The ATP Challenger Tour takes over the world-class facilities at Rafael Nadal’s tennis academy in Mallorca, Spain for one week to host the Rafa Nadal Open by Sotheby’s.
The tournament site is on an island of tennis paradise. The academy is home to 26 tennis courts (hard and clay), multiple pools, an on-site hotel, a full service restaurant, squash courts, padel courts, a state-of-the-art gym, physio rooms, and the Rafa Nadal Museum.
The tournament’s facilities stand out to Challenger Tour players, including Belgian Zizou Bergs, who is seeded fourth at this week’s tournament.
“It’s my second time here, at the Rafa Nadal Academy. Honestly, I would pay money to be here,” Bergs said. “I see tourists coming in and I’m thinking how special it is to stay here and compete. They are here to see the museum in the day and come to watch you play tennis in the evening. Seeing all the facilities they have, it’s a privilege to be here. I think a lot of players think this way too.”
Since the event began in 2018, Joan Suasi has been the tournament director. Though the work is hard, Suasi knows how vital hosting a Challenger at the Academy is.
“It’s the most important event of the academy,” Suasi said. “We put a lot of energy into it and are super happy to see that people are having such a good time.”
The week following the tournament, the annual and semester educational programs begin for players from 11 to 18-years-old. During the summer months, the academy holds a variety of summer camps. Despite the challenge of hosting the tournament during the first week of the US Open, Suasi claims it’s the perfect week for the academy.
“We have our annual school starting next week and we ended summer camps last week. Basically, we have this gap in between those weeks, which we use for our Challenger event. We need all the facilities to organise this event, including the hotel and the residences that we use to house staff. There’s a lot of people involved in the tournament so we need to be at full capacity.”
Some of the games’ best players have made their way to the Mallorca Challenger. In 2019, three-time major champion Andy Murray opted to play in his return from hip surgery. A large smile came across Suasi’s face as he recalled the day the former World No. 1 played in his backyard.
“I remember friends of mine were calling me the afternoon Andy was supposed to play, saying, ‘Is he really here? Is he really going to play the Challenger here?’”
Former World No. 7 Fernando Verdasco made his tournament debut last year, when he reached the quarter-finals. Carlos Alcaraz, Bernard Tomic, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, and Pablo Andujar are among others that have paid a visit to the event.
Suasi takes pride in providing an enjoyable experience not just for the players, but also for the fans, including a focus on being family-friendly.
“It’s a free ticket so many people who come here can also go to the museum, which has reduced admission this week. The museum is where Rafa has all his trophies and there are also a lot of activities to do at the museum, including different simulators like Formula One, mountain biking, and skiing. It’s very nice because it’s very family oriented.”
The Rafa Nadal Academy opened in 2016 and when the tournament began two years later, the goal has always been to give back to the sport.
“The highlight for me is when I look around and see lots of people coming and having a good time. We are trying to give something back with this tournament, this is not our business. We are a tennis academy, our business is in something else. When somebody comes to me and says, ‘Thank you, you’re doing a good job, this is a great place to be.’ When I go to sleep, I’m proud of that.”
The academy invests in hosting a Challenger tournament because they recognise how vital the ATP Challenger Tour is to professional tennis. This year, academy graduates Abdullah Shelbayh and Daniel Rincon are among the field, providing them an opportunity to play in front of a home crowd.
“For us as an academy, it’s super big to have a Challenger… It’s the path you need to go through if you want to become one of the top players in this sport. The Challenger Tour puts a lot of effort in making the path easier and is always looking for the benefit of the player,” Suasi said.