Nadal tackles English, one word at a time
PARIS (AP) - Rafael Nadal of Spain seems to get better with every match, and his English is improving, too.
"I'd like to thank the public for supporting me," he said after his latest victory at the French Open.
The phrase could come in handy if the 18-year-old Nadal, who faces top-seeded Roger Federer in Thursday's semifinals, winds up on the winner's stand Sunday.
Speaking English will help the marketability in the United States of the sport's newest star. While Nadal's hectic schedule leaves little time for formal language lessons, he learns a lot from the locker room.
"He invents words. He speaks a funny Spanglish of his own," said Benito Perez-Barbadillo, ATP Tour director of communications and Latin American relations, who has become one of Nadal's language coaches. "From there he learns because they make fun of him in the locker room."
In postmatch news conferences, the charismatic young player switches between languages. Often, he starts in English and apologetically asks after a couple questions if it's OK to speak Spanish.
Nadal told one recent news conference he was feeling a bit "mareated."
"What he meant was mareado. In Spanish, it means dizzy," Perez-Barbadillo said. "Every day he learns a new word."
Pronunciation is something else he's working on.
"In Rome he said, 'I want to thank the poo-blic.' I told him 'public,"' Perez-Barbadillo said. "'They apoyar me.' He wanted to thank the public for supporting him."'
Nadal's competitive drive and ambition help his language skills.
"He wants to learn and do better, like he does on the court," Perez-Barbadillo said.
Nadal is doing pretty well on court with 22 straight wins, all on clay. He's seeking his sixth title of the year in his first French Open.
Nadal's biggest test comes Thursday when he faces Federer, who is 46-2 with six titles this year.
Federer, 23, speaks fluent German, Swiss-German, French and English. But being a linguist is time-consuming, often turning his news conferences into marathons.
Federer starts with English language print media, then French, followed by German. Then radio journalists arrive, followed by TV cameras.
"It really does take a long time for me," Federer said. "Every language I would say, takes 10 or 15 minutes. So it's a little bit of a problem. But I think I owe that to the fans and the experts and the game itself. So for me it's no problem to invest say an hour every day."