I am team Federer for GOAT: on this Swiss hill, I will die.
We are in Mallorca and, as everyone knows, Rafael Nadal is from Mallorca. What everyone may not know is that Mallorca is ALSO home of the Rafa Nadal Sports Center, Tennis Academy, International School, Wellness Spa, Restaurant, Museum Experience and HOTEL. You may guess where I’m going with this.
Some context: Last week Guy made friends with a German cyclist named George Papenfuss.
“His name is Poppenfresh?” I asked Guy. “Does he know that’s funny?”
“Yes,” said Guy, “and no.”
George was staying at what he described as a German “Bike Camp” south of Pollenca. He said Guy and I should come visit him because he and Guy could go for an excruciating, yet ultimately satisfying bike ride, then we could all go eat at his favorite restaurant.
Imagining campfires and tents, I googled George’s’s “camp”. It had 3 restaurants, 5 swimming pools and…a nightclub. After I got done mocking, we noticed the camp was near Nadal’s sports center.
“We’ve got to,” I told Guy.
“Wait ‘til you post about it on Facebook,” he agreed. “The tennis ladies will be green.”
“What about Roger?” I fretted, feeling disloyal. “Will he understand?”
More Googling ensued. The only room available at the Rafa Nadal Residence Hotel during the next few months was the “Rafa Nadal Suite” for one night only, on the following Wednesday.
Yes, George was heading back to Germany on Tuesday, but Pshaw. I made a reservation for the Rafa Nadal Suite–king bed, private patio, buffet breakfast and all.
It’s now Friday. While we didn’t make it to the Nadal Museum Experience (rain and children), and I skipped the spa (I’m cheap), and the gym (intimidating), we did enjoy our big night at Rafa’s place. Here’s a synopsis:
The complex is massive. After some cursing and muttering and Uturning, we found a security guard who agreed to let us into the cavernous underground parking garage. Does Rafa own a Ferrari? We saw a couple. Once inside, the front desk clerk greeted us by name. He gave us the key card for the suite, room 100, up a short flight of stairs.
“You can take the elevator,” he said, eyeing my lack of fitness, “or,” looking at Guy, “the stairs.”
We took the stairs. At the top sat a shiny forbidden piano and a slumping pre-teen. He was not playing the piano but maybe it would have made him feel better. He was still sitting there 2 hours later.
The suite was bright and spacious and reeked of ubiquitous Covid-era disinfectant. Glass doors opened onto a small patio overlooking a triangled expanse of astroturf emblazoned with Rafa’s logo. Beyond and below the astroturf unfurled acres of tennis courts dotted with faint blobs of players. I’d hoped to watch tennis from my bed–the ultimate suite experience. Alas. I would have to leave the room.
We went downstairs to check out the grounds and learned that the “Ten Pro Global Junior Tour” tournament was underway, which explained the kid on the couch and the other hundreds of assorted preteens in every direction.
A bell rang in the International School building and a wave of kids wearing blue Nadal Academy sweatshirts poured out and around us. The weather was cold and windy and threatening rain. Parents with strollers and scooters and dogs on leashes, talking loudly in at least 5 different languages, streamed past the courts, where knobby-kneed kids with goose-pimpled elbows determinedly plodded through their matches, making their own line calls and keeping their own scores.
We watched a Lilliputian British kid playing against a blond (German? Dutch?) boy, who at least had had the sense to wear a long-sleeved shirt. The British kid loved to come up to the net to hit spicy put-away volleys. Eventually, the blond kid figured him out and started lobbing. It worked. Blond kid won.
“When your opponent is four feet tall and standing at the net,” I told Guy wisely, “it’s a good idea to lob him.”
A blond woman with straight white teeth turned to look at us. She was the mother of that smart blond kid. I bet she was the one who made him put on the long-sleeved shirt. She may also have been the one to suggest that he use the lob.
“Are you parents?” she asked.
‘Yes,” I said, because technically, we are.
” You’re his parents?” she nodded toward the dark-haired British boy on the court.
“No!” I over-corrected. “We’re just watching.”
She seemed confused. I guess 9-year-old junior tennis matches don’t attract many spectators who aren’t blood relatives.
“We’re here on vacation,” Guy explained. “And fans of Rafa’s. We’re just checking things out.”
I bit my tongue and sent a mental apology to Roger–technically, I wouldn’t say “fan”… but I am respectful of outrageous talent.
“You must be very proud of your son,” I said.
“I’m just glad he’s having fun,” she demurred, as if her son hadn’t just adeptly won a match with the emotional maturity and technical skill of an adult.
We had fun, too. We watched adolescent tennis until it got dark, then we went to the restaurant and ate curry and drank Mallorcan wine and watched kids playing back-to-back 3-set singles matches with unwavering enthusiasm.
The next day it rained–pouring drenches of rain. Every corner of the building was crammed with junior tennis players carrying bulging tennis bags, impatiently waiting for the weather to turn. The ambient noise level got to the pitch of a women’s USTA tournament and we bolted. We’ll hit the Rafa Museum Experience another day.
I’m glad we got to visit Rafa’s place. He’s clearly helping a lot of kids love tennis. I hope he wins at Indian Wells this weekend and I hope Roger gets to beat him in another Grand Slam final someday soon. I’ll be cheering for them both.