Class of 1984
World No. 1 (1966)
Grand Slam Results
5-time major champion
Open Era Record
Gold Medal in Men’s Singles at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games
Silver Medal in Men’s Doubles at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games
(Tennis was a demonstration sport at the 1968 Olympics)
Member of the Spanish Davis Cup Team 1958-1970, 1973
Overall Record: 92-28
Singles Record: 69-17
Doubles Record: 23-11
When he won the French Championships in 1961, Manuel “Manolo” Santana wept for an hour afterwards. Santana had become the first Spaniard to win one of the four major events, and he needed a huge comeback from being down 2-1 in sets to dethrone two-time defending champion Nicola Pietrangeli, widely considered the best clay court player in the world. “My plan was to keep the rallies long and make Nicky fight for all his points – that eventually makes him nervous,” Santana said.
Santana was seeded No. 6 in the 1961 French Championships. His semifinal match against No. 2 Rod Laver was riveting tennis – an instant classic. The combatants battled for five sets, with Santana roaring back from 2-1 sets down to capture the match, 3-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0.
Santana got his remarkable hand-eye coordination from learning the game as a ball boy at the Madrid Country Club. A top British critic once said that “on court he sees the ball a yard faster than most others.” He possessed a potent forehand, replete with heavy topspin and a variety of spins, and he tactically knew how to play on clay. He could disguise his drop shot as well as any player in history and employ it at will. It was demoralizing to slug baseline balls against Santana and at the last second watch helplessly as he tucked a drop shot inches over the net.
Three years after winning his first French Championship, he captured his second in 1964 over Pietrangeli. Seeded No. 3, Santana sailed through the first three rounds easily, and faced his toughest test in the semifinals. Frenchman Pierre Darmon was intent on winning his hometown championship and roared back from being two sets down to force a fifth. Always cool, calm, and collected, Santana won the fifth 6-4 and met his fellow clay court specialist in the final. Santana jumped out to a 2-0 sets lead and the match was decided in four sets, 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 7-5.
Santana had the rare gift of being able to hit with both power and touch, so while he openly disliked playing on grass, he was nonetheless prepared for the speed and faster pace of the U.S. National Championships and Wimbledon. In his 12-year career, Santana only played at Forest Hills six times and survived the first round just twice (1960, 1964) before winning the title in 1965. The No. 4 seed was darn good through the early rounds and defeated Arthur Ashe in the semifinals before taking out South African Cliff Drysdale in the championship match, 6-2, 7-9, 7-5, 6-1. When he won the U.S. Nationals, Santana became the first European to win the title since Henri Cochet in 1928. In 1966, Santana, a 14-year veteran with the team, led Spain to the Davis Cup final with a huge victory over the United States in Barcelona, but lost to Australia 4-1 in the deciding match.
As the No. 1 seed at the 1966 U.S. Championships, Santana reached the semifinals but was dethroned by John Newcombe in four sets, 8-6 in the last.
Santana skipped the 1966 French Championship to concentrate on winning Wimbledon. The plan to prepare for five weeks worked wonders, as he defeated American Dennis Ralston in a straight sets final, 6-4, 11-9, 6-4 to become the first Spaniard to win the Gentlemen’s Singles title. Santana’s route to the championship had a few bumpy paths. He had to come back against Aussie Ken Fletcher in the quarterfinals, who had taken a 5-4 fifth set lead and was serving for the match. Santana roared back to a 7-5 final set victory. In the semifinals against Owen Davidson, Santana lost a 5-4 lead with three match points in the fifth and had to come back for another 7-5 victory in the final set.
In the championship match against Ralston, Santana went down 4-1 in a marathon second set. He changed match momentum capably, negating Ralston’s serve-and-volley game by unleashing powerful winners off both his forehand and backhand. He attacked the net and made brilliant volley’s, displaying a sensational all-court game. “Wimbledon was the biggest of the four,” Santana told The Independent in 1966. “I hope you will agree with me, this is the one all the players want to win. This is why I feel very sorry for the great players like Ken Rosewall, Ilie Nastase, and Ivan Lendl who never won Wimbledon. I am very happy I did it once.” After his win, Santana became the first European to win Wimbledon since Yvon Petra of France in 1946.
Santana was ranked among the world’s Top 10 players seven times and rose to the No. 1 ranking in 1966. He earned 16 tournament singles titles and 73 as both an amateur and professional. He played doubles sparingly, winning the 1963 French Nationals playing alongside Aussie Roy Emerson in a 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 victory over South Africans Gordon Forbes and Abe Segal. By the time the Open Era started, he played just three more years. At the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, Santana won a Gold Medal in singles and a Silver Medal in doubles, where tennis was a demonstration/exhibition sport.
French Championships: W 1961, 1964
Wimbledon: W 1966
U.S. Nationals: W 1965
French Championships: W 1963
Wimbledon: SF 1963