"I don't talk to my family"

A new book by Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario reveals the truth behind her success

Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario has shattered her own legend. The child prodigy of Spanish tennis - who first won Roland Garros at the age of 17 and went on to claim four Grand Slam singles titles, four Olympic medals and the number one ranking - has lifted the lid on a lifetime of hell. She tasted victory on the courts and bitterness at home; this double life was a secret to the public, who saw nothing but a sweet teenager with a captivating smile and caring parents who were devoted to her career.

But her newly published memoirs, Arantxa ¡Vamos! Memoria de una lucha, una vida y una mujer (or, Come on Arantxa! Memoirs of a struggle, a life and a woman), reveal her suffering under manipulative parents who controlled every aspect of her life.

The youngest daughter of the Sánchez-Vicarios would not talk about the book - which goes on sale this week - during a phone interview with EL PAÍS from Moscow last weekend, where she was debuting as captain of the Fed Cup team. However, she has not been on speaking terms with her family for years. Relations completely broke down when she married José Santacana, a union that her mother reportedly frowned upon. "I don't talk to my family," she writes. "They have left me with nothing."

Sources say her relatives are hurt by the book's contents and are preparing a statement of their own. Marisa, Sánchez-Vicario's mother, has apparently been reflecting "for some time" about whether she might have been too strict with Arantxa. The same sources said the book is "a bombshell, real heavy metal."

It contains sentences the family finds especially painful, such as: "They left me in debt to the tax authorities [she was forced to pay 3.5 million euros for establishing her fiscal residence in Andorra while living in Spain between 1989 and 1993] and my properties are worth a lot less than those of my brother Javier, who has earned a lot less than me. Can I accept this abuse and keep quiet about it? I never questioned the way my father managed my money. I have been a victim, I was duped."

The book also has harsh words for Arantxa's mother: "To her, discipline and victory came before any other consideration."

It was clear that something was afoot in the days prior to the tennis player's wedding in September 2008. Several news outlets reported that the groom, Santacana, was a businessman in financial straits who was marrying Arantxa for her money. That information was fed to the media by her relatives, Arantxa says, noting that Santacana had told her about his financial situation well before the wedding.

In the end, the entire family - which also includes father Emilio; Emilio Jr., a former world number seven; and Javier, ex-number 23 - showed up for the ceremony and posed for the press. But Arantxa has revealed it was a day full of tension, and that relations with her family were effectively broken from that day on.

Nobody knows whether the tennis star has exaggerated in her version of events. But it is the way she feels about them. The revelations have led many sports journalists to reconsider the moment she said goodbye in tears, explaining her decision to retire at age 30. Her words that day take on a whole new meaning in retrospect: "It has not been an easy decision, but the moment has come to face it. I consider myself a privileged person in every way, because I have always been protected by my family, my friends and the media. Besides that, injuries have always left me alone. The time has come to think about myself as a person. I want to rest and organize my life outside of competition."

On Monday, Emilio and Marisa Sánchez-Vicario - who published their own book, Forja de Campeones (or, Forge of Champions), in 2010 - responded to the claims in Arantxa's volume. "She accuses us of leaving her in ruin, of taking everything from her, with a rancor and resentment reserved for the worst of enemies," said Marisa, whose lawyers are to study ¡Vamos! "We lived 20 years for and with her. We left everything aside and mortgaged our lives and our marriage. [...] It's clear we failed with her."

Arantxa Sánchez Vicario with her parents after winning the French Open in 1994.
Arantxa Sánchez Vicario with her parents after winning the French Open in 1994.CLIVE BRUNSKILL (GETTY)
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS