Rafa and the Tennis Muses

Stella Artois Championships

Seen at the media/players’ restaurant and Indian Wells: Rafael Nadal. Besides remembering how huge the guy is I noticed he was carrying his racket in this hand while ordering his rice and fish. No racket bag, nothing else, just his racket. Do you think he goes to bed with it too?

I’ve been reading Soccer in Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano, a lyrical history of soccer as it relates to the historical and cultural events of the past 100 years or so – particularly in South American where Galeano has lived most of his life.

The soccer ball as living being is a recurring theme in the book. Players talk to the ball and massage it and entreat it to stay on their foot and fly true. The idea is that the soccer player is just the caretaker of the ball – a helper, if you will – helping it to fulfill its destiny: fill up a soccer net.

I wonder if Rafa has a similar relationship with the ball and, by extension, his racket. He’s the only player I know who always walks onto the court with his racket in hand as if it’s something that needs warming up for the event as much as his body does. He did grow up in a soccer family after all.

When Rafa is taking forever between each and every point, maybe he’s praying at the altar of racket and ball. Maybe he’s asking the racket to guide the ball and the ball to cooperate in return as if the two are at least as important as he is.

The racket and ball are muses in the ancient sense when art arrived courtesy of the muses. Artists weren’t drinking themselves to death or indulging in some other kind of sadistic behavior because they failed to produce the masterpiece of their desires. If an ancient poet didn’t come up with a transcendent poem, that’s because the muses failed to pass one along.

I always remember Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards dismissing writer’s block as a problem arising from the bad thought that you created a song rather than the song finding its way to you. A tennis player, then, is there to bring the ball to life and the better they learn that, the more cooperative the ball will be.