MADRID -- Only a few years after she retired from tennis, Aranzazu Isabel “Arantxa” Sanchez Vicario was approached by the braintrust contemplating the construction of the Caja Magica.

They wanted to borrow her famous name and put it on a new show court in the 294-million Euro facility they were building about five miles south of the city center.

“I was excited and happy,” Sanchez Vicario said recently from her home in South Florida. “It’s a privilege to have a stadium like that under your name. Normally you have this kind of recognition when you’re not alive, when you pass away.

“I was very surprised it happened so quickly. I mean, it’s going to be forever. It’s there now that I’m not playing and when we visit, my kids say, `Wow, mom, you have a stadium court with your name on it.’ ”

When Arantxa Sanchez Vicario Stadium opened in 2009, Sanchez Vicario and Manolo Santana, the namesake of the main stadium, were on hand. Hers is the second show court at the Mutua Madrid Open, with a seating capacity of 3,000. When it’s full and there’s a deciding set in play, it’s one of the best venues in the sport. The ambience, the atmosphere can be electric. A fitting reward for Sanchez Vicario after a career well played.


To help celebrate the Hologic WTA Tour’s 50th anniversary, we caught up with the great Spanish champion while the world’s greatest female and male tennis athletes were gathered in the Spanish capital. After dropping off her children, Arantxa and Leo, off at school, Sanchez Vicario discussed her groundbreaking career.

Asked which of her many achievements she was most proud of, Sanchez Vicario made an interesting choice.

“My best achievement, I have to say, is that I always had the love of the crowd wherever I went,” she said. “Either you have it, or you don’t have it. It is true still to this day. It’s something for me as a human being that is most important to me. I have my feet on the floor, especially now that I’m a mom.”

Allow us to recite a few accomplishments:

Playing from 1985-2002, Sanchez Vicario:

  • Won four Grand Slam singles titles -- Roland Garros (1989, 1994 and 1998) and the US Open (1994). There were also five major doubles titles and four more in mixed doubles for a total of 13.
  • Collected 29 WTA Tour singles titles, reigned as No.1 (the first Spaniard to do so) and compiled a record of 759-295.
  • Won 69 WTA doubles titles (also rose to No.1) and finished 676-224.
  • Led Spain to five Fed Cup titles (1991, 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1998) and won four Olympic medals, two silver and two bronze.

“Honestly,” Sanchez Vicario said, “when I started as a young kid, you never know how successful your career will be. I’m very proud to have that career. If you would have told me before, I would have said, `Where do I sign up for this?’

“It was a lot of hard work, discipline, good values and a lot of sacrifices, but it was worth it.”

She was born in Barcelona and years later broadcaster/writer Bud Collins would nickname her the “Bumblebee of Barcelona.” She first crashed into world prominence at the 1989 French Open, a tournament that marked a turning point in women’s tennis.

Sanchez Vicario, only 17, became the youngest Roland Garros women’s champion when she defeated World No.1 Steffi Graf 7-6 (8), 3-6, 7-5 in the final. Graf actually served for the match at 5-3 in the third, but lost the game at love -- and won only three more points the rest of the way. This was the year Monica Seles made her debut in Paris. It was also the first French Open in 11 years not to feature either Chris Evert or Martina Navratilova.

CHRIS WILKINS/AFP via Getty Images

Sanchez Vicario -- the first Spanish player, male or female, to win a major singles title -- defeated Mary Pierce in the 1994 Paris final and Seles in 1998. The 1994 US Open win came over Graf in the final.

Naturally, Sanchez Vicario is proud of those Grand Slam singles titles but is quick to mention the eight major finals she lost.

“There are two players -- but people only remember the one who wins,” she said. “I could have probably won more Grand Slams, but it’s something you also have to remember. After many years, you realize how hard it is to get there.”

It’s worth noting that those eight losses came to Graf (five), Seles (two) and Pierce. Sanchez Vicario believes her era was the most difficult and filled with more great athletes than any other.

Her 2007 induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame was overwhelming.

“As a tennis player, that’s the best recognition,” she said. “You want to be part of the Hall of Fame and you want to be part of the history.

“I was inducted with Pete Sampras, also one of the best athletes in that moment. We both cried in the speeches. I cried a little bit less than Pete, but it was very emotional.”

These days, Sanchez Vicario still plays a little tennis. She also bicycles to keep fit. Mostly, though, she’s tending to her children. She still finds time to follow the professional game and can converse fluently about the dominance of Iga Swiatek, the improved play of Aryna Sabalenka, the emergence of Elena Rybakina and the wonderfully diverse game of Ons Jabeur.

More than two decades after she retired, her influence on the game can be seen in the success of Rafael Nadal and Paula Badosa -- and the ascension of 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz.

“Maybe I was the pioneer of the Spanish female players in the country,’ Sanchez Vicario said. “Since then, we have great success in Spain. You see all the great champions that we have.

“I’m not a person who likes to talk about myself in the first person, but it’s nice that people see that I helped my country tennis-wise. Rafa did it, and now Alcaraz. Yeah, maybe I’m a little bit a part of that. Hopefully, we’ll continue the Spanish domination for many, many years.”