TENNIS HAS MANY TALENTED PLAYERS ~ NADAL IS MY FAVORITE
Rafa on May 23, '08 in Paris
Rafa on May 22, '08 in Paris
May 22, 2008 ~ Mallorcans Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya in Paris
At Home With Humble Yet Ambitious Nadal
By Aarthi Rajaraman
Special to Inside Tennis
Source: Inside Tennis
Rafael Nadal is so immensely famous in Spain that at the Barcelona tournament he needed an extra security detail just to be able to walk to his matches. Its like Im a rock star here, he said, without a hint of bravado.
To say that three-time Roland Garros champion Nadal is a humble guy is an understatement. Just ask his coach and uncle, Toni Nadal, what it is like to practice with him on the public courts at home in Manacor, Mallorca.
Last year when we were at home training, we often had many tourists passing by to watch us practice, he said. Many times they came and asked for an autograph or a photo, but sometimes they asked if they could hit a few balls with Rafa. So we had to stop practice because Rafa obliged them, even though they are not very good. I have told him that maybe we cannot do this all the time.
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For a second, just try and imagine John McEnroe stopping his practice sessions to bat the ball around with foreign tourists. You cannot be serious!
Perhaps this might all sound too good to be true, but for those who have spent some time with the Nadal family, this is just their way of life.
Because Rafas uncle, Miguel Angel, was a very successful athlete, the family had already been exposed to having a star in the family, said Carlos Costa, Nadals agent. So this wasnt the first time they have dealt with it, and they know how to handle the attention and the people...but this is also why you never really see Rafas parents with him at each tournament. They understand and want to give him space to focus on tennis, but they also are busy at home because they have their own life, working and taking care of their daughter.
Then again, the Nadal family is not your typical tennis family. Made up of four brothers, Sebastian, Rafael, Miguel Angel, Toni, and one sister, Maria Elena, the entire family lives in Manacor, a town of about 35,000 on the island of Mallorca. Proving just how close-knit a group they are, the entire extended family lives in the same apartment complex. (Their father, Rafael senior, purchased this land to keep his family close by).
Rafa shares an apartment with his parents, Sebastian and Ana Maria, and his younger sister. He still dates a local girl, Xisca Perello. With prize money close to $16 million and off-court endorsements beyond that, it might seem a bit unusual for a 21-year-old superstar to be living with his parents, but for Rafa it is totally natural.
I could not imagine living somewhere else, he says. For me, it is normal to live at home and be with my family, they are very important to me.
The Nadal clan also bestowed more than just a sense of strong family values on young Rafa. Early on, he was influenced by and exhibited a strong passion for sports, thanks in large part to his uncles. Uncle Miguel Angel, nicknamed the Beast of Barcelona was a former soccer star for Futbol Club Barcelona. Uncle Rafael, also a decent soccer player, played professionally in the second league. Uncle Toni decided to go a different route and pursue pro tennis.
Says Toni, Rafa was a very enthusiastic young kid that loved sport. I have always said I like the passion in things. I do not like to see people who dont have a passion for what they do this is what Rafa has, ever since he was small, and the intention was to realize that potential.
Rafa was given his first racket by Toni at the age of three, but then really started to play more consistently when he was five at the Manacor Tennis Club where Tony taught.
Little by little, we began to train, play a bit more and then it sort of became a routine, Nadal said. In the end, it became something professional.
It was not long before Toni realized that his young nephew had both the passion and talent to be a serious player.
I remember I was in Mallorca for an event in maybe 91 or 92, Costa said. I was still playing pro tennis and Toni told me about his nephew being really good...and I thought for him to be telling me about a five-year-old kid was crazy! I mean, to know that a kid that young is special is very, very difficult, but he knew what he was talking about.
Unlike some of his junior compatriots, Rafa chose to stay on Mallorca and pursue his dreams full-time under Tonis guidance.
This demonstrates that if its in you, if you want to work, you can work in any place, Toni said. I dont want to believe that you have to go to America, or other places to be a good athlete. You can do it from your house. In my family, we had two athletes who have been successful. Miguel lived and trained his whole life in Manacor, and Rafael does the same things to continue at this level.
Luckily for Rafa, he did have the unique opportunity of being able to rely on another Mallorca resident, Carlos Moya.
I had heard about him already in Mallorca, but I never got to see him, said former No. 1 Moya. And then when he was 14, we started to practice together. When I was younger, I was in the spot that he wanted to be, so he asked me questions and I tried to advise him a little...but on the court, he also helped me a lot. When I was practicing with him, he was 14, 15, and 16 years old and I didnt want to lose to him! He forces you to improve because hes so good. I helped him, and he helped me a lot.
As Roland Garros approaches, all eyes will be on the 21-year-old Nadal. Over the last three clay seasons, Rafa has become a legend: he held an 81-match winning streak on dirt, a three-year hold on the worlds No. 2 ranking, three Roland Garros titles, an open-era record four straight TMS Monte Carlo crowns, four straight Barcelona titles, and three TMS Rome titles. Plus, he has a 7-1 winning record over No. 1 Roger Federer on clay.
At just over six feet tall, hes pure muscle and all heart. Sporting Capri pants and a gritty, never-say-die attitude on clay, he has the ability to get fans deeply involved with his on-court acrobatics and fist pumps.
Says two-time Roland Garros winner, Sergi Bruguera: Im like everybody else Im very impressed with his physical condition and his will to fight especially these days when you dont see any guys who are fighters, these guys who have a good game, and then if it doesnt go their way, they go home. You can see with Rafa maybe hes not playing well, but hes still winning. He fights, he moves and he uses tactics to find a way to win.
With each passing year, the pressure increases on the small island kid. This year, the world will watch to see if Nadal can employ his tireless defense, his huge, hooking lefty forehand and pinpoint passing shots effectively to win his fourth consecutive French title. That accomplishment would make the Spaniard the first player to do so since the great Bjorn Borgs run from 78 to 81.
I am not sure why I am so good on clay, Nadal said with a laugh. Its not that I have intended to specifically win on this surface...I just play the best that I can, I play as much as possible and I fight to get to the finals.
This season, Nadal has posted solid if unspectacular results on hardcourts, reaching the Aussie Open semis where he was smoked by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga; the Indian Wells final, where he was punched out by Novak Djokovic, and the Miami final where Nikolay Davydenko ran past him. Back on clay, he was ferocious in grabbing a three-set victory over Federer in the Monte Carlo final and was simply devastating in pasting countryman David Ferrer in the Barcelona final. But in Rome, two straight weeks of play caught up to him and former French Champ and countryman Juan Carlos Ferrero chopped him down.
Still, if he comes into Paris healthy, where he has only lost seven sets in his 21 consecutive victories, Nadal will once again be a sizeable favorite. Hes deeply aware of the expectations and the criticism that awaits him, but as usual, hell just try to focus on the moment.
What I love about tennis is the competition, he said with a smile. Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved to compete and win at everything.
Former Bay Area resident Rajaraman resides in Barcelona and is a producer for the Tennis Channel and ESPN.
Gustavo Kuerten is back
Open secrets, part VISaturday, May 24, 2008
By GB, EF, BA
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga held a press conference at 6 pm on Saturday in a hotel in Paris to announce that he was withdrawing from the tournament. This year's Australian Open finalist will have to have an operation on his right knee and will also miss Wimbledon. The No.14 seed will be replaced by a lucky loser who will face American qualifier Scoville Jenkins in the first round.
Attendance up for the qualifiers
The tournament has already got off to a good start with attendance figures up 9.7 % on 2007 for the qualifying matches with 9,773 spectators coming through the gates.
Grosjean in the doubles
While Sebastian Grosjean’s sore shoulder caused him to pull out of the singles, he will be lining up in the doubles with none other than Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten. The former French number one and the three-time Roland Garros champion should prove a huge draw for the crowds but it remains to be seen how competitive the two injured players will be.
Just a few days after announcing her retirement, Justine Henin talked to the press at Roland Garros earlier today. “I don’t think I’m a nostalgic sort of person,” said the four-time French Open winner. “I don’t need to walk on the centre court to remember the emotions that I felt. They’re engraved in my heart and in my memory. Everything that I wanted to happen in my career happened here at Roland Garros, and more than once. I really made the most of it, especially last year maybe because I felt that it would be the last time. I could never relive the wonderful experience of 2003 or last year. I have no regrets and I’m capable of moving on. I don’t need to come back to Roland Garros. I’m very happy and proud of what I’ve achieved.”
Juninho wishes Guga good luck
Juninho, who plays midfield for French football champions Lyon, spoke to Gustavo Kuerten by telephone on Friday to wish him all the best for his last ever tournament. “I’ve been an admirer of Guga’s for such a long time. Everyone in Brazil loves him. I’ll try to come and cheer him on tomorrow (against Paul-Henri Mathieu) before leaving for Dubai on Monday with Lyon,” said the Brazilian star who will be playing in tonight’s French cup final at the Stade de France against Paris-Saint Germain.
Devilder happy with his lot
Having ended up as the only Frenchman to make it through the qualifiers, Nicolas Devilder was happy enough with the draw which sees him face Australia’s Chris Guccione in the first round. “It’s not a bad draw,” Devilder said. “He’s not really a clay-court specialist. He’s got a really good serve that means that my returns will have to be on song. There’s no pressure on me and anything could happen at this tournament. It’s great to have got through the qualifiers but I want to make it even further.”
Josselin Ouanna gets a second chance
The men’s draw has lost another two players - Germany’s Nicolas Kiefer and Italian Fabio Fognini. Two lucky losers, namely Marc Lopez from Spain and Frenchman Josselin Ouanna, will be replacing them, with Lopez facing Finnish No.26 seed Jarkko Nieminen and Ouanna taking on Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro.