PANCHO GONZALEZ INDUCTED INTO US OPEN COURT OF CHAMPIONS
International Media Selects Champion and Pioneer to be Honored
in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday evening, September 3
Noted Actor Esai Morales Serving as Ceremony Host
New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez to Join On-Court Induction Ceremony
FLUSHING, N.Y., September 1, 2011 – The USTA announced today that Pancho Gonzalez, a tennis pioneer and two-time U.S. National Champion, has been
named the 2011 inductee into the US Open Court of Champions, a US Open and USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center attraction honoring the greatest singles champions in the history of the 130 years of the U.S. Championships/US Open. Gonzalez will be inducted during a ceremony in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday evening, September 3.
The ceremony will be hosted by accomplished actor and a founder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts Esai Morales, who will be joined by New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez for the tribute. Tennis Channel plans to air portions of the ceremony into its evening broadcast.
The US Open Court of Champions salutes the tournament’s all-time greatest champions with an individual permanent monument that serves as a lasting tribute. Gonzalez will join prior inductees Arthur Ashe, Don Budge, Maureen Connolly, Jimmy Connors, Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Althea Gibson, Steffi Graf, Billie Jean King, Jack Kramer, Rod Laver, Ivan Lendl, Molla Bjurstedt Mallory, John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Margaret Osborne duPont, Ken Rosewall, Pete Sampras, Bill Tilden and Helen Wills. A panel of international print and broadcast journalists selected the 2011 inductee from the roster of U.S. champions based on their performances at the tournament and their impact on the growth of the event.
“Pancho Gonzalez was not only a great champion but also a true pioneer in the sport of tennis,” said Jon Vegosen, Chairman of the Board and President, USTA. “He has served and will continue to serve as a role model for generations of Americans, especially Hispanic-American athletes, and I’m proud that his name will live forever amongst the greatest US Open champions.”
Gonzalez broke many tennis barriers. He taught himself how to play on public courts at the age of 12, and was considered one of the most talented tennis players of his generation and was a fan favorite on the professional tour throughout the 1950s and 60s. Early in his career, which spanned four decades, he won back-to-back titles at the U.S. Championships in Forest Hills, N.Y. in 1948-49. He also won two matches to help the U.S. defeat Australia to capture the 1949 Davis Cup title. His passion and intensity led to an illustrious career as the world No. 1 for an unequaled eight years. As a 40-year-old in 1968, he reached the semifinals at Roland Garros and the quarterfinals of the inaugural US Open. The following year, Gonzalez played Charlie Pasarell at Wimbledon in a five-hour match that spanned two days and led to the advent of the tie-break. Gonzalez also became the oldest player to ever win a professional tournament when he won the Des Moines Open just shy of his 44th birthday.
The US Open Court of Champions, a 9,000-square foot outdoor pavilion bounded by the South Entry Gate and the Arthur Ashe Commemorative Garden and Sculpture, celebrates the event’s greatest champions with an individual permanent monument to serve as a lasting tribute. The attraction also features a complete listing of all U.S. singles champions since the competition began in 1881.
The USTA is the national governing body for the sport of tennis in the U.S. and the leader in promoting and developing the growth of tennis at every level — from local communities to the highest level of the professional game. A not-for-profit organization with more than 750,000 members, it invests 100% of its proceeds in growing the game. It owns and operates the US Open, the highest attended annual sporting event in the world, and launched the Olympus US Open Series linking 10 summer tournaments to the US Open. In addition, it owns the 90-plus Pro Circuit events throughout the U.S, and selects the teams for the Davis Cup, Fed Cup, Olympic and Paralympic Games. The USTA philanthropic entity, USTA Serves, provides grants and scholarships and helps underserved youth and people with disabilities. For more information on the USTA, log on to usta.com, “like” the official Facebook page facebook.com/usta or follow @usta on Twitter.
For more information, contact:
Chris Widmaier, Managing Director, Communications, USTA
(914) 696-7284; email@example.com
The raging bull of tennis
When I was 11, my Aunt Amelia took me to see Pancho Gonzales play at the L.A. Tennis Club. I spent a lot of time with my free-spirited aunt who was divorced and childless. One thing was for sure, Amelia liked men and they liked her.My aunt had a major crush on Pancho. Then again, most women did. He was 6 foot 3, movie-star handsome and had an explosive temper that made you watch him. As Jimmy Connors said, “It was like staring into the flame of a fire.” Powerful and cat-quick, Pancho was a fierce competitor who seemingly would rather die than lose.
In those days tennis was a country club sport and the players were exceedingly genteel. Pancho was hardly genteel. As Pancho Segura put it, “Pancho was very even tempered. Always mad.”
The oldest of seven children to immigrant parents, Ricardo Alonso Gonzales was born in Los Angeles in 1928. He was nicknamed “Pancho,” a derogatory name often given to Mexican-Americans. But around the house he was always called Richard.
Gonzales grew up near the L.A. Coliseum, worlds away from country clubs. At 12, his mother bought him a 50-cent tennis racket. (He had hoped for a bike.) One day Pancho walked to the public courts at Exposition Park and the rest is history.
An incredible natural athlete, Pancho taught himself to play and, remarkably, within a few years he was winning junior tournaments. But trouble and Pancho were never far apart.
Pancho’s passion for tennis fueled his disinterest in school. His truancy violated Southern California Tennis Association rules and he was banned from tournaments. Then, at 15, he was arrested for burglary and spent a year in reform school (followed by a stint in the Navy, which ended with a dishonorable discharge).
Returning to L.A., Pancho dedicated himself to tennis, developing an overpowering 120-mph serve and exquisitely deft volleys. His progress was so remarkable that, in 1948, and as the last seed, Pancho shocked the tennis world by winning the U.S. Championship (now the U.S. Open).
The tennis community regarded Pancho’s victory as a fluke. This only set the stage for the 1949 finals where Pancho met the heavily favored Ted Schroeder. In one of the greatest matches in U.S. Open history, Pancho rallied from two sets to love to win the championship and, for the second year in a row, was the number one amateur in the country.
Married to his childhood sweetheart, and with a baby, Pancho, 21, signed a $50,000-a-year contract and joined the pro tour. But this barred him from the glamorous amateur events such as Wimbledon (until 1968 and the “Open era”).
While a rookie, he struggled against reigning champ Jack Kramer. Gonzales eventually became the top tennis player in the world for an unprecedented eight straight years. (And in the top 10 for 21 years.) His career spanned a remarkable quarter-century.
In 1968, at 40, Pancho reached the semi-finals of the French Open and the quarter-finals of the U.S. Open. Three years later, he won the L.A. Open beating a 19-year-old Jimmy Connors. The next year he won his last ATP tournament, three months shy of his 44th birthday (still a men’s tennis record).
Richard Alonso Gonzales was a charismatic icon and also a brooding lone wolf. An inner city kid, he took tennis from behind country club walls and brought it out onto the streets, defying everyone and everything: parents, opponents, sponsors and even age.
One battle Pancho couldn’t win was against cancer. In 1995 he died at age 67. Ever tempestuous, Gonzales had been married six times. (Kramer joked, “He never got along with his ex-wives, but that didn’t stop him from marrying.”) Pancho left eight children, ranging in age from 7 to 46.
Where does Pancho rank in tennis history? Dr. Allen Fox, a renowned sports psychologist, former NCAA champion and three-time Davis Cup winner, considers Gonzales the greatest player of all-time. But perhaps a 1950s star, Santa Monica’s Gussie Moran, described Pancho best, “Watching Gonzales was like seeing a God patrolling his personal heaven.”
Tomorrow evening, Pancho will finally be enshrined into the U.S. Open’s Court of Champions. (A high school dropout, he’s being “presented” by U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ). My late Aunt Amelia would have been thrilled. Actually, if she’d gotten her wish, this column might have been about my late Uncle Pancho.
If you missed the ceremony when it aired on The Tennis Channel, you can still watch the special video message from Robert Redford to Pancho Gonzales by clicking on the link: http://2011.usopen.org/en_US/news/articles/2011-09-03/201109031315091677961.html