It was not
uncommon, in those days, for the youthful prodigy to work out with the likes of
the Panchos, Gonzalez and Segura, and other fine players who hung around the
Los Angeles Tennis Club. When Dennis was 16, Ken Rose-wall came through Los
Angeles on the way to Wimbledon and paid a visit to Jones, who savors the
said, ' Mr. Jones, I've just a few hours here but I'd like to have a rally.' I
said, 'There's nobody that could give you any kind of a game.' He said, 'That
doesn't make any difference. Just somebody that can bat a ball.' 'Well,' I
said, 'I got a boy 16 years old here, and he'd get a tremendous thrill batting
balls with you. But of course he can't give you much of a game!'
Dennis out there to court No. 2, and he beat the heck out of Rosewall. Beat
him, beat him, beat his ears back!"
No one, not even
Ralston booster Perry Jones, is arguing that Ralston was the better player.
"Rosewall wasn't concentrating," said Jones. "And he was just
working out, loosening up. But he never expected to see a 16-year-old with that
collection of strokes and so much finesse. Right then Denny certified that he
was going to be a great player."
repertoire of tennis shots, most of them learned from his mother, blends with
an innate tennis sense that cannot be taught. As Jones explains it: "When
you look at slow-motion pictures of Vines, of Budge, of Kramer, you find that
they're in the exact place they should be in order to return the ball most
comfortably. This is an uncanny quality, and Dennis has it. When I asked him
about it, he said he thought it came from watching the ball. In watching where
the ball's coming, in judging its speed, where it's going, how it's going to
bounce, he instinctively gets in the right spot." One is reminded of Gail
Ralston's instructions to her son: "I told him to watch the ball as though
there were writing on it, and he had to read the writing."
Other facets of
Ralston's game mark him as a special case. For one thing, he is an all-court
player without a stroke weakness (with the occasional exception of the first
serve, which has gotten better since the Mexico City debacle, but which can
still use further improvement). He can play steady baseline tennis with
anybody. There is no solace to be gained from hitting to his backhand; it is as
strong as his forehand. He is an expert volleyer and has perhaps the best
offensive lob in amateur tennis. It is difficult to crowd the net on him
because he begins plunking lobs that soon take the wind out of an opponent if,
indeed, he gets them at all.
With a superb
pair of eyes, Ralston picks up the ball sooner than most other players and thus
is able to play it faster, an important advantage in top tennis. Explained
Coach Toley: "Dennis plays the ball on the rise; he plays it early. Most
players let the ball come down off the rise a little. But Dennis plays it on
the short hop, when the ball has barely left the ground after bouncing, like a
shortstop charging a ball instead of backing up on it. This cuts down on the
number of steps the other fellow can take to get to the ball. In addition, he
gets more speed because he is using the full speed of the other boy's hit.
percent of the top players can't play the ball early. It takes a great eye and
great timing. Ellie Vines played the ball on the rise, and so did Don Budge.
Denny is as close to Budge in all-court ability as any player we've had for a
long time. He's got that short backswing and those eyes, and he has the ability
to hold off doing what he's going to do until the last second. He doesn't
commit himself, and that's murder on the opponent. That's why he gets a lot of
lobs over people's heads. They don't know it's going to be a lob."
Now, with his bad
knee corrected (his left leg had become shorter than his right), all that
stands between Ralston and the top spot is his disposition, a fact of which he
is well aware. He wishfully thinks he has his temper well under control. "I
don't have that problem any more," he said recently, with bland innocence.
"I still get a little irritated just like anybody else, but I get over
it." He thinks his main problem now is an inability to concentrate.
"It's so hard," he explained, "especially on clay where it takes a
long time to run out a set and each point takes so much out of you. If you
concentrate, you don't look at the stands. You don't look at anybody. All you
do is concentrate on the ball."
that's what is on his mind these days," says his roommate, Osuna. "The
other night I was reading and he was sleeping, and all of a sudden he started
shouting in his sleep: 'Concentrate! Concentrate!' " Again one is reminded
of a statement by the former women's singles champion of Kern County,
California. "If a person is playing competitive tennis," said Gail
Ralston, "he ought to be able to eliminate all the outside conditions and
concentrate, concentrate on the ball regardless of anything." Dennis
Ralston tries to follow his mother's advice, even when he is sleeping.