Washington DC welcomes Rafael Nadal to my hometown

 A historic visit by Rafael Nadal to our Nation's Capital and my hometown of Washington DC.

The perfect storm formed this Summer for Rafael Nadal to be here. First, he was forced to skip Wimbledon and the Olympics due to an injury for almost 3 weeks. Secondly, he also opted for an early start on the hard courts this year. Lastly, the USA has a great vaccination rate compared to Europe which allows for safely hosting 100% of tennis fans.

This was his first time playing at this ATP 500 event. Most years he will skip straight to the Masters 1000 in Canada. He follows in the footsteps of his idol Andre Agassi who has also been a champion here before. Another former #1, Andy Murray has also played here multiple times before in the past.

Chatting with Rafa in Spain

April 2019. I was sitting on the 1st row behind the center baseline at the Barcelona 500 during his brilliant match point against Struff and the entire stadium errupts like a soccer match. The two kids next to me scream so loud, I thought this must be what it's like at a rock concert.

After the match, there were so many people leaving! I had to actually exit the tournament gates and come in the back way.

I re-enter from the back entrance by myself and start heading back down to the press room with my camera. I see none other than Rafael himself walking up toward me!

At first, I'm sure he'll turn left and go down to the locker rooms. Nope, he comes straight up the narrow walkway and looks right at me.

My shaky cell phone video captured my moment of sheer surprize.

I said simply: "Congraduations on the victory. I will come by your academy next week in Mallorca". He replies: "That's good! I will see you then."

Visiting Mallorca to train at his Tennis Academy

I had no idea if he was kidding. But I would fly Air Europa a few days later to Mallorca. On my 2nd day there I found out he was true to his word to go practice and see Uncle Toni.

It was always a dream of mine on my long tennis bucket list for a chance to visit him in his hometown of Manacor of Mallorca at the Rafael Nadal Academy.

What he did not tell me was that Naomi Osaka was also going to be training there that week too - world #1 and US Open champion Naomi Osaka. All 3 of us were in the fitness center at the same time on the 3rd or 4th day. I stayed on a treadmill performing my footwork drills from Sanchez Casal as long as I could. I decided to wait until he finally finished his workout to try to say a couple words.

In the hallway back to the academy's locker room, I caught up to him and mentioned that I had a chance to see the beaches of Mallorca the day before. He commented that when the weather is nice here in Mallorca, they are beautiful and some of his favorite. Of course he also has a super yahts :)

As he hurried away, I noted that I'm a tennis coach originally from Washington DC and would be great to have him play at Citi Open 500 one day.

Since then I would help bridge some tennis students exchanges. Kids and Adults got the chance to visit Spain and visit the Academy. In 2021, the Rafa Nadal Academy expanded summer camps to Boston, Miami, and Philadephia.

After the covid year of 2020 - Rafa again delivered me another great surprize once again.

Playing at Rock Creek Park Tennis Stadium

This is the same location where I had won the DC Adult Open Tennis Tournament at both the USTA 4.0 and 4.5 singles divisions. I had a chance to play on stadium court on my final day. The P1-P5 practice courts on the side were where I played many competitive QF and SF matches. The tennis balls were usually ATP Pro Penns.

The Grandstand and Show Court 2 areas for the tournament are where I drove on weekend evenings in the winter to play under a tennis bubble covered courts on my WTT rec leagues. Our team went undefeated that year. I remember I didn't lose a single set the entire season in men's singles.

To have him play in DC's Citi Open completes an amazing chapter for me.
In some ways, it brings full circle my journey with Rafael Nadal.