Re: Great Arantxa Sanchez Vicario article
Spain's leading lady ready for coronation as queen of the court - Arantxa Sanchez Vicario
Saturday, January 14, 1995
Stuart Jones, Tennis Correspondent
Over the past two decades, five women have ruled the world of tennis. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova deposed each other in turn and so, after Tracy Austin's brief reign, did Steffi Graf and Monica Seles. In a fortnight, a new queen may be crowned.
If Arantxa Sanchez Vicario wins the Australian Open in Melbourne, she will almost certainly collect enough points, with the requisite bonuses, to overtake Graf and become the sixth woman to be ranked No1 since 1975. The honourable status will be a reward principally for toil.
Memorably christened ``the Barcelona Bumblebee" by Bud Collins, the eccentric American television commentator, she resembles perpetual motion. Even when she is still, her eyes dart, invariably in the direction of her mother, Marisa, her constant companion and professed best friend.
The glances, exchanged between virtually every point she plays, are the most visible manifestations of Sanchez Vicario's fundamental strength, her upbringing. She has never wished, nor been permitted, to leave the bosom of her close-knit, middle-class Catalan family.
Her freedom was bound to be restricted once her elder sister, also known as Marisa, had left home in 1983 to study in California. After graduating from Pepperdine University, she went on to become a sports reporter on Spanish television before getting married.
Her father, Emilio, was initially so distressed by the absence of the eldest of his four children that he determined that the youngest would not follow suit. But Arantxa, who began practising on a backboard when she was four, was about to embark on a career that would also take her far away from the nest.
Her origins in the sport were as uncomplicated as her background. ``I see balls and I start," she says in her faltering English, which carries the stress patterns of her native tongue. Encouraged by her equally talented brothers, she so copied them that she walks like the younger, also named Emilio. By the time she was 13, she was considered the best woman player in Spain, but before she could turn professional, like Emilio and Javier, a compromise was reached. The father would remain working as an engineer at home and the mother would, when her teaching duties allowed, act as her chaperone.
Almost a decade later, the parents retain their roles. In recognition of her mother's protective influence, the daughter adopted her maiden name of Vicario after she had claimed her first grand slam championship, the French Open, as the seventh seed in 1989, when she was aged a mere 17 years and five months.
Now 23 and the French and US Open champion, she has yet to discover her independence, to stand on her own constantly moving feet. Ingenuous despite her extensive travels, she is renowned for her effervescence, especially off court.
``Can anyone imagine this girl ever being jaded or isolating herself?" Evert once asked. ``She inhales life." She exudes cheerfulness, too, as was illustrated when another American television commentator, Mary Carillo, waited to talk to her at Roland Garros in 1990. Sanchez Vicario had just yielded her French title, beaten ignominiously in the first round. ``I was concerned that she'd be upset," Carillo recalled, ``but she came rushing past me, smiling and saying she'd be back after her dope test. She's happy even being tested for drugs."
The tennis court is Sanchez Vicario's greatest source of contentment. In an era when many of the leading competitors disregard doubles, she is prepared to set a record for the number of matches completed in a year 167 (less than half of them in singles) in 1992.
Not only that. As well as entering the mixed doubles in grand slam events, she regularly performs in exhibitions, enhancing the financial rewards that she finds magnetically appealing. She was a millionairess before she came of age and now resides as a tax exile in Andorra.
Her friendly openness on the tennis circuit is facilitated by her command of languages. She speaks five of them. Recently, when giving an interview in Italian, she noticed an approaching American journalist and asked if she could switch to English. She did so without hesitation.
Yet she has received no formal tuition. She has picked up English on her journeys around the globe and converses with French and Italian colleagues in their own tongues. When she was living at an academy in Germany at the beginning of her teenage years, learning the language was a necessity. Her ease of communication has been a compensation for the sacrifices the profession demands. ``I miss many things," she said, ``studying, a career, relationships. But you learn a lot of things, you meet lots of people and I am one of the most popular sports figures in Spain."
At 5ft 61/2in, she is among the shorter players on the WTA tour, but her stocky frame has hardly ever let her down. Nobody can remember her being affected by injury. Her physical durability, as well as being her trademark on court, is poignant in the light of the continuing absence of both of her leading rivals. Seles has yet to return after being stabbed some 20 months ago and Graf, after recovering from a troublesome back, has torn a calf muscle.
Sanchez Vicario also evidently responds fearlessly to a crisis. At match point down to a comparative unknown, Raffaella Reggi, on the Centre Court at Wimbledon three years ago, she executed a drop shot, outrageously, from behind the baseline.
Caught by the cameras as she stood poised to beat Graf in the final of the French Open in 1989, she was seen licking lips which, by rights, should have been dry, particularly in one so youthful. She subsequently named her pet dog, a Yorkshire terrier, ``Roland", after the venue of her unforeseen triumph.
It was witnessed by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, who returned to Paris to see her regain the title (and her compatriot, Sergi Bruguera, retain the men's crown) last June. Her followers extend beyond royal circles. They include members of a Spanish rock group, Mecano.
An avid supporter of Barcelona's football team, she has irritated opponents with her tendency to question line calls and to point overtly to the spot where she feels the ball has landed. It is an extension of her aggression, for which she is highly regarded.
``She loves to intimidate," Pam Shriver said, ``and her aura can be scary. Inch for inch, I think she gets more out of her game than any other competitor." That doggedness took Sanchez Vicario to No2 in the world rankings for the first time in September 1993.
She has steadily been climbing closer to Graf, who last week revealed that she would be unable to defend the Australian Open, the last grand slam title she won. Thus, the Barcelona Bumblebee may at last be about to come to rest on the pinnacle of her sport.