From the sprawling family apartment high above the Diagonal, a sprawling boulevard that cuts through the heart of sprawling Barcelona, Emilio Sànchez can see as far as...well, almost as far as that older bronze gentleman who towers over the harbor downtown and who once envisioned a whole new spherical world. But whereas Christopher Columbus, 541 this year, sailed off with three ships to seek fame and fortune, Sànchez, a quiet, unassuming engineer in his mid-50's, has been content to stay home and send three of his children—Emilio, 27; Javier, 24; and Arantxa, 20—off to discover the universe on their own. The irony is that suddenly, after Sànchez's human versions of the Ni‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬±a, the Pinta and the Santa Maria have been out for the better part of a decade exploring the international tennis circuit and winning more than 90 singles and doubles titles in all, the mountain is about to come to Muhammad. "Ah...the Olympics...in our city.... You cannot imagine what a feeling," says the elder Sànchez.
Se‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬±or Sànchez's offspring handle the English translations in the family, as if the sparkle in the eye of the paterfamilias were not enough to convey the joy and wonder they all feel as the Games prepare to open just around the corner. But to understand the excitement enveloping the household, you need only recall that in all of the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, Spain won just four medals. In Barcelona the Sànchez family by itself may win four.
"You must be very proud to have three accomplished tennis players as children," a visitor recently said to the elder Sànchez.
"Gracias, pero tengo cuatro [Thank you, but I have four]," he answered, quickly including Marisa, 28, his oldest child, who once went off to play tennis at Pepperdine in Malibu, Calif. Scattered throughout the Sànchez apartment, in fact, are nearly as many framed photographs of Marisa on the occasion of her wedding last fall as there are trophies and awards won by her siblings.
July 21, 1992
Tennis nonaficionados may recognize the younger Emilio Sànchez as one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People in the World in 1992. But in the family lodge, Emilio is a shaky number two. Many of the pictures of the glorious Marisa are reflected in the spectacular mirrors decorating the living and dining rooms, giving the illusion of two brides, or four, or six. When all the children are home, the family does seem enormous. But too often Sànchez the father is home alone and must connect with his brood, he says, by "watching the tennis results on TV."
When Marisa left for Pepperdine in 1983, her father was so devastated by her absence that he vowed not to let little Arantxa do the same thing. Alas, she became a better player at an earlier age than any of the other kids. At 13, Arantxa (pronounced ah-RAHN-cha) was the best women's player in Spain. At 14 she turned pro. At 17, in 1989, she won the French Open, upsetting the then unupsettable Steffi Graf. Because Arantxa's mother, another Marisa—pay attention, it's not that confusing—had left hearth and home to chaperone Arantxa on the tour, Emilio the elder ended up not so much gaining another champion as losing a wife and what remained of his family.
As if that weren't hardship enough, Emilio has had to sit through seven matches in which his two sons opposed each other—all of which the young Emilio has won. The patriarch will have no such problem in Barcelona, inasmuch as Javier did not make the Spanish Olympic team. "They make the selections too early," Javier says. Indeed, Javier, currently ranked 33rd in the world, had as good a spring on clay (the surface at Vall d'Hebron, the Olympic tennis venue in Barcelona) as his older brother, who is ranked 18th. Javier reached this year's finals in Nice and the semis in Madrid, and he leads in career matches against Spain's other two Olympic singles players, Sergi Bruguera (ranked 20th) and Jordi Arrese (ranked 37th). "But is all right," Javier says. "This way during Olympics I can go out late, have fun, watch my brother and sister, and go to the basketball, too."
To understand how close the family Sànchez is, simply multiply the love of the Huxtables by the loyalty of the Kennedys by the warmth and support of the Von Trapps, and you'll be close. Growing up, Emilio was Javier's tennis role model, and Arantxa, sucking on lollipops while slugging balls against a backboard, so copied Emilio that she even walks like him. Early on the brothers practically vowed to play the same tournaments so as to always have an automatic support group. They practice together, eat meals together and unfailingly monitor each other's matches. When Arantxa joins them at the Grand Slams, the togetherness is in triplicate. Some tour analysts say this arrangement has hurt Javier, who has a natural hard-court game that has never been fully developed because of Emilio's affinity for clay. But, Javier replies, "this is the only way for all of us."
Similarly, while Arantxa has gone through several coaches during her career, Emilio is the one she turns to in a crunch. "He knows my game best," she says. Sure enough, on his sister's breakthrough afternoon at the '89 French Open, Emilio flew into Paris, parceled out some tips to Arantxa, sat in the competitors' box with their parents, gave Arantxa a kiss after she won the championship, and hurried out of town. Following that, Arantxa announced that she would thereafter be known as Arantxa Sànchez Vicario—the way she is known back home, using not only her father's surname but also her mother's maiden name. For closeness, even Ozzie and Harriet couldn't beat that.
It is hard to imagine a more fervent celebration than the one that would greet a gold medal won by Spain on the clay courts of Vail d'Hebron. "For us, this is bigger than Paris, than Wimbledon, than Davis Cup," says Emilio. "For me to win in Barcelona would be the highlight of my life." Similarly, Arantxa says in her delightfully fractured Anglo-excite-speak: "I am trying so difficulty to win golden."
In Seoul, Emilio and his doubles partner, Sergio Casal, fought for nearly four hours in the final round before Spain was denied the gold by the U.S.'s Ken Flach and Robert Seguso, who won 9-7 in the fifth set. "As a tennis player my mentality was not to understand the Olympics," says Emilio. "But when we returned home with the silver medal and 5,000 people were there to meet us at the airport, I realize how huge it is. This time, here at home, it is not Emilio Sànchez playing. It is Spain."
Though they can hardly be considered the favorites, the two Sànchez sibs conceivably could sweep tennis's gold medals, singles and doubles. With Monica Seles, Gabriela Sabatini and Martina Navratilova barred from the Games because they shunned last year's Federation Cup, No. 5 Arantxa will have only one higher-ranked woman to beat for the gold medal—Graf, whom she beat in the '89 and '91 French Opens but lost to in this year's French. What is more, the pudgy, quicksilver little Arantxa has become a superb women's doubles player, winning seven tournaments in 11 appearances this year with five different partners. Arantxa and her compatriot Conchita Martinez won the Federation Cup for Spain in '91 and made the finals of this year's French.
Emilio, meanwhile, is at his best in high heat, late in the season. During his career he has won seven tournaments and reached three other finals in July and August. A brave, tireless grinder, Emilio has 20 career victories over Top 10 players. He has won 15 singles and 40 men's doubles titles (the U.S. Open doubles once and the French twice), not to mention two Grand Slam mixed-doubles titles, with Pam Shriver in Paris and Navratilova at Flushing Meadow in 1987.
"Martina and I actually fought over Emilio that season," says Shriver. "He hits the dippiest topspin around, which is impossible for most of the girls to deal with. Plus, he's got that curveball kick serve. Then again, there's that face. Emilio is awfully cute."
Emilio's chiseled features and flying bandanna gave him a rock-star aura long before neon underpants were a gleam in Andre Agassi's sunglasses. In '88 the Los Angeles Times headlined a story about Emilio LADIES' MAN and detailed how, in the space of a few hours, he crashed an L.A. press conference to kiss actress Heather Locklear and an awards ceremony to kiss actress Linda Evans. Well, he's always been a doubles expert.
The Sànchez brothers' longtime coach, the infamous Colombian taskmaster Willie (Pato) Alvarez, keeps clashing with them in public over their preference for nightlife over training. The name of Emilio's steady Barcelona girlfriend remains confidential, but Alvarez complained last year that since Emilio "discovered sex, he thinks of nothing else." Javier, for his part, briefly split with Alvarez earlier this year after a bitter argument over how much time Javier was spending with his girlfriend, Barcelona model Isabel Ruiz. "He like too much the tennis," says Javier of Alvarez. "It's all there is in his life, I think."
Now the brothers are safely back in the fold of what is known in Spain as the Pato Clan, but the contretemps helped renew speculation about Alvarez himself, the self-proclaimed "greatest unknown coach in the world" and one of the sport's most bizarre characters since the early '60s, when he traveled the tour selling balls and rackets out of a battered Volkswagen. Pato is Spanish for duck, which refers, he says, to "way I walk, comprende?" As a player Alvarez was an infuriating dirt-court specialist who whined, replaced linesmen at will and generally made a career of gamesmanship. In 1963, when he was defaulted from the French Open, he became only the second player in history to get kicked out of a Grand Slam event.
In 1984, having turned to coaching, Alvarez hit the news again after Francisco Roig, a 16-year-old player from Barcelona, told a Spanish magazine that he had abandoned the Pato Clan because of "sexual harassment" by Alvarez. Similar allegations were made by Francisco Clavet of Madrid last year when he declined to renew his contract with Alvarez. Alvarez could not be reached for comment, but Pedro Hernandez of the Barcelona newspaper El Observador de la Actualidad says, "There arc always these rumors about Pato. Always rumors about him and the Sànchez boys too. They are silly, stupid, laughable."
The atmosphere was hardly hilarious at a tournament in Brussels in 1987 when Alvarez, by then in the employ of Emilio Sànchez, threatened to punch Australian player Laurie Warder after Warder accused Alvarez of "cheating" by coaching Sànchez and Casal during a doubles match against Warder and Brian Levine. The Spanish players ultimately owned up to the coaching, which is forbidden during matches, and were fined for unsportsmanlike conduct. Warder was fined for coach abuse. Alvarez got off scot-free. But the incident did result in the so-called Pato Rule, whereby a tour supervisor may remove a coach from a tournament under "flagrant circumstances."
Since then, even though both Sànchez brothers continue to stare at Alvarez not only between points but between serves, nobody has been able to detect any coaching signals. Nevertheless, the reputations of the Sànchezes have been sullied by their close connection to Alvarez. Another Pato-related controversy, this one involving the Davis Cup, has further eroded the image of the Sànchezes at home. When the elegant racketeer Manolo Santana became captain of the Spanish team in 1981, he banished all coaches (read: Alvarez). Then, five years ago, Santana was replaced by another national hero, Manolo Orantes. Orantes not only continued the ban on Alvarez but also brought Bruguera onto the team in place of Javier Sànchez, and the battle lines were drawn. Emilio, citing "discomfort" without his brother, said he would not play Davis Cup. He relented, but in Spain's loss to Italy in February, animosity prevailed as Orantes and Emilio hardly spoke. Bruguera lost both his singles matches, and Emilio dropped the deciding match to Omar Camporese 6-0, 6-2, 6-4, blaming his desultory play on the absence of Alvarez.
"Look, Emilio is nice guy and good player," says Orantes. "But Pato has him brainwashed. Emilio needs to leave Pato and go to the people. It is very sad for Spain."
Emilio replies, "O.K., Pato says bad things, like he hopes some players [Bruguera] will lose. But people should let it pass. The thing is, Orantes says long ago he want my brother to play, then he doesn't play him. Orantes is paid too much for doing nothing. He doesn't travel to tournaments. He doesn't see us. He doesn't know us."
Their sister carries no such excess baggage. Enthusiastic, positive, always bubbling, Arantxa seldom takes a breath without smiling. In the words of Chris Evert, "Can anybody imagine this girl ever being jaded or isolating herself? Arantxa inhales life."
Mary Carillo of CBS remembers waiting to speak to Arantxa after a particularly tough Grand Slam loss in Paris in '90. "I was concerned she'd be upset," says Carillo. "But then here came Arantxa rushing past me and...smiling. 'Hi,' she said. 'I am being right back. I have to be going for my doping testing.' The girl's my hero. She's happy even being tested for drugs."
Arantxa's increasing tendency to question line calls and to "point" opponents' balls out have not made for much happiness across the net, however. "That pointing stuff gets annoying," says Shriver, who was being beaten by Arantxa 6-0, 5-0 at Eastbourne last year when Shriver herself started mimicking Arantxa's pointing. "Got a game out of it, saved a bagel," says Shriver. "But more power to her. Arantxa loves to intimidate, and her aura can be scary out there. Inch for inch, I think she gets more out of her game than any competitor. If she was a pitcher, she'd throw the brushback at your head."
In the Federation Cup in England last summer, Arantxa so riled the Americans with her histrionics that they ended up hurling epithets while falling apart. Not only did Arantxa use her newly developed aggressive game to beat Mary Joe Fernandez in singles, but she also combined with Martinez to defeat Zina Garrison and Gigi Fernandez in the clinching doubles match, all the while pointing, whirling, throwing her fists in the air and working the crowd with the standard tennis-etiquette scream of "Vamos, vamos [Let's go, let's go]."
"I am so exciting to win," she said afterward, laughing. Which is what an entire country will be doing if Team Solidarity, the Sànchezes, pulls off a similar coup at the Olympics.