‘An important part of my life is leaving too,’ says emotional Rafael Nadal. His father died when he was just one month old, and his career has gone from strength to strength during his long, sad exile. At 45, after turning pro in 2003, Nadal has won 16 major titles, the greatest achievement in tennis since the career of Roger Federer. But now he has to come to terms with his father’s death.
When Rafael Nadal found out his father had suffered a fatal heart attack while vacationing in Majorca, he was in a particularly low place. He has, of course, lost five grand slams to Federer and two in Madrid. But as a father he had always been there to help his son in difficult moments. Now his father’s death had hit home that much harder. And there was a question he needed to ask.
‘Why did I wait so long to try to get help for my father?’ he said to me in a recent phone conversation. ‘I would have probably gone more quickly, in a lot of other families I guess.’
Even worse for Nadal, his father’s heart attack had coincided with his own emotional and mental breakdown. For reasons that may now be hard to understand he had stayed away from the family at the family home, which was only 15 minutes from his hotel and his mother would not hear of him missing a day of work so he could see his father. In the years before his father’s death he was in and out of his mother’s house, seeing her once a month, which made the long separation even harder to bear. His mother had wanted him to be able to visit her in Majorca. But, ‘I have a father and I have my own family,’ he said. ‘And, I think it is easier to lose a father than a mother.’
The whole family felt this burden. Not only was Rafael too young to be a father, but he had had the hardest time of it. ‘It’s a very sad story,’ he said. ‘I think my mother is the most emotional and the most emotional person you will meet in your life. She loved everybody. I think most of my time at home was spent with her.’
He has talked about his father many times in interviews over the years. He said that his mother ‘would ask, “What is wrong, Rafael?” He would answer, “Nothing, I’m fine”. At least once a day I