Grapevine: Analysis: Alonsomania Beats Soccer

In a soccer-obsessed country like Spain it takes something special to push what they call "el deporte rey" (the king of sports) off the front pages of the sporting dailies

Grapevine: Analysis: Alonsomania Beats Soccer

Fernando Alonso and Rafael Nadal did just that this week.

Alonso, 23, won a thrilling duel with seven-times World Champion Michael Schumacher in Sunday's San Marino Grand Prix hours before 18-year-old Nadal produced a superlative display of high-energy tennis to win the Barcelona Open title.

For once sporting conversations are revolving around the exploits of these young men rather than the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Over the years Spain has produced its fair share of exceptional sportsmen and women. Seve Ballesteros upset golf's established order in the 1970s and 80s while cyclist Miguel Indurain won five consecutive Tours de France.

Like Ballesteros, Nadal has charisma, talent and good looks.

The only matches that drew a capacity crowd at the centre court in Barcelona were those involving the Mallorcan.

Every one of his matches was carried live on state television and his doubles matches pulled in more fans than most of those in the singles draw.

Adoring Hordes

Such was his popularity that the organisers of the tournament were obliged to put on extra security to protect him from the hordes of fans that tracked his every step.

With his long brown hair, fluorescent orange sleeveless shirt and bandana, Nadal is already one of the hottest properties in the sport.

Nike have made him the centre of an advertising campaign in Spain using the slogan "Tennis has changed - get used to it."

A member of Spain's Davis Cup-winning team in 2004, Nadal came within a whisker of upsetting world number one Roger Federer in the final of the Nasdaq-100 this month.

He became the youngest player since Michael Chang in 1990 to win a Masters Series event in Monte Carlo and his performance in Barcelona fired him into the top 10, displacing Carlos Moya as the top-ranked Spaniard.

With 25 wins and just two losses on clay this year, Nadal will have a real chance of claiming his first grand slam at the French Open next month.

Claycourt tennis has always been one of Spain's strong sporting suits whereas until the emergence of Alonso, Formula One was of minority interest.

Spaniards have a far greater passion for motorcycling, a sport at which they have traditionally excelled.

Formula One was seen as an exclusive and rather dull testing ground for the high-tech innovations of car manufacturers.

Snowballing Interest

Nothing breeds interest like success and ever since the Asturian's first Grand Prix victory in Hungary in 2003, the sport's popularity has snowballed.

Spain never carried Formula One races live on television until Alonso's emergence. A peak audience of more than seven million - a figure that comes close to rivalling that for a Real-Barca clash - watched his victory at Imola on Sunday.

The crowds at the final of the Barcelona tennis Open stayed outside the centre court to watch the end of the race, even Nadal and Juan Carlos Ferrero were late because they were glued to the screen in the players' lounge.

Racing Santander players refused to get off their coach for the Primera Liga match against Deportivo Coruna until they had finshing watching the race.

Interest in Alonso outstrips that in other home-grown sporting heroes like Real's Raul, NBA basketball player Pau Gasol and double motorcycling world champion Dani Pedrosa.

Children swap Formula One stickers at school and the remote-controlled version of the Alonso car is one of the biggest sellers in toy shops.

The driver's image is plastered on advertising hoardings in every major city and sales of Renault saloon cars are on the up.

A record 115,000 fans will pack the Circuit de Catalunya next weekend as Alonso attempts to win his home Grand Prix.

For the first time organisers say they expect the majority of fans to come from Spain itself, many making the trip across Spain from the driver's native Asturias whose blue and yellow flag neatly matches the Renault team colours.

For Spanish sports fans it is time to celebrate.

shares
comments
Rosberg Shines in Silverstone Test

Previous article

Rosberg Shines in Silverstone Test

Next article

Toyota Withdraw Ralf Appeal

Toyota Withdraw Ralf Appeal
Load comments

About this article

Series Formula 1
Drivers Fernando Alonso
Author Simon Baskett
The 'new' F1 drivers who need to improve at Imola Plus

The 'new' F1 drivers who need to improve at Imola

After a pandemic-hit winter of seat-swapping, F1 kicked off its season with several new faces in town, other drivers adapting to new environments, and one making a much-anticipated comeback. BEN ANDERSON looks at who made the most of their opportunity and who needs to try harder…

The delay that quashed Aston Martin’s last F1 venture Plus

The delay that quashed Aston Martin’s last F1 venture

Aston Martin’s only previous foray into Formula 1 in the late 1950s was a short-lived and unsuccessful affair. But it could have been so different, says NIGEL ROEBUCK

Formula 1
Apr 10, 2021
Verstappen exclusive: Why lack of car-racing titles won't hurt Red Bull's ace Plus

Verstappen exclusive: Why lack of car-racing titles won't hurt Red Bull's ace

Max Verstappen’s star quality in Formula 1 is clear. Now equipped with a Red Bull car that is, right now, the world title favourite and the experience to support his talent, could 2021 be the Dutchman’s year to topple the dominant force of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes?

Formula 1
Apr 9, 2021
Are we at peak F1 right now? Plus

Are we at peak F1 right now?

For many, many years Formula 1 has strived to do and to be better on all fronts. With close competition, a growing fanbase, a stable political landscape and rules in place to encourage sustainability, 2021 is on course to provide an unexpected peak

Formula 1
Apr 8, 2021
How crucial marginal calls will decide the Red Bull vs Mercedes battle in F1 2021 Plus

How crucial marginal calls will decide the Red Bull vs Mercedes battle in F1 2021

The longer Red Bull can maintain a performance edge over Mercedes, the better the odds will be in the team’s favour against the defending world champions. But as the Bahrain Grand Prix showed, many more factors will be critical in the outcome of the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship

Formula 1
Apr 7, 2021
How Williams’ new structure adheres to a growing F1 trend Plus

How Williams’ new structure adheres to a growing F1 trend

Williams held out against the tide for many years but, as MARK GALLAGHER explains, the age of the owner-manager is long gone

Formula 1
Apr 6, 2021
When a journeyman driver's F1 career lasted just 800m Plus

When a journeyman driver's F1 career lasted just 800m

Nikita Mazepin’s Formula 1 debut at the Bahrain Grand Prix lasted mere corners before he wiped himself out in a shunt, but his financial backing affords him a full season. Back in 1993 though, Marco Apicella was an F1 driver for just 800m before a first corner fracas ended his career. Here’s the story of his very short time at motorsport’s pinnacle

Formula 1
Apr 4, 2021
The nightmare timing that now hinders Mercedes Plus

The nightmare timing that now hinders Mercedes

Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton took victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix despite, for a change, not having the quickest car. But any hopes of developing its W12 to surpass Red Bull's RB16B in terms of outright speed could not have come at a worse time.

Formula 1
Apr 2, 2021