Rafa Interviewer Stirs the Pot
The Sunday Times’ Lynn Barber is a lot of things: feature writer, interviewer, author, and former Penthouse scribe—a role for which she is perhaps unfairly pigeonholed at times.
She is also a magnet for controversy. The latest—propelled to the forefront by her own pen—is proving another scandalous morsel. Read all about it: Her send-up of Rafael Nadal for The Times has caused a tizzy in the tennis establishment and among fans. (For those who wish to read the piece as it originally appeared, a Times subscription will cost you.
No doubt this is just what Barber wants. And what she wants, she seemingly gets. See: Her memoir-ish tome An Education, which became a feat of film starring an Oscar-nominated Carey Mulligan.
Barber had to know how this would go over. Even so, she feigned surprise today via tweet: "why did no one inform me that being rude about Rafa Nadal is like being rude about prophet Mohammed? Terrifying hate mail from his worshippers" Typical grandiose stuff from her, relishing in the retorts. Rest assured, in Boris Becker's own words about Monica Seles, Ms. Barber is "a tough cookie." She'll suffer next to nothing as a result. Her prestige, notoriety, or what-have-we will only increase.
As for her Nadal piece itself, this one-time J-schooler finds it to be fair, fascinating and engaging. Despite her whiny prelude—the "boiling" Roman stadium, subsisting on bottled water; the horrors!—she takes a different tack than most to verbally wrestling with Nadal. And that's just about the only way someone can combat him and hope to win these days.
Verdict: Tennis fans, and yes, even Rafanatics, should be pleased that it wasn't another boilerplate of PR piffle. This observer, for one, didn't so much see the insinuations about Nadal's sexual orientation, either. Regarding the line of questions about Nadal's girlfriend and their relationship, maybe Barber barked up the wrong tree. (And no, I did not just call her a common cur.) Many star performers are private people. She likely had her preconceived notions, and also seemed put off by the flash of his Armani underwear, albeit from the massage table.
But for once a writer came at Nadal intensely and relentlessly. Superstar athletes need that sometimes, to be taken out of their comfort zones, even when they largely seem to be upright citizens of the world and all-around good guys. That's actually a testament to Nadal's greatness, and, dare I say, to Barber's, too.
The fact remains: Nadal is, as every other global celebrity, a well-oiled machine, both on and off the court. He has handlers aplenty, for better and worse. Now, that said, when someone takes similar ink to Roger Federer, we will then be truly shocked.
—Jonathan Scott (@jonscott9)