© Alberto Simon

Pablo Llamas Ruiz in action at the Segovia Challenger.

With Alcaraz's Support, Llamas Ruiz Rising On Challenger Tour

The 20-year-old is at a career-high No. 146

Two weeks ago, Pablo Llamas Ruiz became the youngest Spaniard to win an ATP Challenger Tour title since an 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz triumphed in 2021. How did Llamas Ruiz learn of that statistic? From the World No. 1 himself.

“I had no idea until Carlitos sent me the [Instagram] link and congratulated me,” Llamas Ruiz said in Spanish to ATPTour.com. “I clicked on the link and thought, ‘Unbelievable’. It's something I absolutely didn't expect, and it's given me even more enthusiasm to keep working.”

Llamas Ruiz, 20, was playing just his 10th Challenger event of the year in Segovia, where he saved three match points in the semi-finals before being crowned champion the next day. The #NextGenATP star’s rapid rise is only fueling his fire.

“It was something that I never expected, that I would win my first Challenger title on hard courts, it's incredible,” Llamas Ruiz said. “I'm so, so happy to win the title. I want to keep winning, keep training. I need to think that it's just one title because if I think, 'Oh, I won a Challenger, I won't work more', that's bad for you.”

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As if he needed any more inspiration to continue his climb, the Spaniard can look to his friend and recent Wimbledon champion Alcaraz, who won four Challenger titles before ascending to the biggest stages of the sport.

“Seeing that just two years ago he was winning Challengers and now he's the World No. 1 is really inspiring,” Llamas Ruiz said. “Everyone has their own path, but I know I can be there too, I just need to keep working. I believe I can achieve it, that I can compete against the best.”

Both aged 20, Alcaraz and Llamas Ruiz have fond memories together. In 2018, they clinched the junior Davis Cup in a decisive doubles rubber, lifting Spain past France 2-1 to win the trophy in Budapest. Llamas Ruiz, who prefers to be called, ‘Llamas’ because there are ‘a lot of Pablos’, recalled that he and Alcaraz would often do what teenage boys enjoy: joking, dancing and singing together.

“We were so, so happy on court. I remember I played with him and almost every point, we were laughing,” Llamas Ruiz said. “That's an experience that I had with him and now he's No. 1 of the world. It was incredible. I remember the point we won to win the junior Davis Cup, I finished with an ace and we were so, so happy.

“I would love to play with him again on the ATP Tour. I hope for that, I want that and I feel like he wants it too. So if I go up a little bit more, then I will try to play with him.”

Before ‘Llamas’ ascends to the ATP Tour, he will continue to develop his diverse game on the ATP Challenger Tour. A simple guy at heart, the Spaniard has enjoyed keeping tabs with Alcaraz, who is also following Llamas Ruiz’s journey.

“Lately, I've been talking more with Carlitos. When I won the Challenger title, my friends asked me, ‘Has Carlitos congratulated you?’” Llamas Ruiz said. “It was quite surprising that he sent me the link, gave me encouragement, told me to keep working, and said he was really happy for me. It filled me with satisfaction, ‘The World No. 1 is saying these things to me!’

“It's a joy to have that friendship with him. Sometimes when people achieve a lot of success and rise to the top, they forget what's behind them. It's really nice to see that Carlitos hasn't forgotten that, he's a great person.”

At a career-high No. 146 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, Llamas Ruiz will next aim to qualify for his maiden Grand Slam main draw at the US Open, where countryman Alcaraz claimed his first major title last year.

<a href='https://www.atptour.com/en/players/pablo-llamas-ruiz/l0cx/overview'>Pablo Llamas Ruiz</a> wins the <a href='https://www.atptour.com/en/scores/archive/segovia/783/2023/results'>Open Castilla y Leon</a> in Segovia.
Pablo Llamas Ruiz wins the Open Castilla y Leon in Segovia. Credit: Alberto Simon

-Reporting contributed by Guido Molteni