For aspiring stars on the ATP Tour, the opportunity to spend time with those at the top of the game is a dream come true. Just ask 18-year-old Daniel Vallejo, who rubbed shoulders with Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev and other stars at the Nitto ATP Finals in November.
The Paraguayan spent two weeks as a hitting partner in Turin, where he watched and practised with those competing at the prestigious year-end event.
“These two weeks have been amazing,” Vallejo said. “You learn a lot and you get a lot of rhythm with the players. This court is amazing, it is one of the biggest courts I have been to. I have been hitting here. It has been cool to play here and to watch all the matches that have been played here. When you step in and hit it is a completely different feeling to hitting [on] a normal court.”
The World No. 581 first picked up a racquet when he was a six-year-old in the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion. His desire to play professionally quickly grew, with his two older brothers a source of inspiration after they went to play college tennis in the United States.
Currently training at the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar, Vallejo has enjoyed testing himself against fellow rising stars in Mallorca. However, the former junior World No. 1 quickly noticed the step-up in level when he hit with Medvedev and Andrey Rublev in Turin.
“They are very consistent and aggressive with their games. They have big serves. They have a lot of things you can take away and try and practise,” Vallejo said. “I was warming up Daniil Medvedev for his match against [Stefanos] Tsitsipas. It was a fun experience. Daniil has a completely different game style. He is a very chilled guy. It is very fun to be with him and play with him. You get used to his ball and it is very fun.”
Vallejo, who had prior experience hitting with Nadal in Spain, shared a locker room with alternates Holger Rune and Hubert Hurkacz in Turin. A unique aspect of the year-end event is that the eight qualified singles players and eight doubles teams have individual lockers, which is different from other tour-level tournaments.
“I think one of the coolest things for the players playing the tournament is they have their own lockers with their faces on the door,” Vallejo said. “That is pretty cool. This is a one-time thing. I should keep working hard to maybe be here one day.”
On court, Novak Djokovic captured his sixth Nitto ATP Finals crown when he defeated Casper Ruud in the championship match. Vallejo relished the opportunity to watch the Serbian in action.
“I love watching Novak Djokovic. He is an amazing player to watch. He has everything. With Roger, he is probably the most complete player,” Vallejo said. “He can do everything, so it is amazing to watch him play.”
Eager to learn from his experience in Turin, Vallejo will hope he can climb the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and fulfil his long-term dream of competing at the Nitto ATP Finals.
“I will be focusing on [ATP] Challenger [Tour] events and Futures, but hopefully in two years I can start playing on the ATP [Tour],” Vallejo said.
“I would love to be here in three or four or even 10 years from now, but I will have to keep working hard. I would like to win a Grand Slam, hopefully Wimbledon or US Open. But I have to keep working hard and dreaming.”