Spanish tennis owes Andrés Gimeno a debt

It was 1965 and Manolo Santana had just won Roland Garros for the second time, a feat that passed largely unnoticed in Spain except among a small and exclusive set of tennis fans. National broadcaster TVE was showing a Davis Cup tie between Spain and the USA. The papers had been full of reports of the Americans bringing their own food and bottled water, dubious as to what they would encounter if they turned on the taps. That caused a great deal of indignation and a larger than normal audience for the tie. Spain won, the country fell in love with tennis with the enthusiasm of a religious convert and Santana became a national hero. The greatest Spanish sportsman of all time at the time, by unanimous decision.

Then the name of Andrés Gimeno started to form on lips around the country. Those who knew of him ventured he was in fact the better player. “Impossible!” people cried. “So why didn’t he play in the Davis Cup?” “Because he’s a professional” came the reply. To be a professional player at that time meant that you had signed up for Jack Kramer’s travelling troupe. The American Wimbledon and US Open winner organised tours of the world in the 1950s and 1960s, the names and results of which barely made the news. And participants were prevented from playing in Davis Cup or Grand Slam tournaments. They were like the Harlem Globetrotters, but the results of their contests were not recognised. Meanwhile, Juan Antonio Samaranch retained Santana as an “amateur” by paying him under the table.

Gimeno the unsung hero

The Open Era was ushered in in 1968, when it became apparent that there were scarcely any pure “amateurs” left. Gimeno went on to win the French Open in 1972, at the age of 34. But he was still viewed with a certain reproach, for having “sold” himself to Kramer during a time when he could have been playing alongside Santana in those incredible Davis Cup finals in Australia. We only really became familiar with him and admired him as he deserved when he became a magisterial television commentator. Now that he is no longer with us the injustices he suffered in the 1970s seem sharper in focus, as were the injustices he faced towards the end of his life. May he rest in peace.