As published in Florida Tennis Magazine
The Evolution of Spanish Tennis
In the 1960's and 1970's Spanish tennis was mostly chip and slice. Players were typically tough and patient retrievers, and many would call them--and derogatorily so--"pushers."
In the 1970's and 1980's, legendary coaches like Pato Alvarez and Lluis Bruguera were starting out-- hard at work in the trenches developing a new system of training, which built upon the consistency of past champions, but began changing the game by emphasizing a higher intensity of training and pushing Spanish players to be even more physical, while adding weapons. The Bruguera system typically stressed heavy topspin and the forehand weapon--think Sergi Bruguera. Pato Alvarez developed complete players with excellent all-court and attacking games to balance out steady baseline play--think Sergio Casal and Emilio Sanchez.
The 1990's and 2000's were breakout decades for Spanish tennis when Spain led the ATP tour with the number of players in the top 100, but perhaps more importantly--for the first time--produced multiple Grand Slam winners and # 1 world-ranked players, such as Sergi Bruguera, Albert Costa, Carlos Moya, and Juan-Carlos Ferrero. These players led the Spanish Armada and were supported by literally dozens of other solid professional players.
This dominance has continued to present day with the addition of one of the greatest players of all time: Rafa Nadal. When considered in its historical context, the evolution of Spanish tennis from the 1960's to present day is truly remarkable and one of the greatest success stories in tennis history--and it warrants study from anyone serious about learning how to develop champions, whether on a national/institutional level or as an individual working with a player.
The history of Spanish women's tennis does not track the same success as the men and is a subject that requires further investigation. The women have had some standouts such as Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario and Conchita Martinez, and more recently Garbine Muguruza, but they have not dominated the pro tour in the same way as the men. A broader discussion of the reasons for this warrant an entire separate article on its own.
Only time will tell what the next evolution in Spain will be and whether Spanish tennis can continue its dominance on the world stage.
The system is always evolving. More and more coaches and players are coming from outside of Spain to learn the Spanish "secrets" and also there has been a diaspora of well-trained coaches leaving Spain to teach around the world. The result has been that other players from other countries are benefitting from the methods that originally propelled only Spanish players to the top of the game. Spain by necessity must evolve its methods to stay competitive as other countries learn and adapt.
One example of this is that more and more academies and coaches in Spain are stressing hard court training and taking the ball earlier and on the rise. Traditional Spanish methods typically emphasize moving back deep in the court and often times letting the ball drop to play defense and to create a big topspin heavy ball drive. If you look at Rafa's court positioning in general, it's similar to the way Sergi Bruguera (and many other Spanish pros) have played.
There is a strong trend in Spain from progressive-minded coaches to get players closer to the baseline and to be more proactive and aggressive with court positioning than in previous decades. This combined with more fast court training will undoubtedly help change the style of Spanish players for the next generation. We will likely see more Spanish players with the consistency and fight of past champions, but with better on-the-rise and attacking skills, and players with even more confidence on fast courts.
If Spain is smart, they will also spend more time developing the serve as a weapon so the next generation of players can get more free points on service games. Typically in Spain, even today, the serve is often underdeveloped and used to simply start the point rather than polished and really developed into a dominating shot. This needs to change for Spain to remain a superpower at the highest level of the game.
In summary, the future of Spanish tennis will likely look more like Feliciano Lopez than David Ferrer. Nevertheless, there will always be the protypical Spanish grinder on tour based on the player's mentality (conservative and patient) and physical characteristics (short stature, stamina, and foot speed).