In the modern era of men’s tennis, it is not uncommon to see a brigade of Spanish flags dotted throughout the draws of major events, not to mention the upper echelon of the rankings. It is a sight becoming just as common as the nation’s greatest champion biting the silverware at Roland Garros.
As the tennis roadshow makes its way to the red clay of Barcelona, on route to Madrid, the ever increasing Spanish contingency commands centre stage, eager to show the world that there is more to their country than Rafa Nadal.
Sure, Nadal is an out and out champion whose name will stand the test of time, however, the depth and talent of his fellow countrymen often gets lost in his sizeable shadow.
Within the last 25 years, we have been fortunate enough to see the talents of Juan Carlos Ferrero and Carlos Moya, both Grand Slam champions in their own right, as well as terrific players like David Ferrrer, Fernando Verdasco and the evergreen pair of Feliciano Lopez and Tommy Robredo.
Many a fan would be familiar with the sight of Pablo Carreño Busta, Roberto Bautista Agut and Albert Ramos Viñolas popping up at the pointy end of tournaments, sharing 16 ATP titles between them.
If you were worried about their future prospects, you shouldn't be. The production line is rolling off next gen stars like Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Jaume Munar and the exciting teenager Carlos Alcaraz.
There has been undeniable talent in Spain for generations, but just what is separating the depth and talent of Spanish tennis from the rest of the world?
It comes down to a series of factors, ranging from geographical location and climate, to strong education and knowledge sharing. Seeing superstars like Nadal winning major tournaments is no doubt a major factor in the development of budding talent too, it must be said.
Spain has a great structure of tournaments ranging from junior to veteran and all the way up to ATP/WTA level, with good prize money being offered for lower level tournaments. There is also the fact that there are hundreds of tournaments played in Spain year round, with their often warm climate allowing them to do so.
Playing tennis all year round at a tournament level, instead of seasonally, is a major factor in developing their young talent. Additionally, being in the heart of Europe allows players to gain international exposure without having to travel long distances, something unattainable here in Australia.
Yet, the major factors in Spain’s talent appear to lay within their education and clay court upbringing. Spain features over 1000 tennis schools and academies, all of whom share their experiences and knowledge with one another for the betterment of Spanish tennis.
A look through the Royal Spanish Tennis Federation website will lead you to several online courses for coaches and players, which seek to promote Spanish values in tennis.
Additionally, there is a yearly National Tennis Congress, which features over 30 presentations from top coaches and educators from around the country. The seminar focuses on early to professional development, physical preparation, competitive tennis and sports psychology among other topics.
There is also something to be said of their predominantly clay court upbringing. Playing on clay forces the player to work much harder to win the point, due to the slow nature of the surface. It teaches young players to strategise and set up a point, without having to rely on a huge forehand or serve to win them the game.
You can even see this difference between two Australian players in Alex De Minaur and Nick Kyrgios. De Minaur spent much of his youth training in Spain, where he learnt to be patient and fight for his points, which is clear to see when watching him today. Kyrgios on the other hand, shows almost no patience in a rally and lacks the mental toughness to commit to a long point, often to his detriment.
All of the above doesn’t necessarily translate into the riches that Nadal has enjoyed over his career, however, it is certainly a blueprint for success that is doing Spanish tennis wonders, and causing headaches for the rest of the world. With 11 Spaniards occupying the ATP top 100, followed by a host of young stars, the scene is set for another era of Spanish domination in tennis.
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