Book Review: Rafa, My Story by Rafa Nadal and John Carlin
Review by Malcolm Cliff. Malcolm Cliff is ideally placed to review “Rafa: My Story”, having been Head of Sports Studies at the University of Huddersfield. He took early retirement in 2011 after a long career in academia. A bibliophile and a lover of Spain and all things Spanish, Books4Spain could have been invented for him! With three visits to different parts of Spain in the last 12 months - with more planned – he is using his retirement to ever increase his knowledge of the country.
The Wimbledon men’s singles final of 2008 has been described as the greatest tennis match ever, possibly the most keenly fought sports competition of all time. It saw then world number 2 – Rafael Nadal of Spain – taking on the then world number one – the Swiss, Roger Federer – and only after 4 hours and 48 minutes of fierce competition was a winner – Rafa Nadal – finally declared. We can easily admire the talent, skills and endurance of those two top tennis players, but what were they thinking and feeling when in the midst of ‘battle’? As we learn in this book, Rafa Nadal had been well schooled by his coach (his Uncle Toni) to show “una buena cara”? “Una buena cara” means “a good face” in English, but as a Spanish expression it means, we are told: “to wear a serious, concentrated expression when you are playing, one that betrays as few negative emotions as possible, reflecting an attitude of persistence and professional discipline”. However, behind ‘la buena cara’ there was much going on in Rafa’s mind, and it is this that you are given insight into in this book.
Indeed, with a similar approach taken later in the book to an in-depth discussion of the 2010 US Open Final (where Rafa completed his career Grand Slam), the reader is given a rare view of Rafa’s thoughts and feelings during a tennis match – from the pre-match dressing room through to the last point and beyond. In this lies the unique quality of “Rafa: My Story”. You will be disappointed if you are expecting tabloid style “revelations” about Rafa’s private life, or his thoughts on the characters and personalities of his fellow players. Instead, for example, he talks of Roger Federer with an obvious respect for his talent as a tennis player. No, what you learn here is the true “essence” of Rafa Nadal, the tennis player and the man. I came away from the book with a high regard for him.
When we think of Spanish culture and attempt to characterise the people of Spain, the strength of “family” is always one of the topics for discussion. And Rafa Nadal certainly embodies this. Indeed, the book begins with a “Cast of Characters” – the family, the team, the friends. I think it is fair to say that without the support of his close-knit family, Rafa would be neither the tennis player nor the gentleman that he is. Further we can only marvel at the Mallorcan/Spanish character when we learn that Rafa can return to his home town whenever he wishes and instantly step back into a “normal” lifestyle, with no sign of the celebrity worship that would be ever present in, for example, the UK. Once again, to be given this insight makes for a quite unique biography of a top sportsman.
Of course, this review must give due credit to John Carlin, the experienced and well-known author and journalist. The excellent working relationship between John and Rafa Nadal shines from the pages of this book. How closely the two of them must have worked, watching videos of Rafa’s two big matches point by point, reviewing his thoughts and feelings. (Although how envious of John Carlin we are!) It is John who chose the structuring of the chapters – the chapters which discuss those two important matches are written in the first person, as the words of Rafa himself; whereas alternating chapters are written in the third person, giving the reader an opportunity to “hear” the views of Rafa Nadal ’s family, team and friends. So many biographies of sports people are written either in strict chronological order or with the “revelations” defining the chapters. Here something different is attempted and it works! We come away with a real insight into the personality of a top sportsman.
In conclusion, I thoroughly recommend “Rafa My Story” to you. So many biographies of sportsmen and women are published every year, and so many are predictable and ultimately disappointing to read. This book satisfies, and offers something to all, not just the avid Rafa “fan”!
You can also listen to Malcolm’s interview with John Carlin where he discusses how he came to write Rafa, My Story in conjunction with Rafa Nadal, the process involved and what Rafa Nadal and his family are like in reality here.
John Carlin’s White Angels, details David Beckham’s first year at Real, and how he fared on the field alongside such global stars as Figo, Zidane, Carlos, Raul and Ronaldo and is available from Books4Spain as an eBook or physical book.