SI Vault
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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"But that's a hard thing to learn," said Mrs. Ralston. "It takes years and years."

"Well," said the father, "it's taken Denny quite a while to learn, really. Some people never do."

Roberta, a recent graduate of Stanford who will teach social studies, has her own explanation for her brother's court antics. "I've always thought that he does a lot of it as a way to show people that he doesn't like the way he's playing. That's how he started out. When he was young and used to put on a show, I'd say, 'Oh, Denny, who are you trying to kid?' You see, people used to laugh at him when he was little. They used to think he was so cute. And he never got censure from people."

Roberta explained that while she has the deepest affection for her brother, she does not approve of his racket-throwing and other outbursts because they are bad influences on younger players. "Why should we have all these little kids be Denny Ralstons and swing their rackets and act mad?" she said. "No! I've seen it all over northern California. Kids idolize Denny. When I was a counselor at camp, they'd say, 'Are you Denny Ralston's sister?' and then they'd say, 'How does this look?' and they'd start throwing their rackets around."

Said Mrs. Ralston: "It doesn't look good, let's face it, to get exasperated, but still it's a way of getting rid of a frustration that builds up in you."

Back East at a tournament, the party of the first part talked about his childhood. "When I was real little and I lost, I used to cry," said Dennis Ralston, "because I hated to lose so much. Somehow I got the feeling, the attitude, that I should never miss a ball, that I was letting people down and when I did, that's when I got mad and it would hurt me. I'd get blind mad, furious. I competed against my sister, and I hated to lose to her. I started beating her when I was very young. Then next, I beat my mother—she got a little older, and she couldn't move as fast as she had. And then I was out to beat my father. He was a good club player, better than a good club player. He beat Bobby Riggs, when Riggs was in high school, in a team match. I was about 11 or 12 when I was able to beat my father. I started out by being able to win a game, then a set. I always wanted to beat him, and he knew it. He laughed at me. For so long, he laughed at me. He'd beat me, and he'd just laugh, and I'd get mad." The memory made Dennis Ralston laugh at himself. Now the two are very close, and last year, when they won the USLTA father-and-son hard court championship at La Jolla, Dennis grabbed a microphone and announced: "This is the highest honor I have ever won."

Whatever else he may have picked up from his parental mentors, Dennis Ralston vaulted into junior tennis tournaments with as fine a set of basic strokes as could be seen short of a training film. Perry Jones had had his first look at the young Ralston, who was then being taught independence and resourcefulness by his parents, in 1951. They had loaded him on the bus from Bakersfield to Los Angeles, and at age 9, all alone, he appeared for a junior tournament at the Los Angeles Tennis Club. "His eyes barely came up to the counter," Jones said, "and right next to him was the biggest valise you ever saw. He looked up at me and he said, 'I'm Dennis.'

"I said, 'Dennis who?'

"He said, 'Why, I'm Dennis Ralston. Where do I stay?'

"Well, I must say I almost fell over at the sight of this little kid telling me he was Dennis as if I ought to know. Luckily, I had someplace to put him up. Now that I look back on it, I think the Ralstons were awfully smart with Dennis, because they didn't baby him. Think of that trip—120 miles, at age 9! Usually the anguished parents would come along and want to know where he was every second. No, sir, not the Ralstons. They cleaned his clothes, pressed his suit, and put him on the bus and said go down there and see Mr. Jones. Dennis once said to me, 'You know my family never babied me. They treated me like a man, even when I was a little kid. They told me what to do and that was it!' As a result, Denny is very resourceful."

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