At the very least, I think being an athlete makes you superstitious.
If you compete, the times you win will stand out, and if you did anything – a n y t h i n g a t a l l – idiosyncratic before/during/after those WINS there’s a good chance you’ll turn those idiosyncrasies into superstitions in hopes of prompting future WINS.
But calling Rafael Nadal, the #1 tennis player in the world, superstitious would be the Euphemism Of The Year. Watch him, but not too closely. You’ll see right away that something’s strange about this Spaniard – putting it lightly.
At the beginning of each match, when the players first take their sides, Rafa runs like a bull onto the court. Then, after a change over, Rafa always repeats the same running of the bull . If you watch this repetitive behavior enough, you begin to think something is wrong with his brain, like he has some sort of mental disorder, or maybe it’s that his brain is terribly small.
At first, I thought his manic running was a way to intimidate his opponents, let them see he wasn’t fatigued, he was still brimming with energy. But then I happened to notice the way he anally maintains his water bottles and electrolyte bottles and tennis shoes and other miscellany next to his chair.
Everything is perfectly arranged in a geometrical pattern. Depending on the amount of stuff he has out, this pattern takes the shape of either a triangle or a star or a tesseract.
There’s nothing haphazard about these arrangements. Sometimes, for kicks, the camera person zooms in on Rafa’s hand as he painstakingly aligns each item. I’ve seen his fingers tremble as they make minute adjustments.
And he always has a towel sprawled on his lap during a break. And the way he sprawls this towel is always the same.
First he places the whole towel so that it covers his lower body, from hips to knees. Then he hikes the bottom hem of the towel up so that most of his thighs are exposed.
Again, his fingers tremble as he makes minute adjustments to get the towel j u s t r i g h t.
Evidence of superstition? OCD? Nervous habits? Ticks? Is Rafa socially maladjusted? Psychopathic?
I think there’s a little bit of all of the above in Rafael Nadal, who has done nothing but play tennis since he was 3. He’s like a giant freakish baby, a 3-year-old on the court. When he retires, he’ll suddenly become 36 or 37.
Retirement will age Rafa at least 3 decades in the blink of an eye.
The most prevalent factor in his queer on-court behavior is, hands down, how much he touches his bunghole.
Rafael Nadal has an obsession with his bunghole. Rafa gets intimate with his bunghole. He picks this region 3-7 times before beginning each point, and 2-4 times after ending each point. I don’t know if he constantly has a wedgie, or if he has a perpetual itch deep down in there he can never quite reach – a metaphorical itch.
But I do know that after he picks this spot his next queer mannerism is using these dirty fingertips to clamp his nostrils together and comb his eyebrows and arch his hair over his ear, effectively wiping his face with bunghole molecules.
Always the same exact ticks in the same exact order. But are this antics all in the name of victory? Is this what it takes for Rafa to win?
What if you say to him,
“Don’t pick your bunghole when you play Federer. If you pick your bunghole, you’ll automatically lose the match.”
Under these circumstances – without the crutch of his bunghole – would Rafa suddenly become vulnerable? Would he be able to refrain and still win?
And what if he loses the match, and you ask him afterwards,
“What happened out there Rafa?”
Would he answer something like,
“Eh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s that I couldn’t pick my bunghole.”
In other words, is he aware of the importance this habit plays in his professional life? Is he unwilling to break it? Would he ever give his bunghole the credit it deserves?
Either way, the bull/man/3-year-old isn’t losing now. His bunghole isn’t starving for attention. His bunghole doesn’t feel left out of the excitement. No, not at all.
It’s a team effort for Rafa.
Pick on, pick on.