Peter Bodo's TennisWorld - Uncle Toni
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Uncle Toni 10/21/2008 - 2:30 PM

by Pete Bodo

You hang around this game long enough and you come across an impressive array of coaching types. You have the controversial Svengalis, among whom the outstanding model is Ion Tiriac. Early in his young career, Guillermo Vilas essentially said: "Here I am, make of me what you will." And Tiriac, with a great feeling for Vilas's character and appetite for work, transformed the young Argentine into a clay-court master who would be eclipsed, historically, only by Bjorn Borg and Rafael Nadal.

Hugs Then you have the tennis nuts, among whom Nick Bollettieri stands out. Operating on the powerful platform of his tennis academy, Bollettieri left his imprint on the contemporary game by articulating what I ultimately came to call the New World Game, based on aggressive baseline play with an emphasis on the forehand and taking the ball on the rise; Bollettieri down-sized the game, more or less eliminating the approach shot in favor of the sizzling placement hit from inside the baseline, usually with the forehand. His proteges are well known, starting with Jimmy Arias and on through Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Monica Seles and others. And, more than any other coach of a top player, Bollettieri has been a general tennis evangelist, spreading the gospel of tennis near and far with his eponymous academy serving as a kind of Vatican for his converts.

You have sports nuts: Brad Gilbert is a sports nut who happened to gravitate to tennis, both as a player and a coach. One of the greatest assets of this type of coach is the ability to put tennis into a general context, enabling players to ramp up their ability as competitors. Gilbert knows his X's and O's as well as anyone - yet one of his most telling coaching ploys was convincing Andy Roddick to dump that dorky visor he used to wear in favor of the more muscular, duck-bill cap. It helped Roddick earn the world no. 1 ranking.

You also have the purists: Think Paul Annacone. Although Annacone had a healthy passion for all sports, he was a true connisseur of tennis in all of its strategic, technical, and psychological dimensions. He was the perfect fit for Pete Sampras, a great believer in the less-is-more approach to most things, including his tennis. Annacone's thoughtful but never overly cerebral or byzantine analyses resonated with Sampras in what might be the most productive, successful, and, well, dignified coach-protege relationship of our time.

And then there are the mentors, the coaches who shape and mold players the way that a favorite college professor, minister, or immediate superior at your first full time job influenced you. These men and women aren't Svengalis, painting their own portraits on the canvas of a player's soul in a process that's often a tame and sunny version of that literary staple, the deal with the devil. The mentors are first and foremost tennis coaches, yet they're wise, discreet, principled and, ultimate, caring. They're just as interested in shaping young minds as exuberantly and sometimes wildly youthful games. They try to develop character, and not always for selfless reasons, because they are masters of understanding the relationship character can have to a player's results and motivations.

Bob Brett, who at various times coached Andres Gomez, Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic, Mario Ancic (he's currently working with Marin Cilic), is one of the great mentors - and still one of my favorite people in tennis. An old-school disciple of Harry Hopman, Brett left Australia because he was spurned and shut out of the official cabal comprised of former Grand Slam champions and lifelong bureaucrats, Brett believed in tennis, character is destiny. He felt that if he could shape and improve the character of his players, it would produce results on the tennis court.

Bob once told me a long story about a discussion he had with Goran Ivanisevic about. . . towels. The details are insignificant, but they had to do with the way Goran disposed of the official tournament towels he used, and Brett's intent was to get Ivanisevic to think about actions and consequences, profligacy and trusteeship. It  was about towels, sure, but it was also about holding serve and about realizing that you have only so many chances to throw away - or capitalize upon - in your career. For a young player who sees nothing but future, and therefore knows nothing about regret, who never has to pay a dime for anything, and to whom everything is replaceable (by someone else, of course) at the snap of a finger, understanding about towels is a kind of doorway to understanding about digging a little deeper when you're about to lose a first-rounder in Vienna, or to getting over your disgruntlement because the drinks in the court-side cooler aren't cold enough for your taste.

Toni Nadal is a mentor, perhaps to an even greater degree than Brett. When El Jon Wertheim and I sat down with him at the US Open to plumb his coaching philosophy and background, neither of us knew exactly what to expect. Even to us as journalists, Toni has been a somewhat enigmatic figure - was he support team, family member, minder, tactician, strategist, emotional anchor?  Although he's been a bona fide tennis coach for decades (he once coached the no. 2 junior in Spain), it's almost impossible to get Toni to focus on the X's and O's - so much so that neither El Jon nor I even thought to ask him about strategic or technical issues, except in terms of Nadal's development (Did anybody ever try to change his radical style, we asked?).

When we opened the conversation with a broad question about his strengths and assets as a coach, it opened the floodgates on philosophy of life, rather than philosophy of tennis. And the two most striking words in Toni's first answer were "normal" and "discipline."

You'll have to wait until the January-February issue of Tennis to read the interview and some of Toni's most revealing and interesting replies to our questions. But I feel safe saying that  you'll be nothing less than astonished at the degree to which Rafael's (Toni never calls his nephew and protege "Rafa") development was more like basic training in life than an advanced education in tennis, with an emphasis on all the bells and whistles currently attached to our views of fitness, technique, nutrition and even equipment. Hail, Toni actually chose to practice on lousy courts with bad balls, just to teach young Rafael that winning or losing isn't about good balls or courts or strings or lights. It's about attitude, discipline, and perhaps most importantly, perspective.

The latter is such a signficant component precisely because perspective may be the hardest of all things to maintain once you hit a certain level in tennis - and players of far lesser talent than Nadal routinely hit that level at the age of 16, 17 - a time in young lives when the concept of perspective is about as familiar as quantum physics. If Toni Nadal has an outstanding virtue, it may be his fidelity to what you might call a grounded, normal life. He has fiercely resisted what might be called the decadence (with a small "d") that lays low so many players - and their coaches, who become accustomed to the cushy life of the tour. In this regard, it really helps Toni that he doesn't collect a paycheck from his nephew - and he knows it.

When you hear Toni speak about tennis and how he developed Nadal, you can't help but wonder how anyone could have so adamantly resisted transformation and the lure of over-complication. That resistance is beautifully reflected in Rafael's rough-hewn game, but also in his more subtle, long-standing refusal to take his place in what, at the heyday of Federer's dominance, seemed a pre-ordained hierarchy with which everyone grew comfortable.

I'm convinced that Toni's general resistance to entering the tennis mainstream and embracing the values of its somewhat warped culture was transmitted to his nephew, and helps account for the doggedness with which he pursued The Mighty Fed - acknowledging his rival's superiority at every turn but also never forgetting that his own mission was to work hard and give his best, let the chips fall where they may. He pursued Federer with remarkable determination, yet it was never about catching Federer per se.

In a sneaky way, Rafael Nadal is an outsider, and Toni is partly responsible for his nephew's ability to resist becoming just another guy content to go to work to take his cut, or getting all tangled up in conflicting feelings of respect, envy and resentment toward his great nemesis. And Toni seemingly achieved that without ever once resorting to platitudes about winning being "everything", or the value of being the no. 1 player in the world.

Toni simply doesn't talk in those terms. He talks about discipline, self-sufficiency (Toni refuses to take his nephew's rackets for stringing, on the grounds that Rafael's the one who has to play with the danged things. Besides, Rafael has all the time in the world when he's at a tournament, so why shouldn't he be the one dealing with that kind of thing?), and hard work and respect for everyone, regardless of his or her station in life. That may sound hokey, or carefully orchestrated to project a certain image for Toni or Rafael. All I can say is that we spent well over hour talking with Toni, and I've yet to meet someone whose true colors aren't revealed, in or between the lines, over a period of that length.

Toni Physically, Toni isn't nearly as imposing as he sometimes appears on television. He's thickly built and swarthy, but at times the light in his eyes is almost child-like. He's a realist, but given to speaking in parables, and his basic tone is philosophical. Talking to him, you can see where Rafael  got his talent for disarming loaded questions about his rivalry with Federer by pointing out the obvious: by number of major titles and ranking points, Roger Federer is by definition the best player in the world. Anything else is mere speculation or wishful thinking.

Toni studied history at the university level, but he's no intellectual. He laughs easily,  Here are some of the questions that I had to leave out of the published interview, due to space limitiations. So consider this just a brief glimpse into Toni Nadal, how he thinks, and the values he brings to the table for Rafael:

Q: Does Rafa ever complain about the perils and pressures of his position?

A: No, because he never complain about being no. 2. He already happy being there. I try always to explain to him, things that happen in life, everything has a positive and a negative. When you shoot a gun, it give you a kick in the shoulder, right? Same thing. There’s more pressure when you’re at the top, so that’s the kick back from being no. 1. A lot of people have it worse than him, they have to work much harder than him, for less, and they do it.

Q: What role does religion play in your life?

Zero. I don’t believe. I studied history in university. Religion comes from ignorance in people. Tribal societies, when they see a flash of lightning or something unusual, they say it come from the Magician. But when society move forward, and technology discover more, religion goes in the back. For me, is very important to be moral – to be good person. But not religion.

Q: What would Rafa be doing if he couldn’t play tennis any more?

A: I would like him to be involved in Spanish Olympic movement and committee, and to do things for other people. Doing things to improve the society. Whatever he wants. 

Q: Are you concerned, as a  human being, that Rafael is just being driven and pushed like a racehorse, and suffering in other aspects of his life, or education?

A: I was in university, but to me it’s not very important. For me, the important thing in life is to have an interest in things. I come here to learn something about American people. I like to see the television, what people are watching. To me, the thing is to be interested, maybe read newspapers. At the moment, young people not too interested in things. Is a pity. But when you spend so much time to be a good tennis player, journalist, business manager, you cannot do much else.

You always give up some things to have other things. When I go with girlfriend, I cannot be here. When Rafael is here, he loses chance to be at the beach with his friends. But when he’s at beach, he loses chance to be here. You cannot have everything. In this life, you have this -  or that. So for Rafael, he has a good life at the moment, like me, no? I am very happy to be sitting at my house at home in front of the beach and my garden, but if I am there all the time I am bored. When I speak with one of my kids (Toni has three) I think it better to be there, with them. But then I cannot be here, at US Open. it is always a choice: this – or that.

Q: You don’t wear a wedding ring?

A: I have three kids but no ring. I am not married because of my philosophy. When I have a friend, I don’t have to tell other people, “This is my friend!” I have not just one friend, and my girlfriend is my friend.

Q: Are a man like you and a youngster like Rafael comfortable, culturally, at a place like Wimbledon?

A: Well, I have a different concept of life. I believe that all these formalities are just because of where it is, and I understand it. But I like a more normal life, and I think Rafael is a more normal person.

For example, (Carlos) Moya is a very kind person, a good person, but he was here and when he need a car I see that he told his coach, “Phone for the driver.”  When you get used to doing nothing for yourself, it’s too easy. With Rafael, I say in that situation, do it yourself. It’s better. This was my work with him.

For me, at the moment it seem that young people have not too much interest in things, because everything is too easy for them. When I have a mobile phone, is easy, all the things. You want meeting with friend, boom-boom, it's done. When I was young, studying in Barcelona, when I came home I didn't know where my friends were. I had to go look for them. Today, it's easier, but people have no great interest in learning and knowing things. This is normal, but maybe not so good.

In this life, the most important things can’t control, like your health. Maybe your girlfriend, if she don’t want to go with you no more, then you have a problem. You must be prepared for this. When things go good, I want this, I have, I want that, I have - but then you are not prepared for when things go bad. I always try to prepare Rafael for everything.

Q: Many guys out there have five cars, three houses, even a share in  a jet. What does Rafa own?

A: At the moment, Rafael have nothing. He has not house, because his parents have money and some good houses. He has some cars - one from a sponsor (KIA), one Mercedes he win in Stuttgart. But personally for me is no is no good that young man have a good car. I don’t like to see a young people have things like that.

What do you do together, hobby-wise?

A: Rafael like fishing very much. Together, we like soccer and golf. We play golf together with another brother of mine (Miguel Angel Nadal, the former pro soccer star).

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Posted by Aussie Angel (All Aboard the Crazy Elf Train) 10/23/2008 at 09:05 AM

Rosangel maybe you could use Caroline Crezena - Carlitos's girlfriend as one of the actesses.

Posted by Aussie Angel (All Aboard the Crazy Elf Train) 10/23/2008 at 09:10 AM

I have a friend who has the same name as one of the posters here. Nicole Phillips and she definitely didn't go to Winmbledon this year, in fact she hates all sports.

Posted by Rosangel 10/23/2008 at 09:16 AM

Gabriela: don't worry, there will be a whole series of "city girls" before I'm done.

Posted by tina 10/23/2008 at 09:37 AM

wow - still going? I LOVE "Manacor" - I pitched a similar series about Split, but it was the mid-90s and people were understandably resistant to Ex-Yu as entertainment. Manacor would not have such problems - I hope you're serious, Rosia.

Mother Teresa as the most powerful woman ever in the RCC - most folks don't know she was the daughter of an Albanian "revolutionary" in Macedonia, and then went to Ireland to learn English before going to India. My best friend worked with her in Calcutta, and said all the nuns there were the happiest people he'd ever met. Pan Am held a seat for her on every flight leaving India, whether or not she was actually flying somewhere.

Ok, I'm going to try watching Safin.

Posted by Emma (insertwittymantrahere) 10/23/2008 at 09:38 AM

Thanks so much pete!!
My initial reaction to Uncle Toni is, and prolly always will be; how refreshing. I like the fact that he lets rafa do all his own errands, and that he'll never let him get too into himself. His honesty is rare in a PR-driven world of spin and, lets face it, often complete BS. One does salivate at the thoughts of players like maratski and others who would benefit from the coaching of tio toni, if only 'eh..
also, whoever used the word "scummy" to describe having kids and being unmarried, this is the 21st century, and your snarky comment reflects a lot more on you than it does tio toni.

again, thanks pete, i really enjoyed that post.

Posted by Emma (insertwittymantrahere) 10/23/2008 at 09:48 AM

and i forgot to write how disappointed i was reading people's comments about religion. i am a person of faith, and i couldn't give a toss less whether or not toni is religious. i was quite taken aback by the amount of posters who seemed to be offended by his perfectly innocent remarks. faith is a deeply personal issue, and no-one has the right to look down on another for our choices.
i would say judge not lest ye be judged, but im guessing a lot of those offended by his remarks know that old chestnut already, and simply decided that it doesn't apply to them.....

Posted by Gabriela Valentina 10/23/2008 at 09:48 AM

TINA: I knew she was from Albania but not who her parents were...

Posted by Vanessa 10/23/2008 at 09:49 AM

Having read some of the latest posts I cannot help myself but once again address this issue (which should really be a non issue) of his pant tugging.
I want to know if all those posters who find it so disgusting, don't find disgusting the way other players (and men in general) constantly rearrange thier front assets? isn't that more perturbing? as some of them spend more than a couple of seconds doing some sort of shift or another?
Please can't people see that it's a tick/habit? just like Roddick constantly pulling his shirt over his shoulders or other players pulling their pant legs over their thighs?
Sorry if I get intense about this, but it seems like such a trivial thing to discuss in the midst of such an interesting article and some really insightful postings that followed

Posted by Gabriela Valentina 10/23/2008 at 09:50 AM

GOOD FOR YOU EMMA. short and sweetly to the point!

Posted by Vanessa 10/23/2008 at 09:50 AM

Well said Emma!

Posted by Sher 10/23/2008 at 10:13 AM


"For most bilinguals, mixing languages is a no-no"

...? How do you come to this conclusion? Everyone I know who is bilingual mixes languages like it's nobody's business. Out of a six words sentence maybe two words would be in english, two in another language, and two are kind of a mish-mash of both languages. That's naturally what happens when you are fluent in both languages as is the person you speak to, so you pick and choose based on whatever word comes to mind first, regardless of which language it's in.

Posted by Sher 10/23/2008 at 10:15 AM

I don't give a fig what kind of ticks players have, and probably wouldn't notice it at all if I didn't read about it so much :)

Posted by Vanessa 10/23/2008 at 10:27 AM

You're right Sher it's a non issue but it bugs me that people try to make it one... and yes I know it shouldn't

Posted by Vanessa 10/23/2008 at 10:30 AM

Well on the mixing of languages, I have to side with Anon. I try very hard never to mix languages! I know it sounds absurd but I feel like I'm betraying the other language/culture if I use a foreign term

Posted by Gabriela Valentina 10/23/2008 at 10:30 AM

anon: speaking as a trilingual person married to a quadrilingual,I would say that SHER's idea of the situation is the truer one. of course we scold our children for doing it but it is extremely difficult not to do it if you know the other person understands the 2nd or 3rd language that you are going to mix in with the mainstream one.... It's only unforgiveable to mix languages if the person you are speaking to doesn't have the benefit of the "other" language.

Posted by Gabriela Valentina 10/23/2008 at 10:33 AM

vanessa: you used the key word "try" may try but it is difficult to use only one language in an informal conversation with someone who has the same degree of competence in the same two languages as you. I understand exactly what you mean by "betrayal" and why we "try"....

Posted by Vanessa 10/23/2008 at 10:35 AM

Yes Gabriela that's why I understand Anon's point that is a no-no. Not that it doesn't happen because it does as we are all human but that it is something that some of us would feel ashamed of (therefore consider it a no-no)

Posted by Gabriela Valentina 10/23/2008 at 10:43 AM

well,I do know that in the U.S. there is this thing(an abomination) called Spanglish. What I find is that it is usually spoken by people who don't speak EITHER language wll. That is what I find objectionable. To be illiterate in two languages is more of a no-no than to be monolingual.what do you think,vanessa?

Posted by Vanessa 10/23/2008 at 10:49 AM

I agree with you Gabriela and I was being very careful not to generalize on this because I don't pretend to know how other people feel about the matter. I speak English, Spanish and French fluently and know some Portuguese and Italian and I am very hard on myself if I mix them up. On the contrary I am quite tolerant with anyone mixing any languages because like you I believe any knowledge of a different language however small is a definitely a plus.

Posted by Sher 10/23/2008 at 10:55 AM

Ah, if the anon meant it's a no-no in terms of the bilingual person always _trying_ to find the right word, that's completely true of course! It's just that we don't always succeed when sometimes it's easier to just say something fast than search for the synonym in the other language. However I too like to use 'pure' language whenever I can so I don't forget how it's supposed to be used.

Posted by Emma (insertwittymantrahere) 10/23/2008 at 10:56 AM

ok, even though we are again well off topic, as a bilingual person im gonna chip in, i speak both english and irish, and i do find myself trowing in a few english words when im speaking "ás gaeilge" (in irish), and a "cúpla focail" (few words in irish) when im speaking in english. its not just me that does this, it seems to be done by quite a few irish people, in fact in hiberno-english, many words come directly from the irish language, also, the word shanty-town in english comes from the irish phrase sean-tí, which means old house.

Posted by Vanessa 10/23/2008 at 11:05 AM

May I say that it's so nice to meet so many multilingual people on this forum. I have always thought that learning another language is like entering into a whole new world. I would love to know more, Chinese for example as I go to Asia often, but then again they speak so many different languages in China... It's just fascinating. And to tie this into tennis I feel only when you hear Rafa speak in his native language you get a different insight into his personality

Posted by Sher 10/23/2008 at 11:08 AM

I think the bleeding together of languages is natural, just look at home any words in english are borrowed from the french language and vice-versa. Or for the best example of this, check out japanese language -- lots and lots of engirsh words :)

Posted by Bob 10/23/2008 at 11:13 AM

From the comments placed by some readers, I can see that uncle Toni's observation on young people, especially in America is very correct. They are dumb, uninterested, uninvolved, lazy and waiting for giveaways - this is what he really says in a much nicer way.
Yes, boys and girls, go back to your TV and keep watching what it feeds you. Applaud the meaningless and selfish society that we live in, ban God and morality out of your life.

Posted by Vanessa 10/23/2008 at 11:25 AM

Bob (?)
I am American, 24, have a marketing degree and own my company which I started from scratch with no help from parents or anyone else. I have a circle of friends who are in a similar position. Maybe you're right and some young people (all over the world) are uninterested or uninvolved for whatever reason but I just felt I point out it's not always all that great or accurate to generalize in terms of nationality, race, gender or age group

Posted by Sher 10/23/2008 at 11:36 AM

Vanessa, I wouldn't indulge a comment like Bob's, as it has no worth

Posted by Gabriela Valentina 10/23/2008 at 11:41 AM

BOB? (hello). While YOU may feel that way about young people in the U.S. I don't think Tony ever said anything specifically directed towards or about youth in the U.S. It would have been rude and inappropriate for him to do so as a visitor to that country and in an interview with 2 citizens of that coutry. His observations were not made"on young people especially in America". He was concerned that the youth he knows the best,that of his own country, and specifically young sports stars making a whopping load of money(like his nephew) have it all much too easily and too quickly etc etc etc.

It was probably unintentional but you put words in his mouth which could lead to a diplomatic incident. (ha,ha,ha LOL)

Posted by Tosin 10/23/2008 at 11:42 AM

I love Rafa Nadal so thanks for this interview. even though Rafa is not Uncle Toni.

Posted by Gabriela Valentina 10/23/2008 at 11:50 AM

Vanessa: I have often thought that about Rafa. If the world at large could understand him in his Spanish pressers and interviews,they would see what WE see. Some of his charm and simplicity and "groundedness" come through when he speaks English or uses translators but a lot ,unfortunately,is LOST IN TRANSLATION. Sometimes it has even led to real misunderstandings when he has been alleged to have said something that he never did.

Actually,I think you misunderstood me a while back. I prefer people to really speak only one language well rather than two or more incorrectly.

Do you ever get to use your Portuguese in Macao? (way off topic I know but just curious(....and I love TW too because of all the interesting people on it as well as for the tennis)

Posted by Vanessa 10/23/2008 at 11:54 AM

Gabriela, I wish (I mean about Macao and portuguese) my knowledge is not extense at least not to speak it fluently. I understand it pretty well both spoken and written but when I go to Asia I use translators specially because it's business and I need to make sure I cross all my t's and dot all my i's if you know what I mean

Posted by Vanessa 10/23/2008 at 11:55 AM

Gabriela, meant to say extensive talk about mixing your own language!

Posted by tina 10/23/2008 at 12:03 PM

Emma -

most people aren't aware that the pejorative term for American Southerners, "cracker", comes from the Irish craic. Which, as far as I'm concerned, makes it quite less pejorative.

This post has been a wild and fascinating ride. Now I'm going back to various political blogs. And to check in on St. Petersburg, I guess.

Thanks everyone!

Posted by Anthony Beckman 10/23/2008 at 12:27 PM

Refrshingly honest perspective from Uncle Tony. However, these negative descriptions of today's youth, American or otherwise, are unfortunate. I easily can reference 10 young people with great work ethics and a well developed sense of personal responsibility. Human's have all had these temptations to avoid, yet I see it is an apt statement to make to a society increasingly invested in liesure accomplishments!

Rafael is so lucky to have had influence and support from his family and this man. Yet, I have to admit some of this influence contributes fodder to the case of tennis being an elitist endeavor; the Nadal family's independent wealth clearly benefitted (enabled?) Rafael's success.

Finally, how esp. refreshing to hear such wholesome and healthy comments regarding the evils of religion from Tony. I'm glad at least some cultures seem gradually to be making their way out of the slime pond into the light...

Posted by sic (Rafa Nadal, 2008 Year End #1) 10/23/2008 at 01:46 PM

Madre mía, Gabriela... ¡¡estás como una moto hoy!! je je

Moderator: just commenting on the fact that Gabriela is like the Energizer bunny today in her comments...!

Posted by rachel 10/23/2008 at 02:01 PM

Some of my worst suspicions seem true about dear Uncle Toni. Very controlling man.

Posted by marie j vamos rafa numero 1 ! 10/23/2008 at 04:14 PM

as sher and some other posters have pointed out, when you speak several languages (me : spanish, french, english, basic italian) at some point if your own family doesn't enforce you to speak on language at the time at an early age, you just end it mixing it up because it's easier on your mind... and it's true that you don't think, except when you look for a particular word that comes in the wrong language ! lol

every time i speak to my father or sister on the phone at work, all my collegues find it extremely funny to see how your conversation flows from one language to another... i'm not that conscious when i do speak what could be called franish, mind you... hehe

it has happened to me several times to end up speaking 3 languages in the course of one day... i really love the challenge, and that's why i particularly enjoy expressing here myself in english, i've learn so many more things than in my college years :)

back to toni, you can be surprised by his choice, because in men of his age, culture and background is not very comon... it's a strong statement of his beliefs and own moral...
so if you judge him negatively for that, then you end up like some moralizer bigots... i'm not pointing any poster in particular for being that but for sounding it a bit like it feeling soory and shocked for the nadals
if something spain has plenty of it's moralizer bigots and that's maybe a good reason to be turn off by religion... all my aunties are, you can trust me, it's almost a second nature, and they are also very good and kind loving persons just like uncle toni seems to be.

Posted by tina 10/23/2008 at 07:09 PM

On the off chance I might be able to claim "last!" I'm returning to clarify for GV that Mother Teresa was an ethnic Albanian from Macedonia (as in FYROM, not Greek Macedonia).

As for languages, I don't speak any Spanish or German - but when I'm in Croatia I find myself using a strange mix of the bit of Croatian I've picked up - the swears are great! - with Italian (the old men) and French (upper-crust ladies of a certain age, such as Gorana Ivanisevic) and English (younger folks, prodigal Aussies, tourists).


Posted by jabeau 10/23/2008 at 07:22 PM

NO Tina, you are not the last. I've spent two mornings reading this fascinating post - when I should've done so much work! This was one of the most interesting reads on TW, so many intelligent, well articulated arguments.

Pete did not answer my question regarding the language this interview was conducted in. Do you multilingual folk resent the fact that often when a non-English speaking person is interviewed grammatical errors are put in his/her response as to indicate that this person is foreign. I think this is demeaning. I doubt U Toni conducted this interview in English and even if he did and made mistakes they should have been corrected and presented as eloquent answers.

Posted by paints 10/23/2008 at 08:00 PM

wow. hard to read some of these comments. tio toni didn't call anyone ignorant, he stated that religion comes from ignorance in people, then gives a fine example. like it or not, religion was born from ancient man not understanding the world around him. there have been more religions throughout our history that have faded in time then we'll ever know. every society creates their own. obviously they weren't the "true" ones, no?

there's not a thought or written word on this planet that wasn't made by man. if you believe that man got that thought or written word from a higher being then great, but "believe" is the key word there. tio toni chooses not to believe.

give the guy a break already.

Posted by annie keegan 10/23/2008 at 08:39 PM

who is the mother of toni's kids? his girlfriend or does he have an ex-wife? fascinating family for sure.

Posted by Katrina 10/23/2008 at 09:36 PM

Hello, Energizer Gabriela Valentina! I did read your comment upthread and "see" that we are quite familiar to each other. High five to you!

On the language issue, I realize that people cannot help resorting to code-switching, especially in conversation, but it would be better if they could write in one language. Call me old-school that way. All my teachers impressed that upon me, and Gabriela, you would be familiar somewhat with my setting as you lived here for several years long time ago. If you visited our shores again, you would find yourself in a completely different country. Same people, different times, even different ways.

In sports, I severely mind the foisting of a monolingual mindset onto an international scene, which is one of the beauties of sport, tennis being one fine example. I'm certainly pleased that the silly WTA (golf) rule of requiring the mostly Korean population of elite players to speak English so as to please the corporate lackeys who fund their campaigns. I've always been averse to people on this forum mocking the English proficiency (or lack thereof) of other posters in the name of wit and a slipped in joke or two, usually at the expense of the ridiculed one.

There is a whole world of beliefs (that word!), culture, philosophies, ideas embedded in language and it is always a joy for me to mine this wealth with joyful abandon. Sometimes this openness has led to so many serendipitous discoveries of not only cultures and histories, but of individual skill and intelligence as well.

The perfect example would be TW at its finest, as has been the case of this blog for the most part.

Cheerio, hey-o...

Posted by Katrina 10/23/2008 at 09:40 PM

My bad, I meant to say I'm glad to see that the Speak ENglish policy has been scrapped after severe backlash.

For the record, I do not find Novak's nor Rafael's statements to the media off-putting, especially when they probably do not mean to offend but try as much as they can to disarm.

I'm quite excited (though nervous) about getting to see them LIVE next month. I hope that plays out well! Plus I get to see Rafelet receive the yearend #1 trophy. What sweet reward!

Posted by Last word Lyons 10/23/2008 at 10:08 PM


"i do find myself trowing in a few english words"

TROWING - see what you did there? It might have been completely unintentional, but given the discussion, it gave me a giggle. You were typing with an Irish accent.

just let me be last.

Posted by Gabriela Valentina 10/24/2008 at 02:41 AM

JABEAU: I had read your first comment upstream and thought it was valid and meant to say so but I've been posting so often that everybody is probably sick at the sight of my moniker!!

Posted by sic (Rafa Nadal, 2008 Year End #1) 10/24/2008 at 03:56 AM

I wanted to comment about bi-linguals earlier as it appears to be of interest.

I work in a Masters programme on Conference Interpretation which focuses on preparing interpreters to work in European Institutions (Parliament, Commission, etc.) and so I am surrounded by students who speak/understand from 3-6 (or more) languages every day. We classify those languages into the languages they work into and the languages they work from. Their A language is their native tongue, which they are absolutely fluent in. Their B language (if they have one) is a language in which they are very proficient and so they can work into it in certain situations (what is called Retour). Their C languages are the languages they can interpret from.

True bi-linguals, that is people with two A languages are actually fairly rare, because to be absolutely fluent, as we understand it, there is a cultural component to communicating in a language that can generally only be achieved if a person spends a lot of time immersed in both cultures as they are growing up. In my case, to give an example, I have English (A), Spanish (B) and Italian (C) (which is not a very impressive language combination as far as interpreters go). Although I've spent the slight majority of my adult life in Spain, nearly all of my formative years were spent in the US. For this reason I'll never be a true Spanish A, although by most standards I am considered to be fluent in Spanish.

One of my co-workers in the Masters is a Doctor in Psychology who specializes in language learning, particularly how bi-linguals learn and understand language. She advised me to introduce my daughter to Spanish and English by adopting a "one parent one language" approach. This means I only ever speak to my daughter in English and my wife only speaks to her in Spanish. She's now 3 and speaks a lot of Spanish and a fair bit of English (since she's immersed in Spanish here in Spain, she gravitates more to Spanish). However when she does speak English she almost never mixes Spanish words with her English - what this means is that in her brain she has organized both languages as separate, although related (both can convey the same meanings). I compare this to the 3 year old son of other colleagues of mine who does mix English and Spanish words (his Mom is Canadian, father Spanish), although they also do one parent one language, it turns out that they met in Germany and speak German to each other at home (and English and Spanish to their son) - so I'm deducing that the third language is throwing a monkey wrench in their son's ability to organize the languages as clearly as my daughter, at least at this stage.

Another observation: it often happens that true bi-linguals, those that are fluent in two languages and often grew up immersed in both cultures, really don't have two A languages, but rather two A- languages. What I mean is that because their formative years are split between the two cultures they never truly reach a level of proficiency common to native speakers in either language, although they are extremely close. Keep in mind, that we are talking about a profession that demands brilliant languages skills; most "native speakers" in any language are not particularly eloquent and so they would come nowhere near what would be considered an A language for interpreters. In fact, our biggest problem year after year is that the students may know 6 languages, but they are not proficient enough in the NATIVE TONGUE to be good interpreters.

Posted by Gabriela Valentina 10/24/2008 at 06:29 AM

SIC : absoluetely fascinating (at least for me it is a facinating topic!) Thank you very much for taking the time to write this. Your mind is wonderfully organised and, for once, -¡y que no sirva de ejemplo!- I am not being tongue- in -cheek.

Posted by Gabriela Valentina 10/24/2008 at 06:30 AM

SIC: what do you call someone whose typing skills in ALL languages is pathetically abysmal? (I do know how to spell absolutely)

Posted by Gabriela Valentina 10/24/2008 at 07:20 AM

that was supposed to be "typing skill" (singular)

Posted by Tuulia 10/24/2008 at 08:34 AM

Pete - thank you also for using "Toni" instead of the American (?) spelling with "y" that a lot of people insist on using for some reason. I would like to hear someone explain some day why they do it.

Vanessa - I totally agree with you about the tick. I assumption is that people who have a problem with it must have some issues themselves that they might need to look at. Also, like you said, it's kinda strange that people go on and on about that particular tick of Rafa's while

Gabriela -
>>is Finnish like Hungarian? or have you made good on your promise to leave us high and dry? Bye!!!>>

No. They're related, but that's sort of academic info, really - I mean even knowing that detail and having studied many languages I don't see any similarities by simply looking at Hungarian texts, for instance, and I wouldn't understand a thing, either. Whereas even tho my Swedish is bad I can understand some Norwegian or Danish, and even tho my French was never fluent and is badly forgotten, it still made learning Spanish so much easier. Those are examples of languages where I can see similarities easily, but between Finnish and Hungarian I can't.

Posted by Gabriela Valentina 10/24/2008 at 08:54 AM

hello Tuulia: I'd say the rule of thumb if one is going to be a stickler is to use the usage of the language you are writing in.

If I am talking in English or writing in that language I use "London". If in Spanish "Londres"

I think TonY in an article written in English is justified. Or perhaps you believe that that rule doesn't(or shouldn't) apply to proper names?

(thanks for insight into Finnish Hungarian connection....)

Posted by Tuulia 10/24/2008 at 09:03 AM

Sorry, that one was unfinished, obviously. Apologies about misspellings, too. So let's take that part again:

Vanessa - I totally agree with you about the tick. I assume that people who have a problem with it must have some issues themselves that they might need to look at. Also, like you said, it's kinda strange that people go on and on about that particular tick of Rafa's while one hardly ever sees complaints about other players' ticks such as the ones you mentioned. But maybe they just have to find something to complain about, and that's the only thing available so they seize it and exaggerate the issue... ;)

Posted by sic (Rafa Nadal, 2008 Year End #1) 10/24/2008 at 09:26 AM

"SIC: what do you call someone whose typing skills in ALL languages is pathetically abysmal? (I do know how to spell absolutely)"

Exuberant! :)

Posted by Tuulia 10/24/2008 at 09:46 AM

Gabriela, I don't see why people's names should be changed from one language to another. Why should Antoni be written Anthony in an English text, or Toni as Tony? Or Rafael as Raphael? We'd all have our names changed depending on the language one's writing in, and I don't see how that makes sense, and I don't think it's respectful to the person to change the name according to spelling conventions of another language. (It's a different matter if the whole system of writing is different like Russian or Chinese where there has to be change to make it possible to put it into a text for instance here at all and for people to be able to read it at all, and in which case the spellings in different languages also often differ - take Youzhny, for example, English is the only language that I know where the name is written like that.) To me it's as if people find foreign names and spellings somehow offensive or uncomfortable and try to Americanize (or whatever it may be) everything. Maybe it's just a cultural thing, but since we don't do that here to me Tony (about Toni Nadal) or Raphael (about Rafael Nadal) are misspelled, simple as that, and when it's done repeatedly by people who surely know the correct spelling then it's not a mistake but is obviously intentional, and it just seem weird. (And no, I don't think it's a similar thing as Rafel vs. Rafael, either... that depends on the language, too, but it's not the same thing. Rafel in English - or Spanish - would be a misspelling, too, in a way, just of a different kind, and far more acceptable I think that Raphael. Rafael is at least sort of official - maybe it's also in his birth certificate? or could it have been Rafel? Catalan names are allowed in birth certificates now, right?- that's what the name should be outside of Catalan.)
I also don't think it's the same thing as the place names, which have their origins in history and have been what they are now for maybe centuries. (I know about kings and queens, and I don't even agree with that custom of translating names, but I think I can see where that came from originally and still exists to some extent, but to me that seems outdated.)
That's the way I see it anyway. *shrugs*

Posted by Mr. and Mrs. D. 10/24/2008 at 09:51 AM

sic: very interesting @ 3:56. I didn't speak english until I moved to the US at 6 yrs of age. I had a college prof. who was shocked I was no longer fluent in my 'mother language' although it was still spoken at home. His theory was that my english should have never surpassed it.

Posted by Gabriela Valentina 10/24/2008 at 10:00 AM

Tuulia(which is by the way a very nice sounding collection of dipthongs and syllables(doesit mean anything in particular? In Spanish there is a girl 's name Tula but Tuulia is prettier. Is it by chance the Finnish of Julia?

I asked if you thought the rule should not apply to proper names and I got your very detailed reply. I think you are correct on this point.

Posted by Gabriela Valentina 10/24/2008 at 10:02 AM

SIC. you are such a darling man!! How lightly you let me off!

Posted by Tuulia 10/24/2008 at 10:32 AM

Gabriela - "very detailed reply" often in my case means rambling on forever, but nice to hear you found it satisfactory in this case. :)

Thanks for the compliments about my name. I'm afraid I've never bothered to find out if it means something, but there's no _obvious_ meaning in it. Tuuli, Tuula, Tuulikki must be of the same parentage, but I don't know any details. It's not Finnish of Julia, I think, but we have that name, too.

Posted by tina 10/24/2008 at 04:45 PM

I'm considering making you all call me Christina, as it is my full name. Ms. Lyons if you're nasty.

Posted by 10/24/2008 at 09:28 PM

Great post SIC 10/24/2008 @ 3:56 AM

Parents who do not ensure that their children speak the language of each of their parents as well as the language of the place they are living in are passing up a marvellous opportunity. In my experience the best way to ensure accuracy and fluency in a family with several language options is to designate specific mealtimes, home activities or even certain days of the week as 'all English' or 'all Spanish/French/etc'. Most families who adopt this habit/system turn out kids who are comfortable and proficient in both langages. In my extensive experience, in the case of true bilinguals, 'slipping' foreign words or phrases into a conversation is usually just a way to show off one's knowledge of the other language and not merely a sloppy or incompetent habit.

And yes, I'm the one who said that mixing languages is a big no-no for us bilinguals.

Posted by jabeau 10/25/2008 at 04:57 AM

Gee, I thought this post was no longer active, but there are still so many new comments since I last looked, so maybe someone is still reading this.

Gabriela, glad you agree with me and that you said so. I'm not tired of your posts, in contrary! I was learning a great deal about Spanish history and the Catholic Church in your earlier comments. Agreed with most of your arguments. Thank you.

Sic - your post was most interesting, you have a fascinating job. I am multilingual. Hungarian A, English B (?), German (only reading these days) and very basic French. At home we are speaking mostly Hungarian but when in a hurry, or lazy we often speak Hunglish, a mix of Hungarian and English. (very ugly!)

Tuulia, yes this is a very pretty name. Do you pronounce it with a long "uu"? There are theories as to the origin of the Hungarian language it being so unique mostly surrounded by slavic countries, but while at school in Hungary, we were taught that it was a Finno-Ugric language, and related to Finnish. I agree with you regarding the spelling of names. Interestingly, Hungarians do Hunglicize (is there such word?) foreign names applying fonetic spelling e.g. Youzhny is written as Juzsnyi, Davydenko as Davigyenko etc.

Posted by tina 10/25/2008 at 11:12 AM

Still here jabeau, LOL.

In Croatia they also use different spellings for players such as those you mentioned - they don't have the letter "y". Kouznetsova gets a different spelling, too, though I can't think of it now. But then they don't always use the more cyrrilic-friendly letter D with a line through it (don't have it on this keyboard) and will spell Djokovic and Srdjan in the accepted Anglo fashion.

I've always been baffled by Finnish - it took me years to get it into my head that Aki Kurismaki wasn't Japanese!

Posted by jabeau 10/25/2008 at 05:28 PM

Hi tina, the others have abandoned ship, typing away on other threads. Sometimes I wonder if they have a day job, some are constantly posting... maybe they don't sleep.

LOL, I usually recognise Finnish names but I know what you mean by Aki Kaurismaki. It sounds Japanese indeed.

Posted by tina 10/26/2008 at 03:22 PM


Posted by Tuulia 10/27/2008 at 03:39 AM

Oh no, tina, you weren't. ;) I just couldn't get here during the weekend.

Interesting about Aki Kaurismäki "sounding Japanese"... I hadn't heard that before, but I've heard people say Nokia sounds Japanese. (I have no idea if they'd be pronounced the same way in Japanese as in Finnish, tho.)

jabeau - thanks, and yes, Tuulia is pronounced with long "u" - Finnish is is pretty much a wysiwyg language (unlike, say, English), so two same vowels = long vowel, two same consonants = a double consonant pronounced, no "silent" letters, the same letter always pronounced in the same way etc. Not that I often hear any Finnish names pronounced correctly in foreign tv, tho, but that's another matter... :) But I distinctly remember once hearing "Jarkko Nieminen" pronounced perfectly on Spanish tv - I was amazed. lol

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