Pancho Gonzales facts for kids
Gonzales practicing in Australia in 1954
|Full name||Ricardo Alonso González|
May 9, 1928|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Died||July 3, 1995
Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
|Height||1.88 m (6 ft 2 in)|
|Plays||Right-handed (one-handed backhand)|
|Int. Tennis HOF||1968 (member page)|
|Career record||1250–561 (69.05%)|
|Highest ranking||No. 1 (1952, Joe McCauley)|
|Grand Slam Singles results|
|Australian Open||3R (1969)|
|French Open||SF (1949, 1968)|
|Wimbledon||4R (1949, 1969)|
|US Open||W (1948, 1949)|
|US Pro||W (1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1961)|
|Wembley Pro||W (1950, 1951, 1952, 1956)|
|French Pro||F (1956, 1961)|
|TOC||W (1957 Forest Hills, 1958 Forest Hills, 1959 Sydney)|
|Grand Slam Doubles results|
|French Open||W (1949)|
|Grand Slam Mixed Doubles results|
Ricardo Alonso González (May 9, 1928 – July 3, 1995), usually known as Pancho Gonzales, and sometimes as Richard Gonzales, was an American tennis player who has been rated one of the greatest in the history of the sport. He won 14 major singles titles (12 Pro Slam, 2 Grand Slam) and was the dominant professional of the 1950s; he still holds the men's all-time record of being ranked world No. 1 for eight years.
Gonzales was a ruthless competitor with a fierce temper. Many of his peers on the professional circuit were intimidated by him, and he was often at odds with officials and promoters. However, he was a fan favorite who drew more spectators than any other player of his time. After his death, a Sports Illustrated article stated: "If earth was on the line in a tennis match, the man you want serving to save humankind would be Ricardo Alonso Gonzales." Longtime tennis commentator Bud Collins echoed this in 2006: "If I had to choose someone to play for my life, it would be Pancho Gonzales."
Gonzales was given a 51-cent racquet by his mother when he was 12 years old. He received tennis analysis from his friend, Chuck Pate, but mostly taught himself to play by watching other players on the public courts at nearby Exposition Park in Los Angeles. Once he discovered tennis, he lost interest in school and began a troubled adolescence in which he was occasionally pursued by truant officers and policemen. He was befriended by Frank Poulain, the owner of the tennis shop at Exposition Park, and sometimes slept there.
Due to his lack of school attendance and occasional minor brushes with the law, he was ostracized by the tennis establishment of the 1940s. The headquarters for tennis activity was the Los Angeles Tennis Club, which actively trained other top players such as the youthful Jack Kramer. During that time, the head of the Southern California Tennis Association, and the most powerful man in California tennis was Perry T. Jones.
Jones was not only the head of California tennis, but much of the country, because the favorable climate gave that region a head start in tennis. He was described as an autocratic leader who embodied much of the exclusionary sensibilities that governed tennis for decades. Although Gonzales was a promising junior, once Jones discovered that the youth was truant from school, Jones banned him from playing tournaments
Eventually he was arrested for burglary at age 15 and spent a year in detention. He then joined the Navy just as World War II was ending and served for two years, finally receiving a bad-conduct discharge in 1947.
According to his autobiography, Gonzales stood 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m) and weighed 183 pounds (83 kg) by the time he was 19 years old. Other sources generally credit him as being an inch or two shorter but in any case he would enjoy a clear advantage in height over a number of his most prominent rivals, particularly Pancho Segura, Ken Rosewall, and Rod Laver, all of whom were at least 5 or 6 inches shorter. Tony Trabert, who was badly beaten by Gonzales on their 101-match tour and who disliked him intensely, nevertheless once told the Los Angeles Times: "Gonzales is the greatest natural athlete tennis has ever known. The way he can move that 6-foot-3-inch frame of his around the court is almost unbelievable. He's just like a big cat... Pancho's reflexes and reactions are God-given talents. He can be moving in one direction and in the split second it takes him to see that the ball is hit to his weak side, he's able to throw his physical mechanism in reverse and get to the ball in time to reach it with his racket." The flamboyant Gussie Moran, who briefly toured with the Gonzales group, said that watching Gonzales was like seeing "a god patrolling his personal heaven."
Despite his lack of playing time while in the Navy, and as a mostly unknown 19-year-old in 1947, Gonzales achieved a national ranking of no. 17 by playing primarily on the West Coast. He did, however, go East that year to play in the United States Championships at Forest Hills. He surprised the British Davis Cup player Derek Barton and then lost a five-set match to third seed Gardnar Mulloy. Following that, in the last major tournament of the year, the Pacific Southwest, played at the Los Angeles Tennis Club, he beat three internationally known names, Jaroslav Drobný, Bob Falkenburg, and Frank Parker, before losing in the semifinals to Ted Schroeder.
The following year, Perry T. Jones relented in his opposition to Gonzales and sponsored his trip East to play in the major tournaments. The top-ranked American player, Ted Schroeder, decided at the last moment not to play in the United States Championships and Gonzales was seeded number 8 in the tournament. To the surprise of most observers, he won it fairly easily by a straight-set victory over the South African Eric Sturgess in the finals with his powerful serve-and-volley game. As The New York Times story of that first win began, "The rankest outsider of modern times sits on the tennis throne." His persona at the time was strikingly different from what it would become in future years. American Lawn Tennis wrote that "the crowd cheered a handsome, dark-skinned Mexican-American youngster who smiled boyishly each time he captured a hard-fought point, kissed the ball prayerfully before a crucial serve, and was human enough to show nervousness as he powered his way to the most coveted crown in the world." This was Gonzales's only major tournament victory of the year, but it was enough to let him finish the year ranked as the number one American player.
In 1949, Gonzales performed poorly at Wimbledon, where he was seeded second but lost in the fourth round to Geoff Brown, and was derided for his performance by some of the press. A British sportswriter called him a "cheese champion" and, because of his name, his doubles partner of the time, Frank Parker, began to call him "Gorgonzales", after Gorgonzola, the Italian cheese. This was eventually shortened to "Gorgo", the nickname by which he was later known by his colleagues on the professional tour. (Jack Kramer, in his autobiography, says that it was Jim Burchard, the tennis writer for the New York World-Telegram who first called him a "cheese champ".)
When Gonzales returned to the United States Championships in 1949, once again to the surprise of many observers, he repeated his victory of the previous year. Ted Schroeder, the top seed, had beaten Gonzales eight times in nine matches during their careers and was heavily favored. The only time Gonzales had beaten Schroeder, he was playing with a nose that had been broken the day before by his doubles partner's tennis racquet during a misplayed point at the net. In a tremendous final that has been called the 11th greatest match of all time", Gonzales lost a 1-hour and 15-minute first set 16-18 but finally managed to prevail in the 5th set. Once again he finished the year as the number-one ranked U.S. amateur. Gonzales also won both his singles matches in the Davis Cup finals against Australia. Having beaten Schroeder at Forest Hills, he was clearly the best amateur in the world. Bobby Riggs, who had been counting on signing Schroeder to play Kramer on the professional tour, was then forced to reluctantly sign Gonzales instead.
Gonzales was badly beaten in his first year on the professional tour, 96 matches to 27, by the reigning king of professional tennis, Jack Kramer. During this time, Gonzales's personality apparently changed from that of a friendly, happy-go-lucky youngster to the hard-bitten loner he became known as for the rest of his life. According to Kramer in his 1979 autobiography, "The worst thing that ever happened to Gonzales was winning Forest Hills in 1949... At a time when Gorgo wasn't mature as a player he was pitted against Kramer, an established pro at his peak." Moreover, says Kramer, "Pancho had no idea how to live or take care of himself. He was a hamburger-and-hot-dog guy to start with and had no concept of diet in training... On the court Gorgo would swig Cokes through a match... Also Gorgo was a pretty heavy cigarette smoker. He had terrible sleeping habits made even worse by the reality of a tour."
Kramer won 22 of the first 26 matches and 42 of the next 50. Gonzales improved enough to win 15 of the remaining 32 but it was too late. Bobby Riggs, the tour promoter, told Gonzales that he was now "dead meat": Kramer would need a new challenger for the next tour. As compensation, however, Gonzales had made $75,000 in his losing efforts. Kramer also said that "his nature had changed completely. He became difficult and arrogant. Losing had changed him. When he got his next chance, he understood that you either win or you're out of a job." He was now "a loner", said Ted Schroeder, "and always the unhappiest man in town."
From 1951 to 1953, Gonzales was in semi-retirement. He bought the tennis shop at Exposition Park and ran that while playing in short tours and occasional professional tournaments throughout the world. In spite of his infrequent play (because first Riggs, then Kramer, as promoters of the pro tour, didn't want him as the headliner of their tours), he had nevertheless raised his game to a higher level than before and once again was winning most of his matches. Precise records of this time are difficult to locate but Gonzales asserts in his autobiography that after the decisive loss to Kramer in their 1950 tour he then beat his old antagonist 11 times in their next 16 matches.
In the southern hemisphere summer of 1950–51, Gonzales toured Australia and New Zealand with Dinny Pails, Frank Parker, and Don Budge. In December 1950, Pails won the short tour in New Zealand, but in January and February 1951 Gonzales won a second and longer tour in Australia. Though Gonzales also won Wembley in 1951 (where Kramer was not entered), it is probable that both Kramer and Segura were marginally better players that year. In 1952, however, Gonzales reached the top level of the pros. In 1952 he entered five tournaments and captured four: the Philadelphia Inquirer Masters tournament, where he beat both Segura and Kramer twice in a double round-robin event; Scarborough, England, where he defeated Budge and Segura; Wembley, England, again beating Segura and Kramer; Berlin, Germany, where Segura and Budge lost again to him; and he was a finalist in the United States Professional Championships ("U.S. Pro") against Segura. In all, Gonzales beat Segura five matches out of six and Kramer three times in three matches. This was the first year that "Big Pancho" (Gonzales) dominated "Little Pancho" (Segura) in their head-to-head matches, and thereafter his superiority over Segura never wavered throughout their long careers.
Although the Professional Lawn Tennis Association issued rankings at the end of 1952 in which they called Segura the world pro no. 1, with Gonzales second, the PLTA rankings were notoriously quirky. The year before, for instance, when Kramer had beaten Segura 64 matches to 28 (or 58-27 according to Kramer) in their championship tour, they had nevertheless ranked Segura as the world no. 1 player. A strong case can therefore be made that Gonzales was actually the world pro no. 1 player for 1952 or, at the very least, shared that position with Segura.
At a professional event in 1951, the forehand drives of a number of players were electronically measured. Kramer was particularly known for his fine forehand, but Gonzales was recorded as hitting the fastest one, 112.88 mph, followed by Kramer at 107.8 and Welby Van Horn at 104. Since it was generally assumed at the time that Pancho Segura's two-handed forehand was the hardest in tennis, it is possible that he was not present at that event.
In 1953, Gonzales was omitted by Kramer (by now also a promoter) from the big pro tour, which featured Segura, Frank Sedgman (seven-time Grand Slam singles winner), Ken McGregor (the 1952 Australian Open winner) and Kramer himself. Through lack of top-level opposition, Gonzales' form suffered; at Wembley 1953 and two days later in Paris, he was severely crushed by Sedgman, the eventual winner of these tournaments.
In late 1953, Kramer, then a temporarily retired player (due to his back troubles), signed Gonzales (a seven-year contract) to play in a 1954 US tour also featuring Pancho Segura, Frank Sedgman and Donald Budge (the latter being replaced in March 1954 by Carl Earn for the last weeks of the tour). In the subsequent matches Gonzales beat Segura 30-21 and Sedgman by the same score. After this tour Gonzales won the U.S. Pro where all the best, except Pails, were present. Then the American played in a Far East tour (September–October 1954). He barely won over Segura and Kramer, who made his come-back in singles after a 14-month retirement. Then Gonzales had major success: he swept the Australian Tour in November–December 1954 by beating Sedgman 16-9, McGregor 15-0, and Segura, 4-2. Although Pancho was beaten by the Australian Pro Pails in the last competition of the year, Gonzales had clearly established himself as the top player in the world in 1954.
Gonzales was the dominant player in the men's game for the next 7 years, beating such tennis greats as Sedgman, Tony Trabert, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, Mal Anderson, and Ashley Cooper on a regular basis. Forty years after his matches with Gonzales, Trabert told interviewer Joe McCauley "that Gonzales's serve was the telling factor on their tour — it was so good that it earned him many cheap points. Trabert felt that, while he had the better groundstrokes, he could not match Pancho's big, fluent service."
In his professional career, Gonzales won the United States Professional Championship eight times, the Wembley professional title in London four times, and the Tournament of Champions three times, plus beating, in head-to-head pro tours, all of the best amateurs who turned pro, which included every Wimbledon champion for 10 years in a row. During this time Gonzales was known for his fiery will to win, his cannonball serve, and his all-conquering net game, a combination so potent that the rules on the professional tour were briefly changed to prohibit him from advancing to the net immediately after serving. Under the new rules, the returned serve had to bounce before the server could make his own first shot, thereby keeping Gonzales from playing his usual serve-and-volley game. He won even so, and the rules were changed back. So great was his ability to raise his game to the highest possible level, particularly in the fifth set of long matches, Allen Fox has said that he never once saw Gonzales lose service when serving for the set or the match.
Much of Gonzales's competitive fire during these years derived from the anger he felt at being paid much less than the players he was regularly beating. In 1956, for instance, he was paid $15,000 while his touring opponent, the recently turned professional Tony Trabert, had a contract for $80,000. He had a poor and often adversarial relationship with most of the other players and generally travelled and lived by himself, showing up only in time to play his match, then moving on alone to the next town. Gonzales and Jack Kramer, the long-time promoter of the tour, had a bitter and inimical relationship dating to the days when Kramer had first beaten the youthful Gonzales on his initial tour. Now they fought incessantly about money, while Kramer openly rooted for the other players to beat Gonzales. As much as he disliked Gonzales, however, Kramer knew that Gonzales was the star attraction of the touring professionals and that without him there would be no tour at all.
Regarding the tour, Kramer writes that "even though Gonzales was usually the top name, he would almost never help promote the Tour. The players could have tolerated his personal disagreeableness, but his refusal to help the group irritated them the most. Frankly, the majority of players disliked Gonzales intensely. Sedgman almost came to blows with Gonzales once. Trabert and Gorgo hated each other. The only player he ever tried to get along with was Lew Hoad."
Trabert also told McCauley in their interview that "I appreciated his tennis ability but I never came to respect him as a person. Too often I had witnessed him treat people badly without a cause. He was a loner, sullen most of the time, with a big chip on his shoulder and he rarely associated with us on the road. Instead he'd appear at the appointed hour for his match, then vanish back into the night without saying a word to anyone. We'd all stay around giving autographs to the fans before moving on to the next city. Not Pancho. On court, he was totally professional as well as a fantastic player." In a 2005 interview, Ted Schroeder commented on Gonzales's intense demeanor both on and off the court, "We hardly ever spoke a civil word to one another, yet we were friends. He was a very prideful man, not proud, prideful. When you understood that, you understood him.
Life on the tour was not easy. "One night", Gonzales recalled later, "I sprained an ankle badly. The next night in another town I was hurting. I told Jack I couldn't play. He said to me, 'Kid, we always play.' Jack had a doctor shoot me up with novocaine, and we played. That's just the way it was. The size of the crowd didn't matter. They'd paid to see us play."
The rigors were not only physical ones. In the 1963 United States Professional Championship, which were held that year at the hallowed Forest Hills courts, Gonzales both dismayed and infuriated his colleagues by being the only player who was paid for his participation. Having learned by bitter experience about the exigencies of the pro tour, Gonzales had demanded, and received, $5,000 in advance for his appearance in the tournament. An out-of-shape, semi-retired Gonzales was beaten in the first round. Ken Rosewall eventually beat Rod Laver in the finals but neither of them collected a penny: the promoter had failed to meet his costs and couldn't pay any of the players.
- Trabert and Rosewall
In 1956, Gonzales beat the athletic Tony Trabert by 74–27, a series made more compelling by the fact that the two players disliked each other intensely. At the end of 1956 Kramer signed Ken Rosewall to play another long series against Gonzales. In early 1957 Gonzales flew to Australia for the first 10 matches against Rosewall in his native country. Gonzales had developed a "half-dollar"-size cyst on the palm on his right hand and there was speculation in the newspapers that his tennis career might be over. Kramer's personal physician began to treat it with injections, and it gradually began to shrink. It was still painful, however, when Gonzales beat Rosewall in their initial match and eventually won their brief Australian tour 7 matches to 3, with Rosewall beating Gonzales in a tournament whose results did not count towards the series total. By the time the tour opened in New York in late February, the cyst had shrunk considerably and Gonzales went on to beat Rosewall by a final score of 50 matches to 26.
Kramer has written that he was so worried that Rosewall would offer no competition to Gonzales and would thereby destroy the financial success of the tour that, for the only time in his career as a player or promoter, he asked Gonzales while in Australia to "carry" Rosewall in return for having his share of the gross receipts raised from 20 percent to 25 percent. Gonzales reluctantly agreed. After 4 matches, with Gonzales ahead 3 to 1, Gonzales came to Kramer to say that "I can't play when I'm thinking about trying to carry the kid. I can't concentrate. It just bothers me too much." By this time, however, it was apparent that Rosewall would be fully competitive with Gonzales, so Kramer told Gonzales to return to his normal game — and that he could keep his additional 5 percent.
Later that year, Gonzales sued in California superior court to have his 7-year contract with Kramer declared invalid. As proof of his claim, Gonzales cited being paid 25 percent of the gate instead of the stipulated 20 percent. Judge Leon T. David found Gonzales's reasoning implausible and ruled in favor of Kramer. Gonzales remained bound to Kramer by contract until 1960."
The most difficult challenge that Gonzales faced during those years came from Lew Hoad, the very powerful young Australian who had won four Grand Slam titles as an amateur. In the 1958 tour, Gonzales and Hoad played head-to-head 87 times. Hoad won 18 of the first 27 matches and it appeared that he was about to displace Gonzales as the best in the world. Gonzales, however, revamped and improved his backhand during the course of those first matches, just as Bill Tilden had to do in 1920 in order to get the better of his rival Bill Johnston and become the best in the world. Gonzales then won 42 of the next 60 matches against Hoad and maintained his superiority by a margin of 51 wins to 36 wins for Hoad.
Jack Kramer, the long-time tennis promoter, writes that although Laver was "absolutely unbeatable for a year or two late in the 1960s", a "careful comparison" could be made between Laver and the somewhat older Gonzales and that Kramer is "positive that Gonzales could have beaten Laver regularly."
Kramer sees as evidence of Gonzales's superiority over Laver the fact that Gonzales defeated Laver in a US$10,000 winner-take-all, five-set match before 15,000 spectators in New York City's Madison Square Garden in January 1970, when Gonzales was 41 years old and Laver was still considered the World No. 1 player. On the other hand, Gonzales was still a top ten player when this match occurred and Laver subsequently won the tournament event played there, beating Gonzales in a straight sets semifinal.
During the span of seven years that they faced each other, Laver was 26-32 and Gonzales was 36–42 years old. While the peak of Laver was in the late 60s, the peak of Gonzales was in the middle 50s. Gonzales had a great longevity that made possible this rivalry. However, the overall record could be biased in favor of Laver because of the difference of 10 years between them.
Most of Gonzales's career as a professional took place before the start of the open era of tennis in April 1968, and he was therefore ineligible to compete at the Grand Slam events between the end of 1949 (when he turned pro) and the start of the open era in April 1968. As has been observed about other great players such as Rod Laver, Gonzales almost certainly would have won a number of additional Grand Slam titles had he been permitted to compete in those tournaments during that 18-year period. Jack Kramer, for instance, has speculated in an article about the theoretical champions of Forest Hills and Wimbledon that Gonzales would have won an additional 11 titles in those two tournaments alone.
In May 1968, he was the first professional to lose to an amateur, the British player Mark Cox. The then-24-year-old Cox beat Gonzales at the British Hard Court Championships at Bournemouth, 0-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, in two and a quarter hours.
The first major open tournament was the 1968 French Open, when Gonzales had just turned 40. In spite of the fact that he had been semi-retired for a number of years and that the tournament was held on slow clay courts that penalize serve-and-volley players, Gonzales beat the 1967 defending champion Roy Emerson in the quarterfinals. He then lost in the semifinals to Rod Laver. He lost in the third round of 1968 Wimbledon but later beat the second-seeded Tony Roche in the fourth round of the 1968 US Open, before losing an epic match to the Netherlands' Tom Okker.
One of the greatest matches ever played
In 1969, it was Gonzales's turn to prevail in the longest match ever played till that time, one so long and arduous that it resulted in the advent of tie break scoring. As a 41-year-old at Wimbledon, Gonzales met Charlie Pasarell, a Puerto Rican younger than Gonzales by 16 years who revered his opponent.
Pasarell won a titanic first set, 24–22, then with daylight fading, the 41-year-old Gonzales argued that the match should be suspended. The referee didn't relent, and thus the petulant Gonzales virtually threw the second set, losing it 6–1. At the break, the referee agreed the players should stop. Gonzales was booed as he walked off Centre Court.
The next day, the serves, the volleys and all the prowess that made Gonzales a fiery competitor surfaced with trademark vengeance. Pasarell, seeking to exploit Gonzales's advanced years, tried to aim soft service returns at Gonzales's feet and tire him with frequent lobs. At one changeover Gonzales said, "Charlie, I know what you're doing – and it's not working!" Gonzales rebounded to win three straight sets, 16–14, 6–3, 11–9. In the fifth set, Gonzales saved all seven match points that Pasarell had against him, twice coming back from 0–40 deficits, to walk off the court the eventual winner in a 5-hour, 12-minute epic.
The final score was an improbable 22–24, 1–6, 16–14, 6–3, 11–9. Gonzales went on to the fourth round of the championship, where he was beaten in four sets by Arthur Ashe. The match with Pasarell, however, is still remembered as one of the highlights in the history of tennis and has been called one of "The Ten Greatest Matches of the Open Era" in the November/December 2003 issue of TENNIS magazine. But it was not this match alone which gave Gonzales the reputation, among the top players, of being the greatest long-match player in the history of the game.
The match would (largely due to the introduction of the tie break) remain the longest in terms of games played until the historic, 11 hours and 183 games long Isner–Mahut match at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships.
Final professional years
Roy Emerson, the Australian player who won 12 major titles during the 1960s as an amateur when most of the best players in the world were professionals, turned pro in early 1968 at the age of 31, having won the French Championships the year before. Gonzales, at the age of 40, beat Emerson in five sets in the quarterfinals of the 1968 French Open. In the following years, Gonzales beat Emerson another 11 times, apparently losing very few matches to him. In the Champions Classic of 1970 in Miami, Florida, however, Emerson did beat Gonzales in straight sets, 6–2, 6–3, 6–2.
Another great Australian player was Ken Rosewall, who won eight major titles during his long career, first as an amateur, then as a professional in the early years of open tennis. Gonzales played 160 matches against Rosewall, winning 101 and losing 59.
In late 1969, Gonzales won the Howard Hughes Open in Las Vegas and the Pacific Southwest Open in Los Angeles, beating, among others, John Newcombe, Ken Rosewall, Stan Smith (twice), Cliff Richey, and Arthur Ashe. He was the top American money-winner for 1969 with $46,288. If the touring professionals had been included in the United States rankings, it is likely he would have been ranked number one in the country, just as he had been two decades earlier in 1948 and 1949.
Gonzales continued to play in the occasional tournament in his 40s. He could also occasionally beat the clear number-one player in the world, Rod Laver. Their most famous meeting was a $10,000 winner-take-all match before a crowd of 15,000 in Madison Square Garden in February 1970. Coming just after the Australian had completed a calendar-year sweep of the Grand Slams, the 41-year-old Gonzales beat Laver in five sets. He became the oldest player to have ever won a professional tournament, winning the 1972 Des Moines Open, which was part of the USLTA Indoor Circuit, over 24-year-old Georges Goven when he was three months shy of his 44th birthday. In spite of the fact that he was still known as a serve-and-volley player, in 1971, when he was 43 and Jimmy Connors was 19, he beat the great young baseliner by playing him from the baseline at the Pacific Southwest Open. Around this time, Gonzalez relocated to Las Vegas to be the Tennis Director at Caesars Palace, and he hired Chuck Pate, his childhood friend, to run the Pro Shop. In June 1972 Gonzales reached the semifinal of the Queen's Club Championships, at age 44, and was leading by a set against John Paish when he was disqualified by the tournament referee after an argument over the replacement of a linesman.
California State University, Los Angeles named their Tennis Center the Rosie Casals/Pancho Gonzalez Tennis Center in 2013.
Personal and family life
González's parents, Manuel Antonio González and Carmen Alire Alonso, migrated from the Mexican state of Chihuahua to the U.S. in the early 1900s. González was born in 1928, the eldest of seven children. Kramer writes that "Gorgo was not the poor Mexican-American that people assumed. He didn't come from a wealthy family, but from a stable middle-class background, probably a lot like mine.
He had a great mother and there was always a warm feeling of family loyalty. If anything, he might have been spoiled as a kid. It's a shame he suffered discrimination because of his Mexican heritage". However, according to other sources, Gonzales's father worked as a house-painter and he, along with his six siblings, were raised in a working-class neighborhood. In his autobiography, González states, "We had few luxuries at our house. Food wasn't abundant but it was simple and filling, and we never went hungry. Our clothes were just clothes – inexpensive but clean."
Gonzales became a television commentator for ABC, a rare presence at tournaments. Described as an adequate but unmotivated commentator, Gonzales would issue thoughtful comments - often magnanimous, occasionally harsh, always candid - on contemporary pros not unlike an old soldier who'd preferred dying in battle than merely fading away.
For decades Gonzales had made $75,000 a year from an endorsement contract with Spalding for racquets and balls but was unable to get along with the company personnel. Finally, in 1981, after nearly 30 years, Spalding refused to renew the contract.
Gonzales married and divorced six times and had nine children.
Following a 10 month battle with stomach cancer, Gonzales died on July 3, 1995 in Las Vegas at the age of 67, in poverty and almost friendless, estranged from his ex-wives and children except for Rita and their son, Skylar, and daughter, Jeanna Lynn. Andre Agassi paid for his funeral.
Gonzales played tennis with Robert Redford (the actor), while Redford was growing up.
Place among the all-time great tennis players
For about 14 years from around 1920 to 1934, Bill Tilden was generally considered the greatest player of all time. From 1934 through 1967, during the Golden Age of Tennis, when Vines, Perry, Budge, Riggs, Kramer, Gonzales, Segura, Sedgman, Trabert, Hoad, Rosewall, and Laver were the top tier players, Gonzales was considered the best of this period. Since 1968, with the first Grand Slam of the Open Era at the French Open, Champions such as Rod Laver, Jimmy Connors, Björn Borg, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer have been considered by their contemporaries to be greater players than Tilden or Gonzales.
Many people connected with the game, however, consider Gonzales to be the best male player in tennis history, because he was the World No. 1 tennis player for eight years – the status of a few of the earlier years is still unclear. He was possibly No. 1 in 1952, but then was probably the World No.1 for seven consecutive years, 1954 through 1960. In the article World number one male tennis player rankings Bill Tilden with Rod Laver are the next closest to Gonzales with seven No.1 ratings, followed by Pete Sampras and Ken Rosewall with six each. Pancho Segura, who played, and frequently beat, all of the great players from the 1930s through the 1960s has said that he believes that Gonzales was the best player of all time. Lew Hoad and Allen Fox agree with this assessment. In a 1972 article about an imaginary tournament among the all-time greats, Gene Scott had the fourth-seeded Gonzales upsetting Bill Tilden in the semifinals and then using his serve to beat Rod Laver in the finals.
Bud Collins, the editor of the massive "Total Tennis, The Ultimate Tennis Encyclopedia", is guarded. He writes on page 673 that Gonzales was "probably as good as anyone who ever played the game, if not better." On page 693, however, he writes that Rod Laver would "be known as possibly the greatest player ever." And on page 749 he calls Bill Tilden "perhaps the greatest player of them all."
In 2005 a tennis historian who visited the International Tennis Hall of Fame interviewed several great Australian players who had toured against Gonzales. Who, they were asked, was the best player they had ever played against?
Mal Anderson named Gonzales, who "was very difficult since if you did get ahead, he had a way to upset you, and he could exploit your weaknesses fast. Though over the hill, he beat Rod [Laver] until Rod lifted his game." He added, "Lew Hoad, in his day was scary, though Gonzales was best day in and day out." Ashley Cooper also named Gonzales, whom "I never beat on the tour. But I did beat him a couple of times on clay where his serve wasn’t as good." Gonzales's frequent opponent Frank Sedgman said, "I played against probably the greatest of all time, Jack Kramer. He could put his serve on a dime and had a great first volley. The second best was Gonzales. I played him a lot — a great competitor — a great athlete."
Jack Kramer, on the other hand, who became a world-class player in 1940 and then beat Gonzales badly in the latter's first year as a professional, has stated that he believes that although Gonzales was better than either Laver or Sampras he was not as good as either Ellsworth Vines or Don Budge. Kramer, who had a long and frequently bitter relationship with Gonzales, rates him only as one of the four players who are second to Budge and Vines in his estimation. Kramer also, perhaps surprisingly, writes that Bobby Riggs would have beaten Gonzales on a regular basis.
Early in 1986 Inside Tennis, a magazine published in Northern California, devoted parts of four issues to a lengthy article called "Tournament of the Century", an imaginary tournament to determine the greatest of all time. They asked 37 tennis notables such as Kramer, Budge, Perry, and Riggs and observers such as Bud Collins to list the 10 greatest players in order.
Twenty-five players in all were named by the 37 experts in their lists of the 10 best. The magazine then ranked them in descending order by total number of points assigned. The top eight players in overall points, with their number of first-place votes, were: Rod Laver (9), John McEnroe (3), Don Budge (4), Jack Kramer (5), Björn Borg (6), Pancho Gonzales (1), Bill Tilden (6), and Lew Hoad (1). Gonzales was ranked the sixth-best player, with only Allan Fox casting a vote for him as the greatest of all time.
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