Tennis : Spain out of the red

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The Independent Online
For Evidence of a revolution going on in men's tennis, look no further than the Australian Open here in Melbourne, writes Chris Bowers.

Spain, masters of clay but rank novices on any other surface, are stepping out of the red and dusty shadows and announcing themselves on the ATP Tour. The sight of Spaniards in the latter stages of women's singles at Grand Slam events is well established through the exploits of Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Conchita Martinez, but the men have a less than overwhelming presence. Sergi Bruguera's French Open titles in 1993 and 1994 went some way to re-establishing a new order - no Spanish man had won a Grand Slam since Manuel Orantes took the 1975 US Open (during the four years it was played on clay) - but it is here that a new dawn appears to be breaking.

Spain has 14 men in the world's top 100 - no country has more - and of the 15 Spaniards who started the Australian Open, Carlos Moya, Albert Costa and Felix Mantilla all reached the quarter-finals, with 20-year- old Moya going all the way to the final, disposing of Boris Becker and Michael Chang along the way. The Spaniards' exploits in the searing temperatures of a Victorian summer have guaranteed their entry into the world's top 20 rankings.

It has not happened by accident. Spain's tennis association has recognised that players need to be skilled on all surfaces, and they have built a centre in Barcelona that boasts 14 hard courts. "We've reformed our training methods and are playing less on clay," Moya said.

Moya's performances in the past three weeks, when he was beaten by Britain's Tim Henman in the final of the Sydney International before setting up his showdown with Pete Sampras, are not the only high points in the past 12 months for Spain: Costa beat Chang in the first round at Wimbledon last year, Bruguera reached the final of the Atlanta Olympic tournament, Alex Corretja had a match point against Pete Sampras at the US Open, and Javier Sanchez won the hard-court event at Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile, Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge claimed their second Australian doubles title, following their 1992 triumph, in beating Alex O'Brien and Sebastien Lareau in four sets in the doubles final. Britain's David Sherwood and James Trotman, the No 2 seeds, took the boys' doubles title yesterday, beating the South African pair of Wesley Whitehouse and Jaco Vanderwesthuizen 7-6 6-3.

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