Monday 28 November 2011

Devouring Books: Rafa by Rafael Nadal with John Carlin

I basically hate all sports, but tennis has been, for as long as I can remember, about the only one that I adore. It doesn't hurt that the players are basically all really attractive, but, more importantly, I really like to watch the beauty and elegance of the game, as well as its occasional scrappiness and the sheer endurance of the players. When I was younger, my sister and cousins used to complain about Wimbledon taking over from our usual children's TV programmes after school at my nan's, but I just used to quietly go into the kitchen and watch the tennis. This was back in the days when Tim Henman was the entire nation's great hope (oh, poor Tim...) but my love for him was engulfed entirely when I watched Rafael Nadal win his first French Open in 2005, and he played like no one I've ever seen, before or since. I was hooked.

So now, while I'll basically watch any tennis games, I'm especially invested in Nadal's, and I get extremely huffy when, for example, certain people cheer on Djokovic in this year's Wimbledon final, over my beloved Rafa. I was reasonably excited, then, when I heard that he had an (auto)biography out, and made it my business to have access to a copy as soon as possible. And then, I read about 100 pages and left it for nearly 3 months. I don't really have any logical reason for this, other than because I had more interesting things to read, because, for a sports (auto)biography of a 25 year old, this is actually a pretty great read, especially if you're interested in tennis, or Nadal, or both.

You'll notice I keep saying (auto)biography, and that's because it's almost impossible to tell just how much of this is Nadal's own writing. I mean, it's indisputably his story, and so much of the book is incredibly revealing about what it's actually like to be a professional athlete, and exactly how it feels to be playing those massive points, and those massive games. Nadal has, quite frankly, what seems like the most impressive headspace that a pro can have, in that all he tries to focus on is the next point, without getting ahead of himself, or thinking that he's won a game before he actually has. This is all expressed in an extremely eloquent but also simplistic way, so that you almost feel like you're with him in the matches he describes, a lot of which I feel might be down to the input of Carlin. This is not to say that I think Nadal is not eloquent- in fact, I think anyone who's seen him make a speech after a big game would probably consider him to be pretty well spoken, even in a language that is not his own; but I definitely think a writer has waved his magic wand over the words, as well as the form this book is in, which can only be a good thing.

Speaking of the form, I really really like the way this book is written. Granted, I think my only other experience of a sporting (auto)biography has been David Beckham's (which I think we all know wasn't written by him...) but I was truly impressed by Rafa. There are interspersing chapters, one in the first person which is basically Rafa's first hand experience, then the next in the third person where various people in Nadal's life are highlighted and spoken to, and their thoughts and opinions of him gotten, which I think is a really great thing to do because, you know, a person is not only who they are internally, but also how they are externally, which is always best seen by others. What I also liked about the format was that, for the first 6 or 7 first person chapters, each begins and ends with a part of Nadal's experience in the 2008 Wimbledon Final, a match called the greatest ever, and this allows in depth discussion of a game to occur, as well as almost making it seem like, whilst playing this match, Nadal's entire life comes into play, which in a way, it kind of does- the upbringing he has had, and the training he has undergone, mean that he has the strength to persevere and win. I just thought it was a really clever way to tie the whole narrative together, and it was one of the things I liked best about the book.

(I also appreciated the recap because I missed large chunks of the match because my family decided that was the day to go out and celebrate my Grandad's 80th birthday- which isn't something I object to on principle, but his birthday was in May and this was July, and the outing had been postponed for someone else's reasons; but apparently mine [wanting to watch the Wimbledon Final] weren't relevant. Which was annoying, and I'll just say that everyone was lucky that there were two long rain delays, because if I'd missed Nadal's first Wimbledon victory... I wouldn't have been thrilled.)

Anyway, I think the most important thing I learned from this book is that actually, Nadal is alarmingly normal. I mean, at times, almost dully normal. There are a whole lot of victories and achievements mentioned, a whole lot of training gone through, and barely any fun at all! To his credit, Nadal seems like an extremely stable and lovely guy, who loves his family A LOT, and has basically worked hard all his life to get to where he is now, whilst never letting it go to his head (something which I think is also evident in his speeches after matches- whenever my mum watches them with me, she always says 'he's so sweet!' and I have to agree- that's one modest and polite guy!) So what I guess I'm saying is, don't expect any Agassi-esque Crystal Meth episodes (man, I have to read that book...) but do expect to seriously like the guy (he even manages to get in a teeny rant about how terrible it is that tennis players get paid so much compared to Olympic athletes who work exactly as hard and are much less financially stable, and oh do I love him for it!) and to discover what really makes him tick.

Oh yeah, and this feels totally relevant right now (I recommend watching it without the sound, but you might like Shakira):

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