Reinventing Rafael Nadal: A Cost-Benefit Analysis

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 1/09/2009 07:34:00 AM
Needing a respite from subprime globalization--it's important, but focusing on it too much will send me to the funny farm (if I'm not there already)--I came upon this TIME article on the forthcoming reinvention of the world's top-ranked tennis player, Rafael Nadal. You might be asking, "why fix what ain't broken"? Well, the article gives us a number of clues. First, Nadal's unorthodox game may be unduly harsh on his body, making it a real possibility that his career may be curtailed if he keeps playing in his unorthodox, all-out manner:
But there is a caveat. Can someone with such a high-intensity game last long enough to break all the records? Tennis players' longevity varies depending on their style of play. As points and matches lengthen, careers often shorten. Nadal and his coterie of physical trainers know that the flip side of his heavy topspin is that it forces him to engage in bruising rallies. His muscle-bound physique — which Nadal says is down to genes rather than weight-lifting — adds an extra burden: the explosive forces those muscles generate put his body under increased strain.
For him, there may be a tradeoff between winning championships now with a take-no-prisoners style and having a shortened career. In a profound irony, Nadal and his trainer aspire to be more like the less bodily-abusive Rog (Roger Federer). There is insight here:
Is his coach encouraging Nadal to mimic Federer? "No, Federer is too good," says [Nadal's coach and uncle] Toni. "Rafael must play like himself but better, [less spin], quicker points." But how can Federer be too good when Rafael is ranked No. 1? "There is a difference between who is better and who knows more," says Toni. "Better now is Rafael, he is No. 1 in the ranking. But who has the best game? Federer."
And, of course, there is the omnipresent commercial specter overhanging virtually all popular international sports. Come to think of it, me being more of a Federer fan may be down to buying into the Federer Mystique™ of him sponsoring Rolex and whatnot. Like many others, I suppose many would like to consider themselves as cool and cosmopolitan Rog clones: you can easily picture him sipping Veuve Clicquot on board a 146-foot Feadship yacht in contrast to the more brash Nadal. Before I digress any further and make this place a lifestyle blog:
Nadal's manager, Carlos Costa of the management company IMG, says the young champ is ready to grow up. The role model, again, is Federer, who has positioned himself as an elder statesman of the tour and whose exquisite touch on the court and advertiser-friendly image as a trilingual Swiss gentleman brought in an estimated $35 million in prize money and endorsements in 2008. (Nadal's camp won't discuss finances, but tennis writers estimate Nadal's earnings fall considerably short of that.) "When you see Nadal and Federer it's a different type of person," says Costa. [Federer] is more adult, [Nadal] seems more like a kid." If Nadal's earnings are to grow, that will have to change. Nadal's sponsors target "young people," says Costa. "But he needs to be the kind of guy that brands can think of as an ambassador. Someday he's going to be a man, more than a kid."
Come to think of it, Nadal does conduct himself well on court. Federer does utter an expletive every now and then, belying his suave reputation. In any event, Nadal has been reluctant with this rebranding effort:
As part of the campaign to rebrand Nadal, Nike announced last summer that the player would wear a new line of attire at the U.S. Open. Nadal normally wears knee-length shorts and a sleeveless shirt — a trademark pirate costume loved by fans, which looks ridiculous on anything other than Nadal's muscled body. Nike said the new line would be "more mature" and appeal to an older tennis-playing public. But only days before the tournament began, the clothes were withdrawn because Nadal said he felt uncomfortable.
It's all about the dreaded wonga (weird British slang for money), innit? Marx's economic determinism--you can't escape from it for too long.