Nadal’s coach takes no nonsense

Rafael Nadal celebrates with the French Open trophy after winning the final against Stan Wawrinka.

I’ve long been a fan of Rafa Nadal, but now that he has reached the pinnacle of his career by winning the French Open 10 times, I hope he hangs up his tennis shoes and tries something new – but not coaching.

His Uncle Toni’s “hard” style of coaching – never praising, always critical, pulling him down a peg at every opportunity – succeeded in making Rafa a champion but it is not necessarily the way to keep your 

Rafa never could sack Uncle Toni. By an unusual arrangement Rafa’s father, Sebastien, incorporated his brother, Toni, into his successful business so he shared the profits for coaching Rafa.

According to John Carlin, co-author of Rafa’s autobiography, Toni was a talented tennis player but “lacked the killer instinct”. He took up coaching and was fortunate to find in his four-year-old nephew someone with the potential to rise to the top. His goal was to construct a “mentally armour-plated competitor who would learn to endure whatever came his way without complaining at the undisguised injustice”. The boys training with Rafa recalled that when Toni bellowed an order to him, made him stay behind and pick up the balls, then sweep the courts after training, he would bow his head and obey.

“His family,” notes Carlin, “muttered but respected Toni’s sovereignty of his kingdom, a Spartan regime where no whining was allowed, where the young warrior was exposed to all manner of tests and privations and was allowed no excuses. It was always his fault. If he lost the game because of a crack in his racket, Toni did not want to know. If he played badly because the racket had not been strung properly, Toni remained unimpressed. If he had a temperature, a sore knee, a bad day at school nothing worked on Toni. Rafa had to grin and en

Happily all was forgiven and forgotten between nephew and uncle at the prize giving when Rafa received the La Decima cup for winning the French Open a record 10 times.

Tall, strong and yellow

It took four men three days to cut up and take away on an old bakkie the indigenous willow that fell down during the wild gale on Wednesday June 7. In its place now stands a knee-high little Henkel’s yellowwood (podocarpus henkeli) , which needed a home. I’d asked my neighbour if he could suggest a suitable replacement 
and he had first come up with an Outeniqua yellowwood and 10 minutes later came across to tell me that he had Henkel’s yellowwood sitting in a black packet for some time because he didn’t know where to plant it.

It’s one of the most recognisable yellowwoods, grown ornamentally in gardens for its strikingly neat, attractive form and its elegant, drooping foliage. It has a straight, well-formed trunk and naturally assumes a pyramid-shape as it grows, eventually becoming very tall, up to 30m.

It will never get to that height unless I can put a wire guard around it with twinkling lights. Otherwise some guest is likely to flatten it driving home after a dinner party.

This tree is named after Caesar Carl Hans Henkel (1839–1913), the Eastern Cape forester and father of John Spurgeon Henkel, conservator of forests for Natal and Zululand.

Animal antics

We had three unexpected visitors last week. Somebody’s escaped black rabbit hopped between the bars of our gate and hopped out again just before two Egyptian geese walked sedately down the garden path like characters out of Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Raucous, messy Egyptian Geese are not everybody’s favourite bird, but the ancient Egyptians thought differently. They were the first civilisation to domesticate this goose, which they ate, pickled, force fed to make foie gras, kept as a pet and associated with prosperity.

The birds were so numerous that they were said to be “like sand on the shore” and Ramses III donated over 680 000 geese as temple offerings.

As we know from our dams and vleis, they are brilliant parents with both birds fearlessly tackling anything that threatens their young. A friend, who is a keen member of the Egyptian Society, thinks perhaps it was this “self-sacrificing” trait that endeared the goose to the ancient Egyptians. Scenes of hunting in the marshes were popular in tomb paintings and as proof she sent me a photo of a painted limestone relief showing cattle, cranes and geese from the tomb of Ptah-Hotep at Saqqara c.2450 BCE. There’s no mistaking the geese in question. They looked just like the pair going down the garden path.

As for the black rabbit, it’s been on the run in this neighbourhood for several weeks somehow dodging cars and dogs. In spite of the drought, it’s finding enough to eat on road verges and in gardens with boreholes but sooner or later its luck will run out.


My apologies to anyone trying to get in touch with Dennis Bennyworth, who is drumming up new members for the Bergvliet Kreupelbosch and Meadowridge Neighbour-
hood Watch. I gave his email ad-
dress incorrectly. It is

Phone addicts

People are becoming prisoners of their phones these days. I suppose that’s why they are called cellphones.