Despite the passion and determination of Spain’s greatest players over the years, the country did not win its first Davis Cup title until 2000. Even so, Grand Slam champions and world number ones alike have enjoyed and loved the competition – defending the colours of the Armada.
The Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona was packed when, at the end of 2000, four players made history for Spanish tennis. Juan Carlos Ferrero, world number one at the time, raised his arms and looked to the sky. He had just beaten the Australian Lleyton Hewitt and secured Spain’s first title in the Davis Cup. Alex Corretja, Albert Costa and doubles specialist Joan Balcells completed the quartet who finally managed to take the trophy for Spain: "Getting that point was a huge joy" said a young Ferrero, just 20 years old, after the game. "It's difficult to put it into words because it's the first time I've had such a big win. It's the best win of my life. (...) It was the effort of an entire team. From the first qualifying round we've been fighting match by match, managing to handle the pressure".
Over the decades, other greats of Spanish tennis had tried. Spain made its debut at the Davis Cup in 1921, and Andrés Gimeno, the first real Spanish tennis legend, successfully captained the team in the late 1950s. But turning professional prevented him from playing in several events, including being able to fight for the title alongside Manolo Santana – winner of four Grand Slams – where Spain lost to Australia in the 1965 and 1967 finals. "I didn't realise that Manolo Santana was going to be so great, because with him we could have won the Davis Cup for Spain, and the Davis Cup was pure passion for me. We could have won the Davis Cup and then turned professional," he said years later.
After the 1970s, when Manolo Orantes dominated the Spanish team, and following the creation of the World Group in 1981, Spain again came within touching distance of the final in 1987, losing in the semi-finals to Sweden. Their number one player then was Emilio Sanchez Vicario, who, years later as captain, once again showed his passion for the competition.
Sergi Bruguera, winner of Roland-Garros in 1993 and 1994 and captain of the Spanish team since 2017, was also unable to win the title as a player despite his many appearances. "At first it was difficult but then it was quite good. But I remember that I had to play a lot away from home, I think it was nine play-offs away and four at home.”
Six titles in two decades
But the proud Spanish tennis tradition was to have its reward. The title achieved in 2000 was followed by no fewer than five more, in 2004, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2019, that last one in the new Finals format.
Aged just 18, Rafael Nadal secured the confidence of his captain in the 2004 final. He helped to beat the U.S. team alongside Juan Carlos Ferrero, Tommy Robredo and Carlos Moya, another former world number one who fell in love with the Davis Cup and who finally won the title, taking the victory point for Spain on that occasion. "I remember seeing Emilio Sanchez play, also Sergi Bruguera. Now we see a lot of tennis on TV but at that time we could only see the Davis Cup and a bit of Roland-Garros. And you could see how special that competition was. I always dreamed of being able to play in it and compete for Spain. (...) In 2004 the atmosphere was incredible. The closest thing I've ever seen to a football match. Winning the last point, in front of 27,000 spectators. It's an experience I won't forget.”
Three other players repeatedly left their mark over the following years: as well as Rafa Nadal, David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco made regular appearances in the competition and were key to the titles of 2008, 2009, 2011 and the 2012 final. "The Davis Cup has been the most important thing that has happened to me in my life and the ultimate ending was to be able to play my last match in Valencia in front of my people, in front of my family," explained David Ferrer, winner of three titles. "The emotions that you experience in the Davis Cup you won’t get in any other tournament. Any player on the circuit will tell you that the Davis Cup is the most nerve-wracking because in the end you are playing for an entire country. It's very different to any other kind of competition.”
In 2019, Nadal once again celebrated in front of the trophy. It had been 15 years since his first title but the emotions remained the same. Spain won the first edition of the new-format Finals with Rafa winning eight matches (eight!) in just six days of competition. Roberto Bautista, Pablo Carreño, Feliciano López and Marcel Granollers, with Bruguera as captain, wrote another great chapter in the history of Spanish tennis. And Bautista added to the emotional atmosphere by playing the final on Sunday only a day after attending his father's funeral. His embrace with Rafa, after winning the title, gave the Davis Cup one of the most poignant moments in its 120-year history.
TVE, La Vanguardia, Antena 3 TV, ITF