Feli takes the reins

Antonio Arenas Mutua News

The time has come. This year, the Mutua Madrid Open has a new figure at the helm: Feliciano López. The Toledo native, who worked as the Assistant Director in 2018, has left the courts for the offices to ensure a perfect week in the Caja Mágica this season. After 17 consecutive participations in the tournament since it first came to the Spanish capital in 2002, this time he will be following from the stands, making sure everything runs smoothly at one of the world’s most prestigious tennis events.

His long career on tour took him to no. 12 in the world and he picked up six ATP titles along the way in Vienna (2004), Johannesburg (2010), Eastbourne (2013, 2014), Gstaad (2016) and Queen’s (2017). Another eleven singles finals, four doubles titles –including the French Open (2016)– and four Davis Cups adorn a trophy cabinet which also includes records for longevity such as the honour of currently being the player with the most consecutive Grand Slam participations (68).

Feliciano combines the experience of his over-20-year career with the responsibility of succeeding Manolo Santana at the bridge of the Mutua Madrid Open. “Manolo was an invaluable emblem, bastion and guide for the tournament’s consolidation in Madrid, for such success every season and for its integration into the city’s DNA”, recognised the tournament’s new director before his first year in charge of operations. For his part, Santana will fill the role of Honorary President so that his name will live on forever at the tournament.

“Not only was it an honour because I took the reins from Manolo Santana in May 2018, but also because this has been my home since I was 15 years old”, said Feliciano López. “I have always collaborated a lot and I feel very close to all the people that form part of this great family, from Ion Tiriac to Gerard Tsobanian and Alberto Berasategui”. At 37 years of age, the time has come for him to face one of the most “exciting” challenges off the courts, as the man himself has put it. And not only is he now taking over one of the biggest tournaments on the ATP and WTA tours in the Masters 1000 and Premier Mandatory categories, but also one of the greatest sports events in a city that has taken him in as one of their own.

“I can’t describe how excited I was to receive the call from Manolo Santana and from Gerard Tsobanian. I can still remember when Manolo gave me an invite to play in the first edition of the tournament in 2002. That’s when I realised that I really could take on the best in the world (and I was close to beating Agassi!)”, he recalls of the day when he was given the chance. “I have a special bond with the Mutua Madrid Open and I feel very fortunate to work at the tournament. Now I feel as if Manolo has given me another wildcard to work with him and I hope to make the most of it”.

The challenge faced by Feliciano is not new on tour. Many players have filled positions historically reserved for businessmen. Right now, there are figures such as James Blake, who heads the ATP Masters 1000 in Miami and Tommy Haas, who does the same at the ATP Masters 1000 in Indian Wells. The German was actually one of the first to lay the foundations for what the Spaniard is doing at the Mutua Madrid Open, combining his position as a player with his role as the tournament’s director.

“Being the director of the Mutua Madrid Open is great news and, of course, a great way to carry on after my career. Perhaps Tommy Haas set the precedent at a Masters 1000 in Indian Wells”, explains Feliciano. “I think it’s a great idea to support players that are still active or recently retired and that we can work at tournaments of this stature. We are familiar with the tour and we live alongside the players every day, which is important in order to know how they are feeling and what they expect of a tournament. The most recent list of names also includes Richard Krajicek, the head of the Rotterdam tournament and Robin Soderling, who was the director in Stockholm and Bastad.

There are many reasons that Feliciano accepted the offer that was put forward to him, but above all it was the chance to try and maintain the spirit of a sports event that has consolidated itself in the city he calls home. “People can’t wait for May to arrive so that they can go to the tennis, not just the biggest fans, but also thousands of people who want to enjoy a day out as a family at another event in the city. It took a long time to achieve this and a lot of dedication from a team that has worked hard throughout all these years”, he says in recognition of the effort invested in previous seasons that he was able to see as a player.

From his time on court, the display he put on in 2011 against Roger Federer, who is back this year after a three-year absence from clay, still lives on in the memories of the fans. That afternoon in the Manolo Santana stadium, the man from Toledo and the Swiss produced a match for the annals that ended 7-6(13), 6-7(1), 7-6(7). His performances in 2003, 2007, 2008 and 2014, when he reached the quarter-finals, will also be remembered.

After all this, what does the Mutua Madrid Open mean to Feliciano López? Here’s what the man himself has to say about it: “It’s more than just a tennis tournament. It’s a celebration of sport, events and activities. Madrid is a tournament that belongs to the citizens of Madrid. And that’s my goal, for the Mutua Madrid Open to continue to form part of the city’s DNA”. The director has spoken.