NEW YORK — 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 Oct. 9 in Barcelona. He was 82.
The Spanish tennis federation said the cause was cancer.
A genial sportsman with a graceful style, Gimeno 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.
Seeded sixth at the 1972 French Open, Gimeno defeated Smith in the quarterfinals, the Soviet Alex Metreveli in the semifinals, and the Frenchmen Patrick Proisy in the final. Gimeno won the championship match point with his lob — his most potent weapon on that rainy June 4 at Roland Garros Stadium.
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 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 US Open of the new era, Gimeno and Arthur Ashe lost in the doubles final to Smith and Bob Lutz.
Six months later, Gimeno played Ashe in the final 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 the equivalent of about $38,000 today. He won several other tournaments in the United States and Europe through 1972.
Gimeno retired in 1973 and became a television commentator and coach and opened a tennis club in Barcelona.
He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2009.