November 4, 2011

A Sports Nation: Tennis in Spain

Is there a sport Spain is not good at? I seriously wonder. Right now Spain might as well be the center of the world for sports. Soccer (a.k.a. football), basketball, cycling, Formula 1, motor racing, handball, synchronized swimming, water polo, in all of these sports Spain has teams or players that are either at the top or gunning for it... not to mention the many great Spanish athletes of those little known sports, the "stars of other Galaxies," as a recent article called them.

And in Tennis, Spain dominates!

Nadal, the 2008 Tennis Olympics Champion.
Spain's profile in tennis has risen recently above all because of Rafael "Rafa" Nadal (Ranked #1, 2008 and 2010, current rank #2). Ever since he won the Roland Garros French Open in Paris in 2005, Nadal has been at the top, duking it out in tennis's famous "odd couple" routine against Switzerland's Roger Federer. Only 25 years old, Nadal is already considered to be one the greatest tennis players of all time, making his home island of Mallorca very proud. With Nadal's amazing performance alone, Spain could rest on its laurels. (Spain had already produced other world number one players: Arantxa Sánchez Vicario in 1995, Carlos Moyá in 1999, and Juan Carlos Ferrero in 2003.)

And yet the present glory is not only because of Nadal. Spain has a ton of amazing top-seeded players! There is David Ferrer (ranked #4 in 2008, current rank #5) from Alicante, Nicolás Almagro (ranked #9 in 2011, current rank #11) of Murcia, Feliciano López (current and highest rank #20) of Toledo, the madrileño Fernando "Fer" Verdasco (ranked #7 in 2009, current rank #22), and the already tennis great though still playing Juan Carlos Ferrero (ranked #1 in 2003, current rank #59) from Onteniente. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you look at these players closely, can you spot a trend? (No. I'm not talking about the potential for name confusion between Fer, Ferrer, Ferrero, and Feliciano!) Many if not most of these players are either originally from, live at, or train somewhere along the Mediterranean coasts of Spain, a large percentage somewhere along the coast between Valencia and Murcia, a.k.a. Costa Blanca.

#5 ranked Ferrer in one of his classic griping ("quejándose") moments.

Fernando Verdasco about to make one of his powerful forehand returns.

Juan Carlos Ferero, Spain's previous Number One World tennis champ.

Considering this glut of talented players, the Spanish tennis team, often called "la armada española" (Spanish Armada) has a mixed history at the Davis Cup. Until 2000, the country had never won a cup. Since then, however, things have picked up, though Spain still does not dominate. It won in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2009. The team's current coach (since 2008), Albert Costa, himself only recently a successfully competing tennis player, has done a nice job of maintaining the team spirit among the players, though he also has to juggle their complicated tournament schedules with the awkward timing of the Davis Cup competitions.

The Spanish dream team, a.k.a. "la Armada Española". Coach Albert Costa next to Nadal in the center
along with Verdasco, Ferrer, and XX.

"The King of Clay": Nadal in his natural habitat.
But another explanation for Spain's troubles at the Davis Cup is that Spanish tennis players specialize in clay courts ("tierra batida" or just "tierra"), and thus struggle with the hard courts ("pista rápida") used in the Davis Cup. This is also the reason why the US Open continues to be the one Grand Slam tournament that Rafa has not won. Nadal is often called the "King of Clay," and he and his Spanish compatriots have historically treated clay courts as _the_ test grounds for excellence, not grass or hard court. Therefore it is Roland Garros, a clay court, and not Wimbledon (a grass court, a.k.a. "hierba") that is Spaniards' traditional favorite Grand Slam tournament. Spaniards' period of ascent tends to be in the spring, between the Monte Carlo Masters in April and cresting at the Roland Garros in late May, with the Barcelona Open, Madrid Open, and Roma ATP 1000 along the way… all clay courts.

Spain hosts three major ATP tournaments, one of them happening right now in Valencia:

Mutua Madrid Open ATP 1000:
–Dates: Early May
–Locale: Since 2009 the tournament has been located in "la Caja Mágica" (the magic box)
–Features: In addition to the Men's ATP, it hosts a parallel Women's WTA

Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell ATP 500:
–Dates: Late April
–Features: In addition to the Men's ATP, it hosts a parallel Women's WTA

Valencia Open ATP 500:
–Dates: Early November
–Locale: Since 2009 the tournament has been located in "el Ágora" (the Forum) of the City of Arts and Sciences
–Features: In addition to the Men's ATP, it hosts a parallel wheelchair tennis competition

One pleasantry of following tennis in Spain is that telecasting for sports is quite good on public TV, i.e. it's free! The Teledeporte channel covers most of the major tennis events (except the U.S. Open… argh!), with very good commentary, and they've recently begun to offer great HD telecoverage, too. (Unfortunately, women's tennis, and women's sports coverage in general in Spain is, by comparison, quite poor.) Earlier this year Teledeporte shared this hilarious video clip by the Argentian pop group, The Calefons, which I repost for your entertainment.

Non-exhaustive list of useful tennis vocabulary:

serve: saque
second serve: segundo saque
ace: saque directo
net: red
out: fuera
game / set / match: juego / set, manga / partido
match-point: punto de partido
advantage: ventaja
break point: punto de rotura
tie-break: desempate, muerte súbita
deuce: iguales
lob: globo
forehand (drive): golpe de derecha
spin: efecto
rally: peloteo


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Mariana Y said...

Esto es muy informativo e interesante para aquellos que están interesados en el campo de los blogs.
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