Although he must have been feeling it under the surface, there were no outward signs of nerves for Gonzalo Bueno as he hit balls with Carlos Alcaraz at the Pala Alpitour in Turin.
Their training session took place on Saturday at 11am, just one day before the start of the Nitto ATP Finals, the season’s grand finale. The 19-year-old Peruvian, No. 378 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, is one of the tournament sparring partners. Over the first few days, Bueno has practised with Holger Rune, Jannik Sinner, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Alcaraz himself, in what must have been something of a tennis masterclass.
“Nervous? Yes, of course,” a laughing Bueno tells ATPTour.com, after finishing his training session with the World No. 2, his t-shirt dripping with sweat.
“It’s even more nerve-wracking when you’re playing with someone who has won two Grand Slams. If I had to play with Djokovic it’d be even worse...,” he continues. “You do relax a little and get into the rhythm of it and your adrenaline kicks in. I think it went pretty well.”
Alongside his coach Pato Reynoso, the Peruvian completed a 45-minute session with Alcaraz. During that time, neither player held back, with the Spaniard producing some frightening shots that the Peruvian defended with aplomb, perfectly fulfilling his role in Turin: to help fine-tune the best players in the world.
“It was incredible,” admitted Bueno. “The ball comes back so fast when he ups his forehand, it’s amazing. I couldn’t wait to practise with him because at 14 years of age we played in the same World Finals in Prostejov. Seeing him here is spectacular. Carlos is a very normal guy, like the rest of his team. In fact, I reminded him about the World Finals and we were talking about that. He’s a great guy.”
As well as training with Alcaraz, the Peruvian is making the most of the lessons that may help him tackle future challenges. Playing so many hours of tennis with the elite of the ATP Tour will give him invaluable experience and confidence.
“It’s an unbelievable experience for me,” said Bueno. “I feel like I’m learning a lot here, and that gives me extra motivation to play in the tournaments that I have at the end of the year. There are very few opportunities like this, so I really value it.
“Being here this week with the eight best players in the world, sharing the experience with them, having my own locker room, the restaurant... it’s all new to me and I’m really enjoying it so much.”
Bueno will take encouragement from the fact that some players who have previously fulfilled his role at the Nitto ATP Finals have gone on to play in the event. Rune was a sparring partner in London in 2019 and in 2023 he is debuting at the tournament having claimed the final qualifying spot.
After his week as a practice partner in Turin, Bueno will get back to the final part of his 2023 season, before focusing on 2024, for which he already has one particular goal.
“We still haven’t met with the team, but it would be so exciting if I could play in the Grand Slams,” admitted the Peruvian. “I’m really close, and it would be a dream come true if I could compete in the main draw of a major. For now I want to focus on getting into the qualifiers and then we’ll see what happens.”