Rafael Nadal survives dangerous limits: chaos of passion and selfies in Chile
The scene goes like this: Rafael Nadal tries to leave the court where he just played the second of his six Latin American exhibitions. He is protected only by two guards, and there is a crowd mad for contact with the winner of 22 Grand Slams. A young man enters the court to get his selfie, and pushes one of the many photojournalists doing their job, another man runs over whoever is in front of him looking for Nadal to autograph his tennis ball. More guards arrive to reinforce the stray security. There is banging, shoving, shouting. Black Eyed Peas’ “Pump it” is playing.
Anything goes, say the fans in Santiago de Chile.
Nadal, annoyed, signs a giant yellow ball as best he can. The crowd shows no respect.
It’s Nadalmania unleashed, which in Chile has crossed dangerous limits.
Underneath the Meccano-style bleachers, a veritable Lego on the cement court set up for tennis, fans scurried to get a better view of their idol, as more guards struggled to get them out of the way.
On court, Nadal beat Chilean Alejandro Tabilo, also a self-confessed fan of the Spaniard, 7-6 (8-6), 6-3: “He’s been my idol since I was a kid. I always wanted to be just like him, I grew up watching him play, I dressed the same, I won tournaments and bit the trophy the same. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to play with him, to follow in his footsteps,” he told CLAY in an interview during the US Open.
“Thanks to all of you who have filled this court with an amazing atmosphere, with an atmosphere that I haven’t experienced like this for a long time,” Nadal told the crowd, already with the trophy in the shape of a Moai – the giant statues of the island of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island – that recognised the winner of the friendly match.
Despite always chasing a victory, he played without pressure and he joked with the fans and with a linesman: “Are you Chilean? No wonder,” he asked with a smile at the man who omitted the call of a notoriously bad ball near the baseline. There would be several more, but Nadal didn’t complain in annoyance, he just laughed at what he found unusual, to the point of commenting on it with people in the stands.
A different kind of press conference
On a delayed flight from Argentina, Nadal arrived to give a press conference in which he spoke on various topics, and which had peculiarities: a hotel guest infiltrated and asked questions three times, Jorge Yarur, owner of the fashion museum, interrupted a journalist demanding more questions for him and the wheelchair tennis players, and there was a shower of selfies of several communicators with Nadal at the end.
“Could they ask questions to the rest? I know that Rafael is super important, I admire him, and everyone talks about Rafael, I know his trajectory, but finally ask the rest out of courtesy. They are also repetitive questions also to Rafael, and I think he feels uncomfortable. Be more inclusive! I also have a history with tennis, Gustavo (Fernández, wheelchair tennis champion), has been number one in the world, has won Grand Slams… Ask Rafa if he has ever played in a wheelchair!”, Yarur said, in one of the awkwards moments of the conference. “I went to Disney and I had a bad back, and I had to ride in a wheelchair… and it’s an experience,” he added.
The Spaniard gave his opinion on the human rights issues that the World Cup in Qatar has brought to the discussion: “It is clear that we live in a global world where people have more rights, and I understand that sport is a place of great media exposure to show these kinds of things and in that sense I understand that everyone has to have the freedom to express things and the feelings they have, without harming others”.
The reigning Australian Open and Roland Garros champion added: “The decisions taken or not taken by FIFA may seem better or worse to me, but in the end they are the rules or attitudes that they want to take. People deserve their space to be able to express themselves and show their disagreement and that is what is happening. Sport is a place to express yourself because it has global exposure, but beyond that for me it’s important that you end up playing football or tennis, and that everything else is a platform to improve the world, but the main thing is sport”.
Tennis clinic? Impossible
After Thursday’s conference, Nadal was scheduled to tour eight courts at the same club where he would play the exhibition on Friday to participate in seven-minute tennis clinics with each sponsor brand, which had selected group of children each.
But Nadal was unable to provide a single shot, because when he appeared around the complex, crowds of people descended on him. Instead, there was only room for photos, and no tennis. Carlos Costa, Nadal’s representative, and Exequiel Carvajal (a well-known tennis personality in Chile) tried to calm the crowd, without success.
Nadal was able to sign a few autographs and posed for more cameras, but the intended dynamic did not work because of the collective fever and that selfish desire to achieve something by going above the rest.
“I hope it won’t take another nine years to return to Chile,” were Nadal´s words after the night match.
To re-experience the most unleashed passion around his figure. Exhibitions are a very different terrain from the circuit.
Nadalmania without limits.
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