The Curator's Corner: Vol 4
This year at the Mutua Madrid Open, the Museum at the International Tennis Hall of Fame will be highlighting some of Spain’s greatest players. Spanish tennis greats and Hall of Famers Manuel Alonso, Andrés Gimeno, Manuel Orantes, Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario, and Manuel Santana will be honored with a display at the tournament. Each of these Spaniards played an important role in tennis history.
During the 1920s, Manuel Alonso was Spain’s finest player, paving the way for future greats Manuel Santana, Manuel Orantes, and Andrés Gimeno. He brought Spain much acclaim during his nearly two-decade playing career. Alonso made his mark by winning the Spanish Championships in 1915, 1919, and 1920. He also represented Spain on its Davis Cup Team six times, reaching the finals in 1922. In 1921, he was a finalist at the Wimbledon Gentleman’s Single Championship. Alonso had strong runs at the U.S. Nationals, reaching the quarterfinals four times (1922, 1923, 1925, 1927). His Olympic exploits led him to the 1920 quarterfinals at Antwerp, Belgium. He returned to Olympic competition again in 1924, reaching the quarterfinals at Games played in Paris, France. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977. Check out the photo, right, of Manuel Alonso with Bill Tilden, Charlie Chaplin, and Douglas Fairbanks on a tennis court in Hollywood (ITHF Collection).
When he won the French Championships in 1961, Manuel Santana wept for an hour afterwards. He had become the first Spaniard to win one of the four major events, and he needed a huge comeback to dethrone two-time defending champion Nicola Pietrangeli. Three years after winning his first French Championship, he captured his second in 1964, also over Pietrangeli. Santana was ranked among the world’s Top 10 players seven times and rose to No. 1 in the rankings in 1966. He played doubles sparingly, winning the 1963 French Championships. At the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, Santana won a Gold Medal in singles and a Silver Medal in doubles when tennis was an exhibition sport. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984.
As a champion who peaked during the formative stages of the Open Era, Manuel Orantes was a sportsman through and through. This crafty left-hander grew up in Spain and as a ball boy he dreamed of playing tennis on the world’s premier stages. His career unfolded slowly yet surely, but he found his peak right smack in the middle of the 1970s. He had a stirring run to the final of the 1974 French Open, and built a two-sets–to-love-lead over Björn Borg before bowing gallantly. In 1975, Orantes made history when he stepped forward to claim the US Open crown, the year that the tournament shifted from grass to clay courts. In that 1975 US Open, Orantes cast aside the 1972 victor Ilie Năstase, rallied spectacularly from two sets down and saved five match points to oust Guillermo Vilas, and returned the next afternoon to dissect defending champion Jimmy Connors in a straight set final. Orantes was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012. Check out the cartoon drawing, right, of Manuel Orantes and Jimmy Connors after the Spaniard’s 1975 US Open win (gift of the cartoonist Frank Lanning, ITHF Collection).
Andrés Gimeno was the most reliable of players. Across his amateur years, he played Davis Cup for Spain (1958-60), captured ten championships in singles, and carried himself honorably wherever he went on the circuit. He turned professional in 1960 not long after securing the Queen’s Club crown with victories over Rod Laver and Roy Emerson. Right up until the arrival of Open Tennis eight years later, Gimeno was a stalwart competitor. Barred from the majors along with the rest of his colleagues who were earning a living from the game, he shined in the relative obscurity of the pro game. Once the Open Era commenced, Gimeno proudly displayed his enduring greatness as he moved into his thirties. At the 1969 Australian Open, he stopped Ken Rosewall before falling to Laver. Most significantly, Gimeno, always at his best on the slow red clay, was a victor at the French Open in 1972. At 34 he established himself as the oldest ever to win at Roland Garros, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009 for his accomplishments.
Throughout her distinguished career, Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario fought valiantly, battling often against heavy odds. The plucky Spaniard wended her way through matches with intelligence and sound judgment. Sánchez-Vicario gave nothing away as she operated diligently from the back of the court. On the slow clay that suited her game so beautifully, she won the French Open three times. In 1994, she capped the most productive season of her career by becoming the first Spanish woman to win the US Open. Altogether, she garnered four major crowns in singles, six more in doubles, and an additional four in mixed. She reached No. 1 in the world in 1995. Moreover, this adaptable woman led Spain to five Fed Cup victories between 1991 and 1998. She represented her country well in Olympic competition, winning two Silver Medals (1996 in singles and 1992 in doubles) and two Bronze Medals (1992 in singles and 1996 in doubles). Sánchez-Vicario was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007. Check out the outfit, above, worn by Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, where she won two medals (Gift of Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario, ITHF Collection).
As Spanish tennis players continues to make headlines, we can only hope to see more Spaniards receive the highest honor in tennis, induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Who will be next? ¿Quién será el próximo?