It seems crazy and strange but you’ve made it through your semi-final. Rafa’s already waiting in the final, something you were told as you gave your on court interview. You’re in a sort of daze as Mirka steers you from the press room to the waiting car, but you still notice that look she’s giving you.
“What?” You ask and she looks at you, all innocent.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, you’re giving me that look where I know that something is up, you’re keeping something from me. So, go on. Spill.”
“I’m doing nothing of the sort Roger, you’re too suspicious for your own good. Now, your parents want to go out this evening for dinner to celebrate, I said you’d have a lot of press so a later dinner would be preferable. I’ve booked us in for 9 which gives you three free hours all to yourself. I hope you use them wisely.”
A long shower sounds like heaven and then possibly a sleep. You hadn’t slept well the night before, over-thinking your game and imagining worse case scenarios. You’d been thinking about Rafa, wondering how he was feeling before his own semi-final. He didn’t seem to have worried to the same extent as you, winning decisively, in four sets. You had gone to five, for the second time this tournament and the press are already beginning to mutter about your chances of winning the final. At this point though, you don’t care. You’re through to the final, so is Rafa and that’s all that matters. You can think more about playing him tomorrow. Tonight, it’s about celebrating the fact you’ve reached your first hard-court Grand Slam final and for the first time in nearly 100 years, a Federer will play a Nadal for the right to be called champion.
The comforting noise of Mirka’s phone vibrating and her soft tones talking lulls you into a drowsy state as the car drives you through the busy streets of New York. Taking the elevator up to your floor seems to take more effort that it should and when you finally collapse onto the sofa, you don’t think you can move again for another few hours. Maybe the stresses of the past few weeks have finally caught up with you.
“Go to bed. Sleeping on the couch will do nothing for your back.” Mirka tells you softly, shaking you gently to keep you awake.
“Just want to sleep here.” You mumble but you’re already hauling yourself upwards and heading towards the bedroom.
“I assure you that you’ll enjoy your bed a lot more. I’ll come back for you in time so that you can shower before we leave.”
Your brain is sluggishly trying to figure out what she’s meaning as you open the bedroom door. There, sitting on your bed with the biggest smile known to mankind, is Rafa. You stop in the doorway, trying to figure out what he’s doing here, before you give up, launching yourself at him and the waiting bed behind. He laughs, catching you and you relax into the mattress, letting Rafa’s warm weight soak into your tired bones.
“Hi.” You manage to mumble into his neck and you feel him press a kiss to your forehead, hand stroking up and down your back.
“Hi.” He laughs again, and it’s the most comforting sound you think you’ve ever heard.
“Tell me about your match.”
He obeys, speaking softly and slowly, telling you the good points and the bad points, what Toni has said and how happy he is to be through, but you’re not listening, having slipped softly into a much needed sleep. He keeps on talking, long after he knows you’re asleep, before he settles down further beside you, pulling you closer to him and wrapping you up in his arms.
A loud knocking on your door stirs you out of your sleep, but just barely. You can recognise the now familiar smell of Rafa and are just thinking about actually opening your eyes when you hear the handle turn and a voice call out your name.
You have a split second to think that it doesn’t sound like Mirka’s voice when there’s a soft gasp and the hurried sound of a door trying to be closed quietly. It takes another minute or so before you can place the voice as your mother’s and that makes you wake up faster. Rafa’s stirring beside you, a smile already forming before his eyes are really fully open.
Before you can say a word, he’s pulling you in for a kiss. “Congratulations on match.”
Your mother is forgotten for a moment as you kiss him back. “You too. I guess I’m playing you on Sunday then.”
“We think about that later.” He waves his hand dismissively and glances over to the door. “Someone was there?”
“Yeah.” You look over to the door. “I think… I think it was my mother.”
His eyes widen but he doesn’t do anything else, waiting for you.
“She didn’t scream.” You offer and it makes him laugh.
“Roger, you tell me she allow me yes? So, maybe you go talk to her no?”
You‘re really too tired to be trying to think about communicating with your mother but on Rafa’s insistence you get out of bed, run a hand through your hair and go out to the living room. She’s sitting on the couch, flicking through a magazine. She looks up as you come out of the bedroom.
“Sorry Roger, I thought you would be alone.”
You shrug, a half smile tugging at your mouth. “I didn’t know he was going to be here. I think he and Mirka conspired to surprise me.”
“Well that’s a lovely idea.” She seems suspiciously calm. “Mirka told you about our dinner plans yes? I just popped in because Diane phoned; she couldn’t get through to your phone so asked me if I could pass on a message to call you back.”
“Oh, right. Yeah, my phone’s still in my bag.” You look over to where you dumped your tennis gear, half expecting your phone to start ringing straight away.
“Well,” she stands, brushing non-existent lint off her trousers, “I better go and find your father, I’m not sure where he’s wandered off to this time. He better be back in time for dinner.”
She’s about to go on but you interrupt, hurriedly.
“Mum, would you like to meet him?”
She pauses, half turned towards the door.
“Please?” You ask.
Hesitantly, she nods and you nod back.
“Right, I’ll just… go fetch him.”
You close the bedroom door behind you and Rafa’s sitting on the end of the bed, waiting for you. He can’t have understood a word you said out there, you don’t think he knows anything in German let alone Swiss-German.
“Rafa, would you like to meet my mum?”
His eyes light up and he beams brightly. “Si, Rogelio, of course.”
“Okay.” You smile back at him and take his hand, leading him out of the room, back to where your mother is sitting, fidgeting just a little.
“Mum, this is Rafa.” You speak in perfect, enunciated English, the most common language between you all, even if Rafa’s not very good and your mother hasn’t spoken it in quite a few years. “Rafa, this is my mother.”
She holds out her hand and Rafa takes it, shaking lightly and smiling. You can’t help but be affected by his warmth and you notice your mother reacting in the same way, relaxing slightly with the tension sliding away from her shoulders.
“Mrs Federer, is very nice to meet you.” He speaks in carefully slow English, in a desperate bid to speak as well as he can and you squeeze his hand.
She smiles at him. “It’s nice to meet you to Rafa. I hope you are well?”
“Si, si, uh, yes, very good.”
“Congratulations for making the final.”
He nods again, rapidly and you have to smother a nervous laugh. “Si, thank you. Was, uh, very tough match no? So I happy for the win. Next match even tougher no?” He sneaks a look at you, grinning, and you laugh and impulsively lean forward to kiss his cheek. His eyes widen and he flickers a look over to your mother as a faint blush stains your cheeks.
“Sorry.” You say almost immediately. You’re not sure physical contact will really be appreciated by your mother when she’s only just met the son of her husband’s family’s biggest rival but sometimes these things can’t be helped.
“No, no, don’t apologise Roger.” She half-scolds you, smiling benevolently at Rafa.
He looks down at his watch and makes a face. “Roger, sorry, I have to go. I meet Toni and Carlos for food.”
Maybe he does and maybe he doesn’t; you allow him his escape pass. Your mother turns away, moving further into the room to give the semblance of privacy at the door as you stand together, talking quietly.
He smiles at you. “It was pleasure, she is very nice lady.”
“Not just for meeting her, for coming to see me today. I needed to see you.”
“I see you on Sunday.” He grins impishly.
He shrugs. “Maybe, see what Toni say no? I have practice to do.”
“I know, I was only joking. If I don’t see you, we’ll talk yes?”
He nods again, and squeezes your waist. You lean forward and kiss him, mumbling your love against his lips. He may be grinning but his eyes are serious as he returns the sentiment before slipping out of the room, phone in hand to call for a car. You watch him until he turns the corner to the lifts before shutting the door.
“He’s a lovely boy Roger.”
You sense a pause. “But…?”
To your surprise she laughs. “No buts. I mean it, he seems very nice, and he obviously cares for you a great deal.”
A weight releases itself from your chest and you sink down onto the nearest surface, the coffee table.
“You both seem very taken with each other.”
“We are. At least, I am with him anyway.”
“I can’t speak for the whole family, you know that Roger. But, if he makes you happy, I don’t care who he is. All I want for my children is to have them happy and healthy. It will be tough for your father, he wants the same for you but he has the pressures of his brothers bearing down on him. Don’t be too hard on him Roger, if he cannot find the right words.”
Dinner that evening is a weird mix of celebration and secrecy. Your mother obviously hasn’t told your father of her meeting with Rafa, and Mirka knows something’s up but you haven’t had a chance to tell her what happened. You get a phone call from your Uncle through the meal and there’s no mention of Rafa but hearty congratulations and praise for your triumph.
“Just the final to go now Roger. You have done your family proud.”
You’re so tempted to mention who you will be playing in the final but it would be selfish and rude to spoil the mood of the evening, so you let it pass, assuring your Uncle that you will do all you can to win the title.
As you lie in bed that evening, your head is swirling. You’ve made the final. At the start of your
time in America, you knew you were good. You knew you had the basic game to make others work and to perhaps go far in this tournament but you hadn’t allowed yourself to dream about the possibility of playing in the final, let alone playing in the final against a Nadal. But the time has come. One more day and you’ll be on court with him. It’s confusing and exciting and almost overwhelming in the extreme. Neither of you has mentioned this fact to the other, either at the start of the tournament or as you both progressed, defeating favourites and home-grown talents alike. You wonder what it’ll be like to play him. You’ve seen him play, you’ve tried to cram in as much of his games as you are able to see, but playing him is a different thing entirely. What will it be like when you face that raw aggression and thunderous expression on the other side of the net. How will it feel to cheer against him, to celebrate a good shot that whips past his out stretched racket and loses him the game? Will you be able to do that? It’s not something you’ve ever had to contemplate before. One of you has to win and one of you has to lose, that’s the nature of this game. You’ve always known this but it hasn’t struck home quite as hard as it has does tonight. For a brief second you imagine yourself lifting the trophy, cradling it to your chest and looking up to see the delighted faces of your family in the crowd. And you look behind, at Rafa, holding his silver plate. What will he look like? Happy? Proud? Sad? Betrayed? What if the positions were reversed? What if you were watching him lift the cup, that should be in your hands, what will you feel then?
This kind of thinking isn’t going to get you anywhere and it’s useless. You shake your head, clearing your mind. You don’t want to think how you’ll feel, or how he’ll feel. There’s no point, it won’t change the future. You’ve got to play your best and he’s got to play his best and then you will see what happens. Closing your eyes firmly, you push your head into the pillow and focus on his face when he’s sleeping, peaceful and child-like. It’s this image that sends you to sleep.
The next day is both hectic and empty. There are stretches of activity, a practice session, a press interview or two, and then there are periods of indomitable boredom where you pace the living room or locker room and are left to your own thoughts. Mirka’s there for you as much as she can be, taking your mind off the next day and engaging you in inane conversation, reminding you of stories from when you were both younger and making you reply to emails that you have neglected for weeks. In the back of your mind, Rafa is always there and you wonder what he’s been up to today. Will Toni have worked him to the same extreme as usual or will he have eased up on his nephew for the big day tomorrow? There has been no chance to meet and there unlikely will be a chance before the final tomorrow, as family members have been flocking to New York all day to watch the showdown. Simon is here, along with various uncles, aunts and cousins, being kept away from you by your father and family and you’d overheard Mirka discussing the arrangements for making the Nadal box as far as possible from the Federer camp, which means Rafa’s family must have flown in as well.
That evening, after an early dinner, you excuse yourself from everyone and shut yourself in your room. As much as you don’t want to be alone with your own thoughts, you cannot bear to be around anyone at the moment.
Sport that isn’t tennis provides a useful background noise to keep you from thinking too much. Lying splayed out on the bed, your phone vibrates beside you. You’ve been ignoring it most of the day but you see Rafa’s name on the front and of course you want to talk to him.
“Rafa.” You breathe his name like it’s some kind of lifeline and he’s the only one holding you together when it should be that he’s the one who’s tearing you apart.
“Rogelio. Has been long day.”
“I know. Your family are here?”
“Si, Carlos is take them to dinner. Toni say I stay here and play playstation. He think is good idea.”
“That sounds like fun.”
“I practice my football, so I beat Fernando next time we play.”
You both fall into silence, unsure of how to broach the topic. You can hear football commentary in the background, Rafa’s obviously trying to take his mind off it as well.
“So, tomorrow.” You break first.
“Is a big day no?”
“How are you feeling about it?” Is that question too close to the bone? Should you be asking such a question of your competition? You’re unsure how to proceed here.
But Rafa is Rafa, always open and honest with you, no matter what the issue.
“Excited, first final on the hardcourt so excited for that. Nervous, too, no? Excited for to be playing you. A new opponent.”
“I know what you mean. I haven’t played anyone really new in what seems like years.”
“Roger, I just want to say, I be happy no matter what happen tomorrow. I just be happy to be playing tennis and be playing you.” He sounds so serious and sweet and you fall a little bit deeper in love.
“Me too Rafa.” And the words settle around you and you realise it’s true. You’re happy to be playing in the final, you’re proud of what you’ve achieved her and your family cannot be upset with your performances this week.
“We no think of family tomorrow. We only think of play good match.”
“That sounds like the best idea in the world Rafa.”
He laughs. “Okay, so I go to bed now, so I ready to fight tomorrow.”
“I love you Raf.”
“I love too Rogelio. Tomorrow, we show world our tennis.”
The next morning dawns clear and bright, the perfect conditions for a match. It’s warm but not swelteringly so and there’s just a faint breeze swirling around when you reach the courts. Your breakfast had tasted like cardboard this morning and you had spent as little time as possible in the presence of any of your family. Only Mirka and Severin, who have accompanied you too so many, know how to treat you in such a mood. You’ve played many finals before but this feels worse than your first Wimbledon. A light practice session takes up most of the morning and out of the corner of your eye you can see Rafa warming up a few courts over. You don’t make any movement to speak to him. The press attention over the pair of you hasn’t died down in the slightest and everyone has been speculating over how you will react to each other on the court. You’ve been shielded from the worst of it, but today it will all come crashing down into perspective.
Mirka leaves you at the locker room door with a last kiss on the cheek.
“Play well. I know you will.”
You catch her wrist as she turns to go. “Thank you Mirka. For everything.”
“This isn’t an ending, this is a beginning.” She presses a hand to your cheek before disappearing. Severin clasps your arm and smiles.
“There’s nothing I can say that will help you in any way now. You know what to do.”
The confidence in his voice sits warm in your stomach and you pull him into a quick hug. “Thank you.”
Rafa’s not in the locker room yet. The silence should be stifling but it’s somewhat comforting. Outside the door you hear the bustle of people getting ready for the final they all wished for. There is the odd shout, footsteps running along the corridor and even fainter in the background there’s the sound of chatter from the thousands of people filing in to the stadium. More voices come down the corridor and you recognise the Spanish lilt of Rafa and his team. You hurriedly pull your shirt down over your head and try to look busy sorting out your tennis gear. You can hear Toni speaking outside the door and Rafa says something in reply before the door handle is turning and there he is.
He looks up and smiles, a little startled, as he sees you. He drops his stuff on a bench a little way away from you and moves across to you, holding out his hand. You take it, grasping it lightly and shaking it in greeting.
“Hello Roger. I just want to say, good luck for today.”
He’s being professional and it makes things a lot more easier, it helps you to settle into your competitor mindset and see Rafa as the opponent standing in the way of the trophy. You smile appreciatively at him.
“Hi Rafa. Good luck to you too, I hope for a good match.”
He nods, smiling once more before turning and settling into his own pre-match preparations. You turn your back on him, and the mask of Roger-the-tennis-player slides into place. It’s time to play.
The final had been hyped up to almost epic proportions by the media and tournament organisers alike; so much so that no one is really sure that it can be as amazing as they say. But it is. For four hours, the momentum swing back and forth. Rafa takes early blood, with the first break of serve and keeps it to snatch the first set. It takes you a while to settle into the rhythm and power of Rafa’s game but you get there, easing into the swing of things and striking at his weak moments. The second set goes to you. You continue on with the momentum, breaking him early in the third before he breaks back three games later. It looks like it’s going to be a tie-break but you claw your way back from 40-0 down to force a set point. He saves it, somehow finding a winner where you didn’t think one was possible and wins himself a game point with a booming first serve and forehand combination but in the next rally you scramble back and forth and he fires a shot long. He misses his first serve and the second is weaker than usual, giving you the opportunity to pounce on it, immediately putting him on the back foot and you snake the ball right down the line with a backhand pass for a second set point. Another mammoth rally ends when you send a volley delicately over the net that dies away beautifully as he runs it down, sending the return wide into the tramlines. Cheers ring around the stadium as you take the third set and it’s 2-1 to you. The fourth set is a battle; trying and never-ending but it ends up going to Rafa when he ups his game at the last moment and breaks you, sealing the fourth set in the same way that you sealed the third. So it’s a decider. You take a break after the fifth, heading inside to escape for a moment and to change your shirt. Rafa passes you as you enter the court again but you hardly notice it.
The crowd is buzzing, having been so thoroughly involved in the action so far, and they are hyped up for the last set, wondering if it can get even better than what they’ve seen so far. As Rafa heads back onto court, also in a new shirt, you both head back onto the court. Your racket feels comfortable in your hand, it’s settled now and ready to play and you’ve found a new boost of energy so you’re almost vibrating on the baseline, waiting to receive his serve.
Every point is fought as if your lives depend on it. You don’t think you’ve ever run as far as you have during this match, Rafa makes you chase down every single point, sending balls to either end of the court. You retaliate, by bringing him in and lobbing him at every opportunity, making him dash back and forth. Occasionally, after a particularly lengthy rally, whether he wins or loses, you sometimes get the feeling that he’s grinning with joy inside at playing this game. You feel it too. Although you will be gutted if you lose, especially after fighting so hard for so long, it’s been so much fun playing against him. He’s an amazing opponent, one who doesn’t give you any easy shots and makes you work for it. It makes every point, game and set won all that more rewarding. It ends in a tie-break, somehow fitting when you’ve both escaped them in the last two sets.
He starts off the strongest, gaining the mini-break almost immediately and serving himself to 3-0 up. You keep your serve for the first time and think you’re getting into a groove when you miss a forehand pass and suddenly it’s 5-1 and he’s within a point of having 5 match points. You almost snarl as you whip back his shots and the sudden ferocity sends him off balance and you’ve got one of the mini-breaks back. An ace settles your nerves and another booming forehand pass see the score slightly more balanced at 5-4. His lefty serve comes into play, spinning past your out-stretched racket and it’s match point. You just about get his next serve in and are then scrambling back and forth across the court as he pummels forehands at you from all angles. He hits one shot just a fraction too low and it clips the next, bouncing agonisingly for what seems like hours before dropping down on his side of the net; all square. You both hold easily for the next four points, winning with big serves and huge ground strokes. The crowd are shrieking with every point, like they don’t want this to ever end, but at this point in time it’s merely peripheral noise. All you can focus on is the ball, your racket and Rafa waiting on the other side of the net. 8-7 to Rafa and the pressure is back on you. An ace. 8-8. You go for the ace again, whipping the ball down the T of the court instead of out wide but it’s called out. You squint down the court, as if that will help somewhat before signalling to the umpire that you want to challenge. There’s the usual growing shout from the crowd before the replay shows that the ball missed the line by a mere millimetre. You frown at the ball in your hand, as if it is its fault, before stepping up to serve again. You’re careful enough to get the ball in play on your second serve, it would be folly to throw in a double fault in a tie-break as important as this. Rafa blasts it back at you with the power you still can’t quite get your head round sometimes. It’s fast and furious, the ball snapping back and forth between all-out shots. You break first, going for the winner but shanking the ball into the tramlines.
There’s rapturous applause and cheers around the stadium and the crowd are pushed into vocal action once more. It’s hard to tell who they are cheering for more, yourself or Rafa. It’s probably fifty-fifty. Match point once again for Rafa. He takes his time preparing for his serve, something you’ve found he does a lot when he plays. Standing on the baseline, you ready yourself for the shot, the racket twirling idly in your hands. He tucks his hair behind his ear and he’s ready. One more bounce and then he’s frowning down to where you’re standing, the ball is tossed up into the air and his racket is bearing down on it with frightening amounts of power. You block the return back to him, there’s not much else you can do with a shot like that. He batters a forehand down to your backhand and you float it back to him, hoping to gain a precious second whilst the ball dances in the air. He’s on it in a flash, twisting it away to your forehand and you run for it, stretching out and curving the ball diagonally away from you, to his own forehand. A dinked drop shot almost catches you out but you race towards it, picking it up at the last second, over the net to where he’s waiting for it, like he knew you were going to place it there before you even thought of it yourself. He hits it back, into the open court and you lunge, desperate, and the ball is racing to the back of his side of the net. Amazingly he’s there’s again but you’ve had a chance to get back on your own ground and the rally seems to start anew. No matter where he places the ball, you’re there and no matter how hard you try to outsmart him, he’s prepared for what you will throw at him.
It ends so mundanely. You couldn’t get your feet into position quick enough and the ball thuds dully into the net. And that’s it over. There’s a split second of silence, of terrifying, heart wrenching silence, while you accept that you lost.
Rafa’s dropped to the ground before he even realises the match is over. His racket is thrust behind him and his eyes are screwed tightly shut as his fists clench by his side. You drop to a crouch, steadying yourself with your racket and place your hand flat on the court. You give yourself a moment’s pity, a moment to think about what could have been before you push up, moving across to the net to greet the new champion. He takes a moment longer and you don’t begrudge him that, but when he sees you waiting, he bounds up, still full of endless energy.
You drop your racket to the ground, he’s left his behind anyway, and smile as he reaches you. Pulling him forward, you wrap your arms around him, whispering words of congratulations as the crowd noise reaches seemingly impossible levels.
“We did it.”
You laugh. “You did it. You won Rafa.”
“No, we did it. We play each other and we no kill each.”
“We should do it again.”
His smile is brighter than the sun.
“Next year, come to Wimbledon. I want to play you on grass.”
“And clay. And in Australia no?”
“Everywhere Rafa. I want to play you everywhere.”
You don’t really remember much about the trophy ceremony, apart from the beaming brightness of Rafa’s smile. When you watch it back later, you notice that you can’t keep the smile off your face either. You don’t remember giving your speech or what you said, but Rafa’s sticks out. He’d shaken the hands he was supposed to shake, lifted the trophy and acknowledged the crowd and then turned back towards you. When you’d first watched it back, you’d laughed at how your eyes had widened for a brief second before he’d enveloped you in a hug. You watch as he whispers into your ear and his words play inside your head.
“We make it all end, I tell them it is over.”
You remember the agonising stab of panic you’d first felt when you thought he meant ending your relationship but his tight grip around your neck told you otherwise. An end to the rivalry of Federer and Nadal. Who would have thought?
When he eventually lets you go and moves to speak with the designated interviewer, you remember glancing over to your box. Mirka was standing there, taking photos and smiling. Of course the rest of the family weren’t exactly ecstatic that you had lost to a Nadal but there was a kind of grudging respect there, in the way they applauded Rafa’s efforts. He deserved every bit of respect that he got, and then some.
You remember that the sound of Rafa’s stumbling English had made you focus on his interview, and it still does today.
“Well Rafa, it was quite an historic match, the one we were all hoping for. How do you feel?”
He laughs, and taps his trophy. “It feel good for the win. I very happy and relieve to have won. Roger, he play amazing tennis, so I think next time he beat me no? So I very happy for this win.”
“Next time you play each other?”
“Si, next time. I hope to play Roger more times. Maybe Australia? I ask him to play Roland Garros next year and he ask me to play Wimbledon so we gonna see what happens there no? But I hope to play him again.”
There was an overwhelming supportive cheer from the crowd at these words and you remember resolutely not looking over at your box in case you saw your Uncle explode.
Rafa thumps down loudly on the sofa beside you and you automatically lift your arm so he can lean into you.
“Roger, you are watching video again?” His arm snakes across your stomach, settling on your hip as you tighter your grip on his shoulder.
“I haven’t watched it in ages. Shut up and watch it with me.”
He settles down, pressing a kiss to your shoulder.
Back on the television screen, the interviewer is commentating on the amount of people who were watching the match and the big screen flashed up pictures of huge crowds watching in Times Square, Central Park and back home in Spain and Switzerland. The Rafa on the television nods seriously.
“Is good for tennis for me and Roger to play everywhere. Is time for me and Roger to play everywhere. I look forward to the travel and to playing for many more fans. We both think this is good.”
The interview ends and Rafa is prompted to stand with his trophy, showing it off to the world and the world’s photographers. You both watch as he poses for a few moments before he snags your arm and drags you into the shot, speaking into your ear.
“What did I say to you?” He asks.
You twine your fingers with his. “You’ve such a bad memory Raf.”
“Shut up. What I say?”
“You said, this moment is for both of us. And I laughed,” You watch yourself laugh on screen, “and said I’d never been so happy with a loss before and then, you kissed me.”
You remember that moment. His lips had touched yours for a brief second, soft and warm and a little chapped, and you’d nearly dropped your plate. Your smile as he’d pulled back, he tells you, could have rivalled the sun.
It was that picture, of you and him so unaware of everyone around you, that had plastered the front pages of newspapers around the world the next day. Not the pictures of Simon greeting Miguel. Or the one of your father shaking Rafa’s hand. And nor the one of the two families standing in the entrance of the tennis centre, a little awkwardly for sure, chatting tentatively about the future that was now possible. Full reconciliation, of course, took a lot longer, and is still ongoing. There were numerous family meetings and some of the older generations still refused to meet with their counterparts, but there’s a new hope. You think the business plans that Diane faxed over that night, including revenue for some of the tournaments in Switzerland, helped a great deal in bringing Simon over to the side of accepting Nadal and forgetting the feud. But you honestly didn’t care what brought around his change in heart, be it love for his nephew and his happiness, or a greed over the money he could stand to gain, you are just happy that you get to be with Rafa.
He pokes your chest.
“Roger, you drift away again.”
Your eyes refocus on the television, the ceremony has finished and it’s playing the end of an old taped Basel FC game from years ago. You grab the remote and switch off the television.
“Sorry, I got caught up in memories.”
He grins. “What kind of memories?”
“Of me?” He asks cheekily and sits up, straddling your lap.
You reach up and brush his hair out of his face. “All my memories of you are good.”
“Even when I beat you at-”
“Shut up Rafa.” You pull him down to kiss him and you can feel his smile.
“I love you Rafa.” Your hands frame his face and stroke his cheekbones.
“Love you too Rogelio.”
The names Federer and Nadal are still renowned around the world. You’d still have to be living in a cave not to know the full story behind these names; their story has been retold so often. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who crossed the divide to be together.