Rafael Nadal to Garbine Muguruza: How Manolo Santana’s legacy lives on

Lucy Roberts
Manolo Santana on court

Tennis legend Manolo Santana, the first Spanish player to win a Grand Slam title, died on December 11 aged 83-years-old but it’s not just memories he leaves behind.

He was a pioneer of the sport in the 1960s and a trailblazer for tennis in Spain, winning four major titles and eventually becoming the honorary president of the Madrid Open after his retirement.

Tributes from the likes of 20-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal and two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza have been pouring in since the announcement of his death, but for these two players his passing must have hit slightly deeper than most as he paved the way for them in the tennis world.

Here is a look at some of the players from the Iberian country who have Santana, in part, to credit for where Spanish tennis is today.

Rafael Nadal

Currently the most successful Spanish player according to the ATP rankings, coming in at No 6 in the world, is Rafa Nadal.

The former world No 1 has 13 French Open titles to his name and is often found opposite Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic on-court, the successful trio making up the infamous ‘Big Three.’

He is perhaps the most successful and well-known Spanish male player of the modern era, winning a massive 20 Grand Slams and 88 career titles.

Nadal also won gold at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the same year he first achieved No 1 spot in the world rankings after beating Federer in an epic final showdown at Wimbledon.

He was one of the first to pay tribute to Santana on social media, writing: “We will miss you Manolo; you will always be unique and special.

“Greetings to your family and a lot of strength at this time.

“We will never forget you!”

Garbine Muguruza

Double major winner and former world No 1 Muguruza has 10 career titles to her name and is Spain’s most successful female tennis player of the moment.

She defeated Serena Williams in just the second round of the French Open in 2014 and eventually went on to the quarterfinals despite having only turned professional two years before.

The 28-year-old would only have to wait a couple of years until she came away from Roland Garros with her first Grand Slam title – her second was won at Wimbledon in 2017.

Although she hasn’t won any Grand Slam competitions since, the world No 3 definitely isn’t slowing down, she won the WTA Finals at the end of the 2021 season after beating Anett Kontaveit in straight sets to seal her victory.

Muguruza honoured the former Madrid Open president on her Twitter account when his death was announced.

“Thank you for your kindness, closeness and for showing us the way,” the Wimbledon champion said.

“You were always our reference, for everyone in Spanish tennis, a pioneer.

“So attentive and so close, in good times and bad  – I will miss you.”

Roberto Bautista Agut

Bautista Agut currently sits at No 19 in the world rankings, however he has previously got as high as No 9 following a successful season in 2019 after making it to the semi-finals of Wimbledon.

He has managed to win nine out of the 18 ATP singles titles finals that he’s been in but he has never won a Grand Slam in his career despite turning pro back in 2005.

The 2018 Dubai Tennis Championships winner only started taking tennis seriously when he was 14 however, before that he played football for Villarreal FC.

Even though the 33-year-old has had a good career so far, it pales in comparison to fellow Spaniard Nadal, so perhaps the tennis world is only big enough for one successful male Spanish player at a time.

Paula Badosa

The 2021 Indian Wells Open winner has two titles to her name and made history this season when she made it to the Madrid Open semi-final – which is the furthest she’s gotten in a WTA 1000 tournament – to become the first Spanish woman to reach the semi-finals in that competition.

Badosa also got to represent her country at the Tokyo Olympics earlier this year but she was forced to retire early in her quaterfinals match against Marketa Vondrousova after she suffered heatstroke and had to be taken off the court in a wheelchair.

The 24-year-old has had a meteoric rise this year, she was only ranked No 42 in May of 2021 but she finished the year in No 8 spot and given this was only in the span of a year, it shouldn’t be long until she’s winning Grand Slams here, there and everywhere.

Santana’s passing also hit Badosa and she too put her tribute to the tennis legend on her social media account, she said: “Sad news for the tennis world.

“Thank you for having opened the way so that many of us later have been able to travel it.”

Carlos Alcaraz

Young but flying high – Alcaraz has had a tremendous 2021 season and things are only going up for the 18-year-old.

Having only turned professional a year ago, this Spanish youngster’s rise is nothing short of outstanding as he’s already made an appearance at all four Grand Slam tournaments, becoming one of the youngest male players to reach the quarterfinals in a major competition at the US Open.

He rounded off his year by winning the NextGen ATP Finals, beating Sebastian Korda in the final to seal victory at his first ATP Finals championships.

Alcaraz started off the 2021 season at No 141 in the world rankings but rose a dramatic 109 places and was placed No 32 in the ATP’s year-end rankings.

It looks like Alcaraz will be a perfect replacement for Nadal once he decides to retire from the game to fulfil the role of successfully representing Spain in the tennis world.

Sara Sorribes Tormo

Although she hasn’t reached the heights of the top 10 in the WTA rankings, there is still plenty of time for that for 25-year-old Sorribes Tormo.

The Castellon-born player has one singles and two doubles titles to her name and sits at No 36 in the world.

She hasn’t won a Grand Slam yet but she has got some match wins at the major tournaments under her belt – her first one came when she defeated Kaia Kanepi from Estonia in the first round of Wimbledon in 2018.

Sorribes Tormo also got the opportunity to represent Spain in the 2020 Olympics where she beat world No 1 Ashleigh Barty in straight sets in an unexpected opening round win.

Even though she didn’t make it past the round of 16, she partnered with fellow Spaniard Badosa in the doubles event but that too was cut short when they were defeated by the Czech team in the second round who were the eventual gold medallists.

The title winner, like Alcaraz, is still young and there’s plenty of time for this new generation of players to show the tennis world the quality that Spain can produce, and show that Santana’s legacy will live on.