Barcelona Open - rallying with Rafael Nadal on St. George's Day

Rafael Nadal at the Barcelona Open - Banc Sabadell

This important clay tournament has been a pillar of his entire career.

Rafa has been attending this club ever since he was a child, coming with his uncle on field trips.

The winner of Barcelona is the defacto Tennis Champion of Spain - the Spanish Open since 1899.

St. George's Day @ Barcelona Open

A day when girls receive flowers, and the boys receive books - St. George's Day in Barcelona is a very jubilant time for many young people.

To participate in the celebration, I bought 3 flowers from local students and handed them to some smiling girls. 

This was also the day I finally got to step on the same clay as His Spanish Majesty, King Rafa! In Madrid 2022, both royals were in attendance.

On this cloudy Catalonia morning, I spotted Carlos Moya on the opposite bench from Diego Schwartzman. I had no doubt that Nadal would be just a little behind. I raced up from the media center to get the guards' confirmation that he had entered the premises.

Join the Rafa Fan Community @

  • Play, Watch, Live Tennis at his academy summer camps in the USA
  • Learn from the RNA coaches using the Nadal System
  • Vacation in Mallorca and train next to Rafa and Uncle Toni!
  • Experience your Summer of Spain using my map on the "Clay Camino" trail

Facing the Bull's Charge

To my surprise, Rafa came right up the narrow hill. Literally, everyone got out of the way. He might have been looking for an open practice court or Coach Moya.

Greeting me alone, I panicked and could only quickly share that I would visit his academy and home island the following week.

He responded simply, "Great! I will see you there."

But at that point, I didn't think he was actually being serious! 

When Rafa straight runs at you - no physical contact is required to knock you over psychologically. No human is immune from flinching.

I have read about other sports legends like Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali.
They commanded the same intensity in any room.
Rafa is the sportsman of this era and sport.

Whether you are a cameraman, opponent, or a tennis fan. Rich or poor, young or old. We are all but humans and God-fearing mortals once the eyes of El Toro are locked onto you. The weight of his presence has broken the will of many men.

Netflix's Break Point series

You can see how even Casper Ruud at the French Open for the 2022 Final knew that sinking feeling of imminent doom. Waiting in the runway lobby for the Championship Match, he nervously asks:

Q: How long is left?  A: Not long.

You've met a Giant. His mental strength of a superhuman. The Deity has manifested on clay.
In all my years of tennis, there has been no equivalent moment as meeting Rafa on clay.

I have witnessed no greater miracle. Breathing the same air and sharing the same clay court.

Visiting Rafa and the RNA team in Mallorca

After this trip, I was lucky to be invited to Mallorca on a special media fare session before the Madrid Open.

At the Rafa Nadal Academy, I lived/ate/trained with the pros daily. I shared the same gym space with Naomi and Rafa during their French Open preparation routine.

I had access to his giant locker room with multiple saunas and ice baths. Played on the hard and clay courts, swam in the Olympic pools, and met his personal physio. On the bench was Rafa's decorated bag with 20+ Grand Slams!

Even chatted with Uncle Toni. WTA World #1 Iga Swiatek visited in 2022 just before winning her 2nd French Open. Some magic in the Manacor water?

I was assigned a dorm room adjacent to the US Open Champion at night. During the day, we walked beside the living legend at his home proving grounds. Full review with photos here.

Uncle Toni - the Tennis Palm Reader

I went to take my selfie with Uncle Toni, but I still had bandages on my left hand from an injury I suffered at the Barcelona Open on Day 1.

Even after a week, the wound was still not fully healed.
The Spanish Medics added a journal entry that will always serve as a record of my visit.
I gave the kind nurse that treated me one of 3 roses from St. George's Day. I hope she remembers.

I flew Air Europa over the Balearic Sea. Rented a car and drove the long way across the island. During the car ride from Palma airport, my bandage was no longer sticking. When I tried to hide it from Uncle Toni - he immediately took my wrapped hand and wanted to know what had happened?

I said I'm a media photographer.
It's nothing, just a small accident...

He paused. He looked again at my hands and my feet.

He then studied my fingers carefully, seeing each joint's calluses.
The dried, cracked folds. White lines under the creases of my skin.

Uncle Toni pointed at me and said simply, "You are a tennis player!"
Then he smiled joyfully, and we took a selfie together.

The Tennis Hands and Feet of Combat

Like two immortals in Highlander - warriors can sense each other from afar, like the Quickening...
He knows your history to the tennis core before you even speak a word or hit a ball.

Whether a nephew or a new student, Toni has that 6th sense. He reads the soul of men.

In the biography 'Rafa,' Uncle Toni is described as an ancient warrior sage.
He indeed seemed to hail from another era of ancient time of warfare.
He loves what he does. I felt very humbled to be in front of him. 

Blistering from Barcelona - all Spanish artists have learned to embrace suffering.


The indelible marks of gladiators, men who have fought inside the Arena.

Loyalty for the Gods of Tennis.
Our apprenticeship began with Sweat.
Earned from the weight of the Clay. 
An oath sealed by the Baseline Brotherhood.

Tennis Truth is told thru the Tan Lines

Tennis Tales Talk in Tangos...
Years of Toil and Training
Forged in Turmoil with Tenacity
Fused by the Tolerance of Toughness.

Painted on each Warrior are our Badges of Honor.
Just above my feet appears dark rings or my "sun tattoos" - anklets etched in from the heat.
Visible only when I remove my mini-crew Thorlo tennis socks. Layers upon layers - my carvings are not of ink but UV light. Sewn into the skin slowly, repeatedly every week for over 20 years.

These truths that money can't buy. Counting my years given to this religion. Like the tree rings of ancient redwoods revealing our time served outdoors.

Deep contrast between two skin tones.
They tell the tale of two bodies - one in war and one in peace.
Once while walking barefoot, one woman commented that I seem to walk with another man's feet!

My Special Summer in Spain

If you ever get a chance to go once in your life - you can use my promo code: "JCTENNIS" for my special VIP discounts on camps and lodging. I have never forgot this wonderful Summer Trip in Spain.

Tennis Vacation in Europe or the USA

As an RNA agent, I now help dozens of tennis families in the US experience the Rafa coaches' training camps. In the past, the Top 2 kids at each summer camp get picked for a free exchange program in Mallorca! Learn more about the full Rafa Nadal Academy experience for Juniors and Adults.

Parting the clouds
Although morning drizzle had delayed the start of the practice, he would not be denied a chance to stir the clay on his day off. What started out as a dreary overcast morning, Nadal's soul or energy seems to will the Heavens to part.
Even the Sun itself seemed to be waken.
Its rays peeking through the last grey cloud to glimpse this Force of Nature.

We file into the narrow passage. Less than a dozen journalists with special passes were allowed entry. We squeezed into the narrow one-meter-wide alleyway to see Mallorca's Magic. 

One could say: Rafa and I stayed pretty close while in Barcelona and Spain :)

In those short moments of his practice today - I felt one of the most profound and proud moments of my tennis life as a fan.

Pamplona's Running of the Bulls was originally a festival to honor St. Fermin.
One day, I recommend each pilgrim walk the Camino de Norte back to Santiago de Compostela. This fiesta and historical ceremony happens just around Wimbledon time each year. 2021 was a Holy Year -I approached it from Porto, Portugal.

Match Point Rafa is a Futbol Crowd Celebration 

Do you know how it feels to celebrate front and center with Rafa in Spain?

The King sweeps clean his own courts - thanks.

Deliberate and Complete - no shortcuts allowed.

A conductor who can transform the trajectory, speed, shape, and form like he is performing music.

All the years you train to hit a tennis ball is to be able to do *this* right there in front of you.

Some of us can just stand watching him with a big grin. We smile at each other ear to ear - grateful to be present for this standing-room-only magic show.

How Rome and RG were recovered.
Uncle Toni is still a genius behind the scenes
THUMPs and BOOMs - Nadal hits bass notes!

He strikes the ball on his forehand with such a recoiling force. Sheer air pressure and sound.

First, felt from within, echoing in your chest cavity.
Shortly, it is heard as a boom in your ears.
A bloom of fuzz and felt lingers in the air.
An explosive yellow cannonball - sizzles.

I have seen him many times on TV.

But witnessing the full volume of his shots in real life is the difference between playing a song on the radio and going to a live rock concert.

His unmistakable ball-punching strikes crush the yellow felt - it pulverizes rubber.
His strike has a volume and deep bass that echoes inside the lungs. The sound rattles inside your inner core.

The sensation is otherworldly and sometimes scary being in such close quarters.

The experience is enhanced and amplified 3 times over on this small ungated side court - bookended by only one very high concrete wall leading down to the locker rooms.

In full beast mode, "El Toro" sets to emancipate every grain of clay from the fuzzy ball he punishes.
He cleans purposefully with every brushstroke of the Babolat Aero racket.

Effortless in his delivery - the frame, ball, and strings become fused magically for a split second - then gone with the denotation.

Puffs of micro orange clouds bloom and evaporate on contact. This crushing pressure exposes every seam and tests each stitch of the ball.

Instant Impact and Implosion
You see it instantly, your body feels it, then your ears will hear it - always registered in this order.

Rafa's Orchestra

With each heavy forehand he fires, we hear a full percussion band:
The strumming chords of main strings cutting through green felt, the sphere
compressing and decompressing air as it is turned into an egg-shaped pancake, and the sprinkled splash of tiny sand granules watering the silky dirt lawn.
All music is accompanied by his world-famous overtones from that deep Rafa grunt.
You just have to close your eyes.
Tune into this tennis stereo station.
Remember the years of his matches and victories.

For a few moments, you are alone with the greatest clay master who ever lived. It was a lucid dream that I still cannot believe I witnessed if not for the selfies and kernels of red clay still lodged in the soles of my shoe.

His jazz music is written in the red sand,
Played by this one-man band,
Serenading us all with his favorite tunes.

Bravo!! Encore!! Vamos Rafa!!