Santana: “Tennis belongs to everyone, not just the rich” | sports

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In June 2016, before being honored at Wimbledon for the 50th anniversary of his triumph at the All England Tennis Club, Manolo Santana received EL PAÍS at his Marbella club. The meeting on the Costa de Sol lasted for two long hours, in which the iconic Spanish athlete reflected in depth on his success in London – in an interview published at the time – and in which he also delved into his origins, some ins and outs of the old tennis and the evolution of the sport you always loved; content, the latter, now offered by this newspaper.

Under an umbrella, Santana spoke with the humble tone that always characterized him, but with the pride of the pioneer. “In that Spain we athletes did not have it easy at all. All the trips we made were supervised and wherever we went, people did not understand why we were returning because of everything that was happening … I did it because I love my country, but it was not easy for me, because, in addition, there is no need to forget that my father [republicano] he spent 10 years in jail. Then, the poor man lasted very little because when he left he was already very ill, “he introduced.

He then referred to his mother, “the great champion for Manolo Santana.” A woman who, despite everything that happened, “never allowed us to speak ill of the regime at home,” Santana specified; “When I was traveling there, no one ever heard a bad word from me towards the Franco regime; We didn’t like a lot of things that were done, but luckily I got a good education and always measured what I said. My mother educated us wonderfully and thanks to that she prevented her children from getting into trouble ”.

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However, the tennis player, 78 years old at that Marbella noon, stressed that athletes felt “great pressure” and geopolitics. “Everything was based on where you competed: England was not the same as Germany or the Scandinavian countries; The relationship with the French was more or less good, but where they put the most pressure on us was in the United States. They did not understand that having the option of staying in their country, we would not do it, “he said.

The game, reflection of the person

In any case, tennis was his refuge. “Today it is still an elite sport, but then it was the worst. No one here knew him and I, every time I was going to take a trip, had to go to Puerta del Sol to get a special visa ”, he specified. “We were pioneers in a very difficult world. Either you had someone to help you like me, or there was no way ”, he added. “I was aware of the importance that everything I achieved had for the country, and I was very proud of that. My mother could say with pride that her son had made history in the era in which those in command had thrown her husband in jail, and that is not easy, ”she stressed.

During the conversation, Santana denied that tennis is an exclusively elite sport. “No, not exactly. Tennis belongs to everyone, it is not just a sport for the rich. Actually, today there are a lot of public tracks and schools. It is a sport that many children now practice and that they like more and more. It brings you a lot of things and helps you make decisions a lot. It reflects very well what the person who practices it is like: what you see on the track is what you see outside ”, he valued before commenting on the current distance between the professionals. Little to do with what happened then.

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Santana poses on a grass court at her club in Marbella.
Santana poses on a grass court at her club in Marbella.Garcia-Santos (The Country)

“I remember Rafael Osuna, who was number one in Mexico and won the US Open. In a match I won the first two sets, but in the end I turned it over in five. That day, to serve as an example, we showered and went to dinner together. That is unthinkable nowadays … Now some get along, but each one is more to his own roll ”.

The Madrilenian, he recalled, made a large number of friends, but no shelter like the Australians. “They were of a special paste. At that time they were the best, but I was also very interested in how they saw life, in a very different way from ours. At first, a potato didn’t speak English, so either I would mess with the Anglo-Saxons or nothing … With them I not only learned to speak it and play tennis, but I also perceived something very human. My best friends were Emerson, Laver, Rosewall, Roche… They accepted me very well ”, he enumerated.

And in relation to them, another anecdote. When he conquered Wimbledon, where he arrived by taking the tube at Gloucester Road station and then on foot, Santana went from earning $ 500 to earning $ 1,000. “And of those 1,000,” he pointed out, “a part was for my family and the rest for them, so that they could have the best rackets and the best shoes … It was a world completely dominated by the Anglo-Saxons, but suddenly, Santana put there in the middle … “.

Between Marbella and Santa Engracia

At the meeting, Santana rebuilt comics about his two right eyes: Nadal, whom he had “a special affection for how he is and how he has always treated me,” and Federer, whose game he felt a weakness. “I will always remember when in 2016 he had to retire before the Madrid tournament. I always go to all his press conferences [tiene una silla reservada con su nombre en la sala] and that day he had a great detail with me. He started by apologizing, addressing me: ‘Manolo, I’m sorry … “, he rewound on the Swiss.

And about his settlement in Marbella, he settled: “I love Madrid! But here you live really well … There I have a very nice apartment in Santa Engracia, because I was born right next to the Metropolitano, where the old Atleti stadium. Then I went to live with the Romero Girón family [le adoptó a los 14 años, tras la muerte de su padre], so he no longer lived there. When I go there I love to take a walk through my neighborhood, through Chamberí. I am delighted there, although in Marbella too; I came here for a year and at the end I have been thirty … Here I am very happy. Very very happy”.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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