Carlos Moya: A Spanish Pioneer
First week at No. 1: 15 March 1999
Total weeks at No. 1: 2
At World No. 1
Moya’s importance is not to be measured by the time he spent at the pinnacle of the FedEx ATP Rankings, but by his pioneering significance to Spanish tennis. His reign at the top was a turning point for his country. On 15 March 1999, he became the first Spaniard to reach World No. 1 after other players such as Manuel Orantes, Sergi Bruguera and Alex Corretja had come close to doing so.
The Mallorcan took the No. 1 spot by reaching the final at the ATP Masters 1000 event in Indian Wells. His 6-3, 1-6, 6-1 semi-final victory against Gustavo Kuerten guaranteed that he would dethrone Pete Sampras. The achievement made him the 15th player to in the Open Era to become World No. 1. His stay was brief: two weeks.
Grand Slam Highlights
Moya had only won two matches at Roland Garros when he arrived for his third appearance on the clay of Paris in 1998. Despite that, his name had started to stand out on the ATP Tour and his victory a few months earlier at the ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Monte Carlo made him one of the favourites to win the Coupe des Mousquetaires. The Spaniard beat Sebastien Grosjean, Jose Imaz-Ruiz, Andrew Ilie and Jens Knippschild en route to the quarter-finals, where he took out World No. 3 Marcelo Rios.
He defeated Felix Mantilla in the semi-finals and sunk Corretja in the final to win the first Grand Slam of his career. Moya, who joined Andres Gimeno, Santana and Bruguera as Roland Garros champions, would reach the quarter-finals three more times (2003, 2004, 2007).
Before his triumph in Paris, he played his first Australian Open in 1997. He was largely unknown to tennis fans at that time, but announced his arrival with a first-round victory against defending champion Boris Becker. He went on to reach the final before falling to top seed Pete Sampras.
Nitto ATP Finals Highlights
The Spaniard played in the Nitto ATP Finals five times in three different cities: Hannover, Shanghai and Houston. He came within a few games of taking the title in 1998, but let slip a two-sets lead against Corretja and his fellow Spaniard prevailed 3-6, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 7-5. He also advanced out of round-robin play to reach the semi-finals in 1997 and 2002. Although he didn’t advance out of the group stage in 2003 or 2004, he won at least one round-robin match in each year.
ATP Masters 1000 Highlights
Moya made his Masters 1000 debut at 1996 Monte Carlo and it served as the site of several other important career milestones. He reached his first semi-final at this level in 1997 and returned the following year to clinch his maiden Masters 1000 crown. He defeated a pair of Top 10 players in Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Corretja en route to the final before dominating Cedric Pioline 6-3, 6-0, 7-5.
In 2002, he became the first Spaniard in the Open era to prevail in Cincinnati. Moya raced to the title without dropping a set and produced one of his best hard-court performances in the championship match against World No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt. In 2004, he celebrated his third Masters 1000 title in Rome after a convincing 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 win in the final against David Nalbandian.
The Mallorcan also played in three other Masters 1000 finals: 1999 Indian Wells (l. to Philippoussis) 2002 Monte-Carlo (l. to Ferrero) and 2003 Miami (l. to Agassi).
Corretja is the player that Moya most frequently crossed paths with at important junctures of their careers. Moya leads their ATP Head2Head series 7-5, winning all three of their Grand Slam clashes including the 1998 Roland Garros final. However, Corretja also won big matches in their rivalry such as the championship match of the 1998 Nitto ATP Finals.
Moya shared an intense rivalry with another fellow Spaniard in Ferrero, who beat him in all three finals they played (2001 Barcelona, 2002 Monte Carlo and Hong Kong). However, Moya racked up four victories in their last five matches to finish with a 6-8 record in their ATP Head2Head series.
He frequently battled Hewitt (5-8) and split the pair of finals they contested. Moya's record against Sampras is also among the more interesting of his career. Although his only win in four attempts against Sampras came at the 1997 Nitto ATP Finals, his biggest achievement against the American was dethroning him as World No. 1.
Moya represents a turning point in Spanish tennis not only due to his on-court achievements, but also through his solid baseline game that served as a model for many of his peers. He broke ground for Spanish tennis as the first male player from reach his country to become World No. 1 in 1999, paving the way for other Spaniards to do the same including Juan Carlos Ferrero and Rafael Nadal.
Overall Match Win-Loss Record: 575-319
Overall Titles/Finals Record: 20-24
In January 1997, Carlos Moya was still relatively new to the ATP Tour and only had two tour-level titles to his name. Arriving at the Australian Open with confidence after finishing runner-up the week before in Sydney, he rallied in his first-round match against sixth seed and defending champion Boris Becker to prevail 5-7, 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-1, 6-4 after three hours and 30 minutes.
But his high-quality tennis did not end there. He went on to defeat Mantilla in the quarter-finals and took out World No. 2 Michael Chang in the semi-finals. Only a spirited performance in the final from Pete Sampras was able to stop him from winning his first Grand Slam crown in Melbourne.
Moya had made a promise to his team if he reached the final, which he delivered on at the trophy ceremony. The Mallorcan ended his speech to the fans in Rod Laver Arena with these words: “Thank you and I hope to see you next year. ‘Hasta luego, Lucas’”. His closing line was a reference to a famous expression popularised by a well-known comedian in Spain at the time (Chiquito de la Calzada). He used the same phrase when announcing his retirement in 2010.
Nadal On Moya
“Moya was a pioneer in this sport. He deserves everybody’s recognition. He has done very significant things in the world of tennis. He was No. 1 in the world, a difficult thing to achieve, won the biggest tournaments… He has contributed greatly to Spanish sport.”
Moya On Moya
“I’ve had a much better career than I would have imagined. Although you have people with you, in the end, you’re alone on the court and in defeat. It’s a very solitary sport but the positive part far outweighs the negative.”
Moya On Becoming World No. 1
"I always believed that winning a Grand Slam was the best thing that could happen to you. But this [being No. 1] surpassed that. There were a lot of players that wanted to dethrone Sampras. There was pressure. And for me, it was the only chance.”
Broadcaster/Journalist Graeme Agars On Moya
Despite preferring clay, Moya became an all-court player during his career, winning ATP Tour events in 11 different countries on three different continents. His gentle demeanour and his dashing good looks also made him a fan favourite wherever he played.
In May 1999, the athletic Spaniard was included by People in their 50 “Most Beautiful People” issue. And it wasn’t just his good looks that earned him praise.
After winning the title in 2005 Chennai, Moya donated his entire winner’s cheque to help those who had suffered from a recent tsunami. That action was one of the reasons he was later awarded the 2005 Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year award.
Back and foot injuries cut his career short and forced him to retire in 2010, but he’s since been equally successful as a coach and has worked with Rafael Nadal since December 2016.