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Richard Gonzales: 1928-1995: Tennis Player

Became Self-taught Tennis Champion

Gonzales taught himself how to play the game on the public courts at Exposition Park. "Many Mexicans and Negroes learned the game there," Gonzales explained in his autobiography. "Most of us at Exposition Park had two things in common—very little money and a love of tennis." Despite the lack of professional training, Gonzales began winning junior tournaments in southern California. However, when he dropped out of high school after only two years, he was banned from the junior tournaments. Without school and tennis tournaments, Gonzales had a lot of time on his hands and he got into some trouble. At the age of 15 he was arrested for burglary and sentenced to a year of detention. Afterwards he spent two years in the United States Navy in 1945 and 1946. Gonzales was not interested in the military and received a bad-conduct discharge in 1947.

At the age of 19 Gonzales was now eligible to play senior tennis tournaments. When he began playing tennis again, he started winning matches against top ranked players. He finished the 1947 season ranked number 17 in the country. However, he did not have a lot of tournament experience. In 1948 Perry Jones of the Southern California Tennis Association allowed Gonzales to play on the senior tennis circuit, paying for his travel and living expenses. That same year Gonzales married his first wife, Henrietta Pendrin and the couple was soon expecting their first child. Gonzales began to feel the pressures of supporting a young family.

Gonzales played inconsistently during his first year on the tour and he was seeded last at the United States National Championships at Forest Hills, New York in 1948. Nonetheless he managed to win the tournament and capture his first national championship just 16 months after becoming a senior tennis player. That year Gonzales had won the United States clay and grass court titles, but he lost the hardcourt title to Ted Schroeder. Despite an inconsistent year, Gonzales was ranked the number one male tennis player in the United States in 1948.

Gonzales was a good player, but he was so inconsistent that the media speculated his national championship in 1948 was a fluke. His goals for 1949 were to defend his national title and to win Wimbledon, which would be his first international competition. Gonzales proved the media wrong when he defended his title in 1949, defeating the top seeded player, and Gonzales' rival, Ted Schroeder. Although he did not win the Wimbledon singles title as he had hoped, he did win the doubles title with Frank Parker. He won another doubles title that year with Frank Parker in Paris. Gonzales was also a member of the 1949 winning Davis Cup team.

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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