Commentary

More to Rafa than meets the eye

Originally Published: August 26, 2011
By Kamakshi Tandon | Special to ESPN.com

Just like many other sporting memoirs, Rafael Nadal's newly released autobiography contains a mix of the new and the familiar. Although not exactly exhaustive, the book offers his thoughts on some of his biggest matches, reinforces his focus on family and friends, and recounts some memorable anecdotes. Here are 20 things we learned:

What we knew: He has a younger sister, Maribel.
What we learned: The two are very close. Nadal calls or texts 10 times a day.

[+] EnlargeRafael Nadal
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty ImagesRafael Nadal has just one game plan versus Roger Federer -- and it works like a charm.

What we knew: He likes chocolate cookies.
What we learned: He doesn't like cheese, tomatoes or ham. "Cheese? It's a bit peculiar," says his mother, Ana Maria.

What we knew: He'll always give you an autograph.
What we learned: Even if you don't say please. But it means you won't get a smile.

What we knew: He can strike fear into his opponents.
What we learned: He is afraid of thunderstorms, deep water and dogs, is nervous about riding a bike, and prefers to sleep with the light on. "A bit of a scaredy cat," according to his sister.

What we knew: After winning Wimbledon in 2008, he bought himself an Aston Martin.
What we learned: Nadal wanted to get the car after seeing it during the French Open, but his father, Sebastian, was against it. "You win Wimbledon, then you can buy it," he said. "He never thought he'd lose that bet," Nadal writes.

What we knew: Nadal's game plan against Roger Federer is to hit the ball to his backhand.
What we learned: Nadal's game plan against Federer is to hit every ball to his backhand. "That's the plan. It's not a complicated plan," he writes.

What we knew: There are exceptions to every rule, like 8-7 in the fifth set of the 2008 Wimbledon final, when Nadal served a winner to Federer's forehand to set up match point.
What we learned: It was inspiration. Writes Nadal: "Here I had the brilliant idea -- it was, in retrospect, quite brilliant -- of hitting my first serve wide to his forehand, when he had to be expecting that at a clutch moment like this I'd stick to the backhand route I'd followed practically the entire match."

What we knew: At the moment, Nadal doesn't seem to have a game plan against Novak Djokovic.
What we learned: He doesn't have one. "With Federer, the rule is always to keep patiently plugging away, knowing you'll force him sooner or later to mistakes. With Djokovic, there is no clear tactical plan. It is simply a question of playing at your very best, with maximum intensity and aggression," Nadal writes. "But there is one thing. If you make him receive the ball at shoulder height, you make him uncomfortable, you make him guess, put him off his stride."

What we knew: After defeating Djokovic in the U.S. Open final last year, Nadal implied his box had told him where to serve on match point, telling El Pais, "They told me to serve wide and that's where I served."
What we learned: Nadal repeats this suggestion, writing that he looked at his box for support and "served wide to the forehand as instructed," but doesn't elaborate.

What we knew: His prematch routines and jumping around come across as stalling and gamesmanship.
What we learned: Even his friends wonder what it is all about. "I don't think he would ever admit it, and I've never asked him about it, but I do believe he does deliberately intimidate rivals," says fellow Mallorcan and mentor Carlos Moya.

What we knew: Nadal surprised everyone by recovering from a five-hour marathon semifinal at the 2009 Australian Open to beat Federer in five sets in the final.
What we learned: He surprised himself, having been ready to lose 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. Despite feeling tired and dizzy while practicing on the day of the final, he gained energy from the adrenaline of the occasion and a pep talk from his coach before the match.

What we knew: His parents split up in early 2009. (They are now reportedly back together.)
What we learned: Nadal found out on the journey back after winning the Australian Open and lost all enthusiasm. On pulling out of Wimbledon that year, he writes, "My knees were the immediate reason, but I knew the root cause was my state of mind."

What we knew: His coach and uncle, Toni, stresses the importance of humility and always tells Nadal he can do better.
What we learned: Nadal believes his uncle's strictness "has its value, in that he pushes me always to improve and do better, it can also be bad because he creates insecurity."

What we knew: Nadal is one of the strongest players mentally.
What we learned: He attributes a lot of this to Toni. "All that tension in every single coaching session, right from the start, has allowed me today to face up to the difficult moments in a match with more self-control than might otherwise have been the case. Toni did a lot to build that fighting character people say they see in me on court," Nadal writes.

What we knew: Nadal was very worried when he felt his left foot hurting during Wimbledon, thinking it was the return of the first serious injury he had as a pro.
What we learned: The problem is a congenital condition -- the tarsal scaphoid bone in his foot never hardened, becoming larger and susceptible to cracking under intense physical activity. It "turned out to be my own unique version of the Achilles' heel," Nadal writes. He received the diagnosis as a 19-year-old. Told that his career might be over, he sobbed. His father tried to comfort him, saying that a solution might be found and, if all else failed, Nadal could perhaps turn to professional golf.

What we knew: When he was young, his family turned down an offer to train at an elite Barcelona academy.
What we learned: They sent him to a sports boarding school an hour from home so he could finish his studies. He hated it.

What we knew: Nadal's father owns a glass-making business.
What we learned: Nadal's grandfather, a musician, helped produce the first performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in Mallorca at 19 years old.

What we knew: His girlfriend, Maria Francisca Perello, is a fellow Mallorcan and works full time, only occasionally showing up at tournaments.
What we learned: "He needs his space when he is competing, and just the idea of me hanging around waiting on his needs all day wears me out," she says. "If I followed him everywhere, I think there's a risk we might stop getting along."

What we knew: He likes watching soccer.
What we learned: If it's a match involving Real Madrid, he'll get up at 5 in the morning to do it, even if he has a match that day.

What we knew: He plays golf.
What we learned: Even more determinedly than tennis. "I am decidedly unfriendly during a golf game, from the first hole to the last," he says.

Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.