“You’ve been coming to Australia now for many years,” Channel 7 tennis commentator Jim Courer said, in conversation with Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open last year.
Nadal had just won his fourth round Australian Open match against the formidable Gael Monfils and had sidled up to Courier for his post-match interview.
“This is the first time that you brought your girlfriend Xisca [Perello] down to Australia if I’m not mistaken, is that right? How has that been for you to have her with you here?”
After clumsily navigating the sudden interest in his private life, Nadal joked. Yes, it was true. Ten years of Open appearances and his girlfriend “finally gets a wildcard to come here”.
Courier pushed a fraction more, but got little in return. “You know, uhhhh, better we stop here,” Nadal concluded.
It was all in jest, the atmosphere was relaxed and as the camera panned to Perello, she smiled.
What became clear, however, was how the innocent fun and the awkward exchange secreted a real sense of embarrassment in Nadal — he simply is not used to, nor interested, in speaking about his long-term girlfriend. And that’s always been the way.
Their love, it seems, is one that is characterised by its refusal to play out in the spotlight. Their love is theirs, her life is hers, and his tennis? Well, that’s ours.
But as all eyes zoomed in on Perello and our focus centred on her support, many began to want to know more. Who was this elusive, private partner of one of the most famous sports stars on the globe? For many more, it was the first time they realised Nadal had a girlfriend.
And he has. For some time. Nearing 11 years, many believe.
I was naturally intrigued. Perello seemed, different? In an information age where so much attention is given to the private lives of our celebrities, Xisca Perello, born Maria Francisca Perello, escaped our radar with the stealth and certainty of someone who knew what she was doing.
Digging a little deeper into Perello's time in the public eye, I found so very little. This in itself is notable feat. Their red carpet appearances are sparing, their talk of each other more so.