johanne pointed out this lovely piece that totally helped improve my crappy day. Hell, just the photo alone put a huge smile on my face: After a year of pain, happiness is the No 1 objective for Rafael Nadal, by Neil Harman.
Re the book is he reading (Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser):
He also offered two considerable surprises. The first, that he should be consumed by a tale of a fictional British character who “runs from danger, betrays acquaintances at the slightest incentive, bullies and beats servants with gusto, beds every available woman, carries off any loot he can grab, gambles and boozes enthusiastically, and yet, through a combination of luck and cunning, ends each volume acclaimed as a hero”.
Not quite Nadal, except for the last bit. Xisca Perello, his girlfriend, bought it for him. “It’s about a person from Britain, no?” he says. “I have read 100 pages, it’s very good.”
Sounds like Xisca knows her man’s taste in books. Always a good sign.
The second was the anger — occasionally Nadal does do anger — that arose when the subject turned to the piece of non-fiction that has consumed column inches of newsprint since this paper first serialised Open, the memoirs of Andre Agassi, three weeks ago. The centrepiece of the serialisation was that the American former world No 1 had taken crystal meth in 1997 and lied about it to an independent doping tribunal to save his skin. Nadal pauses and takes a deep breath.
“I haven’t read the book, but he is not saying the truth of everything,” he says. “He is saying he hates tennis — that is impossible. One player plays for eight years and he becomes rich and he does not need to play for money and you hate that?
“Me? I love tennis, I love sport in general, I love other sports more than tennis, is the truth. I hated what he said about doping and the crystal [meth]. My opinion is that what he did is terrible for us, for the rest of the players, terrible for the sport, and it is easy to say now, but why wasn’t he saying this in 1997?
“Now he is free, now he says what he is feeling. Right now, because somebody pays him a lot of money, he says these things, not because you want to say that.
“It is terrible for tennis. Tennis in history is a very clean sport. If he did [it] in the past, right now I say he should shut up and not say anything because he owes almost all he has to tennis, and being who he is. Tennis is a big part of that, so is it fair that tennis gets back this kind of thing?”
Sing it, Rafa.
Nadal has had to contend for too long with snide whispers about his physique from countries consumed by doping conspiracies who cannot bring themselves to believe that someone so physically endowed can be clean. It is an affront to all he stands and plays for.
Actually, when people meet him for the first time, their second impression (they cannot remember the first because they have just been brought around) is that he is nowhere near as big as they had thought he was.
“All the time it happens,” Nadal says. “When somebody wins [something he last did in Rome six months ago] they look bigger, they have more muscle. A lot of people look and say, ‘This guy is losing weight’, but the fact is, I am exactly the same — 86 kilos. It is because I don’t wear the shirt without sleeves or the tight T-shirt. It is an impression. When I win again, they will say, ‘Look how big Rafa is!’ ”
The French doping authorities were knocking on his bedroom door in Paris last week at 9am after he had played two successive matches of more than two hours, the second of which finished so late he had not got to bed until 2.
“I am getting a little tired of this subject, all the time some journalists in this country [France] speak about my doping.
I have had many, many doping controls this year and last week they touched me in my room at 9 in the morning,” he says.
Hey, no touching allowed, doping people!
“I am totally in love with this sport. I don’t like people who are not fair and my opinion is the same — the way that people are trying to have a clean sport is not the right way.
“I like a clean sport, I don’t like the show. I totally support the cases of [Yanina] Wickmayer and [Xavier] Malisse [the Belgians who have been banned for a year for failing to fulfil doping obligations, a decision they are vigorously appealing against].”
To me, it sounds like he’s saying the same thing I say every time I have to take my shoes off in an airport: I’m all for safety in flight, but how exactly does me taking off my shoes insure that?
From the fringes there has been a lack of fulfilment as he seeks to rediscover his full intensity, having had to contend with tendinitis in his knees since April and an injury to an abdominal muscle, picked up in Montreal in August. True, the self-effacing smile has hidden a frustration that he is not quite there yet. Those are the physical side-effects. His life was thrown into greater turmoil than ever in May, when he realised that his parents’ marriage had broken down irretrievably.
During Wimbledon this year, when he should have been defending the greatest title of his life, Nadal was attempting to reconcile his parents, Sebastián and Ana María, and helping his younger sister, María Isabel, through the trauma.
“My concentration on anything was not exactly correct,” he says. “These were very difficult moments. I didn’t want to go out of the home, to the beach, I was more down than usual.
“Family is always very important and it was important in that time to be with those who I have the confidence to be around. We talked a lot and now I feel better and better about the situation. I am OK.
“This is my seventh year on the tour and at this moment, at 23, I have won six grand-slam titles, 15 Masters series, 36 tournaments and two Davis Cups, with the possibility of one more in Barcelona in two weeks. Sure, I have not had the best moments this year, but I feel — how do I say this? — I can say thanks for the life. My life is good, my family, my friends, good health, the problems behind me and everything is working well now. How can I not be happy with this?”
Glad to hear he’s worked out some of those issues and is ready to move on. Divorce is never an easy thing to go through at any age.
Whatever happens, Nadal will head into 2010 believing that he will contend for the grand-slam titles again, with his team in solid, unswerving support, his uncle Toni, mentor and coach, to the fore.
“Uncle is uncle,” Nadal says. “He is more than the coach and I want to say thanks to him for all he has given to me in my life. I have had a lot of messages, too, from those I don’t know in the world when I was at the bad moments. I feel the hearts of the people.” And they feel his.