Santana, the genius in ten volleys

Jesus Mínguez


Jesus Mínguez

Tennis, Spanish sports, Marbella and Madrid are sadder today without Manolo Santana, the genius who put a racket in every home and who died at the age of 83 in the Andalusian city. Champion of Roland Garros (1961 and 1964), the US Open (1965) and Wimbledon (1966), he became an icon inside and outside our borders, especially at the All England Club, where he was revered. He grew up in a gray Spain to which he put color together with other pioneers such as Federico Martín Bahamontes, Pepe Legrá, Ángel Nieto or Seve Ballesteros. He also made an entire country stay up late with the Davis Cup finals in Australia (1965 and 1967). And he remained attached to tennis all his life. .

Here we summarize his sporting life in ten volleys. Ten unforgettable moments.

Manolo santana

The boy of war and Franco

Manolo Santana was born on May 10, 1938. He was a son of the Civil War. A postwar boy. “My mother told me that one day, walking with me in her arms, a shell fell a couple of meters from us and did not explode. It was the beginning of that lucky guy, “he recalled. His father, a Republican, worked in the transport company and because of his union membership he spent six years in jail. Within two years of leaving, he was taken away by a serious illness. And his mother had to raise four children. “One day my brother, who was a ball boy, got sick and she encouraged me to replace him. With a piece of wood torn from the back of a chair, I made a kind of shovel with which I went to the fronton to hit balls ”. Those were its beginnings.

Later, the Romero Girón family became infatuated with Manolito, ‘adopted’ him at home and at the Velázquez Club and opened the door to what was then a “posh” sport (his definition). Triumph. After winning Wimbledon in 1966, Franco called El Pardo to play a match against Lis Arilla. Afterward, the Chieftain half apologized to him. “He told me that in wars sometimes the righteous paid for sinners, and that perhaps that would have been the case with my father. He surprised me. I never got to tell my mother, for not resuscitating painful memories. She also never brought up painful memories. the subject, he did not want us to live with resentment for what happened, “he said. He always lived without resentment. He always adapted to what came.

Manolo santana

The discoverer

Santana discovered tennis in a Spain that only thought about soccer, cycling and boxing. And above all, he did it through the Davis Cup. In August 1965 he had won Roland Garros twice, but few stopped him on the street. That had happened in a distant Paris … But at that time, in a still strange competition called Davis Cup, the United States came to play against Spain in Barcelona carrying their own food. The water was to be served bottled in his presence. They doubted the health of a Spain where a dictator ruled … And that was experienced as an affront to the country. TVE broadcast the tie, with Juan José Castillo (“Entered, entered …!”) And the people crowded in front of the few televisiores. Joan Gisbert, Lis Arilla and a friendly man from Madrid, Santana, had a picnic with Ralston, Froehling and Grabner. And the words drive, volley, passing shot or deuce entered the vocabulary of the people.

The Davis began to be followed with interest. So much so that the first AS cover (12-06-1967) was shared with the European boxing team of Sombrita and a photo of Santana raised on his shoulders in Barajas by the fans after returning from South Africa after qualifying Spain for their second final of the Salad Bowl tournament. “The Davis was already in the hearts of the Spanish and I was very excited to see myself as a bullfighter,” he later said.

Manolo santana

Roland Garros 1961

“When I first won in Paris, people didn’t know if the ball was round or square.” This is how unnoticed the first triumph of a Spaniard in a Grand Slam happened where a certain Rafa Nadal later reigned. Santana, after serving in the military, launched himself into international tennis and in his second participation at Roland Garros he won the Musketeers’ Cup. He defeated Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and in the final who would later become his great friend, Nicola Pietrangeli, 4-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-0 and 6-2. “I was so excited that I crossed the net underneath instead of jumping it, because I saw it very high,” he said. “In Paris there was no one. Not a journalist. At the airport the next day, just my family and my friends.” The same had not happened to Federico Martín Bahamontes when he was crowned on the Champs Elysees two years earlier. Tennis did not exist.

Manolo santana

Roland Garros 1964

The man from Madrid was crowned again, again against Italian Pietrangeli, 6-3, 6-1, 4-6 and 7-5. By then, tennis was already divided between the professionals (Andrés Gimeno joined the promoter Jack Kramer circuit in 1960) and the amateurs. “They offered it to me later than to Gimeno. But I was fortunate that Juan Antonio Samaranch (national sports delegate) refused to let me go with the professionals. I knew that without Gimeno and without me the possibilities of Spain in Davis’ were going to be null. I couldn’t let the two best players escape. And he fought with the authorities to get me a fixed of about three million pesetas, which was what Kramer’s group offered me, “Santana revealed later.

With Emerson he also agreed to ask for a fixed $ 2,000 (underhand) to the tournaments to play. Because prizes were not allowed. They traveled the world alone and ganged up in hotels. “I didn’t have a coach until the end of my career, when Lew Hoad helped me, because he couldn’t afford it.”

Manolo santana

US Open 1965

The pioneer had two Roland Garros, but neither repercussion nor much money. “World tennis was totally Anglo-Saxon. In New York, Wimbledon and Australia it was played on grass. Roland Garros was not so important then, and I decided not to play it in 1965 and 1966 to prepare myself and have the opportunity to play well on grass. And It went well! “, pointed out Santana. At the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hill he got rid of John Newcombe, Arthur Ashe and in the final of Cliff Drysdale (6-3, 7-9, 7-5 and 6-1). With two stops due to rain. A friend had told him to change his socks every four or five sets to avoid slipping and he wasted about ten pairs. Robert Kennnedy, Governor of New York, appeared in the locker room during one of the breaks … And he asked about Franco. “I stopped him a bit because I told him I had come to play tennis. But I also told him about my father. He was silent. Then he handed me the trophy,” he recalled.

Manolo santana

Wimbledon 1966

Tennis has its cathedral, the All England of WiMbledon. And there also Don Manuel reigned. It was his particular trip to the moon. Something Martian for a Spaniard at that time, when he knocked down American Dennis Ralston (6-4, 11-9 and 6-4) in the final. He won in pristine white with the Real Madrid crest (the team of his life of which he remained a fan) on his chest. That shield was personally brought to London by the clever Raimundo Saporta, Santiago Bernabéu’s right-hand man, who knew about Santana’s passion. A hotel employee sewed it on the polo shirt: “I knew I was playing it because at the All England Club they are very strict with protocol and they could have penalized me for wearing it, but they must have liked how I played and they didn’t tell me anything.”

Dressed in Madrid, then came his anecdote with the Duchess of Kent at the trophy ceremony. Unaware of the protocol, he took her hand before the frightened partners. “She was shooting up and I was shooting down! But then she invited me to have five o’clock tea with her family and told me she liked my game.”

Manolo santana

Davis’ finals

Santana made tennis popular in Spain especially through the Davis Cup. Then, the champion received the winner of the challenge round. And with Santana, Lis Arilla, Joan Gisbert and Juan Manuel Couder the miracle of reaching the 1965 final against Australia was worked. On Sydney grass, they fell 4-1. “It was the first time, and everyone turned to us. We became national heroes. Samaranch and Santiago Bernabéu (president of Real Madrid) traveled.

And when I beat Roy Emerson, the emigrants invaded the track to shoulder me. They trampled the grass, and that constituted a sacrilege for the Australians, it was something worse than hitting a cow in India, “joked the Madrilenian. In 1967 they again challenged the Aussies. This time Santana and Manolo Orantes played all the points. And they also fell 4-1. “But with the 1967 team, if we had been able to play at home and on clay, Spain would have been champions,” recalled Santana, who was left with the bitterness of not lifting the Salad Bowl.

Manolo santana

Mr. Davis

Spain already has six Salad Bowls, but even with Rafa Nadal, Mister Davis is still Santana. He is the player with the most wins (92-28 in total, fifth in the world ranking), he formed the best doubles with Arilla (23-11) and played 46 heats over 14 years. As he was hooked by the magic of the competition, he acted as captain during two stages. In the late eighties and early nineties. “The tennis players’ coaches were the ones who, directly or indirectly, caused my departure,” he said. In 1999, it was time to travel to defend the category to New Zealand and the stars were erased. He pulled Félix Mantilla and Pato Clavet and they took the chestnuts out of the fire.

The following year, the draw was favorable but he was maneuvered to replace him. So favorable that he ended up winning the first Davis in Sant Jordi, which he decided not to attend. “It did not seem right to me to sit on the side of those who had betrayed me,” he said. Perhaps the great pain of his career.

Manolo santana

Olympic Games

Tennis was not on the Olympic program between 1924 and 1988, when he returned to Seoul with the professionals. But during Mexico 1968, Samaranch (who then did not lead the IOC but did lead Spanish sport and was gaining influence), convinced of the potential of the sport, organized a parallel exhibition tournament in Guadalajara. And the gold went to Santana. “The Marqués de Cabanes, president of Hispaniola, gave me a check for 748 pesetas (4.5 euros)! As an allowance that I framed. Luckily the Marquis did not know that Samaranch, through Raimundo Saporta that he was carrying the briefcase He gave us 200,000 pesetas to distribute among the players every time we played Davis Cup in Barcelona, ​​”he revealed on another occasion.

Manolo santana

Director of the Madrid Open

Santana, the best public relations that Spanish sport has given, also has among his merits having entangled the magnate Ion Tiriac to raise a tournament in Madrid in the heat of the Olympic aspirations of the capital. In 2002 the Masters 1,000 started, which has grown to become one of the most important combined ATP and WTA events in the world. Santana directed the tournament until 2019, when he passed the baton to Feliciano López to occupy the position of honorary president. Every year he went to receive the main tennis players in Barajas, he attended from the king to ministers or soccer stars in the box. But he didn’t neglect even the last ball boy. The heart of the Madrid Open beat in rhythm with his.

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