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40 LOVE History: The Pride Of Spain

Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario and Conchita Martínez went as high as No.1 and No.2, even bringing three of the four Grand Slams to Spain one year. Which other four Spaniards have made the Top 20?

Published May 10, 2013 12:00

40 LOVE History: The Pride Of Spain
Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario

MADRID, Spain - There's a name we've all been looking at over and over again all week at the Mutua Madrid Open, from fans to players to staff - that name belongs to Spain's greatest female player of all time, one of the greatest female players of all time, period. The name is Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario.

Sánchez-Vicario - who was given the honor of having one of the main courts at La Caja Mágica named for her, and thus appears on the top of every order of play at the tournament - took counterpunching to a whole new dimension in her career, diffusing her opponents' power with her tireless retrieving but mixing in some big backhands and crisp volleys to finish off the points when she needed to.

She was even more dangerous when she was down, which she showed right off the bat in her first Grand Slam final at the 1989 French Open, rallying from 5-3 down in the third set to beat Steffi Graf.

"This is the tournament I wanted to win all my life," a 17-year-old Sánchez-Vicario said afterwards.

The first Spanish woman to win a Grand Slam title, Sánchez-Vicario wouldn't stop there - she won another pair of Grand Slam titles in 1994, the French Open and US Open, and raised her career haul to four with another triumph at the French Open in 1998. She would also rise to No.1, spending 12 weeks there in 1995, a feat that is unmatched - she is the only Spaniard ever to top the WTA Rankings.

Famed tennis writer and historian Bud Collins summed the Spaniard's style and character up nicely: "Buzzing and flitting the width and breadth of arenas across the planet, the Barcelona Bumblebee - Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario - was unceasing in determined pursuit of tennis balls, none too distant to be retrieved in this manner and returned again and again to demoralize opponents. This went on most of her life, more than half of it as a professional, with no reduction in her zest or desire to win."

He added, "She was a little lady giving the game a big buzz."

But there was another Spaniard hot on her heels. Conchita Martínez took her huge topspin forehands and unpredictable backhands - deep slices with huge topspin blasts sprinkled in - all the way to No.2 in the world during the same era, becoming the second Spanish woman to win a Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 1994, beating sentimental favorite Martina Navratilova in three sets in the final.

"No one has ever passed me better off the backhand than Conchita did today," Navratilova said.

Sánchez-Vicario and Martínez have made Spain one of six countries in WTA history to have more than one Top 2 player, alongside the United States, Russia, the Czech Repulic, Belgium and Serbia.

While Spain hasn't had any other Top 10 players - yet - they have had four more of their own break the Top 20, namely Magüi Serna (who went as high as No.19 in 2004); Anabel Medina Garrigues (who went as high as No.16 in 2009); María José Martínez Sánchez (who peaked at No.19 in 2010) and most recently Carla Suárez Navarro (who set her career-high ranking of No.19 just a few weeks ago).

They've produced two No.1 doubles players as well - Sánchez-Vicario spent 111 weeks there, but also Virginia Ruano Pascual, who had 65 weeks as the best player in the world in the team discipline.

So what's on the horizon for Spanish tennis? With Suárez Navarro beating Top 10 players left, right and center, Medina Garrigues reaching the biggest quarterfinal of her career just this week, Lourdes Domínguez Lino and Martínez Sánchez still grinding and young stars like Sílvia Soler-Espinosa, Lara Arruabarrena, Garbiñe Muguruza and María-Teresa Torró-Flor on the rise, things look pretty bright.

Conchita Martínez

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