'Heartbreaking': Tributes flow after tennis legend dies at 83

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·Sports Reporter
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Manolo Santana (pictured middle) posing with Rafael Nadal (pictured right) and  Emilio Butragueno (pictured left).
Manolo Santana (pictured middle) has died aged 83. (Getty Images)

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have led the tributes for tennis legend Manuel "Manolo" Santana who died at the age of 83.

The Madrid Open announced the death of its honorary president on Saturday.

Santana won four major singles championships: The French Championships in 1961 and 1964, the US Championships in 1965 and Wimbledon in 1966, the same year he reached the top ranking.

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He added the 1963 French doubles with Australian Roy Emerson.

Santana was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1984.

"It's difficult for a genius to be rewarded in tennis and Manolo was one of those few who could," Gene Scott said at the hall induction ceremony where he spoke on Santana's behalf.

Manolo Santana (pictured) attends the men's final during day 15 of the 2019 French Open.
Manolo Santana (pictured) was a legendary Spanish tennis player. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

"He literally invented one of the strokes that we now see in profusion — the backhand topspin lob."

Spaniard Rafael Nadal expressed his condolences writing in Spanish that "we will all miss you Manolo".

"You will always be one of a kind and special," Nadal wrote.

"As I have said many times in the past: a thousand thanks for what you did for our country and for opening the way for others.

"You were always my role model, a friend and someone who was close to all of us."

Tennis world pays tribute to Manuel "Manolo" Santana

Aussie Rod Laver paid tribute to his friend on social media.

"My thoughts are with good friend Manolo Santana, who has passed away," he wrote.

"A clay court maestro, Manolo famously said grass was for cows, but still managed to win Wimbledon in 1966, and inspired generations of Spanish players with his renowned heavy topspin and fighting spirit."

Novak Djokovic added: "Heartbreaking to just get the news about Manolo Santana."

"Sending my deepest condolences and prayers to his family and all who loved him, which is so many. Thank you dear Manolo for paving the way, you will be missed and celebrated always! Rest In Peace legend!"

Two-time grand slam winner Garbine Muguruza posted a photo of her with an elderly Santana with the message thanking him for his "goodness, warmth, and for showing us the way forward."

Spain's King Felipe VI and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez echoed the sentiments of Nadal, calling Santana a "legend".

Billie Jean King fondly recalled winning her first Wimbledon title alongside Santana's triumph there in 1966.

"We danced the 1st dance at the Ball," King tweeted.

Unlike his Davis Cup teammate Andres Gimeno, Santana turned down offers to turn professional and became one of the biggest names on the tour of the 1960s.

Santana beat the top three players to win the 1961 French title - No.3 Emerson in the quarter-finals, No.2 Rod Laver next and ultimately defending two-time champion and No.1 Nicola Pietrangeli in the final.

In 1965 he became the first European man to win the US title since 1928.

He became the first men's Wimbledon champion from Spain in 1966 and labelled that triumph the biggest of his four major singles triumphs.

"This is the one all the players want to win," he's quoted as saying on the International Tennis Hall of Fame site.

"I am very happy I did it once."

Real Madrid noted on their website that Santana wore the Real Madrid shirt during the Wimbledon final.

“His love for the club inspired him to win Wimbledon in 1966 in the Real Madrid shirt, making him the first Spanish tennis player to win this Grand Slam,” wrote the club on their website.

After making his Davis Cup debut at 19, he still holds Spain's records for most ties (46), and most wins in singles (69) and doubles (23).

with AAP

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