Wooffie sent in this 2007 Times Online interview with Rafa to help keep us entertained during the down time.
How do you interview Rafael Nadal? Where do you start with this 20-year-old phenomenon? How do you unlock the secrets of the man-child?
How do you interview the king of the non-answer answers?
As the men in Rafa’s family and their friends talk around the table at lunch, Rafa’s Roland Garros victories start to be discussed…
They have all gathered upstairs this afternoon for lunch and Rafel intends to join them presently. Emilio Perez de Rozas, a journalist from El Periodico de Catalunya, and Andoni Zubizarreta, a friend and former teammate of Miguel Angel’s at Barcelona, have been invited and a debate has started already about whether his grandson’s second win at Roland Garros (when he bounced back from an injury to beat Roger Federer) was better than his first (when he beat Mariano Puerta).
“The second was better,” Rafa opines. “They were both satisfying in different ways, but the second left a better taste in my mouth.”
“Not in my view. I thought the first was more exciting,” his coach, Toni, counters. “It had been our goal since we began; the summit to scale, and when you won it, I thought, ‘If it was to finish right now, we’ve got this to take away: a Roland Garros. Fantastic!’ ” “I agree with Rafael,” Miguel Angel says, “the second was much better, because when you win after suffering so much, the victory has much more merit, especially if you beat the best. Federer is very, very good.”
Interesting that the two brothers don’t agree…and that the one who was a top-level athlete himself agrees with Rafa.
Toni is still holding court when his father arrives for lunch. The old man pulls up a chair and smiles proudly at his family as he glances around the room.
Toni is arguing passionately with Rafa; Miguel Angel is arguing passionately with Toni; Sebastian listens dispassionately in the corner. “Life, who can explain it?” he muses. “If only they were as passionate about music.”
Ha! Love it. I have a feeling that no family meals are passed without heated discussion in the Nadal household.
IT IS A Tuesday morning in Hamburg and Rafael Nadal is sitting in the back of a black, chauffeur-driven Mercedes, speeding towards the Jungfernstieg. With his sweet, self-effacing nature and fresh, Mowgli features, his off-court demeanour was described once (by my colleague Nick Pitt) as that of “a boy from the village bearing flowers”, but this morning he is wearing a face like a slapped baby’s arse.
Two days have passed since his successful march on Rome – his 13th successive tournament win on clay – and the fatigue of life on the road is beginning to take its toll.
He felt absolutely jaded when he opened his eyes this morning and he is anxious to get to the practice court and a feel for the slower German clay before his first match.
“How long will this take?” he snaps, staring out of the window.
“We should be done in half an hour,” his PR manager, Benito Perez-Barbadillo, says. “Okay, but that’s it then,” he huffs.
“No, you’ve got the round-table stuff with the press at 4.30 and an interview after that,” Perez-Barbadillo tells him.
“What interview?” “The guy from The Sunday Times, the one I told you about.”
“I’m not doing it.” “You’ve got to do it.” “What am I going to tell this guy, Benito?” he pleads. “There is nothing more I can say about me.”
This sounds like it could be the other side of the story from that Vogue/Miami article this year.
“I know, Rafa, but this is how the game works. You have to say it again and again and again.” waving hand-painted banners and singing their hearts out are waiting to greet him at the Jungfernstieg.
And again and again and again. He’s still answering the same questions two years later.
The chant is, “Vamos Rafa, vamos Rafa, vamos, vamos, vamos.” He retrieves a racket from the boot of the car and shakes each of the youngsters by the hand.
A plastic net is unfurled on the pavement beside the lake and he taps with the kids for 10 minutes. Three camera crews and 20 reporters and photographers have abandoned the tournament site at the Rothenbaum to cover the “story”.
“How do you like Hamburg?” he is asked.
“It’s very nice,” he replies.
*sigh* Same questions…same answers.
He was right. The guy didn’t ask anything he hadn’t been asked a thousand times before . . . except for that one question the journalist said that Brad Gilbert had told him to ask.
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.
“What about sex?” I inquire. “No sex,” he replies. “You’re joking!” I exclaim. “You wouldn’t have sex on a perfect day?”
He considers it for a moment. “No,” he says. “Sex is important in life, but if you’re having a perfect day, you don’t have time for sex.”
“That’s interesting,” I observe. “So on your perfect day, you fish and play golf, two calm and relaxing pursuits, but your favourite film is Gladiator and you play tennis like it was war. How do I equate the fisherman and the warrior?”
“They are not so different,” he responds. “I love competition; I want to compete in everything and when I compete, I like to win.”
Is fishing competition?
While Sebastian inherited his father’s head for figures, Toni was the first to display a flair for sport. He loved swimming and excelled at football and chess. He was the Balearic Islands table tennis champion, but nothing matched the high he got from tennis. The game suited his temperament.
“When you play ping-pong and you lead 10-2 or 14-4,” he says, “it’s a certainty that you have won the match, but not in tennis. The scoring is structured differently; there’s a deuce in every game and you must learn to bear the burden of pressure. I liked that. For me, the head was always very important.”
And on that one, I think he and Rafa probably agree. Rafa’s always seemed to like a good close fight on the court.
Nadal on court is a horrible, cruel person, and his opponents know they are prey. Those who face Federer can expect to have winners hit past them that will make them wince in astonishment, and may shatter illusions of reaching the very top, but to be beaten by Nadal is to suffer a prolonged agony. For although he can hit the pure, clean winner when he needs to, his preferred method is prolonged torture. – Nick Pitt
That description has me picturing my cat playing with a bug – not killing it, but batting it around, staying in control and almost killing it. I can’t really say that I think of Rafa on the court the same way. I don’t think he’s intentionally dragging things out, it’s just the way things seem to happen with him.
In regards to Rafa’s rituals:
“So, what’s all that about?” I ask later of Toni. “I would never have imagined he was superstitious.”
“I don’t know,” the coach replies, clearly exasperated. “I never pay any attention to the things that aren’t logical. I only look at the logic and ignore all that.”
Heh. I can just see Toni rolling his eyes and letting out a “Phhpt!” when asked about Rafa’s ticks.
“I like the sensation of suffering,” he says. “I suffer and fight and it makes me feel good. In every match you have games like that. If you can play good at these moments, you win the match. Today I played good.”
Suffering and self-punishment – someone get this guy a hairshirt.
Listening to Rafa’s press conference (which sound exactly the same two years later), the reporter has a thought:
And as you listen to his answers, the penny finally drops. There is something about those words that rings a bell. It’s as if you are listening to Toni.
Is he saying Rafa doesn’t have a mind of his own? Or that Toni has skilled him well in the standard sport cliches?
Nadal was christened Rafael after his paternal grandfather, whose initial ambition for the youngster was for him to play the trumpet in Manacor’s municipal band
Heee! He would never be able to sit still long enough.