Manuel Santana Martínez was born on 10 May 1938 in Madrid. His father, Braulio Santana, was an electrician who was imprisoned after the Spanish Civil War and died when his son, known as Manolo, was a teenager. His mother, Mercedes Martinez, was a homemaker who struggled to raise her four children in an apartment building in which all residents shared the same bathroom.
Santana started out as a ball boy at the Velázquez Tennis Club in Madrid, dropping out of school to take tips from tennis players and earn money to support his mother. Tennis attracted him, he said, because of the distance between the competitors. “For someone who had always hated violence, a sport in which a trap prevented physical contact, felt like it was made for me,” He Logroo. told the newspaper La Rioja,
At the club, he regularly prepared clay courts for lvaro and Aurora Romero Girón, two siblings from a wealthy family. The two took an interest in Manuel and encouraged him to combine tennis with a commitment to school, while also providing financial support for Santana’s mother.
When he was 13, he won the ball boys tournament at the Velázquez club and was officially admitted as a member. His game evolved, and Santana, relying on an effective topspin, powerful forehand and cleverly disguised drop shots, won the Spanish Junior Championships in 1955.
“His game was very unique, and even though he was one of the best clay courters ever, he could play on anything,” Stan Smith said, American former top player and president of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, which inducted Santana in 1984. “He was an ultimate big-opportunity contestant, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like and respect him,” Smith said, in a statement on Hall’s website.
After retiring as a tennis player, Santana remained captain of Spain’s Davis Cup team from 1980 to 1985 and from 1995 to 1999. He managed two tennis clubs in Madrid as well as Marbella and was the tournament director until 2019. Matua Madrid Open, whose Central Court was named after him.
A fixture on the Spanish social scene, Santana was married four times and had five children. He is survived by his wife, Claudia Rodriguez; three children, Beatriz, Manolo and Borja, from his first wife, María Fernanda González-Dopeso; a daughter, Barbara, with Barbara Oltra; and another daughter, Alba, whose mother, Mila Ximénez, a famous Spanish journalist, died this year. Santana’s 1990 marriage to Swedish model, Oti Glenzelius, ended in divorce in 2009.