October, 9, 2019: The day Spanish tennis legend Andres Gimeno passed away

Every day Tennis Majors takes you back in time to celebrate a great moment in tennis history. Today, we go back to 2019 to pay a tribute to the oldest-ever Roland-Garros champion, Andres Gimeno

Andres Gimeno en 1973

What happened exactly on that day?

On this day, October 9 in 2019, Andres Gimeno, who was the oldest player to have ever triumphed at Roland-Garros (in 1972, at the age of 34 years and 10 months) – passed away at the age of 82. The Spanish tennis pioneer, who had been inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame, had inspired several generations of countrymen after him.

The facts: The life and times of Andres Gimeno

  • Gimeno wins the Roland-Garros juniors in 1955

Andres Gimeno, born in 1937, was one of the first Spanish players to compete at the international level, along with Manolo Santana. Having won the junior event at Roland-Garros in 1955, he reached the quarter-finals of the men’s event in 1960 (lost to Nicola Pietrangeli, 6-3, 6-1, 3-6, 6-2). That same year, Gimeno signed a contract with Jack Kramer to become a touring pro, and hence, he could not enter any Grand Slam events for the eight following years. 

According to tennis expert Bud Collins, Gimeno was “ a smooth groundstroker, fine server and cool under fire”. He was also appreciated by his peers and by the public for his sense of humour. Robert Lipsyte, from The New York Times, wrote that, “a retriever with classic stroking, Gimeno [was] the ultimate wall that returns everything,” 

  • Spaniard joins the pro ranks

Throughout the 1960s, the Spaniard spent most of his time as a touring pro facing the best players of his time. At his peak, he was even considered as the third best player in the world, behind the Australian legends Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall, both of whom he had defeated several times. Gimeno reached the final of three major professional tournaments: the French Pro in 1962 (defeated by Rosewall, 3-6, 6-2, 7-5, 6-2), the London Pro in 1965 (lost to Laver, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4), and finally the US Pro in 1967 (defeated once again by Laver, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-5).

When the Open Era began, in 1968, Gimeno, who was already 30 years old,  reached the semi-finals at Roland-Garros (defeated by Rosewall, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3). Although he was still competing in Lamar Hunt’s National Tennis League, he finished runner-up at the 1969 Australian Open (lost to Rod Laver, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5) and the semi-finals at Wimbledon in 1970 (lost to John Newcombe, 6-3, 8-6, 6-0). He did not perform very well in any major tournament in 1971, and although some thought that, aged 33, he was a declining player, he was still considered by many to be one of the best clay-court players in the world.

  • Andres Gimeno wins Roland-Garros at the age of 34

However, Gimeno achieved the greatest feat of his career in 1972, at the age of 34, when he became the oldest player to ever win Roland-Garros. After having eliminated Stan Smith, who was considered the world No.1 at the time, in the quarter-finals (6-1, 7-9, 6-0, 7-5), the Spaniard defeated Frenchman Patrick Proisy in the final (4-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-1). 

His triumph at Roland-Garros in 1972  remained Gimeno’s last great achievement as a tennis player. He retired from the sport in 1973 before opening a tennis club in Spain, breeding a new generation of clay-court talents. Alex Correjta, two-times runner-up at Roland-Garros, had attended Gimeno’s tennis camps as a young player.

  • Gimeno enters Tennis Hall of Fame but faces a difficult end

Having entered the Tennis Hall of Fame in 2009, Gimeno announced two years later that he had lost nearly all his money in the Spanish economic crisis. A group of Spanish players, including Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer, raised money for him by playing in an exhibition tournament.

On October 9, 2019, Andres Gimeno died from cancer at the age of 82. To this day, he remains the oldest Roland-Garros champion in tennis history.

Oldest male Grand Slam champions in the Open era

  • Wimbledon: Roger Federer (35 years, 11 months) in 2017
  • US Open: Ken Rosewall (35 years, 10 months) in 1970 
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