents. Two adversaries immediately come to his mind.
“David [Ferrer] rattled me for years and years; he was extremely tough for me,” Almagro said. “But probably the toughest foe I faced was Roger Federer. He was a player who seemed, at times, susceptible to my attacks, but at the same time, he appeared unbeatable. It was incredible to share the court with him because in my opinion, he’s the best ever to play the sport.”
There are lessons Almagro has learned during his time as a player, and he’s philosophical about how they be applied to life after tennis.
“Sport is like life; you have to solve problems every day and you have to reinvent yourself to improve,” Almagro said. “Life doesn’t wait for you and you have to keep an open mind while assessing what can use improving. You must get on that express train, not the slow one, and solve problems at full speed.”
While he’s stepping away from his career as a player, Almagro will continue to explore other opportunities within the sport he loves, including a position as a director at a tennis club in his hometown.
“I’m the director of La Manga Club (in Murcia, Spain). It’s an incredible place that helps the ATP link players with a place to train close to their home,” Almagro. “It wasn’t a realistic option just a little a while ago. Now it’s a chance to be able to reinvent myself, to be able to learn many things and I am excited about it. I’m going to try to maximise this opportunity and be as successful as director here, as I was throughout my career.”
“From there, I’ll assess my options and see how to translate my success from the court to the sidelines, but I’m a very careful person; I scrutinise everything. I’ll be open minded, even leave my options open to possibly coaching, but everything must align perfectly before I take steps like that.
In the end, Almagro walks away with his head held high and with the peace of mind knowing he always gave it his all on the court in pursuit of his dreams.
“What I can say with certainty is that I feel privileged to have been able to compete with such a high level of talent,” Almagro said. “I always put everything I had into my career, and I’m left with memories of some of the great people I met along the way, all who played a part in this beautiful dream. It’s a dream my team and I collectively turned into a reality.”
“I’m leaving with my head held high, knowing that I gave everything I had and that I cannot blame myself for anything I didn’t manage to achieve.”