Happily ever Rafter: Pat loving life in the Northern Rivers
AFTER a legendary career in the spotlight, Pat Rafter doesn't make too many public appearances these days.
The father of two now pours most of his rigour into his new Broken Head property, where he is any given time planting banana trees, looking after a small head of cattle or greasing up his Bobcat.
Rafter's retreat from the public eye means his much sought-after wisdom is hard to come by - and that is what makes Tennis Terranora's recruitment of the Australian icon for the club's charity ball this Saturday, where the former world number one and two-time grand slam champion will appear for a sit-down interview and help the club raise funds to rebuild the facilities so devastated in last year's fires, so thrilling for club officials.
Talking exclusively to the Tweed Daily News in the lead-up to the event, Rafter spoke of his new life with a young family in the Northern Rivers, the danger of toxic expectation on junior players turning pro, and the self-doubt he harboured early in his career.
"I was never expected to be the great player - there were always better kids around me,” Rafter said.
"I didn't think I was good enough, so I always had the expectation that tennis wasn't going to be my life.”
Rafter said that his self-doubt inoculated him from the "panic” he now sees in elite juniors when things aren't going to plan.
"I think across the board people want it all to happen quicker,” Rafter said.
"We were patient in our time.
"Parents and coaches can create unrealistic expectations for their kids. They think their kid is the best in the world but that's not reality.”
"And if it isn't happening, and they aren't where they want to be, the psyche can be to panic.
"Pressure creates anxiety, and that's dangerous.”
While making it onto the ATP tour and vying for grand-slams naturally requires a healthy self-esteem, which for some can evolve into a ruthless single-mindedness or vexing braggadocio, Rafter believes his own ascension through the ranks was greatly aided when the expectation around him dissolved.
"I remember talking to Mum in 1992 about my insecurities that I wouldn't make it,” Rafter recalled.
"Mum was so fantastic. She invested so much time and emotional energy, but she said, 'there's no pressure from us. If you don't want to play tennis any more, so be it.'
"That actually relieved a lot of pressure.
”I thought I had this expectation, that I owed the family, owed them for the investment.”
Rafters' tennis insights and anecdotes could fill hours, if not days, of conversation: the most interesting bits of which will be explored at the Terranora Tennis Club charity ball.
After the devastating fires that brought the club to its knees last year, particularly poignant will be Rafter's advice on dealing with setbacks.
"With trials and tribulations, you see the character of a club or the character of a person,” Rafter said.
"Optimism and perspective become critical when dealing with adversity... outside of that, it's having a back-up plan.”
It is a subject he neatly turns back to the expectations we can have on our fledgling youngsters.
"Keeping the kid passionate about the sport, letting him or her enjoy themselves, introducing them to hard work, and having a plan B...it can be good to take that pressure off.”
A dedicated father, Rafter's perspective on tennis is now coloured by his new life in the Northern Rivers.
"I enjoyed tennis and I enjoyed chasing my dream. Outside of that I wanted to have another life,” he said.
"My life now is family, kids, mowing lawns, looking after machines, and enjoying the journey.
"I'm here for my kids and I want to see them grow and develop as people. There are life lessons we are learn every day.
"Freedom and discipline, and being a part of that journey, that's the best thing I think you can do.”
- The Tennis Terranora 'Wimbledon Charity Ball' is this Saturday, June 30.
Pat Rafter will be joined on the night by 2000 Wimbledon doubles runner-up Sandon Stolle.
The event will include a memorabilia auction with items such as a tennis ball from the 2017 Wimbledon men's final signed by winner Roger Federer as well as items signed by Rafter, Lleyton Hewitt and John McEnroe.
Tickets can be found at Tennis Terranora's Facebook page.