One of the longest careers in the history of the ATP Tour has reached its conclusion. Feliciano Lopez has said goodbye to the circuit at 41 years of age after 26 seasons as a professional, having lost on Thursday to Yannick Hanfmann at the Mallorca Championships.
He did so at home, surrounded by his family, his fans, and many of the players he has competed with for so long. Fittingly, Lopez’s final match came on the surface that has given him the most joy in his career: He has claimed more wins on grass than any other Spaniard.
Most Tour-level Wins On Grass By Spaniards
|Roberto Bautista Agut
Watch Highlights Of Lopez’s Final Match:
That achievement came by virtue of his unique brand of tennis, which came about despite having learnt the game in the same conditions as his fellow Spaniards in a system designed to produce clay specialists. However, his serve, his volleying and an innate touch at the net made him into a more classical grass-court player.
“I was a different player without trying to be, because of my identity as a player, my style and my serve,” Lopez told ATPTour.com. “But I didn’t train to have that style of tennis. I grew up like most Spaniards. I trained in Barcelona, but naturally decided to be this type of player, different to the rest.”
That ‘strange player’ – as he describes himself – was destined to make history. Since picking up his first main draw singles win at a Grand Slam at Roland Garros in 2002, he didn’t miss a single main draw in the category for 20 straight years, until Roland Garros 2022, giving him the all-time record of 79 straight major appearances.
“I feel very proud of having been able to make it through 20 years as a professional without missing one, but also of having left a good impression on my fellow players and on the people I have spent time with,” the Toledo native explained.
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Lopez in action against Lleyton Hewitt during his first Wimbledon quarter-final in 2005. Photo: Phil Cole/Getty Images.
It was on the grass of Wimbledon that Lopez produced his first big result at a major with a fourth-round run in 2002. The London major is the only one where he reached the quarter-finals three times. His ability to find a way to win on grass, more than any of his countrymen, earned him his first call up for Spain’s Davis Cup team in 2003.
“I made my debut in a final against Australia, because it was played on grass and at that time I was practically the only player who had good results on the surface,” he revealed. “They dropped a player who had been playing on the team all year and picked me. The experience gave me so many wonderful feelings.”
He enjoyed what he calls his “best week” on the ATP Tour on the same surface. It came in 2019, when he was crowned champion of the singles and doubles at the Cinch Championships at The Queen’s Club.
“It’s impossible to beat something like that,” Lopez said. “At almost 40 I managed to win a tournament like Queen’s, also in doubles, playing 15 hours of tennis in three days. At that age , and with Andy [Murray] who had just had a hip operation, in his home country and at a tournament that’s special to me. Everything that happened that week is impossible to replicate any other time.”
There is one statistic that is etched into Lopez’s mind after so long among the ATP Tour’s elite; breaking the 500-win barrier. “I’m not someone who constantly looks at statistics and numbers, but when I saw the list of players who had achieved it, I felt proud because when you see those names you think how amazing it is to be on that list with those people,” Lopez said. “There are players you admire from every era.”
Lopez reached the mark last year in Mallorca, on the same stage where he today hung up his racquet with almost a thousand matches under his belt and a career record of 506-490.
The Spaniard is delighted to have been able to choose how to say goodbye. “I didn’t want to retire with people feeling sorry for me, or playing a level that I wouldn’t have felt comfortable with,” he revealed. “I’m very happy to be able to play how I have so far. I feel competitive and that’s what I wanted.”
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Lopez lifted his third ATP Tour title — his first of four on grass — in Eastbourne in 2013. Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images.
Acapulco, the ATP Challenger Tour event in Murcia, Barcelona, Stuttgart, Queen’s and Mallorca were the six stops in his own personal swan song. “I prepared diligently in every sense,” Lopez said. “I was on a diet, losing weight, even training in the afternoons on some days.
“When I went to Acapulco, I was a little scared, because even if you’ve been playing tennis your whole life, when you stop playing so much it’s a bit frightening. But I was pleasantly surprised, because I competed well and I beat [Christopher] Eubanks. I lost a good match against [Frances] Tiafoe, and that gave me peace of mind for the other tournaments, because I felt competitive and that’s what I wanted.”
On Thursday 29 June, 2023, Feliciano Lopez brought his long career to an end. He leaves the Tour with seven singles titles to his name and a further six in doubles – one of them a major (2016 Roland Garros with Marc Lopez). ‘Feli’ has reason to smile as he says his final goodbye.
“Of course, not everyone loves me,” Lopez said. “That’s normal and not something I aspire to, but I’m proud to have left positive memories, to have been a courteous person, and a bit of a different tennis player.”