Defending US Open Champ Rafa Tells His Story

The U.S. Open bookshop in Queens is chock-full of autobiographies by tennis's greatest champions -- Serena Williams, Andre Agassi, Arthur Ashe , among them. And now there’s a new book on the shelf, “Rafa: My Story,” written by defending U.S. Open champ Rafael Nadal and veteran writer John Carlin.

The book is ostensibly an earnest attempt by the Spanish tennis star to come out of his guarded shell. No doubt fans of “Rafa” (as Nadal is affectionately known) will find the book entertaining.

It’s loaded with tidbits about the 25-year old’s unusual compulsions and his insular upbringing. For instance, you may be unaware that Rafa is crazy about olives. As a small child he once ate so many he vomited and was sick for days.

The overall structure of the book, though, is a bit unusual. Each chapter alternates between Nadal’s first-person narrative and that of Carlin’s reporting.

The glue that holds the story together is a running blow-by-blow of Rafa’s triumph over Roger Federer at the 2008 Wimbledon Championships and other memorable performances by the Mallorcan.

What strikes me as odd, however, is why a person as shy and private as Nadal — as he is characterized in the book — would ever agree to write an autobiography?

“I am lucky,” Nadal told reporters at a press conference. “Twenty-five-years old, and I enjoyed a lot of experiences in my life. You never know if you can have another book in the future, but I felt it's a good time to have that one. ... [It's] a little bit of the history how I am where I am today. Just open a little bit more of my life to the fans, to the people who support me, the people who are interested about me.”

True, such a thing is not unheard of. Serena Williams wrote her autobiography only a couple years ago, but it’s hard to compare the unlikely rags-to-riches story of the Williams sisters to the mostly princely upbringing of Nadal, or for that matter, announcing you have AIDS during the early days of the epidemic, as Ashe did.

The biggest personal crisis in “Rafa” comes toward the end of the book in a chapter entitled “Paradise Lost.” In it, Nadal describes the blow he was dealt when in 2009, at the age of 21, he was told his parents were separating.

Rafa’s story ends with the former world No. 1 holding up the champion’s trophy at last year’s U.S. Open, which may explain a little more about the book.

While it certainly includes sections of great writing and insight into the mind of a great champion, overall the book seems rushed to have been released in time for the Open. This may not bother most readers, but what I can’t help but wonder is, why wasn’t it simply written as a biography by Mr. Carlin, especially given his flawless poetic translation of Nadal into English?

This is, after all, the same Rafa who frequently struggles to communicate with fractured words and phrases his feelings in English. Is this how his Spanish translates? If so, he may very well have a promising career after he retires from the tennis court.

I asked Roger Federer if he had a chance to read the book yet: “No. He hasn’t given me one yet. I might read it. I don’t know,” he said.