Richard Gonzales: 1928-1995: Tennis Player
Made Mark On Open-era Tennis
Gonzales briefly retired from professional tennis in 1961 when his contract with Kramer ended. However, he could not stay away from the sport for long. He continued to play professional matches and in 1963 he served as coach for the Davis Cup team. The American team he coached reached the finals. Open tennis became a reality in 1968, allowing both amateurs and professionals to compete for the prestigious tennis championships of Wimbledon, Roland Garros, and the United States Open. Although Gonzales was past his prime, he could not pass up an opportunity to compete in these events. In 1968 Gonzales reached the semifinals of the first French Open at Roland Garros and he made it to the quarterfinals of the first United States Open at Forest Hills.
Although Gonzales never won a Grand Slam title, he did make his mark on Open tennis. In 1969 Gonzales was 41 years old and a long shot to actually win the title at Wimbledon. However, his performance at the tournament made it obvious that he would have held numerous Wimbledon titles had he been allowed to play earlier in his career. In the first round of competition Gonzales was matched against the Puerto Rican player Charlie Pasarell, who was just 25 years old. Gonzales and Pasarell played the longest match in Wimbledon history, a match that lasted five hours and 20 minutes. At this time there were no tie breaks, so each set of the five-set match had to be won by two games. Pasarell won the first two sets with a score of 22-24 and 1-6. Play was halted because the light was fading and Gonzales was complaining loudly that he could not see the ball. On the second day of play, Gonzales came charging back to win the match with a score of 16-14, 6-3, 11-9. "By virtue of its drama, emotional impact, and hair-raising excitement, it had provided the most perfect advertisement for open tennis and, although one felt for Pasarell, it was fitting that Gonzales, who had been denied the right to parade his greatness on the world's greatest tennis stage for so long, should have managed, in the dimming twilight of a great career to show Wimbledon of just what he was capable. And of what might have been," wrote Richard Evans of the Times in June of 1988.
Even late in his career, Gonzales was able to defeat younger tennis champions such as Arthur Ashe and Rod Laver. However, by 1971 Gonzales had retired from professional tennis, although he still played occasionally on the men's senior tour. On December 31, 1972, Gonzalez married Betty Steward. They had one daughter together, Jeanna Lynn. For the next fifteen years Gonzales worked as a professional tennis coach at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, where he met the Agassi family. On March 31, 1984, Gonzalez married Rita Agassi, the 23-year-old sister of tennis champion Andre Agassi. The couple also had one child together, Skylar Richard. During his retirement Gonzales also wrote several books about tennis and served as a spokesperson for Spalding rackets. Gonzales died of stomach cancer on July 3, 1995, at the age of 67.
(With Cy Rice) Man with a Racket: The Autobiography of Pancho Gonzales, A.S. Barnes, 1959.
Tennis, Fleet Publishing, 1962.
Winning Tactics for Weekend Singles, Holt, 1974.
Tennis Begins at Forty: A Guide for All Players Who Don't Have Wrists of Steel or a Cannonball Serve, Don't Always Rush the Net or Have a Devastating Overhead, but Want to Win, Dial, 1976.
Contemporary Authors, Gale Group, 2000.
Gonzales, Doreen, Richard "Pancho" Gonzales: Tennis Champion, Enslow Publishers, Inc., 1998.
Guardian (London), July 5, 1995, p. 15.
Independent (London), July 5, 1995, p. 18.
Observer, June 20, 1999, p. 9.
Sports Illustrated, July 17, 1995, p. 13; June 24, 2002, p. 68.
Statesman (India), June 26, 2001.
Sunday Times, November 4, 1990.
Times, July 5, 1995.
Times (London), June 7, 1988.
"Pancho Gonzalez," International Tennis Hall of Fame, www.tennisfame.com/enshrinees/pancho_gonzales.html (March 24, 2003).
"Richard 'Pancho' Gonzales," Latino Sports Legends, www.latinosportslegends.com/pancho_gonzales_bio.htm (March 24, 2003).
—Janet P. Stamatel
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