You might easily expect that a 15-year-old player like Jana Montes Cabuja, Catalonia’s rising padel star, would have bundles of confidence. Her father owns a padel club, her mother converted to padel after a tennis injury, and Jana herself turned professional at 13. Yet it has taken a long time for her to verbalise her ambition to get the top.
In 2021, she was the youngest player at the TAU Cerámica Albacete challenger – at just 13. She quietly submitted a wildcard request and could not believe it when she was accepted into the tournament.
“It happened so fast,” she recalls. “At the time, I was only hoping to play a WPT match one day. Then suddenly they accepted me at the challenger. Still, I didn’t see it as a big deal. I could not say I understood what pressure was, but I remember I had a terrible pain in my stomach just before starting. That only went away when I started playing.” Even though she and her then partner were knocked out at the pre-qualification stage, her presence in the TAU Cerámica Albacete marked a record: becoming the youngest player to debut on the 2021 World Padel Tour and turn professional.
But then her promising career was interrupted. Just after the Albacete challenger, she sprained both her ankles while playing. Looking back, Jana believes this was the worst moment of her career so far – not because of the injury itself, rather the fear she felt that the recovery might be only temporary, that it could happen again. It became hard for her to believe 100 per cent that she could have a future as a successful player.
‘If Babolat can believe in me, why can’t I?’
At that difficult time, her relationship with Babolat helped her to overcome her negative attitude towards herself.
“I cannot remember the moment Babolat entered my life because I was only 10 when I was signed by them. But at some point in my career, I realised: if a big brand believes in me enough to sponsor me, why shouldn’t I believe in myself? Giving me self-confidence was definitely the biggest thing they have done for me.”
Did Jana have someone to look up to, someone who inspired her to dedicate herself to the sport? “I’ve been asked this question a lot,” she says with a shy smile. “The truth is that no, I don’t look up to anybody. It’s just that I cannot stand still and watchpadel, I need to play it!”
She has few chances to chill in her daily life anyway. She has college until 5pm, followed by training straight after. She still manages to carve out some time for her friends, but she does not overdo it, because padel is her top priority. She has played since she was eight, so this is the life she has always known.
Two kinds of pressure
A changing mindset following her ankle injury brought swift results in what turned out to be a stellar 2022: she became Spanish champion in her age group and was crowned the best Catalan player. In 2023, she moved from the Babolat under-15 Spanish team to join the Babolat International Team, something she believes will give another boost to her career. Now aged 15, the meaning of pressure is much clearer for her.
“There are two kinds of pressure: the one that motivates you to get results, and the one that comes from the others because you won a lot in the past, so they expect you to keep winning. I stay focused on myself and work bit-by-bit to keep moving forward.”
And finally she has the strength to declare her dream out loud: “Success for me means winning: I want to become number 1.”