Andrés Gimeno, a lanky Spanish tennis player who in 1972 became the oldest man to win the men’s singles championship at the French Open, died on Oct. 9 in Barcelona. He was 82.
The Spanish tennis federation said the cause was cancer.
A genial sportsman with a graceful style, Gimeno (pronounced hee-MAY-no) came to prominence in the 1950s, using an arsenal of drop shots and lobs that disrupted power players, especially on clay courts.
“Andrés didn’t hit the ball with a lot of spin, like many Spanish players do now, but he had an aggressive, flat forehand, and a backhand that was more of a slice most of the time,” Stan Smith, a frequent opponent of Gimeno’s, said by phone.
By 1972, as he neared his 35th birthday, the closest Gimeno had come to winning a Grand Slam title was losing to Rod Laver in the final of the 1969 Australian Open.
At 34 years and 306 days, Gimeno remains the oldest man to win the French Open men’s title. The second oldest, Ken Rosewall, was 33 years and 220 days when he won in 1968.
Gimeno was born on Aug. 3, 1937, in Barcelona, where, with the encouragement and coaching of his father, Esteban, he began his path to a tennis career. He trained at a club in Barcelona and, at 17, won a national doubles championship with Juan Manuel. At 21, he played in the first of several Davis Cups for Spain.
After winning several amateur tournaments in Europe, Gimeno turned professional in 1960. He and other leading players, including Laver, Rosewall and Lew Hoad, played a circuit of pro tournaments but were not allowed to compete in Grand Slams like the French Open and Wimbledon because they were no longer amateurs.
But when the Open Era started in 1968, pros were allowed to play with amateurs. That year, in the first United States Open of the new era, Gimeno and Arthur Ashe lost in the doubles finals to Smith and Bob Lutz.
Six months later, Gimeno played Ashe in the finals at a tournament at Madison Square Garden.
“Strong, a retriever with classic stroking, Gimeno is the ultimate wall that returns everything,” Robert Lipsyte wrote in his sports column in The New York Times. “He must be overpowered to be beaten.” Although Lipsyte said that Gimeno was not especially exciting, “weekend players could probably learn more from him than any other leading professional.”
Gimeno won the match and left Manhattan with a winner’s check of $5,290.62 (the equivalent of about $38.000 today). He won several other tournaments in the United States and Europe through 1972.
In another strong performances at a Grand Slam before he won the French Open, Gimeno lost in the semifinals of Wimbledon to John Newcombe in 1970.
His survivors include his wife, Cristina Carulla; two sons, Andres Jr. and Alejo; and three grandchildren.