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Spaniards Hard To Beat On Clay

April 16, 1994

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ With 10 players ranked in the world’s top 100, Spain is making its mark on the men’s tennis tour. Much of the reason for the Spaniards’ success can be summed up in one word: clay.

″You can play tennis on any surface in Spain you like - as long as it’s clay,″ said Pedro Hernandez, tennis analyst for Spanish television Canal Plus.

″That’s an advantage this time of the year when we’re playing on clay - but a disadvantage since only about 25 percent of ATP events are on clay,″ he added.

No country dominates on clay like Spain. Nine of 10 courts in the country are made of it, a fact that has its roots in Spain’s mostly hot, dry climate. In the last four seasons, Spaniards won 30 ATP clay-court events - followed by Austria with 17 and Argentina and the United States with 11.

″Yes, Spaniards are good on clay, but they are getting better on other surfaces, too,″ said Georges Homsi, director of communications for the European ATP Tour. ″We’re seeing more Spaniards on the tour, more winning, more in the rankings.″

Ten Spaniards are listed in the top 100 of the latest IBM-ATP Tour ranking, almost twice as many as five years ago. The leaders are No. 6 Sergi Bruguera, the reigning French Open champion, and No. 15 Carlos Costa. Italy, a country of similar size, has just three players in the top 100, with the highest at No. 40.

By comparion, the United States has 18 in the top 100, led by No. 1 Pete Sampras - but the United States has six times more people than Spain.

″Figuring that way by population, Spain is definitely one of the world’s strongest tennis countries,″ Homsi said.

On the women’s side, Spaniards Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Conchita Martinez are Nos. 2 and 3 in the WTA rankings.

Bruguera is the latest in a line of Spanish clay specialists that stretches back several decades to players like Andres Gimeno, Manuel Santana and Manuel Orantes. The 23-year-old Spaniard is among Spain’s most popular athletes along with three-time defending Tour de France cyclist Miguel Indurain and Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal and Seve Ballesteros.

Santana, an all-court specialist in the 1960s, won the French Open, U.S. Open and Wimbledon and set off the Spanish ″tennis boom.″ Gimeno won the French Open in 1972, Orantes took the U.S. Open in 1975 - and tennis clubs began to open and flourish.

″I’d say we’re so good on clay because it’s a tradition here,″ Bruguera said. ″We have had our idols we’ve grown up with. I’m comfortable in that (role) now.″

Bruguera, who beat Jim Courier in five sets in last year’s French Open final, thrives on clay because of his powerful baseline, top-spin game. He has more trouble on faster surfaces where his serve and volley game isn’t as strong. His serve is probably the weakest of the world’s top 10.

Barcelona is the capital of Spanish tennis. Bruguera, who will defend his French Open title when play begins May 23, is a Barcelona native, as is Costa and four other Spaniards in the top 100.

″I’m confident going into the French Open, but I know the field is very strong and a bit of luck will be needed,″ Bruguera said. ″I wouldn’t say I’m really nervous about it.″

Barcelona has five or six private clubs that date back about 100 years. The best known is Real Club de Tennis Barcelona where Costa and players like brothers Emilio and Javier Sanchez learned the game. Bruguera, who grew up playing at Club de Tennis Barcino, runs the teaching club Can Via with his father.

The latest Barcelona sensation is 20-year-old Alex Corretja, ranked No. 46, who knocked Courier out of the second round of the Conde de Godo tournament this month is Barcelona. A record five Spaniards reached the quarterfinals in the event and Spaniards should again dominate an ATP tournament opening April 25 in Madrid.

″Bruguera’s win in the French Open last year confirmed the position of Spanish tennis worldwide,″ said Hernandez, the TV commentator. ″Now we wait to see if that win gives the game an even bigger push here.″

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