troubles in Mexico City were all the more painful to him because of his own
galloping annoyance at himself for hitting a ball poorly—any ball, any time,
against any opponent, no matter what the score. He has carried competitiveness
to a fault, and frequently the loss of one point will cause him to lose three
or four more through residual anger at himself. "He is the most competitive
athlete I have ever seen," says the brilliant Osuna, who is in a unique
position to evaluate Ralston, having been his roommate at USC, his partner in
winning Wimbledon and his arch-opponent in Davis Cup competition. "When I
miss a shot, I say, 'Well, it is only a shot, I will get the next one.' But to
Dennis it is like losing his life to miss a single shot." Bill Bond, a
friend since early childhood, says: "His feet are moving every second. He
tries for every ball that he has any chance of getting." Ralston himself
says: "I try to beat everybody as bad as I can. It's just my nature I
guess. I don't take it easy on any shot—even if I'm behind 40-love and the game
doesn't matter anyway. I've learned that a lot of games are won from that
point. You only have to win five points to win the game. If a guy gets you
40-love he relaxes a little bit. He maybe gives you the first point. Then you
make the second point. Then you're only one point from deuce...." Dennis
Ralston wants to win. On several occasions, when his doubles partner had been
injured, Ralston asked the judges to permit the injured partner to stand on the
court while Ralston opened the match singlehanded. Obviously the match would
end in a default as soon as the injured partner could not take his normal
service turn. But in the meantime, Ralston points out in total seriousness, it
Such an attitude
once induced Jack Kramer to say, "That boy is a scowler, and he is going
places. He is not interested in pleasing. His only aim is to win."
All of these
attitudes seem to have been fully developed in Ralston at a very early age.
What he lacked in height, while he was growing up, he made up for in a fierce
determination lo run the legs off anyone who stepped on a court with him. His
parents remember the old days proudly. Says his mother, Gail, a junior high
school teacher who once was women's singles champion of Kern County: "He
wanted to win so badly, and he tried so hard, that on close sets in many
matches he would cry. But he didn't want anybody to see him cry. I remember
once in a tournament at Altadena—he was 9 then—he went around behind the
bushes, and he was crying. That's the way he is. He hates to lose. He'll play
until he drops. But we're both that way: we play to win. It's in the genes and
Dennis' father, a
transmission man for the telephone company and a fine tennis player himself,
adds: "He wants to win everything. He demands four strokes a side when we
play golf, even though he plays too good for that. He always wants to beat me,
whether it's gin rummy or cribbage or whatever. Five minutes after he gets in
the house from a long trip he wants to play me cards."
says Gail, "he just seems to want to beat his father at everything. And yet
they've got a very close relationship, a wonderful relationship."
introduction to tennis, its play and its attitudes, came when he was an infant.
He used to peep through the slats of his playpen, which was parked alongside
the Coke machine at the public courts in Bakersfield, and watch his parents
play a fast game of singles. When he was barely out of diapers, his father gave
him a cut-down racket. "From then on," said his sister Roberta, two
years older, "he would go out to a brick wall we had in the back of the
house and hit balls against it for hours, while all the other kids were out
making mud pies."
tutelage on the courts was handled by his parents, and in a discussion at their
neat home in Bakers-field, accompanied by daughter Roberta, they recently
revived their memories.
"I used to be
able to get him upset," said the father.
said Roberta, "I remember that. You used to get him mad at me when he and I
were playing. He'd just stomp around—he was such a little guy, and I was sort
of tall and skinny. He'd march around, and he'd swing his racket, and he was so
mad, and he'd call me all sorts of names, and Daddy'd just sit back there and
laugh. Sometimes Denny would get so mad he'd sock me."
"I made him
mad when I played him too," said Mr. Ralston. "It was gamesmanship. I
tried to get him mad for a definite purpose. I would do it hoping he would
finally get to the point where he could see that it wouldn't do him any good to
get that mad."