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Jack Olsen
August 26, 1963
American tennis prestige—withering away for four years—was restored to hopeful bloom last weekend on the steamy courts of the Los Angeles Tennis Club. There, before appreciative and pleasantly chauvinistic crowds, U.S. Davis Cup players Chuck McKinley and Dennis Ralston beat the Mexican team that last year had defeated the U.S.
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August 26, 1963

U.s. Tennis Is Back On The Center Court

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Ralston's 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 might rain.

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 the chromosomes."

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."

"Yes," 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."

Dennis Ralston's 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."

Ralston's early 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.

"Yes," 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."

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