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Richard Gonzales: 1928-1995: Tennis Player

Turned Professional

Following his second national championship Gonzales received an offer from Bobby Riggs to turn professional. By doing so Gonzales would give up his chance to win the most prestigious tennis title, Wimbledon. In the pre-Open era, professional tennis players were not allowed to play in amateur competitions such as Wimbledon and the United States Open. Since Gonzales and his wife were expecting their second child, he could not refuse the $75,000 professional contract. He agreed to play 123 matches against Jack Kramer, who was considered the world's best player. Gonzales went from champion to challenger over night. He lost 96 of the 123 matches against Kramer.

Gonzales was dropped from the tour the following year because he had lost so many matches to Kramer that he was no longer drawing large crowds. For the next few years Gonzales only played an occasional exhibition match. To occupy his time and support his family, he purchased the tennis shop at Exhibition Park, where he had played as a child. In 1952 he and his wife separated and Gonzales' career seemed to be over. However, in 1954 Jack Kramer took over promoting professional tennis from Bobby Riggs and he asked Gonzales to participate in a round-robin tour with Frank Sedgman, Pancho Segura, and Dick Budge. Gonzales dominated the tour that year. "It was good to be back in action again, on top, swatting the ball all over the world, playing before enthusiastic crowds," Gonzales wrote in his autobiography. Between 1953 and 1961 Gonzales won eight professional singles titles.

In 1956 Gonzales signed a seven-year professional contract with Jack Kramer and he toured the country defeating challengers such as Tony Trabert, Ken Rose-wall, and Lew Hoad. Despite his success on the court, Gonzales was bitter about his earnings. The challengers earned about $80,000 because they were considered the marketing tool to draw large audiences, while the champion was only guaranteed $15,000. Gonzales took his frustrations out on the court by becoming increasingly more agitated and violent.

Gonzales had earned a reputation as an exceptional tennis player with a fireball serve and excellent volleying skills. However, he was also well known for his emotional fits both on and off the court. "His Latin looks and hot temper made him a popular but controversial figure. Dogmatic, cocky, touchy and ruthless, he was one of the first players to smash his racket to pieces in a fit of anger," wrote the Times in July of 1995. "When Gonzales walked on a tennis court he was there to compete on his own terms and in his own way, vociferously confronting officials when questionable line calls went against him, releasing his rage one moment and then elevating his game markedly an instant later," explained Steve Flink of the Independent in July of 1995. "Few could match his powers of intimidation, his overwhelming presence on a public state, his extraordinary flair, passion, and originality."

His volatility was apparent in his personal life as well. Gonzales did not spend much time with his family, which now consisted of three children—Richard, Jr., Michael, and Daniel. Henrietta had reunited briefly with Gonzales, but the couple finally divorced in 1958. Just two years later Gonzales married his second wife, Madelyn Darrow. The couple had a rocky relationship. They divorced in 1968, remarried in 1970, divorced again in 1972, and almost remarried again in 1978. They had three daughters together—Mariessa, Christina, and Andrea.

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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