Uncle Toni, Rafa & the Bio Book


With the autobiography nearing it's release in a few days, the internet is buzzing on Rafa's relationship with his coach & Uncle Toni. Having read the book I personally do not believe that Uncle Toni is getting a fair deal here. There are spoilers if you dont want to know pls Stop now.

Rafael Nadal’s coach sounds more like Uncle Toni Soprano

If the extracts from Rafael Nadal's autobiography published by Telegraph Sport in recent days here were captivating by any standards, let alone those of the sporting memoir, they also came sprinkled with unusual poignancy.

By Matthew Norman
7:00AM BST 19 Aug 2011

This is largely thanks to the gap between writing and publication, known in our trade as the lead time. I write as one who once wrote a rave review of a restaurant which closed the day before the piece appeared in print.

Albeit less farcically, the same curse has afflicted Rafa: My Story – a memoir conceived in modest celebration of a singular talent in its supremacy, but born into a dramatically different tennis world.

On Monday week, Rafael Nadal will enter the US Open as a very self-doubting defending champion indeed. In the months between the book's completion and its publication, Novak Djokovic, whom he beat in last year's final to complete his 'career slam', has done more than seize his No 1 ranking. With defeat after brutal defeat, on clay more than once as well in the Wimbledon final, he has crushed Nadal's self- belief. Just as the mental scar tissue made Roger Federer terrified of Nadal, so Nadal now looks well beaten by Djokovic during the knock-up.

Although my copy of this volume is still in the post, I crave the sequel in which he writes of this assault on his senses. I say "he writes", although the author is John Carlin, a half-Spanish journalist whom Nelson Mandela so admired that he wrote the foreword to a previous opus about Africa. Mr Carlin works only with the giants, and Nadal has a useful track record himself when it comes to collaborators.

All of which brings us, by way of a sub-local radio segue, to the star of Thursday's extract, his coach Uncle Toni, who moulded a tiny, right-handed Mallorcan boy into the leftie raging bull who continually gored the Fed to death. He did it through terror. If Toni noted a lapse in concentration, he would belt the ball at little Rafa "to scare me, to startle me to attention". When, at seven, he arrived for a match one broiling day having forgotten his water bottle, Uncle T refused him a drop "to teach me responsibility". He screamed, cussed, teased him for being a mummy's boy, and sent him home sobbing. Such was his hold over the boy that he persuaded him he had the superhero power of invisibility.

To residents of a country where the tight, extended family unit is as quaintly nostalgic a concept as the child's fear of adult authority, this vignette of a boy knuckling down under a wildly aggressive coach is alien. In Theo Walcott's new memoir (and how we've been waiting for that), he comes over all traumatised when Fabio Capello shouts at him for ignoring tactical orders on the training ground.

In Mallorca, things are different, or were 20 years ago. Rafa didn't rebel, he says, not just because he was "an obedient and docile child" who loved tennis. He also loved Uncle Toni, and trusted that he was being cruel to be kind. He still does. "Everything I have achieved, all the opportunities I have had," he declares, "are thanks to him." This is undeniably drivel. No amount of belted balls and enforced dehydration can create a champion. The raw talent and hunger must be there in the gene pool. But it is sincere drivel, and reminds us that what makes Rafael Nadal uniquely appealing in the age of sporting narcissism is his humility.

However enduring the bond, one wonders whether it is time for him to part with Uncle Toni. Facing a challenge as monstrous as Djokovic, anyone else in his position would. So crushing is the Serb's hold over Nadal that it looks almost perverse not to gamble on a new coach with fresh ideas.

Perhaps he will. Judging by the final extract from the book, which concluded, "He is not the all-knowing magician of my childhood," the temptation is there. Much more likely, however, he will not. For Rafa, you suspect, loyalty to family and gratitude to a capricious, tyrannical uncle outrank even tennis. Nauseatingly soppy though this must sound, it is impossible not to adore him all the more for that.

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