August 26, 1963
These days Dennis Ralston awakens to the splendor of Colorado Springs. But the setting wasn't nearly as divine in 1972, when he and the U.S. Davis Cup team, which he captained, ventured to Bucharest's Progresul Sports Club to try to keep tennis's top international prize from a Romanian squad that included Ilie Nastase and Ion Tiriac and was aided by linesmen responsible for more home cooking than Emeril Lagasse. "We knew they were cheating us," Ralston says. "No one gave us a chance to win."
Yet the Americans did just that when Stan Smith blasted the glowering Tiriac 6-0 in the fifth set of the fourth and deciding match, despite hitting second serves safely down the middle to avoid Romania-friendly line calls. For Ralston, now 57, the wild victory ranks as a highlight of a life that has revolved around tennis balls since his parents loaded him onto a bus from Bakersfield to Los Angeles, all alone, at 10, for a junior tournament. Ralston won a Wimbledon doubles championship at 17 and made nine appearances in Grand Slam finals (one in singles, four in doubles and four in mixed doubles). He was later a member of World Championship Tennis's Handsome Eight, the barnstormers who in 1968 launched a successful pro circuit. He then turned to coaching, guiding Chris Evert from '82 to '89 and the SMU men's team for 12 seasons.
For the last six years Ralston has been director of tennis at The Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs, where he lives with Linda, his wife of 36 years. The Ralstons have three grown children—including son Mike, a tennis pro at the resort—and six grandchildren. Dennis runs camps year-round and holds celebrity tournaments on The Broadmoor's 12 courts. He continues his longtime devotion to youth tennis by serving on the board of Pikes Peak Community Tennis and putting on free clinics.
Ralston still feels that Davis Cup competition, in which he helped the U.S. win six titles from 1960 through '75 as a player, coach and captain, is the peak of his sport. Ralston says it bothers him that today some American players need the lure of $100,000 per tie to participate, and that players use fatigue and scheduling conflicts as reasons to opt out of representing the U.S. "Take the money you're paying the players and put it in grassroots programs, and you could have kids playing all summer long," Ralston says. "We might lose in Davis Cup for several years, but so what? By then the whole thing would be changed because guys would learn what it means to play for their country."