My Nadal moment: ‘Gracias,’ he told me | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

How do you say character building in English?” whispered my seatmate, a Spanish gentleman in his early 50s with a kind face and salt-and-pepper hair.


I translated, then he looked at me and said, again in Spanish: “Best if I just answer… and you repeat what I said, ok?”


“Ok,” I nodded back and took a deep breath, trying to look as unaffected as possible in front of a swarm of photographers and journalists.


I wasn’t just quietly exchanging lines with a random tourist; I was conversing with Toni Nadal, more famously known as “Uncle Toni” and coach of 14 Grand Slam title-holder Rafa Nadal.


And, yes, Rafa was seated right beside him.


This whole experience of being up close and personal with the Nadal men was exhilarating and surreal at the same time; I harkened back to the day this all started, as a tease between me and my friend and former boss, Mitos Borromeo.


Borromeo was asked to help promote the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar in the Philippines during Nadal’s visit to Manila for the second leg of the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) this month.


When she first intimated that the tennis champ would be coming, I said, “Mitos! I speak Spanish [I had lived in Madrid for almost two years]. If you need a translator, driver, girl Friday, whatever, I’m willing!”


She laughed and said, “Rafa speaks English but maybe for ‘tito’ Toni, if he needs one.”


I quickly retorted, “Any tito of Rafa is my tito, too!” and we left it at that.




Fast forward to a couple of weeks later, when I found myself in a makeshift “holding room” at Colegio San Agustin ready to brief Toni about the day’s activity, and of course, if needed, to do the same for his nephew.


The older Nadal was extremely charming although, as polite as he was, it was easy to see how much he was suffering from the uncharacteristic humidity the country was still experiencing this December.


We were going to kick off the day with Toni going through some warm-up routine with the 50 participating kids for the tennis clinic until Rafa came, and then went straight to the press conference.


It was easy to tell when Rafa had arrived—screams of adulation shook up the venue.


The minute Rafa and his uncle saw one another, they launched into Mallorquin, their native tongue from their hometown in Mallorca.


I later asked Toni, “You always speak to each other in Mallorquin?”


He said, “Yes always, never in Spanish.”


Rafa, like his uncle, looked a bit worn down from the heat, but after a few minutes was ready to meet the press.


I did have a tiny ego boost when Rafa didn’t understand a question 100 percent and turned to me to translate.


I can now officially say that I’ve been able to translate for the Nadals, even in a minute capacity.


Rafa then moved on to indulge the participants, with a chance to hit two balls each with him. The kids (and their parents) were thrilled no end.


Love and respect


I observed the relationship of love and respect between the two Nadals.


Toni later revealed that the formation of Rafa’s character was something he held in utmost importance, not just to be a top tennis player, but also to be exemplary as a human being.


This was evident from the minute Rafa smiled, his expression enough to alleviate the near asphyxiating heat, plus his genuine enjoyment of playing with the tennis clinic participants.


As nephew and uncle were eventually muscled out (literally as they needed lots of security to pry everyone off them), there was a fleeting instant when he looked in my direction and I managed to say, “Adios, Rafa…”


He broke into an enigmatic, heart-stopping smile, before mouthing back, “Gracias!”


Then he was gone, whisked away by his bodyguards.


And with that magical moment etched forever in my memory, I move on and prepare my things to watch another great tennis great, Serena Williams.


I called it my Grand Slam Sunday.

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