By Navya Singhai
Town Crier Editorial Intern
Some tennis fans are excited just to watch Rafael Nadal play the sport he has dominated for more than a decade, and many of those who meet him are starstruck. So just imagine how Los Altos native John Rado feels – he attends Nadal’s tennis academy in Spain.
“I’ve seen him at the spa sometimes, and I just said, ‘Hi,’ to him,” Rado said of meeting his idol. “The other time was during graduation. I was with my friends who actually hit with him and (Nadal) knew their names, and so we went up and I introduced myself and then we took a picture.”
Rado enrolled in the Rafa Nadal Academy more than a year ago, leaving Mountain View High after the first semester of his junior year. He originally planned to return to Mountain View for his senior year, but said he loved the academy so much that he decided to graduate from the international high school there.
Rado also spent the summer of 2018 at the academy, based in Nadal’s hometown of Manacor on the Spanish island of Mallorca. Rado is glad he returned.
“It was a whole new experience for me,” he said. “(Now I get) to hang out with my friends all the time, and the tennis is really good. Everything, just everything, is good.”
Taking classes at the academy’s international school allows Rado to cater to his athletic interests while ensuring he meets the requirements to attend college in the United States. He has already committed to Skidmore College in New York, where he intends to continue his tennis career.
“I knew I wanted to play tennis in college,” said Rado, currently taking classes in anatomy, sport science, U.S. history, statistics, psychology and Spanish, “and the best ones are in America.”
Although most people at the academy speak English, Rado is trying to fully immerse himself in the Spanish language.
“I did two years of Spanish (at Mountain View) and I kind of knew it,” he said, “but now I can actually hold a conversation.”
Along with the changes in school and language, Rado had to adjust to being away from his family, friends and home. He didn’t see his parents his first semester at the academy.
“Honestly, it was pretty tough, because I got there in January and went home at the end of June,” Rado said. “I wouldn’t say I got super homesick, but I definitely wanted to go home and missed home. It was cool because I got a clean college experience, I guess.”
Life at the academy shares many similarities with college dorm life, such as having a roommate. Also like most colleges, the academy has a cafeteria, laundry room, library, pools and gyms. Such amenities mean Rado can dedicate more time to training and studying.
“It’s pretty easy,” Rado said of the academy’s conveniences, “all you have to do is tennis and everything else should fall into place.”
Although it isn’t all he does, tennis takes up a large chunk of his day. Five days per week, he’s on the court nearly three hours and puts in more than an hour of conditioning work as well. He trains with several coaches, including former pro players and some who have coached pros. They include Toni Nadal, Rafael Nadal’s uncle and former coach.
“We’re in Spain, so they have a different training method and it’s pretty cool,” Rado said. “I get good training from all the people at this academy – like I had Toni Nadal come down on the court and coach me,” Rado said. “We’re always out training, and they’re giving us good tips and feedback.”
When Rado isn’t playing or studying, he finds time to travel. He’s visited several parts of Spain, along with Switzerland, Germany and Portugal.
“The academy is separate from actual (mainland) Spain, but sometimes I go out for the weekend and I’m able to spend the night at a friend’s house,” Rado said. “So I go to the other side of the island and I get to experience the Spanish lifestyle. Everything is so much later here – they eat lunch at 2 or 3 p.m. and dinner at 9 or 10 p.m.”
Rado must watch what and how much he eats, he said, as the players at the academy all check in with a nutritionist about their body fat and the like. However, Rado added that he still gets to enjoy a variety of cuisines, from American burgers to Spanish paella.
While he gets a taste of home in the cafeteria, Rado said he misses the freedom of driving his car whenever he wanted. However, he noted that living in Spain and playing tennis at the academy has been worth the trade-off.