Rafael Nadal: Olympic gold medalist, 12-time Grand Slam singles winner, multiple Davis Cup champ, and one of the best tennis players in history. Tonight, when Rafa squares off against Jesse Levine in Montreal, whether anyone believes it or not, it could be a match-up of Jew versus Jew.
According to filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, there is some evidence that Nadal, who hails from Majorca, could very well be a member of one of the families that was forced to convert during the Spanish Inquisition. Majorcan Jews who were forced to convert were once called Chuetas.
Is Majorcan Rafael Nadal a Chueta? Probably. His name is Rafael Nadal Parera. “Parera” was a common “converso” i.e., “convert” name. It means “pear tree”. It’s the kind of “neutral” name the newly baptized Jews adopted in the 15th century. Names like “Parera”, “Torres” and “Medina” usually reflect a hidden Jewish past. Some of these newly minted Christians tried to prove their loyalty to their new faith by being more anti-Semitic than the old Christians. But others defended their countrymen and their fellow “conversos”.
Jacobovici lays out more evidence, including the history of Jerónimo Nadal, who was said to be fluent in Hebrew and well-read in Jewish texts.
To Jacobovici’s thesis, I’d like to add my own conspiracy theory. Nadal, in addition to once being ranked the world’s best player (he’s currently #4), is perhaps best known for being the best clay court tennis player ever. Accordingly, Rafa’s been christened “The King of Clay” which, if you think about it, has deeply Jewish resonance with not only with the Golem, but also with the story of Adam (not me, I’m lousy at tennis, although Rafa and I share a birthday).
Additionally, I’d submit that Rafa’s tight knit family is totally characteristic of a Sephardic Jewish family. In an 2010 interview with Inside Tennis, Nadal explained that when he was 14, the Spanish tennis federation asked him to move away from home to train in Barcelona. His uncle and coach refused, worrying that it would affect his education. Years later and despite being a millionaire many times over, Nadal still lives in the family home.
Made up of four brothers, Sebastian, Rafael, Miguel Angel, Toni, and one sister, Maria Elena, the entire family lives in Manacor, a town of about 35,000 on the island of Mallorca. Proving just how close-knit a group they are, the entire extended family lives in the same apartment complex. (Their father, Rafael senior, purchased this land to keep his family close by).
And, in case you needed further proof, watch this video deconstruction of Nadal’s borderline obsessive compulsive pre-service ritual.
Related: Reporter Digs Up Converso Past
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.