As part of putting together the birthday post, tiemyshoe dug up some of her favorite Rafa articles…
‘Caracter tranquilo’ is how Albert Costa, his first major scalp, described him this year. Certainly Nadal, who was brought up playing on red clay, took to the green stuff yesterday as only a player with exceptional timing can. His passing shots frequently had Ancic plunging about, and when he had time to wind up on the forehand there was always trouble for his opponent. ‘He is only young but he has all the strength he needs,’ says Carlos Moya, the former world No1 who has been his mentor. ‘He is a great player now. He’s also more mature on court and off it than anyone else of his age.'” – Richard Jago, “The boy from the red stuff is anything but green,” The Guardian
It (physical presence) is something you either have or you do not and it comes naturally to him. But I believe he needs the big stages — nothing else makes too much sense. The Davis Cup final in Seville last December was his arrival. He saw the stadium, he saw the people and his response was a performance for his nation against Andy Roddick of such self-belief it took the breath away. – Boris Becker, on Rafa beating Roddick to help Spain win the 2004 Davis Cup
Men’s tennis can get giddy once again. With his powerful ground strokes, hunky looks and seductive playfulness–not to mention the fluorescent shirts and white Capri pants–Nadal, 19, could give tennis its next real box-office star. That’s a little unfair to Roger Federer, but pizzazz isn’t the strong point of the stone-faced Swiss who ranks No. 1 in the world. American Andy Roddick has a laser serve and smile but often fails to pack his A game when he travels. And Australian Lleyton Hewitt is too much of a crybaby to win any popularity contest.
Nadal is already leading the tour in charisma. Says television analyst Mary Carillo, a former pro: ‘He has this different vibe. He goes from looking downright predatory to all of a sudden having this big goofy smile. The energy, the passion is just dripping out of him. When he’s playing, it’s hard to watch the other side of the court.’ – Sean Gregory, “Court Conquistador,” Time Magazine
Sprawled on a couch in his suite of rooms at hotel in downtown Madrid, Nadal exuded the languor of a rock star between performances. This was a brief lull before he took the Spanish tennis press out to lunch, having posed all morning by a pool under a poster of himself looking strangely like Che Guevara, and he was clearly favouring inertia as an occupation. So different from Paris. From the effort and the electric effect when he dressed like a matador and played like a bull. How was it for him? “Himposseeble. There’s nothing I can say,” he said, in sweetly hesitant English, before reverting to an interpreter. “You spend your whole life thinking about, talking about, how to win a Grand Slam. Suddenly you find you’ve won it. What can I say? I just have to be very thankful. Everybody now pays attention to what I do.” – Sue Mott, The Telegraph, “Spain under spell of swashbuckling sensation”
Nadal turned 20 on June 3, but he isn’t a LeBron James 20, or a Boris Becker 20, or even a Lindsay Lohan 20. He’s a sweet kid with chipmonk cheeks who fiddles with his cellphone while he talks, a typical Mallorquino – a native of the Spanish island of Mallorca – who charts his course by the breeze and takes life as it comes. “A simple guy, very much at home, very humble,” says David Ferrer, Spain’s third-ranked player. Fellow Mallorcan Carlos Moya adds, “People like him so much because he’s still a kid in many ways.” And Tommy Robredo, the second-ranked Spaniard who has known Nadal for years, says: “He’s so shy, he doesn’t even look in your eyes. Last year when I was playing doubles with him,
he was shy with me.”
That’s why Nadal’s transformation on the court is so startling. Swathed in a folded bandana, muscle shirt, and clam-diggers, a Nike-created costume that makes him look part Wyclef Jean and part Jean Lafitte, he whacks balls with enough torque to power a drill bit. He pirouettes, kicks a leg, and exhorts himself at volume. When Nadal says, “My personality on the court is not the same as off it,” it may be the understatement of the year. – Barry Schoenfeld, “Rafael Nadal: Big Kid in the Big City,” Tennis Magazine
As the lift doors close, a hand pushes through the gap to stop it, and in steps Uncle Toni.
“Ah,” he says, spotting me, as I stand in the corner, fiddling with my tape recorder. “Journaliste. Halo.” Over the next few seconds we attempt to chat. He does not speak English. The only other language I speak is French. We both shrug and smile stupidly at one another.
“I have just interviewed Rafael,” I try again, speaking loudly for some reason and indicating the tape recorder and the notebook, bulging with notes about his famous nephew. Toni just nods and says a few things in Catalan which I think mean “How did it go?”, but may have meant, “I really don’t understand what you’re talking about.”
I battle on. “He was very good,” I say, speaking in the sort of slow, clear English that one might use when talking to a toddler or a helpless drunk. Still more smiles and nods, then we arrive at his floor. Toni stands in the lift door and takes a deep breath. “He good boy,” he says. “He work hard and he look after people. He nice boy. Goodbye.”
Then, with that succinct summary of his nephew in a language he can neither speak nor understand, he is gone. – “The Big Interview: Rafael Nadal,” The Sunday Timesl
Rafael Nadal has been asked to describe a perfect day in his life. He opens his eyes, not in Manacor but at the family’s summer residence by the coast in Porto Cristo. He’s out of bed at 6.30am with his father. After a quick breakfast, they walk to the harbour where his father’s boat is moored at the Club Nautico. Two of his closest friends, Miguel Cabor and Bartolome Salva-Vidal, have already arrived and are waiting. Miguel is studying English, but hopes to own a boat one day; Bartolome is the world’s 399th-ranked tennis player.
They spend the next five hours at sea bobbing gently on the waves and catch some bream and a magnificent stone bass. They return to Porto Cristo, fillet the fish for lunch, and after another heated debate with Toni and Miguel Angelabout sport, they decide to settle their differences on the golf course. The course at Son Servera is a 20-minute drive away. Toni hasn’t played much since his kids were born; Miguel Angel is a bit of a bandit off 13; Rafa takes the money with a birdie on 18.
They return to Porto Cristo in time for the evening football game. He showers and changes for dinner and is invited to a party by friends. It’s 3am when his head hits the pillow. He’s tired. But elated. It has been a perfect day. – Paul Kimmage, “Rafael, King of the Jungle,” The Sunday Times
Somehow, in the back of your mind, you knew it was destined to come down to something like this – 9-7 in the fifth, with the champion Rafael Nadal prone on his back in the tawny dirt, looking like he’d been shot to death, which in a way he had been: because ultimate joy is, in the end, not very different from ultimate obliteration. – Peter Bodo, “The Death of Wanting,” Tennis World
I thought the reason Nadal succeeded against Federer was that, from the first time they played and Nadal won in Key Biscayne in 2004, the Spaniard didn’t treat a match against the world No. 1 any differently from a match against anyone else. He would never entertain the idea that playing close against Federer and losing was acceptable. But I never really believed that Nadal was a better tennis player than Federer. Can I continue to think that now that he’s beaten him on grass and hard courts, in major finals on three continents? The Aussie final upended some of my impressions of their dynamic. Federer has always been thought to be tennis’ renaissance man, his creativity unrivaled; but it was Nadal, with his superior drop shot, invincible overhead, tricky serve, fearsome crosscourt backhand, skidding backhand slice, and reliable volleys, who showed off more variety, a more complete game, and more ways to win in Melbourne.
Who knows what the future will bring, but Nadal climbed one step higher in my mind on Sunday. He’s no longer tennis’ greatest overachiever. He’s no longer the kryptonite to Federer’s superman. He’s no longer just ranked No. 1. He’s the best. – Steve Tignor, “Oz: The A List,” Concrete Elbow