Louis XIV once said, “The Pyrenees are no more.” This sparked military conflict as the prospect of Spain and France being ruled by the same person was intolerable for the rest of Europe. Starting in 1993, Spain reversed King Louis’ notions and erased the Pyrenees in favor of Spanish rule.
Jon Wertheim’s mailbag this week included a question regarding why French fans are slow to cheer for Nadal despite his stellar play. Wertheim offered a number of potential reasons for this phenomenon that all seem plausible. His answers range from Uncle Toni taking a shot or two at French fans to the banana choking incident in 2006 to the French just loving an underdog. I’d like to add that the neighborly rivalry between France and Spain has a lot of French tennis fans wondering why and how Spain has produced so many Grand Slam champions in the men’s event while France has not had a male Grand Slam winner since 1983.
The Reign of Spain
Arantxa Sanchez Vicario is a part of this story, but Amelie Mauresmo’s much more recent two Grand Slam singles titles make the female balance tilt toward France. So I will nod toward Arantxa’s improbable 1989 French Open crown, two other French Open titles as well as the facilities built for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as sparking a tennis revolution in Spain. Still, Spain’s reign on the male side of the draw began in 1993.
Consider the following:
1993 – Sergi Bruguera Roland Garros Champion
1994 – Sergi Bruguera Roland Garros Champion, Alberto Berasategui – Finalist
1997 – Sergi Bruguera – Finalist
1998 – Carlos Moya – Roland Garros Champion, Alex Corretja – Finalist
2001 – Alex Corretja – Finalist
2002 – Albert Costa – Roland Garros Champion, Juan Carlos Ferrero – Finalist
2003 – Juan Carlos Ferrero – Roland Garros Champion
2005 – 2008, 2010, 2011 Rafael Nadal – Roland Garros Champion
From 1993 – 2011 Spain has produced 11 French Open Champions in the Men’s Event
From 1993-2011 Spain has produced 5 French Open second place finishes as well
France in that time has not produced a single male finalist. Gael Monfils’ 2008 four set loss to a less than sharp Roger Federer is about as good as it has been for France during Spain’s conquest (Yes, Cedric Pioline reached the semifinal round in 1998, but the other three semifinalists were Spanish). I think this contributes to Nadal not being embraced. Then again, I have never been one to root for a player based upon nationality so it could have nothing to do with this phenomenon.