Javier Thumb closes his fist on the Rafa Nadal Court after the victory of his pupil, Brandon Nakashimain the first round of Count of Godó Trophy. As his player heads for the locker room, he heads for the Jan Kodes Court, where he still has a game to win. He meets there Jaime Thumbhis twin brother, current manager of another American player, mackenzie mcdonald. After an intense and painful comeback, the double is a reality. Both are in the second round at Barcelona, although the real 2×1 ends up on the benches.
Who are the Thumb brothers? Brief synopsis. Two children born in Madrid 33 years ago who, while spending the summer in Valencia, picked up a racket for the first time. It was love at first sight, even if the road was not going to be easy. Their journey in the children, cadets and juniors category was remarkable, until fate sent them to the United States at the age of 18 on a university scholarship. Once their studies were finished, it was time to retrace their steps: return to Spain and start competing. This is where the inertia twists, with two premature retirements in 2018 and a dream to achieve: to achieve as a coach what could not be achieved on the track.
After four years of experience and several crossings of the pond between Spain Yes United States, Jaime and Javier are finally where they wanted. In his hands lie the current numbers 81st and 51st in the ATP rankings, two North American tennis players with a long way to go on the circuit. A unique story that sounds even better when told. In the swimming pool RCTB 1899After a busy day of sport, the Pulgar brothers sit down with Punto de Break to tell us their story.
How do you manage to form two top100?
JAIME: “I worked with Mackenzie’s ex-girlfriend – they were a couple at the time – who was close to the WTA top400. Mackenzie was injured at the time, he couldn’t play, so he was traveling with us. During these trips, we got to know each other, establish a friendship, until we finally tried on the track. The USTA decided to stop accompanying him in tournaments, so he asked me if I wanted to be his coach, that’s how we started.
JAVIER: “In my case, I had been working for the USTA for six months, until the day Brandon suggested that I start traveling with him and train him. Before, he had trained his brother, who is 18 and will now be entering university. There, Brandon decides to break up with his coach and starts with me right after the last Australian Open. He has a lot of projection, he is hardworking, humble and knows how to listen. I am delighted with him, if we continue like this, in 2-3 years we can be very high.
I am struck by your youth. Why did you retire so soon?
JAIME: We reached an age where, realistically, we had already reached our ceiling. It’s never easy to finish, but it was time to look for something else. This sport never stops completely, you never stop thinking as a player.
JAVIER: Tennis is our passion, whenever we have time we try to train, play and stay in shape. We wanted to continue in a way, and especially at this level, where we could never reach the competition.
Spanish tennis, American tennis. Is there that much difference?
JAIME: It hurts me to say it because I’m Spanish and Madrid is my home, but financially it’s another league. They have spectacular facilities there, at the academic level, they also help you at all times to make it compatible with training and tournaments. Given the direction in which tennis is going, where players are retiring later and later, I think the university course is very valuable: it gives you training and four more years to continue improving physically, tennis and mentally. 22-23 is a very good age to go out on the circuit with guarantees, to see if you are really good.
JAVIER: For North Americans, there is an additional cultural problem, they understand university as a step before professionalism, here in Europe it is understood differently. Mackenzie, for example, has won every college championship; Brandon only played one semester, until he started playing at the Challengers and realized he already had the level to take the step to the ATP.
You have both schools in your coaching notebook, how would you define yourself?
JAIME: We talk about it a lot, it’s a very long evolutionary process. You need to have your own base system, but it’s essential to adapt to the player you have in order to exploit their virtues and minimize their weaknesses as much as possible. We grew up in Spain, we have this way of understanding tennis, but we also took things from there: serve, net, risk, etc. I try to get the best out of each house, to be as complete as possible.
JAVIER: The goal is to be hybrid, to be smart, understanding that each country has its strengths when it comes to working. The figures of Spanish tennis are there, we should not remember them, but there are aspects where the Americans are very good. These are two totally different ways of seeing tennis, the Spanish base is essential, but it can be combined with other facets of American tennis.
Can you have the full combo?
JAVIER: Alcaraz is the best example. A player with a very Spanish base, but aggressive, entering the field, taking time from the opponent and closing points on the net. It’s very complicated, but it’s doable.
Tell me about working with your player, what stage is each at?
JAIME: My job with Mackenzie is to bring him to my territory, in the Spanish way, but without taking away his North American assets. Give him some order, some rules of the game that must always be followed, you can’t leave. From there, he is free to find his way of expressing himself on the dance floor, always respecting the patterns that I have set for him. He plays very aggressive, very flat, with incredible volley, you just need to add a little solidity to him to be comfortable in defense.
You took it as #270 and now it’s close to top50.
JAIME: He had been in the top 60 in the world before, but just then he broke his ischium and was out for eight months, plus another six due to the pandemic. I had a very good level, but when it comes to coming back, you always have doubts, uncertainty comes, but it’s been a very good road to travel, to Qualy’s from the Challenger to the final of an ATP 500, like we did last year in Washington. He’s a 10-year-old boy, I really like him.
I understand that with Brandon, being younger, there is more leeway.
JAVIER: He is still 20 years old, he is in the training phase. We see a lot of projection for him but we have to work hard, these next three years will be fundamental. Physically there is room for improvement, at the moment we are very focused on that, but he already understands the game very well, from the back of the pitch he is quite solid. He’s not the typical American player who finishes everything in two shots, he has a lot of ball control, good service, he’s a very complete profile who needs to improve his mobility if he wants to get up there. He works super hard and is always very open to listening.
He looks very calm for his age.
JAVIER: He’s in a very malleable phase, but he’s not the typical 20-year-old with bad days, that’s the best thing. His most important quality is being a super stable person, he doesn’t have bad training days, he always comes home happy, he gives 100% in every session… all that one does not usually see in children of his age. He is very young, he has plenty of time ahead of him, but if he continues with this attitude he will do very well.
If I go to the United States and ask about the Pulgar brothers, what would they tell me?
JAIME: We are two people who fully live tennis, it’s our passion. Two extremely hardworking people, now I couldn’t tell you (laughs). What we are clear on is that if you want to do a good job at this level, it is essential that you love what you do, that you live it 100%.
Must be the bomb going through all this with your brother.
JAIME: I’m really happy to share all this experience with my brother. One lives in California and the other in Texas, so we had a season where we didn’t see each other much. I love having him by my side, it’s an opinion I can always look to, we’ve helped each other a lot through this process.
JAVIE: I always joke with Brandon and with mackie telling them they get two sneakers for the price of one. We are always in touch, we analyze what can be improved, we help each other where we can. The most important thing is that both players are very good people, that’s why we appreciate that so much.
Don’t they confuse you?
JAIME: The first few times my brother started working with Brandon, I remember Mackie seeing him in Indian Wells and approaching him thinking it was me (laughs). Now that we’ve been around for a long time, they instantly recognize us. The problem is with those around you, other players and coaches. We have sometimes been told: ‘You were here a moment ago, how did you do?‘.
I am thinking of the typical hooliganism of American films, where the twins swap girlfriends.
JAIME: We didn’t.
JAVIER: And we won’t because I’m married and he’s getting married in September, so it’s already late (laughs).
The success of the Spanish coach is a scandalous thing, it even seems normal.
JAIME: It’s spectacular, we must not stop pointing it out because it’s not just Juan Carlos Ferrero with Alcaraz or Carlos Moyá with Rafa Nadal. There is a younger group that does things very well: Javier Martí, Carlos Boluda, Pepe Checa, Antoni Vivanco, Abraham González…
What image does the Spanish coach have in the United States?
JAVIER: They respect him a lot, they know that we are very passionate people. In this sense, the Americans are a little more serious, they put other things forward.
JAIME: I would say Americans don’t live it 24 hours a day, they have a way of making a living from it and they love tennis to some degree, but it’s not like us. They are different cultures.
What will happen the day Brandon and Mackenzie meet?
JAIME: They played twice on tour, but Javi wasn’t working with Brandon yet. So far this has not happened…
JAVIER: Every time a painting comes out, we pray it doesn’t happen (laughs).
And the passing day?
JAVIER: It will pass, what is good is that they are both great guys, they get along very well. The day they play, maybe the best will win… I hope it will be Brandon (laughs).
JAIME: I think they will understand the situation, we know each other very well, we will see what adjustment each will make when the time comes.