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Nadal Helps Mantilla Promote Skin Cancer Awareness

Madrid, Spain

Mutua Madrid Open© Mutua Madrid OpenMario Casas, Felix Mantilla, Miguel Angel Silvestre and Rafael Nadal at the exhibition in Madrid.

The Mutua Madrid Open hosted a special show called "A Setback in the Sun" Friday at the Magic Box in Madrid, Spain. The event was put on by the Felix Mantilla Foundation and was supported by tournament organisers to help combat skin cancer.

“A Setback in the Sun" is the first stop of the 'Tour Sports Show' which is held in different areas such as film, music and television. The objective of the show is to educate people about the dangers of skin cancer, a disease that retired ATP professional Felix Mantilla suffered from and overcame. Mantilla, the driving force behind Friday's event, infused current ATP stars with well known retired players in a unique exhibition.

9000 fans in attendance had the rare opportunity to see some of Spain's current headliners, led by World No. 1 Rafael Nadal, World No. 6 David Ferrer and Top 10 newcomer Nicolas Almagro, compete against retired heroes Carlos Moya, Alex Corretja, Emilio SanchezFrancisco Clavet and Conchita Martinez among others. Former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, who began his comeback from injury with a quarter-final showing in Barcelona last week, also participated in the affair.

Familiar faces such as actors Miguel Angel Silvestre and Mario Casas, retired basketball players Juan Manuel Lopez Iturriaga and Fernando Romay, and former Real Madrid players Manuel Sanchis and Ruben de la Red were amongst those in attendance. The conclusion of the event saw Moya and Nadal on opposite sides of the net, playing a friendly mixed doubles match alongside WTA luminaries Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic.

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This background story on Felix Mantilla’s battle with skin cancer first appeared on ATPWorldTour.com in 2007.

Mantilla Has His Day in the Sun

By Paul Macpherson

Felix Mantilla has played the Open Seat 11 times, winning the title in 1999. For a former Top 10 player with more than 300 career victories, it would seem unlikely that a first-round win over little-known Uzbekistan qualifier Farrukh Dustov at the Real Club de Tenis Barcelona 1899 on Monday would be a moment to cherish and reflect upon.

But having been told in late 2005 that he could have died from skin cancer, Mantilla no longer takes anything for granted. The Barcelona native returned to the ATP circuit this week for the first time in 18 months following a battle with skin cancer and a related drop in confidence and motivation.

A winner of 10 ATP titles, former World No. 10 Mantilla learned in late 2005 that he had a cancerous mole on his back. It came as a shock to Mantilla, who unlike his peers, rarely practiced with his shirt off. “Maybe I took off the shirt once a year. I’m someone who hates the sun or to be at the beach,” he says. “But what I learned from the skin doctor is that you can get sun exposure on your face and you may end up with skin cancer somewhere else on your body. And I have a fair skin complexion, so that doesn’t help.”

Mantilla was preparing for his 11th season on the tour in late 2005, unaware that a cancerous mole on his back was threatening his life. But a wrist injury and a related decision to abort a planned two-month training camp in the fierce Cuban sun may have saved his life.

“My wrist was injured and I was deciding whether to prepare for the next season in Cuba, where it is hot. We were planning a two-month trip. If I had gone there, I would not have gone to the doctor. The day before we were to leave, my physical trainer still hadn’t decided if we were going. We were having dinner and then he told me, we’re going to stay. That decision really saved my life. It is really strong to say that, but it’s true.”

With time on his hands Mantilla visited his doctor to check on his wrist. “During that visit he saw that I had some problems with my face and said that the sun is really dangerous for my pale skin.” The doctor ordered Mantilla to return in one week for a biopsy.

“I can be very forgetful,” Mantilla says. “It would have been quite normal for me to forget to go back and then go and see him again in six months. But this time I went back to the doctor because my wrist was still injured.”

The news was not good. “He took it out and a week later he told me that I had skin cancer. I was shocked. He told me that in a young person like I am, I could have been dead in six months to one year.”

Mantilla, who now has his moles checked every three months, wears a cap with neck protection – ala Ivan Lendl at the Australian Open – and he is also working with a clothing company to design long-sleeve shirts and extra long shorts that extend below the knee. He hopes the clothing will allow him to compete safely in the sun, but understands clothing alone will not eliminate the risks.

After Mantilla’s malignant mole was removed in early 2006, a follow-up biopsy of the affected area confirmed that he was cancer-free. Despite the good news, he elected to sit out the entire 2006 season and studied in Spain for the general university entrance exam, which he passed.

“It was more psychological. I was afraid to be playing. I didn’t like it. Maybe it’s the reaction that happens when you have the shock, the doctor tells you that you can die and you say, ‘Wait, I am going to try to enjoy my life like I want.’ In that moment, tennis was not the first priority.”

For now, however, tennis racquets are taking precedence one again over the school books. Mantilla played his first tournament since the 2005 US Open at the Monza, Italy, Challenger in early April. He reached the second round.

“If I am protected (from the sun) really well, it should not be too dangerous. The problem is that when you are playing, you are losing all the sun cream. The decision is mine. I feel I must do it. I must play. Maybe in six months, one year, I don’t know when, I will decide I am going to finish and I will do it. Always the sun is going to be very dangerous for me. It happens once so it can happen again. I don’t want to be at home, without seeing the sun. I want to be in front of the things that I am afraid of. I think it’s something that makes me stronger.”

Additionally, Mantilla intends to use his experience to warn his sun-loving fellow players, children and their parents about the dangers of the sun. “I don’t think the players realize how dangerous the sun is, but maybe they will after hearing my story. And in the future I would like to do something to warn parents about the dangers to their children. We all like to have good color on our face, but you can die.”

With a current ATP Ranking of No. 1009, Mantilla does not expect to ever return to the Top 20, where he was a permanent fixture for almost four years in the late 1990s. For now, simply competing on the ATP circuit is enough.

“It’s not going to be like before; that’s something that I know. I want to play some tournaments in Europe, but to go far away like I did before, planes, around the world, now I am not prepared for that. I want to play around here, in Europe, short flights. I am enjoying other things and am trying to be more settled, and doing what I really want. I am not thinking about the rankings; I don’t care if I am playing better or bad. It’s something that I am enjoying for me.

“I didn’t want to end my career in that moment [his cancer scare]. I was a fighter during all my years and I wanted to decide to finish when I want, not in that moment. That’s why I came back. It’s important for me, also to be back out in the sun, how I react.

"Now, in this moment I am enjoying more the small things. The [first-round] win is bigger for me maybe than winning tournaments before. Maybe people don’t understand that but if I understand that myself, it’s enough.”

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