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Richard Gonzales: 1928-1995: Tennis Player

Accidentally Discovered Tennis Talent

Richard Alonzo Gonzales was born on May 9, 1928, in Los Angeles, California. He was one of seven children born to Manuel and Carmen Alire Gonzales. His parents had immigrated to the United States from Chihuahua, Mexico. Manuel Gonzales worked as a housepainter and Carmen worked as a seam-stress. The family did not have a lot of money, but the children were always well fed and well dressed.

Richard was nicknamed "Pancho" by his Anglo school friends, a name commonly given to Mexican Americans. The name stayed with him throughout his career.

Gonzales' introduction to tennis was a fluke. At the age of 12 Gonzales asked his mother for a bicycle. Carmen was afraid that her son might hurt himself on the bike, so she spent 51 cents at the May Company and bought him a tennis racket instead. Gonzales was not initially thrilled with his mother's gift, but he decided to try his hand at tennis. Gonzales walked to a public tennis court a few blocks away and began hitting the ball. "In the days, months, and years that followed the challenge of hitting a white, fuzzy ball squarely on the strings of a racket grew and grew. Such is the strange hand of destiny," Gonzales wrote in his 1959 autobiography titled Man with a Racket.

As a young teenager Gonzales was a good student who was especially interested in mechanical drawing and drafting. However, once he started to play tennis, Gonzales lost all interest in school. He became a chronic truant, much to the dismay of his parents and his educators. As Mexican immigrants, the Gonzaleses firmly believed that education was key to their children's success in America. They continually tried to encourage Gonzales to stay in school, but he only wanted to play tennis. His parents became less upset about his future when they learned that he was actually good enough at tennis to be able to make a profitable career of the game.

At a Glance . . .

Born on May 9, 1928, in Los Angeles, CA; died on July 3, 1995, in Las Vegas, NV; son of Manuel and Carmen Alire Gonzales; married Henrietta Pendrin, 1948 (divorced, 1958); married Madelyn Darrow, 1960 (divorced, 1968; remarried, 1970; divorced, 1972); married Betty Steward, December 31, 1972 (divorced); married Rita Agassi, March 31, 1984 (divorced); children: (with Pendrin) Richard, Michael, Daniel; (with Darrow) Mariessa, Christina, Andrea; (with Steward) Jeanna Lynn; (with Agassi) Skylar Richard. Military Service: United States Navy, 1945-47.

Career: Amateur tennis player, 1947-49; professional tennis player 1950-71; professional tennis coach, 1971-86; spokesperson for Spalding rackets; author, 1959-1974.

Awards: United States National Champion, 1948, 1949; Wimbledon doubles champion with Frank Parker, 1949; French doubles champion with Frank Parker, 1949; member of winning Davis Cup Team, 1949; eight professional singles titles, 1953-61; inducted into International Tennis Hall of Fame, 1968.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: E(mily) R. Frank (1967-) Biography - Personal to Martha Graham (1893–1991) BiographyRichard Gonzales: 1928-1995: Tennis Player Biography - Accidentally Discovered Tennis Talent, Became Self-taught Tennis Champion, Turned Professional, Made Mark On Open-era Tennis