For a Brit, Matilda Mutavdzic has a name to conjure with. Equally, she has a game to reckon with! Just 16 years old, she has been on a four country academy journey which currently sees her established in Spain at the Nadal Academy, not too shabby a place to learn your tennis, especially when you are under the tutelage of former Spanish professional, Gabriel Urpi!
Winning the W15 has given me a lot of confidence, Winning has put me in a good position (for the future) Matilda Mutavdzic
Indeed, while Rafa was winning his 13th French Open at Roland Garros earlier this month, young Matilda was on a nearby court reaching the 3rd round of the junior girls singles. And last month, she took another giant stride on her impressively ascending trajectory, winning her first senior ITF tournament.
Not bad for a girl who only discovered tennis by accident, back in 2008 when she was just four years old.
“I was watching TV and I was trying to find a kiddie channel and I just happened to come across the Roland Garros final between Ana Ivanovic and Dinara Safina and I thought it was amazing how they were playing and what they were doing so I wanted to try.
For my seventh birthday my mum bought me a SpongeBob tennis racket from Toys R Us and from there I was going to try and become a pro.”
She spent the next years on the practice courts of Oxford, where her family were living, before they moved back to Serbia when Matilda was 11.
But that didn’t stop her tennis improvement and she soon left for Belgium and Kim Clijsters’ Academy before ending up at the Rafa Nadal Tennis Academy in Manacor at the beginning of this year. Even ending up there came about by accident.
She had wanted to pursue several options on her academy-hopping journey across Europe, but Covid hit when she was at the Nadal Academy, grounding her there for several months. And during that enforced stay, the penny dropped.
“As I was there training, it just ticked all the boxes, in terms of how professional everyone was, the goals that they put first in terms of not results but how you’re developing as a player as well as a person,” she recalls. “The greatest thing of all is that we have Rafa there, somebody to look up to and to watch every day to see how he conducts himself, how he practises and you can learn a lot from that.”
And she is. If ever a player has fallen on her feet, then it is Matilda Mutavdzic.
“All aspects of my game have definitely improved since starting there,” she says. “My serve, how fast I’m hitting the ball, mentally – everything. It has all improved drastically.”
Of course, she recognises the benefits of association and is herself prepared to put in the hours, the grind, the hard work, to make it to the top – and she is already seeing some reward. In only her third women’s tour event, aged 16, she won the ITF W15 Melilla title in Spain, defeating home favourite Yvonne Cavalle-Reimers – 12 years her senior – 6-2, 7-5 in the final. When the tournament began, there was 780 ranking places between the Brit and the Spaniard!
Along the way, she also gained revenge for her first round defeat at the Australian Open girls event earlier this year, reversing the trouncing she took from the eventual champion and now World ranked No 1 junior, Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva.
“Winning the W15 has given me a lot of confidence,” she said. “Winning has put me in a good position (for the future).”
People began to take notice of Matilda when, back in 2019, at just 15 years old, she reached the third round at Wimbledon juniors, losing out to in age and experience to the eventual finalist, the American, Alexa Noel. From there, though, she has only moved forward.
The much travelled Matilda has a Serbian father and a Montenegrin mother, a combination – when coupled with the Nadal factor – which brings her both confidence, clarity and boldness in her thinking. During the French juniors, for example, she was happy to respond to Heather Watson’s apparent dismissal of the current crop of up and coming British juniors, of which Matilda – together with Canadian born but Kent based Emma Raducanu, aged 17 and ranked 343 in the WTA rankings – is a part.
“Emma’s doing amazing now,” Mutavdzic told the Press Association. “I don’t think it’s right to say there’s not much junior talent prospering but everyone has their opinions.”
She could also have mentioned some of her other contemporaries, Jasmine Conway, Amelia Bissett, Amarni Banks and of course – fresh out of juniors, Jack Draper, who we have reported on previously in Tennis Threads magazine.
In the meantime, Matilda Mutavdzic is in a good place. Rubbing shoulders with the new French Open champion’s team in his own backyard is not a bad place to develop your tennis, as the youngster acknowledges.
“He (Nadal) knows everyone there,” says Matilda. “He knows everyone’s names, how they’re doing, what they’re working on and he’s a huge influence. He holds quite a few meetings with us as players to talk to us about certain elements of our game but also about life in general. It’s a huge privilege to have him. Just being there and mentoring not only me but everyone at the Academy. I feel very lucky to be in that position. My parents and I were trying to find a place like that, a place where I can move forward and it ticked all the boxes. All the staff and everybody there make it so special, including Rafa himself and Toni [Nadal], and it’s a great pool of people to train with.”