ONE of Spain’s greatest tennis players, Manuel Santana, died aged 83 on Saturday.
The four-time Grand Slam champion, who helped to popularise the sport in Spain, passed away at his home in Marbella after suffering heart failure.
The death was announced by the Madrid Masters tournament, where he was honorary president.
Spanish tennis star Rafa Nadal was among the friends and fans who paid tribute to the tennis legend after learning the news.
Nadal, who has won 20 Grand Slam men’s singles titles, took to Twitter to post a heartwarming tribute to the late Santana.
He wrote: “I have just received the terrible news of the death of our great Manolo Santana.
“As I have said many times in the past, a thousand thank yous for what you did for our country and for marking the way for so many.
“You were always a benchmark, a friend and a person close to all of us.
“We will miss you Manolo. You were always unique and special.
“A hug to your family and a lot of strength at this time. We will never forget you.”
Santana, a pioneer of Spanish tennis, became a national hero after leading Spain to victory over the US in the Davis Cup in 1965 following his 1961 and 1964 Grand Slam successes in France.
Santana won the U.S. Open in 1965 and went on to become World Number 1 after scooping the 1966 Wimbledon men’s singles title.
He also scored gold at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico, and overall, he won 72 singles titles, the last one coming in Barcelona in 1970.
After his playing career, he became a coach and was captain of Spain’s Davis Cup teams in the 1980s and 1990s.
The dad-of-five began his career as a ball boy at a Madrid tennis club and was supported by a member of the club to carry on playing tennis.
The Madrid-born sportsman, who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, was married four times and owned a tennis and paddle tennis club in Marbella.
Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez tweeted: “He won Roland Garros, the US Open and Wimbledon, 72 tournaments in total and an Olympic gold that turned him into a tennis legend and one of the best sportsmen in our country.”
“My sincere condolences to Manolo Santana’s family, his loved ones and the world of tennis.”
The Spanish Olympic Committee added: “With heavy hearts we say goodbye today to Manolo Santana, a legend and a pioneer of tennis.
“Sports owes you a lot Manolo. We will never forget you.”