He loves football, his PlayStation, fishing, going to the cinema with friends, and spends a lot of time reading and surfing the internet. We discover, the tennis champion Rafael Nadal is just a regular guy.
I drive to Manacor on the only rainy, grey day this month. Rafa lives there in a flat with his family, in the same building as his grandparents and uncles. Thanks to Rafael Nadal Nadal, the tennis player’s grandfather, I have been given permission to attend a training session prior to the Asian tour and have a quick chat with him. At the time of writing this article he is ranked number two in the world by the ATP, which is completely superfluous, because once you have been number one, you are always number one – and nobody can take away all the trophies you have won.
I read Lynn Barber’s controversial interview with Rafa Nadal, published in the Sunday Times last June, and which begins as follows: ‘‘If anyone else tells me what a lovely lad Rafael Nadal is, I shall scream. He is not a lad, he has just turned 25, which is admittedly young, but he is in his ninth year on the professional tennis circuit, has won nine Grand Slam titles and is worth at least £68m. And I didn’t find him lovely at all.’’ Rafa Nadal met her in his hotel room in Rome whilst he was lying on a massage bed in his underwear, which apparently highly offended Ms Barber. Or maybe she just has never been to the doctor’s before?! She also criticized his level of English but as far as I know Ms Barber does not herself speak any Spanish. I think it is far too easy to be bloodthirsty and provocative. And, I’m sorry Lynn, but I couldn’t disagree with you more.
Rafa has just arrived back in Mallorca after eight weeks’ travelling, back-to-back working, competing, trying very hard at the US Open, winning the semi-final of the Davis Cup in Cordoba, and securing Spain a place in the final. He is physically exhausted.
Ten minutes after I arrive at the training centre in Manacor, Rafa doubles over in pain and asks for help from the physiotherapist, who promptly opens up a bed and gives him a massage. Everyone is completely silent. Once he feels better he continues training. At the end of the session, he attends to each and every one of the adults and children who have been allowed to watch this private session. Then he sits next to me with a bag of Quely’s and we have a laugh and a chat. He hasn’t had a great day, he has never met me before, and it’s an improvised visit – but, even so, he is charming and very polite. So how can anyone say he is not a nice lad? A must-watch is the interview on the live American TV show “Live with Regis and Kelly” on which Rafa appeared after winning the US Open last year. He smiles throughout the whole interview and speaks good, although not perfect English and is, overall, great fun.
One thing that comes up in the Sunday Times interview is that he has invested in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, for when he retires. So after he has finished checking his Blackberry (which incidentally is not the latest model) and had a quick chat with his father, I have to ask him if Mallorca is his refuge: It is my home. I am happy here and I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Do you have any dreams you still want to realize?
Fortunately I am very happy with what I have. I don’t need much more. I feel grateful for everything I have and would be quite happy for everything to stay as it is.
Football has always been one of your greatest passions; do you ever wonder what it would have been like to be a footballer?
I think I chose the right thing and everything has been fantastic. I am sure that even though I love football, I would not have achieved everything in that sport that I have achieved in tennis.
Number one in the world and millions of fans. Is it not too much pressure?
No, not at all. I always try to do my best and there will always be people who like it and people who don’t, but I don’t expect to be an example to anyone. If I am, and I am able to be a positive influence, then that’s great.
What’s a normal day like in your life, when you are not competing?
When I am here in Mallorca, I usually always train in the morning; I do some physiotherapy and play some tennis and then, in the afternoon, I spend time with my family and friends.
How do you cope with all the time differences when your travelling all the time?
I’ve been dealing with that for years now so it is not a problem.
What about Djokovic?
Do you mean beating him? Well, at the moment he is beating me. I have beaten him on quite a lot of other occasions, but this year he has beaten me in six different finals and I need to accept that and keep working to try and change it. Djokovic has done really well this year and he needs to be congratulated for that.
If you had a child would you like him or her to be a tennis player?
I am nowhere near having a child so that’s not really relevant at the moment.
I don’t want to take up more of his time, so I thank him for his kindness; he politely thanks me too. Despite the weather Rafa has arranged to go and play a round of golf – another keen interest of this (in my opinion) a charming young ‘lad’ from Manacor.
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