3 minute read

Richard "Pancho" Gonzales

Prevailed In The Touring Circuit

Irascible and prone to raging against his opponents and umpires, Gonzales was nonetheless popular among tennis audiences, and he always drew a crowd. As the reigning champion, he trounced Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, and many others. Yet he was unhappy with his touring contracts, which always offered more money to the challenging player than to him, the reigning champion. Gonzales also faced marital troubles; he and Henrietta divorced in 1958. Soon after, he married Madelyn Darrow, with whom he had three daughters.

Gonzales prevailed in the round-robin tours until his contract expired in 1961. After briefly retiring, he returned to lose a humiliating first-round match at the U.S. Professional Grass Court Championships. For the next several years he turned his attention to coaching tennis, leading the U.S. Davis Cup team to the finals against Australia in 1963, and tutoring young American players, including Arthur Ashe.

When tennis "opened" in 1968, allowing amateurs to compete with professional players, 40-year-old Gonzales, no longer in the peak of his career, returned to play the major championships. A presence at all the major tournaments that year, he made a good showing but did not win a title. In what was perhaps his last moment in the spotlight, Gonzales won a grueling 112-game match against a player half his age, Charles Pasarell, in the first round of the 1969 Wimbledon tournament. The score stood at 22-24, 1-6, 16-14, 6-3, 11-9 after the five-hour and twelve-minute match—the longest in Wimbledon history. Gonzales continued playing well into his forties, becoming the oldest man to win a tournament, in Iowa, in 1972. He retired two years later, at age 46, and played senior events until the mid-1980s.

After he retired Gonzales joined Ceasers Palace in Las Vegas as a professional coach—a job that he loved, and would keep for nearly two decades. He and Madelyn had married and divorced twice, ending the relationship for good in 1980; between his two marriages to her, he had three others. His sixth and final marriage was to Rita Agassi, sister of the U.S. tennis star Andre Agassi; the couple had a son, Skylar.

Chronology

1928 Born May 9 in Los Angeles, California
1940 Receives first tennis racquet as a Christmas present
1942 Wins first junior tournaments
1943 Drops out of high school; caught burglarizing houses
1945 Joins U.S. Navy
1947 Leaves Navy on a discharge; begins playing in men's tennis tournaments
1948 Wins men's singles title, U.S. Championships at Forest Hills
1948 Marries Henrietta Pedrin
1949 Wins men's singles title, U.S. Championships at Forest Hills
1949 Wins men's doubles title, Wimbledon, with partner Frank Parker
1949 Wins men's doubles title, French Open, with partner Frank Parker
1949-50 Loses to Jack Kramer in round-robin tour, 27-96
1953-59 Wins U.S. Professional Championships
1954-60 Dominates the round-robin tours, beating Frank Sedgman, Tony Trabert, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, and others
1958 Divorces Henrietta
1960 Marries Madelyn Darrow
1961 Wins U.S. Professional Championships
1963 Coaches U.S. Davis Cup team to final in Australia
1968 Returns to play major tournaments after tennis "opens" to allow amateurs to compete with professionals
1968 Divorces Madelyn
1969 Plays longest Wimbledon match ever (five hours, 12 minutes), beating Charles Pasarell in the tournament's first round
1970 Remarries Madelyn Gonzales
1972 Becomes oldest man to win a tournament, in Iowa, at age 44
1974 Joins Caesars Palace in Las Vegas as a professional coach
1975 Divorces Madelyn for second time
1984 Marries Rita Agassi
1995 Dies of cancer, July 3, in Las Vegas

Gonzales died of stomach cancer on July 3, 1995. He is survived by eight children—and by his legacy as one of the finest (albeit one of the most difficult) players of mid-twentieth-century tennis.

Awards and Accomplishments

1948-49 Men's singles title at the U.S. Championships at Forest Hills
1949 Men's doubles titles at Wimbledon and the French Open, with partner Frank Parker
1969 Played longest Wimbledon match ever (five hours, 12 minutes), beating Charles Pasarell in the tournament's first round
1972 Oldest man to win a tournament, in Iowa, at age 44

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsTennisRichard "Pancho" Gonzales Biography - Taught Himself To Play, Prevailed In The Touring Circuit, Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments, Further Information