By Barry Janoff
September 26, 2012: Rafael Nadal pulled out of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and the U.S. Open in New York due to chronic knee problems. But the former No. 1 ranked tennis player in the world has a new job: Working the reception desk at the upscale Vall D'Or golf country club located on the island of Majorca.
However, the position is just a temporary one for the 11-time Grand Slam winner. It actually is part of his marketing alliance with PokerStars.com, which claims to oversee the world's biggest online poker tournament and this week concluded a 22-day event that had a prize pool of more than $55.5 million and 126, 000 entrants. (Due to federal regulations, players in the U.S. are not allowed to participate.)
Nadal, who said he is planning on a return to tennis action in time for the first Grand Slam of 2013, the Australian Open in January, has been working with PokerStars to improve his poker-playing skills. The job at the golf club was more than earning a paycheck — it was intended to teach him how to bluff and improve his poker face.
In the spot, "I'm Not Rafa," Nadal is put behind a reception desk and given a shirt with the name "Tony" on it. He also dons a pair of glasses intended to hide his identity, a la Superman and Clark Kent. A hidden camera then tracks Nadal's progress as unsuspecting golfers ask for assistance.
Although the concept has been used before — among others, NBA star Amar'e Stoudemire went undercover last year as a salesman in a Foot Locker commercial — Nadal's low-key demeanor works in his favor.
One man approaches Nadal to ask for golf assistance, then changes course in mid-sentence. "I need to . . . You're not . . . you're Rafa!?" "Of course not," Nadal replies.
When two women insist that he looks exactly like Nadal, Rafa says with a straight face, "People have often said that. But, no, I'm not him." "You're not Rafa??" asks another man, refusing to believe Tony. "Well, you look a hell of a lot like him, eh!?"
A man and a woman are almost convinced by Tony that he is not the world-famous tennis player, but take no chances. "Just in case, we are going to take a picture with you."
After several hours, Nadal's shift is over and he is greeted by an executive from PokerStars. "Well done, Rafa. Now you know what bluffing means." "Yes," Nadal replies. "Now I know."
Text offers: "Improve your skills everywhere . . . and be ready for everything."
The closing shot shows Nadal with his glasses off and his true identity revealed. One man, however, is still a bit confused. "Do you play tennis?" he asks Rafa. And with his best poker face, Nadal states, "Sometimes."
(See the full spot here.)
The 26-year-old Nadal won the 2012 French Open but has not been on a tennis court in public since losing in the second round at Wimbledon this past June.