By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Spain must accept the fact that the sun is setting on its golden generation in men's tennis and the next one may take a while to arrive, Feliciano Lopez said at the ATP World Tour Finals this week.
For the first time since 1999, no Spanish player was involved in the singles at the showpiece event featuring the world's top eight players, with only Lopez and his namesake Marc Lopez flying the flag for the powerhouse nation in the doubles.
The pair bowed out on Friday, losing their final group match to Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram.
No Spanish player has won the singles title since Alex Corretja beat compatriot Carlos Moya in Hannover in 1998, but the likes of Moya, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Tommy Robredo, David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco and Nadal have all been regulars.
Nadal would have crept into the top eight this year but ended his season early to recover from injury.
The clock is ticking on 30-year-old Nadal though and there are serious doubts about whether he will ever return to the level that once made in the most feared opponent in tennis.
Ferrer is 34 and Verdasco, Robredo and Lopez are all in their 30s.
"It's something that we have to accept, our tennis is not going to be successful forever," the 35-year-old Lopez told Reuters at the O2 Arena.
"Of course we were a bit spoiled. People in our country think we are going to be there forever and we will win everything. It was the same with soccer and basketball, we were winning in nearly every sport. But that's not normal.
"We will still have great players but it's impossible to have a generation like our generation. People should realise how difficult it is to stay there and achieve all we achieved.
"We won the Davis Cup five times in 10 years. That's huge."
Spain dropped out of the World Group in the Davis Cup in 2014, something that would have once been unthinkable, although they have fought their way back. Nadal and Marc Lopez also won Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro this year.
It hardly looks like a crisis when 11 Spaniards are in the top 100 of the ATP rankings -- but seven of those are 30 or over.
Roberto Bautista Agut, the second Spaniard on the ATP rankings at 14 has been something of a late bloomer at the age of 28 but despite two titles this year he is rarely talked about as a potential grand slam champion.
Likewise, Pablo Carreno Busta, at 25 the youngest of Spain's top 100 brigade. He also won two titles this year to climb to a career-high ranking of 30.
Leaner times may be ahead for the Spanish men but Lopez, currently ranked 28, still thinks there is no cause for panic.
"We will see next year what happens," he said. "Obviously our generation is getting older, we are over 30, but we are still fit and we still have some energy to compete against the young guys. We are in good shape.
"I think Rafa will be back next year. It was sensible for him to quit and prepare for next season, and Roberto and Pablo are really improving. They have a great work ethic.
"And I'm confident we'll see more. Maybe not like five or six in the top 20 like before, but it is not all negative."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ian Chadband)