Gonzales practicing in Australia in 1954
|Full name||Ricardo Alonso González|
|Country (sports)||United States|
|Born||May 9, 1928|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Died||July 3, 1995 (aged 67)|
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, Tennis Hall of Fame)|
|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, 1958 Forest Hills, 1959 Sydney)|
|Grand Slam Doubles results|
|French Open||W (1949)|
|Grand Slam Mixed Doubles results|
Ricardo Alonso "Pancho" González (May 9, 1928 - July 3, 1995), known sometimes as Richard Gonzales, was an American tennis player. He won 14 major singles titles (12 Pro Slam events, 2 Grand Slam events) and was the dominant professional of the 1950s, winning seven world professional championship tours between 1954 and 1961; he still holds the men's all-time record of being ranked world No. 1 for eight years (1952, 1954 to 1960) or eight consecutive years (1954 to 1961), depending upon the rankings source.
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.
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, the head of California tennis, 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 saying "I appreciated his tennis ability but I never came to respect him as a person", nevertheless 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 U.S. Championships at Forest Hills. He beat the British Davis Cup player Derek Barton and then lost a five-set match to third seed Gardnar Mulloy, despite leading 4-3 with a break in the fifth set. Following that, in the last major tournament of the year, the Pacific Southwest, played at the Los Angeles Tennis Club, he beat three players that would end their careers with Grand Slam singles titles, 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, Schroeder, decided at the last moment not to play in the U.S. Championships and Gonzales was seeded No. 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. Gonzales was called 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, he repeated his victory of the previous year. 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 fifth 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, 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, 94 matches to 29, 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."
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."
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." 
One bright moment for Gonzales in his rookie year as a professional was winning the U.S. Pro Indoor Championship at Philadelphia in late March, defeating Kramer in the final in three straight sets. Gonzales also won the tournament at Wembley, beating Don Budge and Welby Van Horn. He did not play in the 1950 U. S. Professional Championships in Cleveland, which were authorized by the USPLTA.
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 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 1949-50 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. Gonzales lost the final of the U.S. Professional Indoor Championships at Philadelphia in February 1951 to Kramer.
At the Philadelphia U.S. Pro Indoor in March, 1951, the service "drives" (not "forehand drives" as sometimes reported) of a number of players were electronically measured and compared to Tilden's reported service "drive" speed of 151 mph made by stopwatch and film in 1931. Gonzales was recorded as hitting the fastest serve, 112.88 mph, followed by Kramer at 107.8.
Gonzales finished second to Segura in the 1951 U.S. Professional Championships at Forest Hills, organized by Riggs and Kramer, and authorized by the USPLTA. Gonzales did not play in the 1951 Cleveland International Professional title at Cleveland, won by Kovacs (and approved as the U.S. National Pro Championships by the Professional Players Association of Tennis, an organization formed that year and led by Budge). Though Gonzales won Wembley in 1951 (where Kramer was not entered), Segura was ranked number one in the USPLTA rankings for 1951 and Kramer won the world series.
In 1952 Gonzales reached the top level of the pros. In 1952, he won the Philadelphia Inquirer Masters tournament (where he beat both Segura and Kramer twice in a double round-robin event); the World Professional hard court event at Los Angeles (beating Budge and Segura); Scarborough, England (where he defeated Budge and Segura); Wembley, England (where he beat Segura in the semis and came from 2 sets to 0 down and 4-1 down in the fifth to beat Kramer in the final); Berlin, Germany (where Segura and Budge lost again to him); and in Geneva (beating Segura). Gonzales was a finalist at Cleveland, approved by the P.P.A.T. as the U.S. National Pro, where he lost against Segura. 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.
The USPLTA issued rankings at the end of 1952 in which they ranked Segura the world pro No. 1, with Gonzales second (in 1951, when Kramer had beaten Segura 64 matches to 28 in their championship tour, they had nevertheless ranked Segura as the world No. 1 player). However, the Tennis Hall of Fame states Gonzales "Top ranking: World number 1 (1952)".
In 1953, Gonzales was omitted by Kramer (by now also a promoter) from the big pro tour, which featured Frank Sedgman (a winner of five Grand Slam singles titles) against Kramer himself and Ken McGregor (the 1952 Australian Open singles winner) against Segura. Gonzales won the Cleveland event, defeating a 38-year-old Don Budge in the final in four sets. Gonzales was awarded the Pilsner of Cleveland Trophy for his victory. At Wembley 1953 and two days later in Paris, he was severely beaten by Sedgman, the eventual winner of these tournaments, and Sedgman was ranked the pro No. 1 for 1953 by Tennis de France in its full season ranking list.
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. Gonzales earned $39,425 for winning the tour, while Sedgman and Segura won $31,025 each. After this tour, Gonzales won the Cleveland World Pro held at the Cleveland Arena from April 27 through May 2 and where all the best, except Pails, were present. Gonzales was awarded the Pilsner of Cleveland Trophy for his victory at Cleveland.
In early June 1954, Gonzales won the U.S. Professional Championships held by Jack Kramer at the Los Angeles Tennis Club in California. Gonzales was seeded No. 1 and defeated both Sedgman and Segura,[a] the latter in a close five set final to win the USPLTA Benrus Trophy for the only time in his career.
Gonzales then played in the Far East tour (September-October 1954) that visited Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. He barely won over Segura and Kramer, who was making a comeback in singles after a 14-month retirement. Later that year Gonzales enjoyed further success: he swept the Australian Tour of November-December 1954 by beating Sedgman 16-9, McGregor 15-0, and Segura, 4-2. Although he was beaten by the Australian Dinny Pails in the last competition of the year, Gonzales had clearly established himself as the top player in the world in 1954.
By 1955, Gonzales was the dominant player in the men's game and over the subsequent years, beat such tennis greats as Frank Sedgman, Francisco Segura, Tony Trabert, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad in world championship tours.
In 1955-56, Gonzales beat Tony Trabert in the World series by 74 matches to 27. 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."
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 guaranteed $15,000 for the pro tour, while his touring opponent, the recently turned professional Tony Trabert, had a guarantee 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."
Gonzales won at Cleveland in 1955 and 1956, both events using the VASSS (Van Alen Simplified Scoring System, ie table tennis scoring), beating Segura in the final in both years. Gonzales played against Trabert in a South American tour, losing six matches to Trabert on outdoor clay, but winning the three matches which were played indoor. Gonzales won the inaugural Los Angeles Masters tournament in early August 1956, defeating Sedgman in the deciding match. Sedgman missed the first five and a half months of 1956. Gonzales and Trabert played a five-set final at Roland Garros in 1956, with Trabert winning in the fifth set. At the Wembley World Pro Indoor Championships in 1956, Gonzales won a classic final with Sedgman in four long sets. "The match lasted almost three hours and ended at 12.35am. B.B.C. Television covered it to the end" (it was customary for the Wembley final to be broadcast nationally in the UK on the BBC).
At the end of 1956, Kramer signed Ken Rosewall to play a world series tour against Gonzales. In early 1957, Gonzales flew to Australia for the first ten 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 the Australian portion of the 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.
Gonzales won the 1957 Forest Hills Tournament of Champions with a perfect 5-0 record, beating Sedgman in a five-set deciding match. The event was broadcast nationally on CBS television. Gonzales also won the Cleveland tournament, beating Trabert and Segura, and the Los Angeles Masters tournament.
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 four 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 five percent. Gonzales would build a lifetime head-to-head against Rosewall on grass of 24 to 14.
Later that year, Gonzales sued in California superior court to have his seven-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 his dominant years came from Lew Hoad, the powerful young Australian who had won four Grand Slam titles as an amateur. In the 1958 world series tour, Gonzales and Hoad (in his rookie year), played head-to-head 87 times. Hoad won the Australian series 8 to 5, and 18 of the first 27 matches. It appeared that he was about to displace Gonzales as the professional world champion. Gonzales, however, revamped and improved his backhand. Also, Hoad suffered back trouble beginning in early March which reduced his ability to play at a high level and contributed and coincided with the turnaround in results on the tour. Gonzales won the 1958 series by a margin of 51 wins to 36 wins for Hoad.
In January, Gonzales finished third in the Kooyong Tournament of Champions, the richest tournament of the year, losing his match to Hoad. In May, he beat Hoad in the final at Cleveland as Hoad's leg injury worsened. Gonzales received his record sixth Pilsner of Cleveland Trophy award for the victory. Gonzales won the 1958 Forest Hills Tournament of Champions, nationally broadcast on CBS television, with a 5-1 record, defeating Rosewall in the deciding match. He lost to Hoad in the semifinal at the Roland Garros World Professional Championships. Gonzales lost to Sedgman in the semifinal of the World Professional Indoor Championships at Wembley, and had earlier lost to him in the semifinal of the Sydney Masters.
Gonzales played Hoad again in the 4-man World Professional Championship Tour in 1959 and Pancho finished with 13 wins and 15 losses against Hoad, but Gonzales achieved a perfect record against rookies Cooper and Anderson to keep his world championship title. The series concluded at the end of May and Gonzales was proclaimed "world champion". Gonzales beat Hoad to retain his Cleveland title, played during the 4-man tour and not part of the Ampol world series of tournaments.
Gonzales finished second to Hoad in the point ranking on the 1959/1960 Ampol Open Trophy world series of tournaments, winning four of the tournaments (Sydney Marks Athletic Field, L.A. Tennis Club Masters, Toronto Lawn Tennis Club O'Keefe, Ampol White City TOC), losing the Forest Hills Tournament of Champions final to Hoad, but winning the White City Tournament of Champions, where he beat Hoad in the final. Gonzales defaulted the final and deciding Ampol series tournament in December, the Qantas Kooyong, to spend the holidays in the U.S.
Hoad was Gonzales' toughest opponent on grass, with Hoad holding a 21 to 14 (60%) lifetime edge on grass against Gonzales, although Gonzales held a lifetime head-to-head edge against Rosewall on grass of 24 to 14 (63%). Gonzales held a lifetime edge over Hoad overall at 104-78 (57%), with edges on clay, hard and all indoor surfaces. Gonzales' lifetime edge over Rosewall on all surfaces was 116-85 (60%). In outdoor play (grass, clay, cement) Gonzales held a 36 to 32 edge on Hoad, or about 53%. In head-to-head world championship tours, Gonzales led Hoad 64 to 51 (56%), and led Rosewall 70 to 31 (70%).
Gonzales faced Rosewall, Segura and new pro signing Alex Olmedo on the 1960 World Professional Championship tour (Trabert also played a few matches early on). Gonzales was at the peak of his form, beating Rosewall 20-5 and easily overcoming Segura and Olmedo. During a match against Segura at White Plains on February 13, 1960, Gonzales served 33 aces. In April 1960 it was reported that "Pancho Gonzales, world's pro tennis champ since 1954, confirmed his recent announcement that he would quit Jack Kramer's touring troupe May 1. However, Gonzales said he might play in a few pro tournaments after that if they did not involve touring".  Gonzales did return to touring and played in the 1961 World Series. Gonzales and Hoad did not play against each other in 1960.
The 1961 World Series would not feature Rosewall, who opted not to play. Gonzales beat Andres Gimeno, Trabert (replacing Hoad), Sedgman (also replacing Hoad), Hoad (who withdrew with a broken foot), Barry MacKay, Olmedo and Butch Buchholz. The top two players, Gonzales and Gimeno then played a head-to-head series to determine the champion. Gonzales beat Gimeno 21 match wins to 7, in single-set matches.
Gonzales beat Gimeno and Sedgman to win at Cleveland (Hoad and Rosewall did not enter). Later in the year there were signs Gonzales' dominance was waning. He lost to Rosewall in the final of the French Pro championships on red clay at Roland Garros, and at Wembley on indoor wood he lost in the semi-finals to Hoad. Then Gonzales went into a period of retirement.
Gonzales didn't play on the pro circuit at all in 1962. His only appearance in 1963 was at the 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 by Alex Olmedo.Ken Rosewall eventually beat Rod Laver in the finals but neither of them collected a penny: the promoter had failed to obtain a television contract, could not meet his costs and couldn't pay any prize money to any of the players.
Gonzales returned to play on the pro circuit in 1964. By now, Rod Laver had arrived in the pro ranks. Jack Kramer, the long-time tennis promoter, wrote 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 14,761 spectators in New York'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-to-late 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 ten years between them. For the 1964 season, Gonzales held a head-to-head edge over Laver.
In early May, 1964, Gonzales defeated Gimeno and Anderson to win the Cleveland World Pro, his ninth Cleveland title. Arguably Gonzales' best tournament victory of 1964 came in late May at the U.S. Pro Indoors at White Plains. After coming from a set down to beat both Laver and Hoad earlier in the event, Gonzales trailed Rosewall in the best of five set final by 2 sets to 0 and 1-4. Trailing by two service breaks in the third set, Gonzales managed to turn the match around and won in five sets in a final that lasted 3 hours and 11 minutes.
Despite a good comeback year in 1964, Gonzales was no longer the top pro. In January 1965, Gonzales won the New South Wales Pro in Sydney beating Laver and Rosewall. Gonzales also beat Laver and Rosewall to win the 1965 CBS TV Pro at Dallas on a clay surface.The tournament had a $25,000 purse, the richest tournament of the year. Gonzales won $8,000 for his first prize, a record amount in pro tennis. By the late 1960s Gonzales was a declining force, though still a big drawing card. Laver was the top player in these years.
In his professional career, Gonzales won the United States Professional Championship eight times, including the USPLTA version in L.A. in 1954, and the Cleveland World Pro another seven times (Gonzales won the Cleveland event nine times), the Wembley professional title in London four times, and the Tournament of Champions three times (1957 Forest Hills, 1958 Forest Hills, 1959 Sydney White City), the Los Angeles Masters three times (1956, 1957, 1959), the U.S. Professional Indoor three times (1950 Philadelphia, 1952 Philadelphia, 1964 White Plains), plus beating, in seven head-to-head pro tours, all of the best amateurs who turned pro. 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. Kramer also tried moving the service line to a yard behind the baseline; once again, Gonzales won anyhow. 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.
Most of Gonzales's career as a professional took place before the start of the Open era of tennis, 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 12 titles in those two tournaments alone.
In April 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, in five sets 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 Dutch Tom Okker.
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 lengthy 46-game first set, then with daylight fading, the 41-year-old Gonzales argued that the match should be suspended. The referee didn't relent, and the petulant Gonzales virtually threw the second set. 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. Pasarell, seeking to exploit Gonzales's advanced years, tried to aim soft service returns at Gonzales's feet and tire him with frequent lobs. Gonzales rebounded to win three straight sets. 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 match. The final score was 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 11 hours and 183 games long Isner-Mahut match at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships.
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.
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.
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 14,761 in Madison Square Garden in January 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.
In spite of the fact that Gonzales 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, Gonzales 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 1972 Gonzales 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 June 1972, Gonzales reached the semifinals 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.
At South Orange in August, Gonzales beat John Lloyd, Sandy Mayer and Paul Gerken (all players more than twenty years younger than himself) before losing in the semi finals to Vijay Amritraj. Gonzales made his final Grand Slam singles appearance, losing in round one of the US Open to Tom Okker. In September Gonzales lost in the second round of the Pacific southwest championships in Los Angeles to Jimmy Connors.
Gonzales was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame at Newport in 1968.
Gonzalez was reported to be the first tennis player to earn a half-million dollars in career prize money. By mid-1965 he had earned $740,000, excluding income from product endorsements, appearances, lessons and the like.
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."
González had a long scar across his left cheek that, according to his autobiography, some members of the mass media of the 1940s attributed to his being a Mexican-American pachuco and hence involved in knife fights. This was one more slur that embittered González towards the media in general. The scar was actually the result of a prosaic street accident in 1935 when he was seven years old: pushing a scooter too fast, he ran into a passing car and had his cheek gashed open by its door handle. He spent two weeks in the hospital as a result.
Gonzales was referred to as either "Richard" or "Ricardo" by his friends and family. As the child of working-class Hispanic parents, young Richard was well aware of the social prejudices of his day. He reportedly disliked the nickname "Pancho", as it was a common derogatory term used against Mexican Americans at the time. In the Hispanic community, the name "Pancho" is traditionally only given to individuals whose first name is "Francisco", as was the case with Gonzales' tennis rival, Pancho Segura.
Although his surname was properly spelled "González", during most of his playing career he was known as "Gonzales". It was only towards the end of his life that the Spanish language spelling began to be used regularly. Kramer wrote that one of Gonzales's wives, Madelyn Darrow, "decided to change his name. Madelyn discovered in the Castilian upper-crust society, the fancy Gonzales families spelled their name with a z at the end to differentiate from the hoi polloi (sic) Gonzales. So it was González for a time, and even now you will occasionally see that spelling pop up." However, Kramer's theory is unlikely, as González is a far more common spelling of that name in Hispanic communities than the anglicised "Gonzales". In his ghost-written 1959 autobiography, "Gonzales" is used throughout.
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. He had also been the Tennis Director and Tournament Director at Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas Strip for 16 years, another lucrative job. In 1985, he was fired after refusing to give playing lessons to the wife of his boss. As S. L. Price wrote about Gonzales in a 2002 Sports Illustrated article, "There was no more perfect match than Pancho and Vegas: both dark and disreputable, both hard and mean and impossible to ignore."
Gonzales married and divorced six times and had nine children: he wed his childhood sweetheart, Henrietta Pedrin, on March 23, 1948; they had three children. He married actress (and Miss Rheingold of 1958) Madelyn Darrow (sister of Barbara Darrow) twice; they had three children including twin girls; she currently lives in Fountain Valley. He married his dental hygienist, Betty, in Beverly Hills, and had one daughter. His last wife, Rita, is the elder sister of Andre Agassi, and they had one son. According to Price's article, Rita's father, Mike Agassi hated Gonzales so much that he considered having him killed. Gonzales had coached the young Rita until she had rebelled against her father's 5,000-balls-a-day-regimen and first moved in with, then married, on March 31, 1984, the much-older Gonzales. Years before, Mike Agassi, already a tennis fanatic, had once served as a linesman for one of Gonzales's professional matches in Chicago. Gonzales had upbraided Agassi so severely for perceived miscalls that Agassi walked away and sat in the stands.
Kramer says that "Gonzales never seemed to get along with his various wives, although this never stopped him from getting married... Segura once said, 'You know, the nicest thing Gorgo ever says to his wives is 'Shut up'". 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. Andre Agassi paid for his funeral.
For about 14 years from around 1920 to 1934, Bill Tilden was generally considered the greatest player of all time. From 1952 through 1961 Gonzales was considered the best of this time period, with some saying he had taken the crown from Tilden. Gonzales has been rated one of the greatest in the history of the sport. He was ranked the world No. 1 tennis player for possibly eight years. The Tennis Hall of Fame says Gonzales "rose to the world No. 1 ranking, holding that lofty perch for a record eight years from 1952 to 1960." Other sources state that Gonzales was world number one for an eight year period. The tennis rankings of that eight year period were based on the observations of tennis writers, players, and others versed in the sport, and were not issued on a regular basis. Only in 1959 was there a point system during this period to determine the No. 1 ranking. The contemporary rankings from that period which have Gonzales ranked as the professional world No. 1 are for 1955 (Lawn Tennis and Badminton), 1956 (Jack March), 1958 (Jack March), 1959 (Jack Kramer personal list, L'Equipe magazine), 1960 (Jack Kramer personal list). Bill Tilden with Rod Laver are the next closest to Gonzales with seven No. 1 rankings in some sources.
Arthur Ashe called Gonzales "the only idol he ever had". Allen Fox said "Pancho Gonzales was, if not the best player of all time, certainly one of the best." 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.
Tennis commentator, journalist and author Bud Collins, the editor of "The History of Tennis" (2016), is guarded. He writes that Gonzales was "probably as good as anyone who ever played the game, if not better." However, he also states that Rod Laver would "be known as possibly the greatest player ever." and calls Bill Tilden "perhaps the greatest player of them all."
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.[b] Kramer also stated that Bobby Riggs would have beaten Gonzales on a regular basis.
In 2007, after Gonzales and Hoad were both dead, Kramer gave a higher assessment of both players, rating them among the top five players of all time, chronologically Vines, Budge, Gonzales, Hoad, and Federer. Kramer had expressed a competitive relationship with both men during his years as tour manager, but time had mellowed his assessment of them.
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[c] to list the ten greatest players in order. Twenty-five players in all were named by the 37 experts in their lists of the ten 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 Allen Fox casting a vote for him as the greatest of all time.
In the Tennis Channel series "The 100 Greatest of All Time" in 2012, Gonzales was ranked the 22nd greatest male tennis player of all time, just behind his longtime tennis rivals Lew Hoad (19th) and Jack Kramer (21st), and just ahead of Lacoste (23rd) and Djokovic (24th).
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."
|Titles / Played||Career W-L||Career Win %|
|Grand Slam tournaments||Amateur||Professional||Open Era||2 / 17||44-15||75%|
|1947||1948||1949||1950 - 1967||1968||1969||1970||1971||1972||1973|
|Australian||A||A||A||Unable to compete||3R||A||A||A||A||0 / 1||2-1||67%|
|French||A||A||SF||Unable to compete||SF||A||A||A||A||A||0 / 2||9-2||82%|
|Wimbledon||A||A||4R||Unable to compete||3R||4R||A||2R||2R||A||0 / 5||10-5||67%|
|U.S.||2R||W||W||Unable to compete||QF||4R||3R||3R||1R||1R||2 / 9||23-7||77%|
|Pro Slam tournaments||Professional||12 / 26||61-14||81%|
|U.S. Pro||A||RU||F||W||W||W||W||W||W||W||A||W||A||QF||F||SF||A||A||8 / 13||32-5||86%|
|French Pro||NH||F||NH||SF||A||A||F||A||A||SF||A||A||A||0 / 4||7-4||64%|
|Wembley Pro||W||W||W||F||NH||W||SF||SF||A||A||SF||A||A||SF||A||A||A||4 / 9||22-5||81%|
|Win||1948||U.S. Championships||Grass||Eric Sturgess||6-2, 6-3, 14-12|
|Win||1949||U.S. Championships||Grass||Ted Schroeder||16-18, 2-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4|
|Win||1950||Wembley Pro||Indoor||Welby Van Horn||6-3, 6-3, 6-2|
|Loss||1951||U.S. Pro||Grass||Pancho Segura||3-6, 4-6, 2-6|
|Win||1951||Wembley Pro||Indoor||Pancho Segura||6-2, 6-2, 2-6, 6-4|
|Loss||1952||U.S. Pro||Indoor||Pancho Segura||6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 4-6, 0-6|
|Win||1952||Wembley Pro||Indoor||Jack Kramer||3-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, 7-5|
|Win||1953||U.S. Pro||Indoor||Don Budge||4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2|
|Loss||1953||Wembley Pro||Indoor||Frank Sedgman||1-6, 2-6, 2-6|
|Win||1954||U.S. Pro||Cement||Pancho Segura||6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4|
|Win||1955||U.S. Pro||Indoor||Pancho Segura||21-16, 19-21, 21-8, 20-22, 21-19|
|Win||1956||U.S. Pro||Indoor||Pancho Segura||21-15, 13-21, 21-14, 22-20|
|Loss||1956||French Pro||Clay||Tony Trabert||3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-8, 2-6|
|Win||1956||Wembley Pro||Indoor||Frank Sedgman||4-6, 11-9, 11-9, 9-7|
|Win||1957||U.S. Pro||Indoor||Pancho Segura||6-3, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1|
|Win||1958||U.S. Pro||Indoor||Lew Hoad||3-6, 4-6, 14-12, 6-1, 6-4|
|Win||1959||U.S. Pro||Indoor||Lew Hoad||6-4, 6-2, 6-4|
|Win||1961||U.S. Pro||Indoor||Frank Sedgman||6-3, 7-5|
|Loss||1961||French Pro||Clay||Ken Rosewall||6-2, 4-6, 3-6, 6-8|
|Loss||1964||U.S. Pro||Grass||Rod Laver||6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 4-6|