Spanish Tennis may not be Doomed

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Class of ’97 set to lead the resurgence of the formerly vaunted La Armada

A lot has been said about the demise of Spanish tennis. Rightfully so. The members of the so-called “Golden Generation” are approaching their twilight years while their anointed replacements have enjoyed underwhelming careers so far. Even one of the most recognizable tennis standouts in the country such as former ATP #7 Emilio Sanchez Vicario waved the white flag recently.

The latest generation of La Armada that has produced multiple Top 100 players is the 1988 one. Currently in their age–28 seasons, Roberto Bautista (#17 as of 9/26/16) and Albert Ramos (#31) have established themselves as steady baseliners capable of causing a headache or two to an uninspired Top 20 opponent, but their ceiling is limited. Come the second week of a Grand Slam or the later stages of a Masters 1000, no title contender is rattled about having to play against either of them. Fellow 1988-born Pere Riba actually broke into the “big leagues” earlier than his peers, reaching a career-high #65 ranking in 2011, but a long list of injury troubles knocked him out of the main tour. Moreover, currently suspended Guillermo Olaso never made it past the #167 position in the world.

If we made a baseball analogy, 1993-born Roberto Carballés (#126 now, peaked at #95 in August, though) is still a fringe AAAA/replacement level player. Soon-to-be 27 years old Íñigo Cervantes (#77) has struggled mightily in his first year on tour and he urgently needs to rack up victories if he does not want to see his ranking plummet. That leaves us with 25-year-old Pablo Carreño-Busta (#39) as the lone representative of Spain under the age of 28. While the Asturian has won the crown at Winston-Salem and reached the final at Estoril, until this year he had a hard time obtaining victories on a regular basis away from the Challenger circuit, which is not a good sign.

Jimmy Soixante-Dix, a Twitter celebrity who is a must-follow for all tennis fans, rhetorically labelled Carreño as “The Future of Spanish Tennis” several times. In other words, the future of Spanish tennis appeared to be doomed.

That´s enough calamities for the day. It´s now time to shift our attention to (warning: BOLD STATEMENT!!!!) the new saviors of La Armada: Pedro Martínez Portero (#322), Carlos Taberner (#348), Jaume Munar (#368), Bernabé Zapata (#406), and Álvaro López San Martín (#492, although the 27 points coming on the books on Monday 10/3 will bump him nearly a hundred spots).

All these kids, born in 1997, are having formidable seasons. The outgoing Martínez Portero has captured four Futures titles and has flirted with success at the next level, reaching the semis of the €42,500 Meknes Challenger.

Taberner has consolidated himself as a force at the Futures level, winning two trophies. He’s enjoyed mixed results in his first immersion in the Challengers, but the 80+ matches he’s played this season have started to take a toll on his performance.

Munar, aided by fellow Mallorca-native Rafael Nadal, attempted to bypass the ITF circuit in 2015, but he was too raw to consistently defeat high-caliber opposition. In 2016 he attempted to reach stardom through the regular path and has posted excellent results, especially in the second half of the year, winning three Futures titles since July.

Zapata is a big-hitting prospect who falls into the boom-or-bust territory. An unbelievable week during which he demolishes highly-touted foes can followed by a shocking first round exit. Nonetheless, he´s a three-time Futures champion in 2016.

Last but not least, López San Martín has caught fire since late August, winning 16 out of the last 17 matches he has played en route to three Futures crowns, including two $25,000 tournaments.

Granted, Alexander Zverev is the same age as the five aforementioned men and has just won the ATP 250 St. Petersburg, boasting back-to-back victories over Tomas Berdych; Taylor Fritz reached the ATP 250 Memphis final earlier in the season; 1998-born Americans Frances Tiafoe and Stefan Kozlov are on the verge of breaking into the Top 100; 17-year-old Denis Shapovalov ousted Nick Kyrgios at the Masters 1000 level…

The Spanish quintet may not flash the same can’t-miss potential, but we shall not forget Munar, Martinez Portero and Lopez San Martin carried Spain to the 2013 Junior Davis Cup title in San Luis Potosí (Mexico), where Munar recorded a straight sets win over Zverev.

Many top junior players hit a wall once they start losing week in and week out at the Futures level. These five Spaniards seem to have cleared that hurdle by age 19, which is no small feat. Nobody knows how things will unfold at Challengers or ATP-level events, but one thing is guaranteed: the fact all five of them have been somewhat successful will drive them to push one another toward their common goal.

Here is the breakdown of their head-to-head matchups, including ITF Juniors, Futures and Challengers. The number of wins in 2016 is in between parethesis.

X

PMP CT JM BZ ALSM

Pedro Martínez Portero

X 6 (4) 2 (1) 5 (1)

5 (2)

Carlos Taberner

1 (1) X 1 (1) 2 (1)

1

Jaume Munar

4 (1) 1 X 1 (1)

3 (1)

Bernabé Zapata

1 1 1 (1) X

2 (2)

Álvaro López San Martín 3 (1) 1 2 (2)

X

 

There is plenty of talent here and in even younger age groups, highlighted by uber prospects Nicola Kuhn and Alejandro Davidovich, to restore Spanish tennis to the place it deserves.

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