Pancho Gonzales, the all too human phenomenon

The unspoken strength of a cursed tennis player.

Towering, olive skin and oil black hair, handsome face with a Humphrey Bogart scar, and gifted with the talent of a man given a bat by God at the age of 12. Who knows what would have happened to Ricardo Alonso Gonzales, aka Pancho, the frivolous boy from Los Angeles without his incredible natural talent.

Outlawed by the tennis environment of the time, in the hands of wealthy, righteous white men, and son of a troubled America, the America of immigrants, chinos in search of the dream. Arrested for burglary when he was only 15Probably without the gift of this thug, Gonzales would have continued to live on the streets, and who knows where he would have ended up. Instead, young Pancho emerges from his reality, and He goes around the world with forehand and backhand strokes. Totally self-taught, he learns to play by watching other players in the Los Angeles public squares, but despite his incredible and precocious talent, he is left out of the circles that matter. Perry Jones, the moralistic California tennis sheriff, was responsible for that at the time Southern California Tennis AssociationHe excludes the young man from his own tournaments because of his stormy character.

“Pancho is no saint. But who has ever seen a saint with a bat??”.

Pancho Segura

After an experience in the Navy ended with a dishonorable discharge As soon as he came of age, Pancho picked up his racquet again and made his presence felt in West Coast tournaments, forcing Perry Jones to withdraw his veto and sponsor his participation in the following year’s major tournaments. In 1948, all of America became aware of Gonzales, who took advantage of the sudden decline of the then American number 1 Ted Schroeder and surprisingly triumphed at the US National Championship, the ancestor of today’s US Open.

About this tournament the New York Times will say: The worst outsider in modern times sits on the tennis throne“. It is the consecration that earns him first place in the American rankings, the first rematch against US tennis, which will, however, be followed by a year of ups and downs, with a poor Wimbledon that earns him the nickname “Gorgonzales” and the Encore will bring the US National Championship victory.

A panther: agile despite its size, with a sluggish step, elegant and strong at the same time. The aggressive playstyle, looks and reputation of the beautiful and damned can’t escape pro circuit promoter Bobby Riggs. The tennis player, who looks straight out of a Hemingway novel, bold, fierce, against everything and everyone, is a never-ending crowd puller and receives a $100,000 contract to join the pro touring circus. Pancho isn’t ready yet, but the opportunity is enticing. Twenty-two years old, son of immigrants, supporting his wife and child, he cannot refuse.

Gonzales sides with the “bad guys”. The professionals. The circus animals of tennis.

However, the first year as a pro was a real flop, Gorgo put up an endless series of failures and was literally humiliated by showman Jack Kramer for 96 games to 27.


“The worst thing that ever happened to Gonzales was winning Forest Hills in 1949. Gorgo wasn’t quite a player yet to take on Kramer, a pro at the height of his career.” The sporting world is known for being ruthless, and after the disastrous first year as a pro, Bobby Riggs defined Gonzales as “dead flesh”and scrapped it with a $75,000 settlement.

Demoralized Pancho Gonzales quit tennis, and without its source of life it sinks into the abyss. Dare various professional adventures, from the sporting goods store to Hollywood, master car races, while playing poker in the evenings to bet the last remaining part of his severance pay. Take a look at the wild nights of post-war California, bro Gin, smoky gambling dens and gallant adventuresThe. Try to survive, but also and above all to live to the fullest as only people like him can. But to live to the fullest, Pancho needs Gonzales Tennis and probably tennis needs Pancho Gonzales. Jack Kramer, passed as promoter, knocks again on the Latin master’s door to include him in a new tour: it is the beginning of the second ascent.


“Pancho hit his wooden spalding no less hard than the Ivanisevics or Sampras with their graphite clubs” (Ted Schroeder). The “Second Coming” of Pancho Gonzales among the pros is Dominantthe tennis player Losangelino it literally sweeps away any opponent in front of it with outrageous ferocity. Another revenge on a world that has always underestimated him. A tennis and a wild character that has cost him many admirers but very few friends. In fact, Pancho was very often paid less than his competitors (we’re talking $80,000 contracts for the opponent and only $15,000 for Gonzales), more than reason enough for him to rage his helpless opponent on the field with the same anger at the little boy , who was expelled from the circles at the age of 15. An undoubtedly difficult character, that of Pancho, who preferred to travel alone by car rather than by bus or train, in the company of his colleagues and opponents, with whom relations were always strained, to say the least.

opponents aside, Pancho Gonzales dominated professional tennis for the next decadeundisputed number one among players of the caliber of Trabert, Cooper, Anderson, Sedgman and even Rosewall and Hoad. A domain so clear that it forces the organizers of the tournaments to change the regulation for a certain period of time to effectively prevent them serve and volley.


Pancho makes a living from tennis and lives for tennis, like a fortune teller obsessed with blood and money. Tennis as the only vital boost, which he tried to balance with a high-speed life in dark moments. Perhaps that’s why Pancho was a perennial tennis player, despite a far from athletic lifestyle, riding the crest of the wave for over 40 years.

Pancho had no idea how to live or fend for himself. He was a guy from the start who only had hamburgers and hot dogs and he didn’t know the concept of nutrition, on the field Gorgo even took a few sips of Coca Cola during a game. Gorgo was a fairly die-hard cigarette smoker. He had terrible sleeping habits that were detrimental to anyone facing a professional tour.”

Jack Kramer

His swan song is engraved in tennis history, the first round of Wimbledon 1969. On sunny Center Court, the first Wimbledon of the Open era is celebrated and 25-year-old Charlie Passarel challenges the boy from the Los Angeles suburbs; his face hollowed out by 41 winters, multiple victories, weddings and whiskey glasses behind him, he prepares to write the final page of his legendary story. Gonzales prevails over young Passarel after an endless match five hours and twelve minutes on grass, spread over two days. It will be there longest game in history strike British over thirty years before they were pulverized by Isner and Mahut.

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