Nadal the lead warrior in Spanish surge on grass
Led by Rafael Nadal, the Spanish contingent is no longer too intimidated to take its chances on the lawns of England.
"Rafa actually has been able to change mentality around for the Spanish players, because he's showing them that it is possible to play well with an aggressive baseline game," he said.Nadal is obviously a candidate to become only the second Spanish man to win a Wimbledon championship, 42 years after Manuel Santana. Conchita Martinez is the lone Spanish woman to have hoisted the Venus Rosewater Dish. Countrywoman Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario lost consecutive finals to the peerless Steffi Graf in 1995 and 1996. However, it was current No. 35 Feliciano Lopez who made Spain's first breakthrough of the new millennium. Lopez, a 6-foot-2 lefty with a formidable serve who plays a somewhat atypical game for his heritage, upended Marat Safin and Mario Ancic on his way to a Wimbledon quarterfinals appearance in 2005 -- the first by a Spanish player in 13 years. No. 23 Juan Carlos Ferrero also reached the quarters last year.
Spanish players on grass
|Player||Grass-court record||Grass-court titles||Best Wimbledon performance|
|No. 2 Rafael Nadal||24-7||Queens 2008||Finals, 2006, 2007|
|No. 5 David Ferrer||11-7||'s-Hertogenbosch 2008||Fourth round, 2006|
|No. 12 Nicolas Almagro||1-4||None||Second round, 2008|
|No. 18 Fernando Verdasco||18-12||None||Fourth round, 2006|
|No. 19 Tommy Robredo||21-15||None||Third round, 2003|
|No. 23 Juan Carlos Ferrero||21-13||None||Quarterfinals, 2007|
|No. 24 Carlos Moya||13-15||None||Fourth round, 2004|
|No. 35 Feliciano Lopez||18-14||None||Quarterfinals, 2005|
"I feel so much better than I did in Queens," said Verdasco, who advanced to the fourth round of the Wimbledon men's singles Friday with a straight-sets win over Tomas Berdych.And then there's the Nadal effect.
"Sometimes you try hard and play your best and you don't get the results," Lopez said. "Once a Spanish player plays good, and you see how he is doing, at least you have something to believe in."For the most part, the players said they don't tinker with their games much, although Lopez (predictably) tends to serve and volley more, and Verdasco said he tries to keep his center of gravity lower to deal with the different bounce. "Our game is not going to the net," Nadal observed this week. "But probably in the past was a little bit mistake try to change a lot your game when you are playing on grass, no?"
"When you grow up on clay, you can make adjustments to other surfaces," he said. "And the Spanish players are just great movers."The women have been slower to progress, although 19-year-old Carla Suarez Navarro, the qualifier who counterpunched her way to the French Open quarterfinals, won her first match on grass here. "I try to use more slice on the service," she said. Veteran Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, ousted in the first round in her only other visit here in 2001, upset 32nd seed Sania Mirza to reach the third round Thursday and next faces Venus Williams. Martinez said the recent success of other Spanish players inspired her to ask herself, "Why not?" Anabel Medina Garrigues also advanced to the round of 32. As a group, Spanish tennis players no longer resemble gazelles on ice so much as deer grazing in a meadow. With their soccer team in the finals of the European championships, they seem to be intent on proving that it's possible to succeed in two different fields.
Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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See all stories from Week 1