What Pablo Casals did for the cello Andres Segovia for the classical guitar Picasso for modern art Manolo Santana did for tennis in Spain. He inspired a generation who inspired a generation who inspired a generation so that every tennis aficionado knows what Spanish tennis now is—both a style that evolved and a long list of major champions: Santana, Gimeno, Orantes, Brugera, Moya, Costa, Ferrero, Nadal, Sanchez-Vicario, Martinez, Muguruza . . .
Santana marked the beginning, the origin, of Spanish tennis when he became the first Spanish player to win Wimbledon in 1966. Both super stylish and devilishly deceptive, Santana was a maestro of creative, dramatic shot-making that kept fans on the edge of their seats: topspin passing shots, perfectly placed aces, backhand topspin lobs (a shot he invented), sudden drop shots (a shot voted the best in the game by his peers). Santana also a crowd pleaser (sometimes shouting ole as an overhead whizzed by him), and an endlessly good sport who always acknowledged and thanked all those around him.
Origin stories, of course, are necessary simplifications. Andres Gimeno, Santana’s contemporary, was probably just as good a player as Santana, but he turned pro and could not compete in any major championships. And origin stories are never quite true beginnings. We must not forget the numerous unnamed club players who kindly helped Manolita develop his game when he worked as a ball boy earning 6 pesetas a day. They might offer advice or praise, or offer to hit more than a few well-placed strokes to challenge Manolita in just the right way to encourage his development. What makes Santana’s story an origin story at all is that he keeps passing the gift of Spanish tennis forward, offering his time and gifts to the younger generation: words of encouragement, a place to play, another tournament in Spain, a source of funding, the placement of just the right phone call.
The featured painting here of Manolo Santana is another gift, this time from Victor Jerez to Manolo Santana. As the artist writes on his Instagram account: Feliz Cumpleaños Manolo Santana!! Aquí tienes mi pequeño regalo…espero que te guste!! 🎁🎨🎾Gracias por el buen trato que me has dado siempre en @mutuamadridopen Un abrazo muy fuerte amigo. My English translation: Happy Birthday! Here’s my little gift. Hope you like it. Thanks for everything you have done for me at the Madrid Tennis Masters (where Victor Jerez paints live portraits of the players). A hug from your muy fuerte—very strong—amigo.
Pass it forward. That’s Santana’s legacy, the most important gift of the many that flowed from his game.
A Few Additional Words in Spanish on Manolo Santana from Jorge Mir Mayor, Director of Tennis at the Escuelas Tenis Real Club and one of the leading teachers and commentators on tennis in Spain. His live interviews of spanish and spanish speaking tennis stars can be heard on “Otra Mirada al Tenis” on Instagram.
Santana un caballero español. Hace muchísimos años en Madrid, pude charlar unos minutos con Manuel Santana y fueron unos minutos que se quedaron grabados en mi mente por su cortesía, nobleza y distinción y por la manera de explicarme de una manera humilde, sencilla y muy humana sus vivencias en el tenis. Para mí Manolo Santana es uno de los grandes tenistas que ha dado este mundo y que llegan al corazón de las personas por su grandeza en sus palabras suaves, limpias y certeras al igual que golpeaba la bola de una forma suave, limpia y certera cuando jugaba al tenis.
Artist bio for Victor Jerez (taken from his website)
For years I have worked in the Port of Algeciras as a stevedore, but it was not those hours of sunshine that illuminated my work; the light bulbs in my garage, late at night they saw me practice my passion: painting movie posters.
Shortly after, I decided to paint live. At the beginning it was in small parties and local events (in Algeciras, Sotogrande…). Then bigger events came and, without realizing it, I saw myself painting George Clooney , Keith Richards or Carlos Jean .
Sporting event painting came later to stay. Since then I have had the privilege and responsibility of immortalizing, live, figures such as Rafa Nadal , Sergio Garcia and Novak Djokovic . Now I am “The Painter of Athletes.” The future? Keep working on my passion.
You can learn more about Victor Jerez and his great sports art from his website or check out his instagram. You can also see here his wonderful painting of Novak Djokovic here in an earlier post of Tennis Players as Works of Art.
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