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Pancho the Great
Richard Phelan
March 18, 1957
RICHARD GONZALES IS THE KING OF AN EXPANDING TRIBE OF TENNIS PROFESSIONALS WHO ARE CASTING A LONG SHADOW OVER THE AMATEUR TENNIS WORLD
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March 18, 1957

Pancho The Great

RICHARD GONZALES IS THE KING OF AN EXPANDING TRIBE OF TENNIS PROFESSIONALS WHO ARE CASTING A LONG SHADOW OVER THE AMATEUR TENNIS WORLD

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The workout continued: now Gonzales and Segura.

"Daddy," said the small voice, again audible throughout the huge auditorium, "Mr. Pails says if I took my shoes off I wouldn't make any noise. Then could I be ball boy again?"

"Yes," said Daddy, and in a moment Danny was racing down the sidelines, making hardly a sound.

"They come and climb on our bed in the morning," said Pancho a few minutes later, dripping sweat. "And I ask them, 'Did you brush your teeth?' and they say, 'Yeah.'

"Then I say, 'What?' and they say, 'Yes Sir!' "

Pancho Gonzales is far better known as an athlete and individualist than as a father and disciplinarian. Now 28, he has nine years of prime tennis experience to add to the best physical equipment nature can give a man in his profession. His reach and stride and speed are phenomenal. Training, for him, is not so much a matter of doing things that are good, but of ceasing to do things that are bad. "If I lose a few matches, I stop smoking, go to bed early and pay more attention to what I eat. In a few days I'm all right again."

But built into the remarkable athlete's body is a happy-go-lucky disposition which is both a curse and a blessing. His extra-casual view of life and tennis can put him two sets down in a crucial match and then—often but not always—save him by allowing him to win the next three. It has made his career a zigzag affair of boom and bust rather than the short, smooth ride that is common in tennis. Twice already, and for a total of six years, Gonzales has marked time as a has-been.

It was only by accident—an automobile-scooter accident—that he became a tennis player at all. His father, Manuel Gonzales, is a house painter in Los Angeles. His mother is a seamstress. They came to Los Angeles from Chihuahua, Mexico and Richard was born there in 1928, the first child of a series that eventually totaled seven.

Richard's childhood and the Depression coincided exactly. His parents struggled to keep their family clothed and fed; he did not grow up in a tennis-playing environment. When he was 7 years old he built a scooter of two-by-fours and roller-skate wheels and pushed it happily into the street—straight into the side of a passing police car whose door handle pierced his left cheek and laid it open (as Manuel Gonzales described it to his wife) "like a flower."

The boy recovered quickly from the accident and forgot it, but his mother did not. She liked to keep her children near her, where she felt they were safer than on the streets and playgrounds. By the time Richard was 12 it was clear that he was a born athlete, and clear, too, that he couldn't be kept in the house and yard forever. His mother gave him a cheap tennis racket for Christmas and hoped for the best. She had never played tennis, but had seen it played; it was obviously safer than football. Then, too, it was a game acceptable in good society, and Mrs. Gonzales wanted the best for her children.

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