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Ken Rosewall, the present challenger, is a 22-year-old who won the National Singles championship of the United States last year and turned pro in December after helping defend the Davis Cup for his native Australia. Rosewall is 5 feet 6 inches tall to Gonzales' 6 feet 3. He is popular with the crowds because he is the smaller, because he still looks like a schoolboy and because he plays not only with skill, but with a spunky underdoggedness that never quits.
Unless the cyst in his right hand gives Gonzales new trouble, there is little doubt that he will win the present 100-match series. He leads by a wide margin already. But that does not lessen the pleasure of watching the two experts play. Rosewall reacts with flash-bulb speed. His ground strokes are classic, and he does a remarkable job—far better than Trabert—of returning the big serve.
The 1949 Ford which Gonzales drove to his Los Angeles workouts that recent Thursday was blue with black spots; it badly needed paint. But it was freshly upholstered in the best black leather with white trim. All the chrome parts had been replated, and they glittered. Under the hood was a Cadillac engine with balanced pistons, four carburetors and a special cam. "All it needs now is a paint job," said Pancho. "I have spent $3,000 on it, and it's better than new." It was his current hot rod.
After his Friday workout Gonzales put the Ford-Cadillac through a few acceleration runs on the long parking strip in front of the Pan Pacific Auditorium. Then, on the same improvised track, he held a drag race with a friend in a rather battered Cadillac and beat him decisively. That night, with Henrietta Gonzales and several guests looking on, Pancho lost to Rosewall 6-4, 6-3.
The following night he appeared at the auditorium after the preliminary match (between Segura and Pails) was well under way. He wandered out to a refreshment stand and, in rattling Spanish, asked for coffee. The countermen greeted him as a friend. He bought a pack of cigarets from a machine and lit one, and then, smoking his cigaret and drinking his coffee, strolled back to the brightly lit dressing room.
"Where are my tennis shoes?" he asked. "I left them here last night." Someone was dispatched through the evening traffic to obtain a pair of tennis shoes and bring them to the auditorium. The preliminary match, a one-set affair, went into extra games. When the brand-new shoes were brought, everybody tried to help Gonzales get ready and so end the delay. Among the helpers was Ted Schroeder, Gonzales' old nemesis, who was to umpire the main event. He was putting the laces into one of the new shoes. "I never thought I'd see the day," said Schroeder, wagging his head in mock sorrow, "when I'd be lacing Gonzales' shoes." That night Pancho won 6-4, 8-6.
To the question, "What is the best thing about being a celebrity?" Gonzales replies, "The money." The current tour may bring him $100,000; he will soon be in a position to retire. But first he would like to defeat Lew Hoad, the young Australian who is now out of reach because he is an amateur.
"I could have a cocktail lounge," says Pancho, talking of the future. "Or I could be a tennis instructor. I average 180 at bowling and I could turn pro." But there are even better things in life than these. Gonzales thinks seriously of owning a garage and machine shop equipped not only for work on standard cars, but for turning old heaps into good hot rods. In his pre-truancy days, he showed a gift in high school for mathematics and mechanics. Being himself souped-up by nature for high performance, he responds to the same quality in engines. He would like to drive in the Indianapolis "500." He has never been in an Indianapolis-type car, but "I have read a lot about them," he says. "I think I could do it."
"Pancho is conservative," says Perry Jones. "He always has been." And he goes on to explain that by "conservative" he means well-behaved.
"His powers of concentration are not what I'd call those of a champion," says his old friend and doubles partner Pancho Segura. "He goes into lapses. He can still improve a lot, but I can't. I'm already doing my best."