Since the dawn of the 1960s, Spanish tennis players have dominated on Grass, Clay, and Hard Court tennis. Though Americans like the Williams sisters and Coco Gauff have made strong impressions on the world level, with the Williams sisters reigning at number one for a long time, the remarkable success of Spain in the world of tennis has produced some truly exciting athletes.
Spanish Tennis Players
Dominant Spanish tennis players, both men and women, have been in the game for centuries, but this particular period of dominance began with men like Manuel Orantes and Manolo Santos in the 1960s capturing Grand Slam titles and bringing in the era of the Opens. At the stadiums of Roland-Garros, Forest Hills, the Australian Open, and Wimbledon, Spanish tennis players have brought their best and challenged the rest of the world to meet them. The top two men’s players in late 2022, the upstart Carlos Alcarez at #1 and legend Rafael Nadal at #2, are Spaniards. With the retirement of Swiss player Roger Federer, it seems that the top of the men’s rankings for the near future will be dominated by Spanish training lineages. #3 player, Norwegian Casper Ruud is a close friend and sometimes training partner of the legendary “Rafa.”
Female Tennis Players
Spanish women, though overshadowed in the last two decades by Americans such as Venus and Serena Williams, have been dominant in the women’s circuit as well. Players like Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Conchita Martinez racked up Roland-Garros and Wimbledon finals appearances and even championships throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. More recently, players like Garbiñe Muguruza have climbed the ranks, with the Spanish-Venezuelan Mugurza, a pupil of Conchita Martinez, having ranked #1 as recently as 2018. Muguruza remains a force in tennis, ranking at #13 as of late 2022, and the then-27-year-old Muguruza represented Spain at the Olympics in 2021. Muguruza could be considered a “runner up” for this listing of modern Spanish tennis greats because of her ongoing career, which was still bubbling just under the top 10 as of the September 2022 rankings.
10. Manuel Orantes
Manuel Orantes was a sturdy Spanish lefty who went pro in 1968. Large and powerful, he took his only Grand Slam title in the U.S. Open in 1975. The following year he was runner-up to Bjorn Borg in the French Open final and won a total of 36 singles titles in other tournaments. He earned a phenomenal record in the Davis Cup, winning sixty of his eighty-seven Davis Cup matches. A doubles phenomenon, he also won 22 doubles titles in his career and reached 20 doubles finals including the 1978 French Open. Orantes was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2012.
9. Juan-Carlos Ferrero
Ferrero’s career was one of greatness marred by injury. Reaching only one Grand Slam final, the ’03 French Open, Ferrero beat Martin Verkerk of the Netherlands to claim his only Grand Slam title. He was known for a blistering forehand and stout defense, but his injury history came to hurt him time and again, and though his power never waned throughout his career, he also was eclipsed by later men. Ferrero held the World #1 ranking for eight weeks from September to November 2003.
He dropped out of the top 10 by the late 2000s, and he announced his retirement following the 2012 Valencia Open on October 22, 2012. After his retirement, Ferrero opened a tennis academy. Ferrero’s academy was recognized by 2020 as one of the top tennis academies in the world, promising to turn out more Spanish tennis players to continue his nation’s dominance of the world tennis scene.
8. Alex Corretja
Winning the 1998 Masters was Corretja’s claim to fame. Down two sets to none in the championship round, Corretja faced fellow Spanish great Carlos Moya and gutted out three close wins, two of them 7-5, to take the finals and his only major title of his career. His epic 1996 U.S. Open defeat to legend Pete Sampras was a gutsy battle on both men’s parts, as Corretja was a much lower-ranked upstart and Sampras battling a stomach bug. The two men dueled to the last, with a double-fault on Corretja sealing his fate in a 7-7 tie-break. After his 2005 retirement, Corretja coached Briton Andy Murray from 2008 to 2011. After retiring from that position, he went to work for Eurosport as a field interviewer and color commentator for tennis matches.
7. Albert Costa
Known for his entire career as a fierce, grinding baseline competitor, Costa and his beautiful one-handed backhand swing won one Grand Slam when he finished first at Roland Garros in 2002. Defeating fellow Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero as the 20th seed to Ferrero’s 11th, Costa won a difficult set in the red clay. He also won Olympic bronze in 2000 and helped Spain to win a Davis Cup in 2000.
6. Conchita Martinez
The only Spanish woman to ever win the championship at Wimbledon, in 1994, she beat legend Martina Navratilova on her way to that championship. In addition to her Wimbledon championship, she took second in the Australian Open in 1998 and Roland Garros in 2000. Never one of the true all-time greats, Martinez was regardless a fierce competitor on all surfaces and was known as a winner on both grass and clay, making her a versatile opponent on any court.
5. Carlos Moya
Winning Roland Garros is no mean feat, and Moya, who did so in 1998, rode that momentum to his first World #1. Moya’s narrow defeat to fellow Spaniard Alex Corretja at the Masters that same year was something of a bitter pill, but one that he moved on from. Retiring in 2010, Moya was a force on the court for his entire career, a versatile player who was equally at home on grass, clay, and hard court. Moya was overmatched by then-16-year-old Rafael Nadal at Hamburg in 2003, on Nadal’s way to his first world #1 tennis title. In spite of being overpowered by Nadal, Moya was a sturdy defender in all of his matches, making him almost unbeatable in his prime.
4. Manolo Santos
A crafty Madrileño, Santos reigned in the early to mid-1960s. Playing before the Open Era, Santos was a powerful grass specialist who also reigned on clay with a light step and a powerful topspin to his name. He claimed two French Opens in 1961 and 1964 and the U.S. Open in 1965, winning Wimbledon in 1966, making him the only Spaniard to do so before Nadal.
3. Carlos Alcarez
Currently the World #1 singles player, Alcarez is the youngest player to ever reach #1 on the men’s circuit, achieving the title at age 19 and 4 months in 2022. With six singles titles and one Grand Slam in his young career as a professional tennis player, Alcarez reached the pinnacle of the men’s tennis world shockingly close to the beginning of his career. His 2022 match against Italian Jannik Sinner in the U.S. Open Quarterfinal was one of his best matches in his young career.
2. Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario
Arantxa Sanchez-Vicaro spent 17 years on the WTA tour. One of the most successful women at Roland Garros, she won the French Open three times, in 1989, 1994 and 1998. Though she was only ranked #1 once in her career, she remained in the Top 10 from 1989 to 2001. Retiring in 2003 at the age of 32, she was one of the most respected players in the game. Her duel with Venus Williams as the #2 women’s tennis player in 1994 was an iconic part of Williams’ rise to prominence, as was their rematch in 1998. Sanchez-Vicario followed up her 1994 victory over Williams by becoming the first Spanish woman to win the U.S. Open, defeating then-champion Steffi Graf.
1. Rafael Nadal
Quite possibly the greatest Spanish tennis player ever, Nadal, who went pro in 2001, has reigned atop the men’s leaderboard six separate times since his debut. Nadal is only the second player in history, after Andre Agassi (USA) to have a career Grand Slam, a Davis Cup, and an Olympic gold medal. At age 36, “Rafa” remains one of the world’s elite tennis players, ending 2022 at #2. His name alone commands respect in the world of tennis. His epic battle with Novak Djikovic at the 2012 Australian Open remains one of his most famous matches. Despite being seventeen years older than Carlos Alcarez, Nadal is a force to be reckoned with in men’s tennis and there is no guarantee he won’t take back #1 again before the end of his career.
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