Friday, March 21, 2014

On the Coffee Table: Rafael Nadal

Title: Rafa
Authors: Rafael Nadal and John Carlin
via Barnes & Noble
If you are a sports fan, Rafael Nadal requires no introduction.  The world's current top-ranked tennis player is one of the most mesmerizing athletes you'll ever see.  He is a ferocious, irresistible warrior when the match is on and a humble, gracious gentleman the instant it's over.  Still only 27 years old, he is on a very short list of the greatest players of all time.  I would happily wax poetic about the man myself for paragraphs on end but for this post, I shall endeavor to stick to the book.

The book is written mostly in first person from Rafa's perspective but interspersed are sub-chapters in third person, usually about his home life in Mallorca.  Nadal, for all of his unfathomable wealth, fame and success, still lives with his parents in Manacor.  His family, especially his parents and his uncle/coach Toni, have worked hard to maintain a normal life for him when he is not on tour.  In Mallorca, he is nothing special - just a guy with a job that pays him handsomely.  His family and his neighbors never gush, by design.  The book asserts that without this solid rooting in the everyday, Rafa's extraordinary success - as both player and human being - would not be possible.

The story begins in medias res at the 2008 Wimbledon final with Roger Federer on the opposite side of the net, certainly the turning point of Nadal's career and arguably the most important tennis match of the current era.  From there, Rafa reflects back to earlier stages in his life, but always returns to the match at Wimbledon.  I have to admit that this structure was a bit disappointing since, in a sense, I have already read that book.  L. Jon Wertheim's excellent Strokes of Genius (review here) examines the match thoroughly with flashbacks for both combatants.  Of course, the perspective of a player is not that of a journalist so Nadal's thoughts are still valuable.  Still, I would have appreciated a different structure.  The second half of the book takes a similar approach to the 2010 US Open final against Novak Djokovic, a less interesting match but equally important to Rafa's career arc.

In the world of megastar athletes, one would be hard pressed to find one more admirable than Rafael Nadal.  The book only enhances his public persona.  That said, Rafa's not as much fun as Andre Agassi's Open (review here).  Agassi has lived a more colorful life but I'd say his book is also better written.  A non-tennis fan could still enjoy Open.  I'm not so sure about Rafa.  If you are lucky enough to be a tennis fan, it's a must read.


  1. I would like to read the book...I love autobiographies, as long as they're true. :)

    1. Presumably this one's true. Both Nadal and Federer have such immaculate public images, one has to assume that some skeleton will have to come out of the closet at some point. After all, Lance Armstrong was practically a saint not long ago.

  2. I'm not much of a tennis fan, but it's fun to see behind the scenes of any superstar. Cool.

    1. Yeah, I don't know if this offers much if you're not a fan. Agassi's book, on the other hand, is a lot of fun. If you're inclined, I'd try that one first.