I am a huge Rafa fan. The first time I saw him play was in the 2009 Australian Open. Thereafter, this book sealed the deal for me. I haven't updated my review since I wrote it in 2012 as I wanted to maintain the purity of my feelings from back then. 💙 💚 However, memories came rushing when Roger Federer won his 18th Grand Slam title last night at the Australian Open against Rafa Nadal in the finals.
Rafa’s book is an account of a human turned into a super-hero (joking ofcourse). It is, however, a story of how Rafa Nadal came to being a prodigious athlete. It reveals the enormity of mental, physical and emotional strength needed to have 9 Grand Slam victories at the age of 24 in what has been called the Golden age for Tennis. He is already acclaimed as one of the greatest tennis players of all times. (Update: As of 8 June 2014, he has now won 14 Grand Slam Titles with the 9th French Open title in his bag, matching the record of Pete Sampras.)
I felt that every lesson from Rafa’s tennis life could be applied to my non-tennis life; infact the extent to which he keeps trying, makes me feel ashamed and very self conscious of how less I try for anything!
Rafa is reaping the fruits of his sacrifices and perseverance since his childhood. It is no wonder that he plays on the court as if he were out in a war. He appears almost as if he is in trance, he is no longer himself. He does not care who is on the other side of the net, he is relentless. He has only one goal, to play his best game and not to lose a single point. With this fire in his belly, he shouts at himself in the mirror VAMOS VAMOS VAMOS in his dressing room before the game begins. He contrasts this (in the book) with Federer who is there with him in that same dressing room, lying on the bench in a meditative mode in accordance with his permanent calm demeanor.
He describes how his life is not perfect and hunky-dory as it may appear at the surface. Rafa is aware that he is not naturally gifted or a beautiful player like Roger Federer is. He faces every day challenges & dilemmas as any of us do of depression, sadness, boredom, exhaustion. But his determination only makes him emerge out to be stronger than before. His parents separation left him devastated. He carries his own bag of weaknesses, a gentle reminder that he is after all a human only. He has suffered several career-threatening injuries that could have easily allowed him to slide on tennis rankings with the world’s sympathy on his side. Instead, time and again, he valiantly emerged out of the situation and continued to play to win.
His doggedness to give his heart and soul into each point has been ingrained in his genes thanks to Uncle Toni who never tolerated a single excuse for not playing well. This included feeling sick, bad weather, old tennis balls, broken racquets. Just when one thought that Rafa had tried hard enough, Uncle Toni would push even harder and very commonly Rafa would return home crying after practice. However it is for the same reason that family members often had an altercation with Uncle Toni. Even Rafa is often found saying…Uncle Toni is Uncle Toni after all. This reinforces something that I personally apply in my own life – to take criticism with an open mind and low ego in order to keep improving. Uncle Toni is the pillar behind Nadal’s conquests.
Nadal’s exceptionally tightly knit family more than made up for the hardships he has faced through their immense love, affection and presence. Nadal’s father presented an unswervingly calm demeanor at all times, especially during his injuries willing to find alternatives that would make him happier. His mother gave him a normal home to come back to. In this glitzy world of celebrities, Rafa received no distinctive treatment or celebrations at home for his victories. They have repeatedly taught him that to be a good person is more important than to be a winner.
Saints have spoken about living in the present, and Rafa lives it so. He is almost spiritual in nature without thinking about it so. I did a recount of all my life’s regrets and realized how much I am left behind crying over those rather than moving on. If you compare every point he plays to every incident in my life (since every point he plays has as much story and pouring of everything he has in himself as I did in these incidents of my life), I now recognize that I did not do as much as I could have if I really badly wanted something.
An example that will stay with me for the rest of my life is that the night when he won US Open 2010 championship, he slept for only 3-4 hours, the same suite followed the 2nd night and he still went to practice on the 3rd morning with Uncle Toni as per their regular schedule as if it was just another day. There were no celebrations at home and, no paparazzi, no fans, and no excuses not to practice.
This story of Rafa’s life is told in between the running account of some of the well-known matches starting with the Finals of Wimbledon 2008 that Rafa won against then world number 1 Roger Federer and ending with the Finals at the US Open 2010 against the unstoppable Novak Djokovic. Inspite of having seen many of these matches, reading about them from Nadal’s perspective was a thrill and pure joy.