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Marie Claire Espana
24 HOURS WITH NADAL SUPERSTAR
by Virginia Galvín
photos: Ana Nance
I did some further editing...
On court he’s an agressive and lethal warrior. From near, a guy that has barely waved goodbye to adolescence. We were with him 24 hours on a Grand Slam tournament. This is how the latest wonder of tennis is.
From near, in the interview, Rafa Nadal listens to you without looking at you. Clearly uncomfortable if the question borders the personal limits. Like those impossible tennis balls that fall in the boundary at the end of the court. He then threateningly returns them to you, beats around the bushes with common answers and economizes words until exasperation. That is, he returns the long smash as a short one and brushing the net, with a ‘let’ that he shots with his nineteen year-old fury. And my humble self tries to then run and return it, changing the subject. Or the conversation. But it doesn’t matter. Because you end up gasping out of breath from the effort while he doesn’t even mess up his ‘made in Nadal’ hair. And without looking at you. Will I loose this match from sudden death?
Not even an hour ago, we have seen the other Nadal. The warrior one. From the row of seats of court 7 at the mythical All England of Wimbledon, where he would wave goodbye five days later, in second round. Grown over his 1.83m height. Lethal body. Not a trace of Rafa’s teenager ticks. Surrounded by a public that’s intoxicated by the aroma of the hero. With that air of recent winner of the Roland Garros. Last trophy of a series of battles on clay that have boosted him to the glorious top-ten of the ATP (Professional Tennis Association). Not even Marat Safin – the sexiest tennis player now according to the international press or the terrorific Williams sisters – training with semi-orgasmic screams on a court nearby, under their father’s supervision cause such a revolution around them. Because this tennis player from Manacor is to tennis what Fernando Alonso is to Formula One. A galactic phenomenon that grows and expands despite his will. Feeded by that racial physique, testosteronical and striking, that excites men, women and sponsors equally. “Will you help me get a picture with him, please?”, begs Wang Ting, journalist of the New Times China, sharing the row of seats and the waiting with us. “He’s so handsome!” His professional profile doesn’t talk about beauty and hormones, of course. But it does reveal his 75 kg of muscle and him being ‘a lefthanded with a backward ball with two hands’. Although he offers ressistance to return the balls the type that go:
“You listen of ‘Nadalmania’ and what do you think?” “Well, I don’t think that is true. You say it, I hear it and that is it. I don’t think about all that because it would be a bad thing”. He doesn’t pay attention either to the names that the sports press use to describe him: “extra-terrestrial”, “shiny Ferrari” or “Don Quijote of La Mancha”. “I have never read that. I hardly ever read past the headline of what it is written about me”.
We are sitting down in a terrace (café) on that perfectly-cut unreal-green grass of Wimbledon. He's still sweaty from an hour training session with his uncle, Toni Nadal. His same trainer from his childhood. His creator. To many, the key stone of his success. The same one that, as a kid, convinced him that he was able to turn invisible. Pure magic. The tenderness of a serious and reconcentrated man that hardly exchanges a few words with his nephew, always in Mallorcan and with a soft voice. Unaware of the audience. Unaware of the guy that is painting the fence green. Unaware of the correspondent of Spanish public television, TVE, that, with the camera on “on”, waits to steal a few words from him. “Before it was much easier to catch him on the mycrophone”,says cameraman Rafael Porro. "Since he’s famous, things have changed”. He denies the change. He states his personal mantra: humbleness. “I always repeat it because I don’t want to change. I want to be the same person I’ve been all my life and I think I’m going to achieve it. I have the same friends since school, in my town, and they treat me the same as before”.
WITH AND WITHOUT MONEY
I receive a ball and I throw it: “So you have enemies already, in and out the courts?”
“No, no. Not even on the court. There I have colleagues, that, at some point, are rivals”. I fit the service and I return it as I can. He said: “I’m a very normal person in Manacor”. And outside Manacor? “I’m also normal. Sometimes it seems that when you are a bit famous maybe it makes you look like you are not normal. I’m just a regular 19 year-old that plays tennis. Nothing else.”
And nothing less. Because his game only in Paris meant a trophy, many covers full of panegyrics and 880,000 euros! Three hours and 24 minutes of a match that his bank account will not forget either. Although his relationship with money seems to be very cold and the Communications Director of the ATP, Benito Pérez-Barbadillo, fusses at me saying “But don’t you see that they don’t care about the money?”. Rafa speaks. “If I have any idea of how much money I made? Well, yes, I do have an idea, but I don’t know exactly because I don’t take care of it myself. And the tax returns and all? Ask my father. For me, the most important thing is to do things in exchange for nothing, because what makes you truly happy is not material.”
His parents can also explain his indifference towards money. Sebastián, owner of a glass business and a restaurant in Manacor, and Ana María, a full-time housewife. They explained that when he was younger and went out to play tournaments he used to take a certain amount of money with him for expenses, and used to write down all he spent in a piece of paper. The rest he used to return it religiously. Only a few months ago, he asked them for permission to buy a laptop computer. And he didn’t want an expensive one. He doesn’t spend an euro and he doesn’t show off. But sponsors fight among themselves to have him. He reflects perfectly all those values that connect with many brands. The automobile brand KIA is one of them. “Last year we searched for a tennis player that could associate well with the values of our brand and to our motto, ‘Power to Surprise’”, explains Juan Carlos Moya, Marketing Director of KIA Motor Iberia. Young, strong, a sportsman, family-oriented... Features of Rafa that fit with the product philosophy. Regarding the economic agreement, the company spoke with Rafa’s father and his manager Carlos Costa, manager and former tennis player. His bastions. The ones in charge to preserve the integrity, the image and the finances of the boy. With Toni Nadal, a steel triumvirate. “Costa made us see that the boy was the perfect candidate: good-looking, with that modern style of dressing and that internal and external strenght”, adds Moya. They convinced him, although by that time the tennis player was injured. A year later they can’t be more satisified. The ‘boom’ Nadal is a gift from the sky. And on top of that, the boy is aware of his compromise with the brand. “In the Conde de Godó (Barcelona) trophy, the Organization gave them cars to move around with. He called us up to ask for us to send him a KIA.” Quite a gesture considering he doesn’t have a driver's license yet. The contract, until 2007, includes a fixed and a variable depending on the position he is in in the world ranking. Besides two cars, gifts from the Korean brand. “They have told me your father carefully chooses your sponsors”, I insinuate. He looks at me like if I had told him a story about aliens in Albacete (it’s a region in Spain). Obviously, he prefers not to talk about business issues. His main focus is to play tennis. The confidence and passion of the warrior. That same one that pushes him to assure that he’s the best model of himself. That he still has to learn. That he admires the big ones – Federer, Roddick or Hewitt. And if I ask him “so what if the “flute starts playing”, and you win?” He will answer looking somewhere else, “But for the flute to play you need to have a flute, and here, in Wimbledon, there is no flute at the moment.”
Press conference at 3.30pm. (not o’clock: the British myth has fallen). We went up with Rafa on the elevator. We follow him through the hallways of the All England’s. We drink water from the same water fountain that he drinks from (like myth-makers). The unruffled British journalists want to know it all of the Spanish star. Rafa, who doesn’t have an English teacher, doesn’t get scared: “I do like the attention that I get, yes, and I appreciate it. That is what they have asked me, right?” asking Benito Pérez-Barbadillo with confidence. And with an efficient Spanglish he makes himself understood or finishes his ‘speech’ with an “what does it matter!” that awakes some smiles around him.
WOMEN AND SEX
Tennis issues then give way to more frivolous issues: Women’s chapter. The journalist: “How are you handling the interest that you provoke in women?” And he answers: “Don’t care.”
Us, later in a one-to-one interview for which many of his fans would sell their soul to Lucifer, we give it a try: "What have women taught you?" “Nothing special. I have never had a girlfriend in my life, so...”. So, the next volley is definitely going to crash: "Sex and sports, do they get along well?" “Ha, ha, ha, they are asking me about sex and sports, what do you think, Benito?” At this point, he gets up, uncomfortable. He takes some steps, comments something with his colleagues and returns with a magazine in his hands, from which he won’t lift his eyes from from then on. It is Rafa the boy, almost teenager, who gets uncomfortable. He hasn’t had time for girlfriends, so how can we talk about sex? His childhood is that of his first racket at the age of 4, that first big victory at age 15, his goodbye to school at 4th grade of ESO and a really big family, the Nadal family – the most famous member, Miguel Angel Nadal, former player of the Barcelona soccer team, tightly-knitted family.
At home, his parents and sister decided to surround the not-normal life of the guy with normality. Not too fond of seeing him play, but attentive watchers from the distance. His room, a trophy museum.
"Why do you still need your mom for?" “My mom is just my mom. I need her just like everyone does. Generally, the family is what’s important. I have always been in Mallorca, with them, I haven’t gone training outside.” And it is them, his parents, the only ones whom know that when he’s nervous on court, he pulls his underwear. But he has never broken a racket on a fury attack, McEnroe style. “I’m quite easy-going, and when I show my fist on court I do it for myself.”
NOT WITHOUT HIS ‘PLAYSTATION’
"Do you cry more due to a victory or a defeat?" “I haven’t cried for a long time now. Yes, sometimes when I was younger. Since I’m a professional I’ve only cried once, but not due to the defeat in itself, but because I felt really bad with myself”, he answers with sincerity. His off-court activities tend to be more like guys of his generation. “I like fishing, playing golf, going to the movies and going out partying with my friends.”
He arrives with tennis player, Feliciano López, at 8.30pm to the party at the Hard Rock Café. On a taxi, that he paid for himself. Two handsome guys that quickly caught the attention of the cameras around them. Red carpet, flashes, and juices. One hour of shy socializing, and back to the hotel, to his inseparable PlayStation.
“I play for a while when I get to the room. I also switch on to Messenger in the computer and... little else.”
The ‘little else’ that he explains to us reveals that: a) he’s not at all spiritual; b) he doesn’t feel overwhelmed by the fan phenomenon; and c) if professionally he seems to be a god that moves forward with secure steps, his ideas are still being built.
Ideologically, are you more conservative or liberal? “I haven’t the slightest idea, girl.”
Djokovic after his Madrid 2009 Semi with Rafa: “Next time I’ll probably take two rackets on the match point and try to hit with both of them. It’s frustrating that when you play so well you can’t win.”
Last edited by veyonce; 07-31-2005 at 08:18 AM.