CC made sure I saw this excellent article by Simon Kinnersley on the Times Online site. They really do love our boy. Still have him driving a Kia, but they love our boy (well, our young man).
There is a scene that says more about Rafael Nadal than 1,000 documentaries. It is Paris, four years ago almost to the day. He has just won the French Open for the first time and is walking down the street; Uncle Toni, his coach, is on one side, and former professional player Carlos Costa on the other. Toni whispers to his nephew that he should afford Costa the respect and status he deserves by walking on the outside. The newly crowned champion obliges and quickly swaps places, and the three of them carry on into the night.
I totally don’t get that. Does this mean Costa is Rafa’s little lady friend? Would Rafa have to put a jacket over a puddle for him as well?
We are sitting in his hotel room in Rome – perhaps the only thing that has changed is the fact that he resides in a suite rather than a standard room – which, in spite of its abundant luxury and the fact that he has spent less than an hour there, is already more than halfway towards looking like a student bedroom. A few photos Blu-Tacked to the walls and the makeover would be complete.
Clothes are strewn around, trainers and socks form footsteps on the carpet as though discarded as he walked across the room. Half-unpacked cases spill their contents across the floor; two young Spaniards are lolling on the sofa playing a computer game; the television is on; someone is chatting on their mobile; and in the middle is Nadal, dropping his jeans, tucking in his T-shirt and hitching himself up. Only his rackets seem ordered, resting neatly in their bag by the door. It is a scene utterly devoid of affectation or self-importance.
Sloppy equals “devoid of affectation or self-importance”? Woot! I’m humble!
“Why would I want to change anything, why should I change anything?” Nadal asks, rather disarmingly. “The atmosphere in my home is lovely. Why would I want to get somewhere of my own, and then come back to an empty apartment, and worry about whether I had any food left in the fridge and things like that? It’s much nicer to come home to my family, where everything is as it always was, my mother telling me to tidy my room, my sister, Maria Isabel, teasing me. Stability is very important to me.”
Don’t move Rafa’s cheese. (Oh wait, he wouldn’t have cheese…and I hate that phrase anyway.) Change is bad!
Nadal may have traded in his battered old mobile phone, but his car is not luxurious or ostentatious, just a Kia – something practical to get him around the island with his golf clubs. And he hasn’t bought his own boat to go fishing, preferring his father’s instead.
His poor little Aston Martin never makes the press. Is he trying to keep it humble too?
“Although getting to No 1 in the world was the fulfilment of a dream for me, because it is a measure of consistency over a year, the euphoria of winning a tournament, and particularly a grand slam, is far greater. Winning Wimbledon last year, for instance, the first Spaniard for more than 40 years, was a very special moment for me; it was the realisation of all those years of practising, training and hard work.”
Tournaments mean more than #1. Check. Agree.
Nadal, as the game’s authorities are only too aware, is now the man selling tennis. His presence is critical not only for tournaments to shift seats, but also to the television rights holders. While Roger Federer makes a traditional entrance on court wearing a blazer, Nadal, with his baggy, knee-length shorts, bandana and, until recently, sleeveless T-shirts, is the modern face of the game.
*more vigorous nodding*
“He’s definitely my favourite player to watch,” says Andy Murray. “He’s so competitive. You get this feeling he just wants to annihilate his opponent.” Andy Roddick concurs: “He’s a beast out there on court.”
The Andy’s love him.
Nadal, meanwhile, has been impressed by the rise of Murray. “His game has improved a lot in the past year. Before, he would lose matches he should have won, but he has written that out of his game and he now wins them. The result is he goes further in tournaments. Can he win Wimbledon? Of course, why not?”
And he loves an Andy.
Nadal laughs when I tell him of Roddick’s comment about him. “I don’t know where my competitiveness comes from,” he says, having readily admitted in an interview last year that his bravery is confined to the court. At home, on the rare occasions he’s alone, he’ll sleep on the sofa with the TV and all the lights on. “In tennis, it’s true that I will fight until my last drop of sweat, but not my last drop of blood – I don’t want to die! It’s all about giving everything, because I want to win so badly. I would hate to lose knowing that I hadn’t given my all.”
“I don’t want to die!” – hee! I can just picture him saying that and it makes me laugh even more.
“I have achieved all my dreams. My desire to win and the passion is still there, so too is my wish to keep practising and improving. But I am aware that once you get to No 1 in the world, the only way is down. Whether it is tomorrow, next year or in five years’ time, it will happen.
“But that is something that doesn’t worry me, because that is the nature of sport. If you are not prepared to lose and accept defeat, then you shouldn’t be playing. I know that I’ve been very fortunate, and if it all ends now, I’ve had a fantastic career and the privilege to live a life that most people never have the chance to experience. I will get my rod and go fishing.”
*sniff* For a twitchy guy, he’s just so freaking sane!