Sunday, 21 November 2010

Team Nadal

Speaking to those who know him better than anyone else could, Rafael Nadal is as easy to work for as a man of gentle manners should be. When the No 1 player in the world walks into the spotlight and prepares to do battle in his meticulous manner, he knows that everyone else’s work has been done properly. Now it is his turn.

Of course it is not easy. How can it be? Having to play the game supremely all the time is one thing — the overriding thing — but so much of being the best at anything is how to deal with the forces pulling you one way and the other.

The media need to be placated, send in Rafa; the sponsors want someone to slaver over, send in Rafa; the beautiful woman over there in the corner of the restaurant wants her T-shirt signed . . . you know it by now.

On the court, as preparations wind down for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals that start tomorrow, he is the undisputed No 1, with a lead of almost 4,000 ranking points — the equivalent of winning two grand-slam tournaments — having won the past three majors and Masters 1000 events in Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome. He could easily extend that lead next week because he has no points to defend, having lost all three round-robin matches in southeast London a year ago.

But if the 24-year-old were playing for 1,000 points or none at all, Nadal’s approach would be the same. Rafael Maymo, Nadal’s physiotherapist for the past four years and the man who sleeps in the room next to his most of the year, sums it up. “Rafa does all that he has to do to be, if not the No 1, one of the best in the world,” Maymo said. “We try to help him but the main and only important person there is Rafa.”

Team Rafa consists of several influential folk, but those in the front line, on whom the cameras concentrate, are Toni Nadal, his uncle and coach — Francisco Roig takes over the mantle when Toni has his down time — Maymo, Carlos Costa, his manager, and Benito Pérez-Barbadillo, his public relations manager. There is an unbreakable bond there.

“We are family,” Pérez-Barbadillo said. “That’s good and it can be not good, but that is our relationship. There is so much we do for one another that is not in the job description.”

Nadal’s father, Sebastián, recognised four years ago that Pérez-Barbadillo was not enjoying life as an ATP press aide and recommended that he set up his own company and represent his son.

“Sebastián had done the same when he left the bank he worked for and set up on his own, but he also said to me that Rafa had a deadline, that we could not know how long this would last, so I had to develop the business fast,” Pérez-Barbadillo said. “He could get injured in the next match. But although I had to jump from the ATP, which was a safe seat, I had a big, big parachute.”

Pérez-Barbadillo’s company also represents Novak Djokovic — “I think he wanted me because of the job I had done for Rafa,” he said — and is looking always to refresh its clientele. Some may scream conflict of interest, but the Spaniard said: “You have to be a professional. When Novak lost in the US Open to Rafa, I was with him for an hour in the locker room. It’s easier to be with the winner rather than the one who has not won.”

The interest in Nadal can be overwhelming. It is astonishing how the 24-year-old takes it all in his stride and the others fall into line. Costa, a former professional, is responsible for delivering on Brand Rafa and he describes it as thus. “Rafa gives things to many people with his tennis,” he said. “He is incredibly easy to work with. I do not think that is always typical in tennis.”

Toni’s confidence has grown along with his increasing mastery of English. Like Nadal, he is shy in unfamiliar company and reluctant to speak about his nephew in terms that are too glowing. The ground rules are there: no throwing of the racket; no stepping on the backs of shoes when you put them on; no disrespect to your opponent. These are like the Nadal tablets of stone.

“The most important things, you can’t control, like your health,” Toni said. “You must be prepared for this. I always try to prepare Rafael for everything.”

The same is true of all his team. Their closeness is not impenetrable, but they cherish their times together. “Rafa is a dream to work with because he understands the work, he gets it,” Pérez-Barbadillo said. “He’s a nice guy, easy to work with. I don’t even have to brief him on things. He says whatever he wants. I just tell him what the situation is. He trusts his team to do their best for him.

“With Toni, Rafa might not agree all the time but there is no way he will never have a fight with him; he will never fire him.”

Of course, Nadal’s reputation went stratospheric with his 2008 Wimbledon victory, in what most agree was the match to end all matches. “It changed everything for Rafa,” Pérez-Barbadillo said. “That match launched him, really, in the Anglo-Saxon world. The way the match was, that he defeated Roger [Federer] in the final and now, with his victory in the US Open, he is a super, superstar in the United States as well.”

Fun and games: Maymo, the physiotherapist, left, and Nadal plot strategy in an impromptu bout of foot tennis, with an adoring Wimbledon public in thrall. Photo by Graham Hughes for The Times

As constant as the team are, so is the scrutiny of Nadal’s physical situation; ie, his knees, which makes Maymo’s contribution all the more crucial. “Of course I read about his injuries and I try to forget about most of it,” his fellow Majorcan said. “How it is with Rafa now is how it was when I joined him four years ago — the main thing for us is that Rafa is happy, fit and can play. You can’t do anything about what is written. I have the confidence of Rafa and I am confident in him. Other things are superfluous.”

Behind the scenes
Toni Nadal, 49
One of three brothers of sporting excellence. Read history at university, taught himself how to coach tennis and realised that his nephew had a rare talent, aged 3. Although a natural right-hander, Rafael was made to hold his racket in his left hand and the rest is history.

Carlos Costa, 42
Works for IMG, one of the world’s best-known agencies. He was runner-up at the 1992 Italian Open and reached the fourth round at the French Open and US Open that year. He is charged with signing Nadal to his biggest sponsorship deals.

Rafael Maymo, 32
Formerly a physiotherapist with the B team of Real Mallorca. Went to Barcelona to take his physiotherapy exams; on the same course was someone who knew that Rafael Nadal was looking for a travelling physio.

Benito Pérez-Barbadillo, 41
Spent ten years working in public relations at the ATP before leaving in 2006 to set up his own company, B1PR.

Courtesy: The Times via Nadal News

1 comment:

  1. I think this Team Nadal is like an elastic band that ypu can pull and stretch in all directions but it just stays the same. Nice to see people that can work well together. Team spirit is the key and family is the bigger key to success. Make sure your 'prize asset', Rafa, is happy because happiness means good health.