LONDON – Most of Rafael Nadal’s fans were not alive when Manolo Santana became the first Spaniard to win a title at Wimbledon 50 years ago, an accomplishment that he is celebrating this year.
The 78-year-old former champion is back at the legendary All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, where he won the title on July 1, 1966, defeating American Dennis Ralston 6-4, 11-9, 6-4 on the grass courts of a tournament that he said had become “an obsession” for him.
Santana discussed his preparations for the 1966 Wimbledon tournament in an interview with EFE, describing how he skipped the French Open and rented an apartment in England so he could play in tune-up grass-court tournaments and get used to the surface.
“It seems like it was yesterday, and 50 years have gone by. Playing in such an important final like Wimbledon brings back memories that are hard to explain, but the reality, obviously, is that the time has passed and I don’t miss going to Wimbledon every year,” Santana told EFE.
The former champion, who was the world No. 1 in 1966, won four Grand Slam singles titles during his career, including the French Open in 1961 and 1964, the U.S. Open in 1965 and Wimbledon a year later, all before the Open Era started in 1968, when professionals were first allowed to compete at the majors.
“I’d won Roland Garros and the U.S. Open, and, undoubtedly, Wimbledon was the most important thing in my tennis life, and winning it was a goal I’d set for myself, and that’s why I gave up playing at Roland Garros,” said the former champion, who also led Spain to a Davis Cup win over the United States in 1965.
Santana said he practiced with Australian players, including the legendary Roy Emerson, Fred Stolle, John Newcombe and Tony Roche, to prepare for Wimbledon, adjusting his game to the faster surface.
“Back then, except for Roland Garros, the other three majors were played on grass, you had to practice on it. The Australians had it down and I had to do a lot of work. But, finally, I did it,” Santana told EFE.
The former Wimbledon champion said he was on a tight budget and did everything he could to save money.
“Given the circumstances, I saved everything I could, consuming the best foods to prepare for Wimbledon, regardless of whether it was potato omelettes or not,” Santana said in response to a question about whether the stories about him living off Spanish omelettes prepared by his wife were true.
Santana weighed in during the interview on the current crop of Spanish stars, telling EFE that Nadal, who had to pull out of Wimbledon due to a wrist injury, was not done yet and “will win one or two (more) Grand Slams.”
The former champion picked Serbian world No. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic and Britain’s Andy Murray, the 2013 Wimbledon champ, as the favorites for this year’s title.
On the women’s side, Santana said he considered American world No. 1 and defending champion Serena Williams and Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza, the French Open winner and 2015 Wimbledon finalist, the favorites.