More insights on the Rafa-Toni relationship in this article...
Nadal should read his autobiography
BY STEPHANIE MYLES, THE GAZETTE OCTOBER 1, 2011
The first thing you should know about Rafael Nadal's recently published English-language autobiography is that the subject himself didn't read it before it came out.
The tennis superstar from Mallorca said during news conferences at last month's U.S. Open that he would wait for the Spanish version. And, despite inviting questions, Nadal wouldn't discuss much of it. He also said the translated version of some of his innermost thoughts might not have clearly conveyed what he was thinking.
So we'll have to take on faith that the book, with its sometimes awkward language and insistence on using the word "game" instead of "match" - a surprising malapropism for a tennis book - accurately reflects his reality.
It is either an insightful window into the 25-year-old's life so far or a frustrating conundrum, depending how much you read between the lines of the double-spaced text. If you're a believer that the end doesn't justify the means, you'll be awfully angry at Uncle Toni.
Three major themes emerge. The first is how diametrically opposite the "real" Rafa is to the snarling, toughas-nails competitor he seems on the court. The second is the emergence of Novak Djokovic as his rival, even though it was written before Djokovic defeated Nadal six consecutive times this season.
Last, but certainly not least, there is Uncle Toni, Nadal's lifelong coach and mentor.
Toni Nadal comes off as an egocentric, underachieving, domineering man who truly believed that only by tearing his nephew down could he rise to be great. Extended passages read almost like a passive-aggressive diatribe, things Nadal wanted to say but couldn't.
Uncle Toni repeatedly called Nadal a "mama's boy" as a child. He criticizes him even when he wins. He still threatens to walk away from the relationship any time his nephew dares disagree with him.
The least-illustrious member of a high-achieving clan, a failed pro coaching kids at the small local club in Manacor, was allowed free rein to have his way with the shy, impressionable young Rafa.
As the family dynamic is laid out in the book, it seems that no one dared step in.
"The rest of the family looked on with a bemusement that, in the case of Rafa's mother, occasionally gave way to anger," co-author Carlin writes.
Father Sebastian had "misgivings." Uncle Juan said it was "mental cruelty." Uncle Miguel Angel says Toni Nadal "bluntly discriminated against (Rafa), knowing he could not have gotten away with it with the other boys," after the kid came home from practice in tears.
"Towards those close to him, while unbendingly loyal, he can be moody, gruff and quarrelsome," Carlin writes of Toni Nadal. "He is not the black sheep of the family because ostracism is not something the tight-knit Nadals do."
When Uncle Toni is 15 minutes late for an appointment, Nadal says nothing. When Nadal is 15 minutes late, Uncle Toni threatens to quit - again.
The relationship with his uncle is an extension of a family dynamic heavily stressed in the book as indispensable to Nadal's success. His physical trainer, Joan Forcades, even says Nadal is a champion because of the "consistently favourable influence of a happy childhood and ordered adolescence," and has "lived all his life with the shelter of a remarkably stable, remarkably conflict-free environment."
And yet, through all that happiness and stability, Nadal's parents clearly were having issues and eventually separated in 2009. It was a move that had to be a last resort, given the family dynamic, and also had to be a long time in the making. The book tries just a little bit too hard to paint a rosy portrait. No family is ever perfect.
Nadal said in New York that if he had a problem with Uncle Toni, he would never have expressed that in the book. But in many ways, he does.
"I don't need (Uncle Toni's) lessons in humility any more," Nadal writes. "I don't need to be told any more that I have 'to put on a good face.' While he deserves credit for so many good things in my career, he also deserves blame for me being more insecure than I ought to be."
As Nadal finally matures, you wonder if those cryptic musings will take on more weight.
As for the man himself, he's a walking contradiction. He's scared of most animals, even dogs.
"I doubt their intentions," he writes.
His mother, Ana Maria, says he's scared of the dark, preferring to sleep with the light or the television on. He's "not comfortable" with thunder or lightning. Sister Maribel says he won't swim or Jet Ski unless he can see the sand at the bottom of the ocean. He's never felt comfortable on a bicycle or motorcycle, afraid he'd fall off. And he's terrified of helicopters.
The two things he's not afraid of, it seems, are hard work - and winning.
Nadal openly admits being coached by Uncle Toni during matches. He also opens the door to the locker room and outlines his pre-match rituals, an inflexible and extensive series of preparations without which he believes he cannot win.
He doesn't, however, mention the move that grabs the attention of even the most casual fan - his insistence on grabbing his shorts before every point.
Nadal's autobiography tells you things you didn't know about a man who likely will go down as one of the sport's all-time greats. Or, it tells you far more than you ever wanted to know. It either diminishes your esteem for him in some way, or it makes you respect his accomplishments even more, given the rather human and flawed man behind the mask.
Your take on it probably will depend on whether you're a Nadal fan.
Either way, it's oddly fascinating. And you wonder, when Nadal finally does read it, if he'll be surprised at just how much he revealed - intentionally or otherwise.
By Rafael Nadal and John Carlin Hyperion, 250 pages
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