A moment of quiet with Rafael Nadal's Uncle Toni in the late evening hours after the 2013 U.S. Open.
Editor's Note: One of my goals for the next few
months is to try and produce one humorous short scene per week. I will
be submitting all of these to the "Shouts and Murmurs" blog on The New Yorker Website and all the entries that don't make it (whether funny or not) will land here from time to time.
(Toni “Uncle Toni” Nadal stands in the corridor of an upscale New
York hotel, idling in front of an open door. He is dressed in khakis and
a button down shirt with a tie. One of his trademark Iberostar hats,
this one in grey, is tucked into the back pocket of his pants.)
Toni: Alright, now, Rafa. Lights are out at midnight. I’m giving you an
extra hour to celebrate, but I’m going to be checking up on you. That means you too, Maria. No keeping him up. It’s bad enough the tabloids
are getting pictures of you now. For awhile there we almost tricked the
world into believing that Rafa was a tennis playing cyborg that had no
interest in women. So, like I said, lights out at midnight.
Toni gently closes Rafa’s hotel room door. He walks down the hall and
pulls his hat out of his back pocket and slides it back on his head. He
pulls a cigar out of the front pocket on his shirt. He takes the
elevator to the roof of the hotel and steps out onto the roof deck. A
few men and women in their mid-thirties sit on lounge chairs with six
packs of Stella Artois, draped in black plastic bodega bags, at their
feet. Uncle Toni steps to the roof’s retaining wall and lights his
Uncle Toni: Ah, Nueva York. It is true that
this tournament is different than the rest. Of course, I like Roland
Garros very much. Rod Laver is a wonderful stadium too, but Australia
is too hot. And Wimbledon is beautiful, but it’s too British for my
liking. I never cared for champagne or cream. Just plain strawberries
for me. There is an elegance to this tournament. Perhaps it is the
lights. Yes, they shine so sharply upon the Mercedes logos on the nets.
The richest people in this rich city come out to cheer for their
favorite player and to dangle their watches and jewelry. Under the
lights, the tennis becomes more exciting, more epic; it fits what these
people want from their lives—only the best and the most beautiful. And
they want to see the effort that goes into giving them both of those
virtues. Yes, it’s all blue court, black sky and platinum lights.
cigar is going to my head. It’s a good, though. It’s rolled tightly and
the smoke pulls easily. It feels like I am not even smoking at all.
Rafa earned that victory tonight. Djokovic is a worthy opponent. I like
him alright; he thinks he’s a comedian, though. I saw how he tried to
win over the crowd at the trophy ceremony by making that self-deprecating joke. And what was going on between him and his team? I
think that they were trying to steal my move of talking during the
match. I invented that move! If you’re going to use my technique, at least be like me and admit that you are doing it. He’s alright,
Djokovic. A bit of a payaso. But I do admire the resiliency of his hair.
have to get better to beat Djokovic at the Australian. Oh, the grind of
these seasons. Life is always passing isn’t it? You prepare for the
tournament, ride through the emotion, the tension and the pleasure and
then all of a sudden it’s over and you’re just left with a cool night
and a cigar, and preparations for the next one. When do we enjoy things?
Oh, this cigar is very good. I’ll have to buy quite a few more.
have to think of some new kinks to throw into the training regimen.
Rafa’s defense was good, as was his attack on the net. We can work off
that. However, he must learn to trust his two-handed backhand. I must
teach him to fear failing with it, so that he has no choice but to trust
it. What kind of drill can I think of? Tying his hands in the backhand
form and making him shoot that way from all angles of the court?
Perhaps. But maybe that is too impractical. I can always watch a Rocky. Those movies work for me.
hard to fool Rafa and to fill him with fear like I used to. He’s
successful now, there’s no doubt about it. He’s close to being one of
the best ever. Maybe I can take him back to those terrible courts—mierda—and
show him how far he’s come, but that he’s not that different from what
he once was then: just a little boy who needed to learn that surface
doesn’t matter, but only your endurance.
Ah, and the cigar
is burnt down to the band! Another thing finished and gone before you
know it. I’ll be sad to leave this city tomorrow. They say that New York
is the best in September, but we have to continue on. We will go back
to Spain and take a break for a week and then get back to training for
the Australian. Rafa and Maria can’t get carried away with the sunbathing on the boat.
That reminds me. What time is it? I’ve got to make sure that Rafa and Maria went to bed.