He was the first Spanish tennis player to win a Grand Slam tournament.
Former tennis player Manolo Santana died this Saturday in Marbella at the age of 83, where he had established his habitual residence. The Mutua Madrid Open, a tournament of which he was honorary president, has been the one who has communicated the death.
Manuel Santana was the great pioneer of tennis in Spain since in 1961 he was the first of his nationality to win a Grand Slam tournament: that of Roland Garros. He was born in the Madrid neighborhood of Vallecas on May 10, 1938. From a humble family, at the age of 12, he began working at the Velázquez club as a ball boy.
In 1954 his father died, who was imprisoned for political reasons during the Franco regime, and the Romero Girón family took him under their protection. He moved in with them and went from ball boy to club member.
In 1955, coinciding with the end of his high school studies, he won the Junior Spanish Championship, which he revalidated the following year. Also in 1956, he was awarded the Real Madrid Tennis Cup and participated for the first time in the Spanish team that won the Galea Cup, a trophy that they revalidated consecutively in 1957 and 1958 as a team with Andrés Gimeno and José Luis Arilla.
Two years later, in 1960, he completed his military service in the Aviation weapon, and the following year he won the Roland Garros tournament, the first of his three individual “Grand Slam” and the first Spanish to conquer a tournament of this category, at defeat in the final Italian Nicola Pietrangeli (4-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-0 and 6-2), who had won the title in 1959 and 1960.
In 1965 he won the European Davis Cup zone and came to play in the final contest for the famous salad bowl, losing to the Australians 4-1, with Santana’s point against Roy Emerson.
In their second Davis Cup final, in 1967, the Spanish fell back to the Australians, and again Santana scored the only Spanish point, this time by defeating Newcombe. His third “Grand Slam” was the 1965 US Open, in Forest Hill, after beating Cliff Drysdale in the final, 6-2, 7-9, 7-5, and 6-1.
On July 1, 1966, he won the only final that he managed to play in the prestigious Wimbledon tournament, in which he defeated Dennis Ralston, 6-4, 11-9, and 6-4. In the London grass, he had already warned when in 1962 he reached the fourth round, against Rod Laver, and in 1963 when he reached the semifinals. This enviable record of the years 1965 and 1966 made it the most sought-after racket of the moment.
From the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico, in which tennis was an exhibition sport, Santana won two gold medals, in singles he won his compatriot Manuel Orantes and in doubles, pairing with Arilla, they beat Orantes and Juan Gisbert.
Between 1958 and 1970, Santana played a total of 119 Davis Cup matches, of which he won 91. He returned to the team in Turin in 1973 and said goodbye to this competition, being the third in a number of matches played, behind the Italian. Nicola Pietrangeli and Romanian Ilie Nastase, with 120 games in 46 qualifiers, of which 92 were wins.
His successes on and off the slopes also received other recognitions such as the Gold Medal for Sporting Merit (1965), the Great Cross of Isabel la Católica (1966), the Gold Medal of the Villa de Madrid (1970), the Medal for Sporting Merit of the Madrid City Council (1996), the Great Cross for Sporting Merit (2000), the 2008 “Golden Racket” of the Rome tournament, the Great Cross of the Dos de Mayo of the Community of Madrid (2008), the 2010 Francisco Fernández Ochoa Award from the National Sports Awards, which rewards career, or the FIT Philippe Chatrier Award (2020).
In 1984 he entered the Newport Tennis Hall of Fame, second Spanish after Manuel Alonso in 1977; in December 2004 he received the FIT Excellence Award and in July 2005 he was appointed to be part of the “Club de Leyendas del Tenis Español”, in which its members serve as ambassadors for Spanish tennis.