Review : Rafa My Story

October 19, 2012
Author: Rafael Nadal and John Carlin
Publisher: Hachette
Year: 2011
ISBN: 9780751547733
Rating: ★★½☆☆
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This was arguably the most looked forward to tennis book since Andre Agassi’s Open a few years ago. Yet the timing of Rafael Nadal’s autobiography did raise a few eyebrows. It was announced right after his most successful year as a tennis player, a time when many believed he was at the height of his powers and had a few good years in him. An autobiography at the age of 25 is a baffling idea.

The book takes us through Nadal’s childhood in Manacor, Mallorca to Flushing Meadows where he lifted his first US Open trophy to complete the rare feat of a career slam. The framing narrative for most of the book is his epic Wimbledon match against Federer in 2008, diversions from the narration of which lead to episodes from his early life and vignettes of his family. Discussions of his relationship with uncle and coach, Toni, are easily the most intriguing part of the book. It becomes evident that this is not the idealized relationship that the media has portrayed over the course of Nadal’s career. It is apparent that Toni is a hard task master with a reputation for being irrational. He appears a man so obsessed with mental discipline above all else that he has driven his charge to unnecessary insecurity. It is this insecurity that fuels Nadal’s well-known compulsive rituals before and during the game, spawned by the need to have some sort of control when surrounded by the uncertainties of a match.

One of the most sensational statements that Agassi made in his book was that he hated tennis. He detailed a life of forced hard work, driven by a megalomaniacal father who ran his son ragged. Nadal makes a conscious effort to step away from this kind of portrayal of a tennis kid’s life. He insists his childhood was one of the happiest periods of his life. He recounts summers spent with friends fishing, swimming and playing, even at the cost of his tennis. With a nurturing family and a happy home situation tennis was played by choice and the hard work was voluntary. He admits to getting tired of it sometimes but never to despising it. The book is hard at work at humanising one whom the world sees as a superstar. In light of this, the passages devoted to Nadal, the Real Madrid fan are some of the most appealing ones, especially when they detail incidents of getting up in the middle of the night or delaying appointments just so he can watch his team playing. These are seemingly unreasonable acts that every crazed football fan will identify with.

Away from the tennis court, Nadal comes across as a simple man who prizes his family life above all else and credits it for having kept him grounded and humble, a point that the book stresses probably a little too much. The separation of his parents was a difficult period in his life and he speaks of it more plainly than before. Interviews with his mother and his sister reveal him to be an overly cautious and protective young man. Much like with his public life, his girlfriend’s presence in the book too is shadowy.

Rafa: My Story was anticipated by tennis fans for finally providing a clearer picture of Rafael Nadal, the future tennis legend. It does not live up to that expectation. It is almost a distrusting venture. Besides a few insights into his life it does not provide much. It seems to be working on a clear image that it must portray of the person, and that is no different from the image with which we are already familiar. It is co-written with John Carlin and the chapters written by each of the two writers alternate in the book. Yet, except for the change in pronoun in every few pages, it is painfully obvious that the even as a writer Nadal is distanced from the book.

One can read it if one is a devoted fan but for anyone else there isn’t that much that the book offers, it is as guarded as the man is. The greatest revelation that we are afforded is that the seemingly invincible player on the court is anything but that off it.

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