The Barcelona Bumblebee – Arantxa Sanchez Vicario of Spain – turns 38 years old on December 18, 2009. Does it not seem just yesterday that she was an effervescent 17-year-old who shocked Steffi Graf to win the 1989 French Open? Arantxa’s career is outlined below in this excerpt from my book THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS ($35.95, New Chapter Press, www.NewChapterMedia.com). Enjoy and Happy Holidays!
Arantxa Sanchez Vicario
Hall of Fame—2007
Buzzing and flitting the width and breadth of arenas across the planet, the Barcelona Bumblebee—Arantxa Sanchez Vicario—was unceasing in determined pursuit of tennis balls, none seeming too distant to be retrieved in this manner and returned again and again to demoralize opponents. This went on most of her life, more than half of it as a professional, with no reduction in her zest or desire to win.
Long after the glamorous Lili de Alvarez of Madrid enhanced the 1926-27-28 Wimbledon finals, industrious little Sanchez Vicario, a 5-foot-6, 130-pound right-hander, revived female tennis in their country. It happened on a June afternoon in Paris in 1989 as 17-year-old Arantxa faced defeat in the French final. Seeded No. 7, she had done very well to get that far on her third try. She had come to attention the year before by chasing the all-time champ out of town: Chris Evert’s last stand, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4). But now Steffi Graf, winner of five consecutive majors, was across the net and serving for the title at 5-4 in the third. Whereupon the intransigent Catalan went into overdrive, punching topspin forehands and two-fisted backhand drives relentlessly, relinquishing only two points and winning, 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 7-5. Not only the first Spanish woman to take a major, she was the youngest French champ, until Monica Seles weighed in at 16 the following year.
She would become one of 14 women to appear in the finals of all four majors, winning the French again over Mary Pierce, 6-4, 6-4, in 1994, and Seles, 7-6 (7-5), 0-6, 6-2, in 1998. In 1994, she took the U.S. crown from Graf in a tumultuous 1-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-4, decision and was named the ITF’s World Champion. She lost Wimbledon and French finals to Graf in 1995 and 1996, the Australian to Pierce in 1995, 6-3, 6-2.
Perhaps her finest matches were heart-stopping defeats by Graf as they goaded each other to the heights at Wimbledon in 1995, and the French in 1996. Arantxa served for victory at 5-4 and 7-6 in a shotmaking extravaganza in Paris, losing, 6-3, 6-7 (4-7), 10-8 in three hours, three minutes. On Centre Court, they waged a game of games, the 11th of the third set. On it went for 20 minutes and 13 deuces. Serving, Arantxa had eight game points, but couldn’t make it, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5, losing the last six points.
Aranzazu Isabel Maria “Arantxa” Sanchez was born Dec. 18, 1971, in Barcelona. The last of a historic tennis-playing Sanchez brood of four, she was a surprise to her non-tennis parents, Emilio and the former Marisa Vicario, whose name Arantxa attached as a tribute, adding it in 1988. Arantxa is also the subject of a family tale. After the births of Marisa (a varsity player at Pepperdine in Santa Monica, Calif.) and Emilio and Javier (both successful pros and Spanish Davis Cuppers), Mama Marisa was told she could have no more children. However, three years later, not long after taking the kids on a roller-coaster ride, she became pregnant. So she has a special place in her heart for that shake-and-rolling rattler at the Tibidabo amusement park overlooking the city. The babe’s given name, Aranzazu, is that of a Basque saint.
A woman of sunny nature, Arantxa presented a rather severe look at play, her flowing black hair tightly head-banded above a contentious countenance that conveys her outlook: Surrender never. Ever a hustler on short, spirited legs, she never got enough tennis. Strictly a baseliner at first, she constantly improved her volleying to become one of the finer doubles players. She liked the dual load of singles and doubles, carrying it better than anyone else, usually leading woman in matches played and won. She was one of the few centurions with 100 titles—29 singles, 67 doubles and four mixed. She won 14 majors: four singles, six doubles, four mixed. Her career singles W-L for 329 tournaments: 759-295 (.720); doubles W-L for 298 tournaments: 667-216 (.755). Her most successful doubles partnership, with Jana Novotna, reaped three majors (Australian and Wimbledon, 1995; U.S. 1994) plus the 1995 year-end WTA Championship.
Arantxa represented Spain handsomely in five Olympics (1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004) and 16 years of Federation Cup (1986-98, 2000-02). In 1992, at Barcelona, with her king, Juan Carlos, spectating, she won a bronze in singles, silver in doubles with Conchita Martinez. In 1996, she took silver in singles, losing the final to Lindsay Davenport and bronze, with Martinez in doubles. She and Conchita, the most successful one-two punch in the competition’s history wrapped up the Federation Cup five times, 1991, 1993-94-95 and 1998, and attained five other finals, 1989, 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2002. Arantxa holds the records for most years played (16), series (58), total matches (100), wins (72), singles wins (50). She was 18-3 in doubles with Conchita. As a pro 17 years, 1985-2002 (starting at 13 years, six months), she was in the world’s Top 10 for 11 years (No. 1 for brief intervals during 1995): No. 5 in 1989, 1991; No. 7 in 1990; No. 4 in 1992, 1998; No. 2 in 1993-94, 1996; No. 3 in 1995; No. 9 in 1997, 2000, retiring at No. 53 in 2002. Her career prize money was $16, 917,312.
She was a little lady giving the game a big buzz.
MAJOR TITLES (14)—French singles, 1989, 1994, 1998; U.S. singles, 1994; Australian doubles, 1992, 1995, 1996; Wimbledon doubles, 1995; U.S. doubles, 1993, 1994; Australian mixed, 1993; French mixed, 1990, 1992; U.S. mixed, 2000. FEDERATION CUP—1986-87-88-89-90-91-92-93-94-95-96-97-98-99-2000-01-02, 50-22 singles, 22-6 doubles. SINGLES RECORD IN THE MAJORS—Australian (41-11), French 72-13), Wimbledon (41-15), U.S. (56-15)