Hey johnny, Kramer 8°??? WTF!, kramer is overrated, kramer disliked Gonzales.
Look at this and change your perception
PANCHO GONZALEZ:GREATEST TENNIS PLAYER OF ALL TIME
Now with the U. S. Open over and fourteen slam titles under his belt on his "come-back" victory, Pete Sampras will undoubtedly be hailed more than ever as "arguably" the greatest tennis player of all time. Many previous doubters will now be convinced of Sam-pras’s unique place in tennis’ hallowed pantheon.
We submit, however, that there would be no "argument" whatsoever about whom the true winner of that ranking would be if we would but take a little effort to make sense of the exact meaning of this special honor: the greatest tennis player of all time. Heretofore we have been dazzled by the glitter of the slam (Australian, French, Wimbledon, U. S. Open) titles, because we have made a fetish of them without giving the matter a great deal of thought – incredible as it may seem for such ardent devotees of the game.
Whenever the name of Richard Pancho Gonzalez comes up in these discussions, he is summarily dismissed for the same incredibly obtuse argument reflected by former great tennis player, and Pancho nemesis, Jack Kramer, when he said, however well intentioned: "The tragedy of his greatness is you look up the records 25 years from now, they don’t show anything Gonzales really did, because he turned pro so early."
What Kramer (and all the sportswriters who echo him) is referring to is that Gonzalez turned professional in 1949 at age 21, making him ineligible to play in the slam tourna-ments, which were available only to amateurs. He was, thus, emasculated and banished from the top spot on the hierarchy of the greatest tennis players. In recent polls at the end of 1999 that tried to select the greatest tennis players of the twentieth century, Pancho was not even listed among the top twenty in some surveys.
So, we ask, what does winning slam titles have to do with measuring the greatness of
a tennis player? Amazing that sportswriters and historians of tennis have yet to ask and assess this most basic of questions in relation to our subject. To answer this simple but indispensable question, we should at least try to make a tiny bit of sense of the value of these mindless sacrosanct titles.
Anyone who is even a little conversant with tennis knows that "open tennis" began in 1968. That is, before then, only amateurs could play slam tournaments, like little, unsea-soned boys, while the professional tennis players, barred from these tournaments, could only compete in the professional circuits. And, as Bud Elsie said, ". . . there isn’t an ama-teur to be found who can beat any of the top pros." In short, there was virtually no com-petition between the amateurs playing the slam tournaments and the pros playing on the pro tours. It would seem obvious to conclude that the winners of slam titles before the open era were inferior players, while winning those titles, to the pros playing in the pro tours. Therefore, neither the slam titles nor the amateur players winning them should be given anywhere near the same value before 1968 that we have given them since then, the beginning of the open era.
It is pure idiocy, then, to consider those slam titles as a yardstick for measuring the greatness of a player throughout history as if there were no difference in the play and players before and after 1968. If the term "greatness" is to take on any kind of rational meaning, it should refer to the players’ ability on the court in relation to their competi-tion, and not confuse it with the specious glitter of the slam titles, per se, especially if a difference is to be made between those who won them before 1968 and those after.
What is clearly in order (and has been for years) is the re-writing of tennis history so as to give the true owner of the title "The Greatest Tennis Player of All Time" his rightful due. Why it has not been done until now defies all comprehension.
Our concern here, then, is the question of greatness of play and not the misunderstand-ing and distortion of the value of amateur "slam" titles. We can begin by assessing the play of Roy Emerson, king of amateurs, who won 12 slam titles before 1968 but was a wholesale flop on the professional level, where he failed to win even one championship and was crushed by Gonzalez when they met on the pro tour. Yet when Sampras was challenging Emerson’s twelve (amateur) titles, much was made of the fact that Sampras, as a pro, had the chance of tying, and later breaking, that record of slam titles, as if Emer-son’s titles were the equal of those Sampras had won.
In the case of Rod Laver, often listed among the best, if not the greatest, player of all time, his reputation derives in great part from his having won two grand slams (all four titles won in the same year). When he won his first in 1962, Laver was still an amateur. His play was that of an amateur, as his play against his first pro opponent, Lew Hoad, emphatically showed the following year when Laver turned pro.
Cas Fish describes the debacle in Tennis Today: "Contracted to play Hoad 13 best-of-five set matches, Laver won the first set of the first match, but was unable to win another. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to work out that this meant that Hoad won 39 con-secutive sets from Laver. . . . Hoad at that time had virtually retired from the game, was suffering with a chronically bad back, and had had only three weeks to practice before the match. . . . It rather makes nonsense of Laver’s first grand slam."
Dave Anderson adds another brush stroke to the thoroughness of Laver’s introduction to the pro tour, talking about how Laver reacted after being trounced by Ken Rosewall in his next match: "Laver was thrashed [by] and rated Hoad as ‘the best I’ve ever played against.’ The next day he lost to Rosewall. ‘I thought Lew was good, Laver said . . ., ‘but Kenny is twice as good as Lew. . . . If I’m going to beat [Rosewall] consistently, I’ve got to learn how to play tennis all over again.’"
These impressions give the necessary perspective to Laver’s first "grand slam": the excellent play of an amateur, who cannot give a top pro a decent game. Laver himself says he needs "to learn how to play tennis all over again" if he hopes to compete with the pros. As good as Laver was during his relatively short professional run, he was not in any strict sense dominant from 1963 to 1969, the latter year when he won his only pro-fessional grand slam and also the last year he ever won a singles slam title, at age 31. Perhaps his major claim to fame is the two grand slams no one else has been able to match. But as we have seen, his first grand slam (in amateur competition) should not be given nearly the same weight as the one he won as a pro.
We have also talked about Sampras’ 14 professional slam titles. They were won sporadically over the course of several years. He was relatively dominant for a few years but was blanked completely for two years (2000-2002) at age 29 and has never won on clay (French Open). For his latest victorious tournament, the 2002 U. S. Open, he was seeded No. 17 in a desperate attempt at a come-back. Many sportswriters were writing him off as a washed-up former champ. With increasing odds it may well have been his last hurrah.
On the other hand, Pancho Gonzalez was, as Bud Elsie says, ". . . absolute and merci-less ruler of the tennis world. Gonzalez dominates tennis as probably no other athlete does in any other sport." That dominance was not for a few sporadic tournaments but for an unbroken span of twelve years (1951-62)!! Unlike Sampras he also won on clay. And was still winning major tournaments, beating the top pros into his 40s!
Richard Pancho Gonzalez (1928-95) did not have coming up the advantages of his contemporaries or predecessors. [A detailed biography falls beyond the scope of the pre-sent discussion.] With little competition in relatively insignificant amateur venues and a two-year interruption for service in the Navy (1945-46), Pancho was a diamond in the rough when he got the opportunity to compete in important tournaments after his service. Even with so little formal instruction and preparation after leaving the Navy, however, he was already beating such world-class players as Jaroslav Drobny, Frank Parker, and Bob Falkenburg in 1947, which earned him a No. 17 national ranking and a No. 8 seeding for the 1948 U. S. Championships (still an amateur slam tournament).
Because Jack Kramer (winner of the 1947 U. S. Championships) had turned pro and the top-ranked amateur, Ted Schroeder, did not compete in the 1948 U. S. Champion-ships, Pancho was seen as a hallow champion when he won the title. But Gonzalez made believers of the doubters when he defended his title in 1949, beating the highly touted Schroeder himself.
After his shocking victory over Schroeder, Gonzalez was lured by the enticing emolu-ments of the pro tour, the kind he had never known before or dreamed of in his life. His introductory tour in 1950 proved a rude awakening for him, however, when he was em-barrassed by Jack Kramer (winner of the U. S. Championships in ‘46’ and ’47 and Wim-bledon ’47 and considered the greatest player of his time), who walloped him 96-27 in 103 matches.
Because of his dominance between 1946-53, a span of eight years, Kramer has been considered one of the greatest players of all time, if not the greatest. However, this span is grossly overstated and misleading, perhaps mainly due to Kramer adherents among the sportswriters and Kramer himself, notorious self-promoter.
Even while Kramer was still considered King of the Court by the sportswriters and the public in 1951, the year after Gonzalez’s disastrous loss to Kramer on his maiden pro tour, Gonzalez was not only beating Kramer regularly but dominating him. Hence, though Kramer (as well as sportswriters) may speak of Gonzalez’s reign as King of the Court not beginning till 1954, Gonzalez consistently trounced Kramer from 1951 onward. So, though sportswriters insist on crediting Kramer as King of the Court from 1946-53, the facts show otherwise. In the 1953 World’s Professional Tennis Championships, presented by Jack March, he says: "Vastly improved since losing a cross-country exhi-bition tour to Jack Kramer three years ago, Gonzales didn’t mature tennis-wise until 1952, although he beat Kramer for the World Indoor title as far back as 1951, and has had the ‘Indian sign’ on Kramer ever since – having defeated Jack each time during the past three years."
Gonzalez himself confirms the facts: "As a matter of fact I haven’t lost to Kramer since 1951 . . . And in 1952 I beat him twice – once in the Philadelphia Inquirer tourna-ment, in straight sets, and later in the year in the finals of the International at Wembley, England. Jake [Kramer] even had me 4-1 in the fifth set in that match, and I still beat him!"
In an interview in Racquet (May 1953), Gonzalez reiterates: "Kramer played in two tournaments and lost both of them . . . I’ve played Kramer three tournament matches and won all three . . . the tournament in Europe which is called the International Champion-ship, in which all top pros are invited to participate, I have won the last three years." The last three years means and includes ’53, ’52, and ’51. And the sportswriters and histori-ans persist in considering Kramer King of the Court during this period, when the record clearly shows that Gonzalez was dominating him and everyone else since 1951.
After the death of Gonzalez in 1995, Kramer, still promoting himself as King till ‘53, commented: "He [Gonzalez] had no Wimbledons [singles] . . . but from 1954 to 1962, he was the best player that walked on the court."
Neil Anderson, who spoke two days after Gonzalez’s death, adds: "Gonzalez went on to dominate the pro tour from 1954 to 1962, beating amateur champions as Frank Sedg-man, Pancho Segura, Tony Trabert, Lew Hoad and Kenneth [Ken] Rosewall in head-to-head matches before retiring in 1963."
It should be clear by now, if we consider performance rather than sporadic titles, that Gonzalez dominated the World of Tennis from 1951 (not 1954) to 1962, a twelve-year span of dominance, as opposed to Kramer’s five (1946-50, not ’53), making Gonzalez by far the greatest tennis player in history. Who else has such a record, of unbroken domi-nance, that even begins to approach Gonzalez’s?
The Los Angeles Times (August 24, 1988) contained a review of the careers of the best tennis players in history soon after Jimmy Connors had been ranked No. 1 five times. No one, including the likes of Tilden, Budge, Kramer, Laver, et al., had won more than nine No.1 rankings – except for Gonzalez, who won 14!! This is not for occasional amateur or pro slam titles. That is for an unbroken string of No. 1 world rankings! How many does Sampras have, or likely to have?
When we hear of Borg’s astounding feat in having won five straight Wimbledons, we should consider (1959 winner of the Australian and Wimbledon titles) Alex Olmedo’s observation when he says, "Nobody mentions the fact that he [Gonzalez] beat every Wimbledon champion 10 years in a row . . . if there had been open tennis, he might have won 10 Wimbledons." The record shows that most Wimbledon winners have won at least one other slam tournament. Hence, it would not compromise our credibility unduly to believe that Gonzalez, conqueror of every Wimbledon champion for 10 years, would not have won at least one other title each of those 10 years. That would make it at least 20 slam titles, and probably a few grand slams! That’s dominance!! Is there any other tennis player on record who comes anywhere close to that?
S. L. Price in Sports Illustrated ("The Lone Wolf," June 24, 2002) writes: "Pancho Gonzalez may have been the best tennis player of all time . . . Kramer rates Gonzalez a better player than Sampras or Laver. Ashe called Gonzalez the only idol he ever had. Segura, Olmedo and Ralston say Gonzalez was the best player in history. Connors said once that if he needed someone to play for his life, he’d pick Gonzalez. Pasarell agrees: ‘He was the toughest competitor who ever played. He just fought and fought until he died. . . . [In 1971] the 43-year old Gonzalez beat a 19-year-old Connors from the base-line in the Pacific Southwest Open."
To illustrate how dominant Pancho was over these newly minted winners of the ama-teur slam titles, we can highlight some of the most stellar examples, who were advertised on winning more than one of these titles in a given year "the world’s greatest tennis play-er." Some of them became outstanding pro champions – once Gonzalez retired.
As a promoter of perhaps the most successful pro tour, Jack Kramer tried recruiting the best competition against King Gonzalez, usually "the world’s greatest tennis player," like Tony Trabert, winner of Wimbledon and the U. S. Championships in 1955, to sell tickets but also to topple Gonzalez, if possible, with whom he had a running feud over their contract. To provide this competition against Gonzalez, Kramer had these novices especially coached for months. Even with all the coaching his new over-matched rival received, Gonzalez demolished Trabert 75-27 in 102 matches. This dominance over Tra-bert continued throughout all the tours they played together for years.
The next "world’s greatest tennis player" who fell haplessly into the clutches of the King was Ken Rosewall, the player whom Laver would consider twice as good as Lew Hoad and convince him he would have to learn to play tennis all over again. On his first pro tour in 1957, Rosewall quickly learned why Gonzalez was King, losing to him 51-26 in 77 matches. Gonzalez maintained this dominance all the years they played against each other in the pro tour. For many years battling Laver on the pro tour, Rosewall gave Laver as much as he got from him.
Some sportswriters believe that if Lew Hoad had not been plagued by his chronic bad back, which shortened his career on the court, he might have become the greatest tennis player in history. Nevertheless, at his best, Hoad fell victim to Gonzalez’s dominance like the rest of the others, losing to Gonzalez in every tour they played over the years be-ginning with Hoad’s initial pro tour. Hoad, after being coached personally by Kramer for months, while Gonzalez was not playing and gaining 15 pounds over his competitive weight, started strong against the King, leading 18-9 at the outset. But, as soon as Gonza-lez got back into shape, he quickly turned the tide and overwhelmed his young talented opponent beating him 51-36 in 87 matches.
Bad back or not Hoad, with all his skills, talent, power, and speed, was not only domi-nated by Gonzalez, but even Rosewall, who was himself dominated by Gonzalez, could say in Dave Anderson’s The Return of Champion [a book on Gonzalez]: I’d say that I’ve beaten Lew [Hoad] in 20 of our 25 matches in the last three years." Hence, however much good press Hoad may receive from the sportswriters, it is clear he could not even dominate a player consistently thrashed by Gonzalez.
In Elliot Berry’s Topspin (1996), Rosewall expresses his respect for Gonzalez’s great-ness: "I am an admirer of the Gonzalez game . . . Pancho is the toughest opponent I have ever faced [not excluding his long-time rival Laver]. . . . He is difficult to play because of his big serve and his all-around ability. . . . Pancho is not only a great athlete but a great retriever as well. I have to class him a notch above Hoad."
Gonzalez’s charisma and spectacular dominance on the court was a magnet for the general tennis public as well as Hollywood celebrities. Bud Collins remarks: "A large crowd was behind Gonzalez, as always. To many of them the dark, appealing Gonzalez was tennis. . . . A pro stopover without big Pancho was a big bust, most promoters felt."
Collins put it in broader perspective when he added: "For a decade Gonzalez and pro tennis were synonymous. A promoter couldn’t hope to rally crowds unless Pancho was on the bill. The other names [Trabert, Rosewall, Hoad, Laver, Cooper, Segura, Ander-son, Sedgman, Olmedo, Parker, MacKay] meant little."
Tennis great Don Budge is said to have remarked that Gonzalez is, "the greatest play-er never to have won Wimbledon." In an earlier interview with Budge, Julius Heldman says: "For decades players argued the relative merits of Tilden and Budge when discuss-ing the never-ending question of the greatest player of all time. Budge himself now feels that ‘Gorgo’ [Gonzalez] has earned the No. 1 spot."
When asked the same question, as to whom he thought the greatest tennis player of all time was, Hoad, who became one of Gonzalez’s friends on the tour, said humorously, with no ethnic slur intended, "That Mex-y-can prick Gonzalez."
Yet, there are those persistent parasitical sportswriters who will search out the most negative things about Gonzalez, however inane or irrelevant, perhaps with the hope of making themselves look good if they can bring down the giant. Some attack him because Gonzalez was "a loner," difficult to get along with, as if that had anything to do with his greatness as a player. Others will try to tear him down because of his "hot temper." Still others will cast their stones condemning him for his many marriages (six). But even his detractors do not and cannot attack him as a player or his record.
Much ink has been spilt over the subject of Gonzalez’s "hot temper." Allen Fox, long-time practice partner of Pancho’s and sportswriter, comments on it: "Pancho was one of those rare individuals who could actually play better when he got mad. . . . Anger motiva-ted Gonzalez. It increased his adrenaline and made him more alert, quicker, stronger and more focused on winning than ever. He became meaner and more menacing. Compared to Gonzalez, Connors and MacEnroe were pussycats."
Though sportswriters are wont to give a most negative spin to Gonzalez’s hot temper, Allen Fox, as much object of Pancho’s "fury" as anyone, could say after years of playing with him, "I idolized, loved, and profoundly respected [Gonzalez] the man."
Kramer echoes Fox’s assessment of Pancho’s mastery when angry: "When he [Gon-zalez] got upset, he played better. . . . He played mad most of the time."
Laver (often thumped by Gonzalez despite differences in age) joins the chorus: "We hoped he [Gonzalez] wouldn’t get upset; it just made him tougher." And though Laver could at one point say, "He [Gonzalez] was ungracious to say the least, a loner, and an jerk on court," he could still appreciate the beauty of Pancho’s play. "I was find-ing myself enthralled to watch him [Gonzalez], just like any other spectator."
Almost in apotheosis in speaking of Gonzalez’s enthralling play, sportswriter Rex Bellamy notes: "To watch Gonzalez was to think in terms of poetry and music. He did not play the game. He composed it."
Commentators who have never seen Gonzalez play may speak of him as being a one-dimensional player: cannon serve and volley. But his game would not have seemed poetry to keen observers if that were the case. Allen Fox explains: "His [Gonzalez’s] re-putation was as a huge server, but in reality, Gonzalez was a ‘touch’ player. . . . Pancho had wonderful control and an instinct for putting the ball in awkward positions for his opponent."
Fox also observes what probably cannot be said of any other player in history: "I never personally witnessed Gonzalez lose his serve when he was serving for a set or match . . . His first serve went in with uncanny frequency . . . his nerves were steely calm under pressure. In the clutch Pancho simply did not miss."
In the clutch Pancho simply did not miss! He never lost his serve while serving for a set or match! What other tennis player can lay claim to such adulation?
We have employed various criteria for measuring the greatness of Pancho Gonzalez in contrast to other tennis players proclaimed the best, and in a few cases incorrectly consi-dered the best in history. We have seen how the record shows that Gonzalez has won hands down. Not only have we seen his dominance over all the competition but also for a much longer span than anyone else can boast, as well as ranking No. 1 many more times than anyone else.
However, we might add another dimension that cannot be attributed to anyone else in history: winning at the highest level of tennis longer than anyone else. Unlike other top players who fizzled out at a relatively early age, Gonzalez could still beat the top players on any given day and win pro tournaments well into his 40s. Borg retired in his twenties and was unable to compete against top players when he tried a come-back within just a few years. McEnroe was another washout when he retired young and could not compete a few months later. Neither Budge nor Laver was at all effective as top competitors by the age of 37. For all practical purposes Laver was burnt out after he won his pro grand slam in ’69 at age 31. Budge retired and tried a come-back at age 37 in an attempt to re-place Jack Kramer as King of the Court in 1953 only to be crushed by Gonzalez, who had already unofficially dethroned Kramer in ’51.
At the top of his game Gonzalez retired a couple of times, but was lured back to com-pete again in the pro Championships, which he won handily. However, just before retir-ing for the first time, after the 1960 tour, Gonzalez was made victim of Kramer’s "bounce rule," an attempt by Kramer to control Gonzalez’s indomitable serve-and-volley game for the 1960 tour, and to level the playing field because there was not enough competition for him from among the top pros. The idea was to let the ball bounce before the server could return the service return. But in spite of this ploy (just one more of Kramer’s schemes in trying to control Gonzalez), the swarthy King demolished all the available competition, like Rosewall, Trabert, Olmedo, Segura, Ashley Cooper (’58 winner of Wimbledon), and Mal Anderson (winner of the U. S. Championships) 45-8 (at one point it was 21-1). Gonzalez returned to win the 1961 pro tour championships after retiring at the end of the ’60 tour, beating Hoad, Barry MacKay, Butch Buchholz, Olmedo, and the new star Andres Gimeno, who lost to Gonzalez 16-9, after which Gonzalez retired again. This time he retired for good as a regular member of the tour to give more of his time to drag racing, for which he also had a fanatical passion.
However, the ticket office had been crying out to Gonzalez in the intervening years to boost sales and replenish his depleting bank account. After making some preparations, Gonzalez entered the 1964 World Professional Championships and won, beating Gimeno for the title as he had done the last time, as if the King had not left the tennis scene at all in beating all the pro competition, as he had done so convincingly for so many years.
At this stage in Gonzalez’s career, at the age of 36 and beyond, there was still no "tie-breaker" in the game, hence it became the strategy of his younger opponents to make every effort to survive the first three sets to tire the aging tiger, who almost certainly would have won many more titles at this stage in his career had he had the advantage of today’s tie-breaker.
Even without the tie-breaker Gonzalez entered and won the 1964 U. S. Professional Indoor Championships at White Plains, N. Y., beating Anderson, Hoad, Rosewall (No. 1 pro champ since Gonzalez’s retirement), and Laver (recent 1962 winner of the amateur grand slam).
Howard Cosell commented on this amazing victory by Gonzalez some years later: "I remember once when he [Gonzalez] was long past his prime watching at . . . White Plains (1964 U. S. Professional Indoor Championships) . . . where he consecutively defeated Anderson, Rosewall, Hoad, and young Rod Laver to win the tournament. . . . It struck me as one of the extraordinary achievements in my lifetime in sports."
After a study made by James Fixx, concerned with highest achievement by athletes of advanced age (sponsored by Nike Sports Research Laboratory), he concluded: "Gonza-les’s extended heyday could not, of course, last forever, but while it did it was incompar-able."
That "incomparable extended heyday," unmatched by any other tennis player in histo-ry,"continued through the next few years. In 1965 at Dallas, Texas, at age 37, Gonzalez entered and won the first nationally televised tennis tournament, in which he beat the top pros, including Sedgman, Rosewall, and Laver.
In another exhibition of extraordinary tennis, at age 38, Gonzalez traveled to Wem-bley, England once again to enter and win, once again, this time beating Rosewall 15-13 in the semi-final, and, with only a 10-15 minute rest, beat Laver in three sets in the final for the title.
To inaugurate the "open era" in 1968, Gonzalez, now 40, entered the French Open, easily beating Istvan Gulyas (finalist the previous two years while tourney was still for amateurs) in straight sets, devastated amateur champ Roy Emerson in the quarter finals but lost to Laver in the semi-finals.
Still remembered as perhaps the most astounding match of all time is the contest between Gonzalez (age 41) and Pasarell (age 25 with a 1967 No. 1 U. S. ranking) at the 1969 Wimbledon Open, in which the two played their historic 112-game, two-day mara-thon, in which Gonzalez finally prevailed when his much younger opponent crumbled under the overwhelming pressure. Despite his incredible heroics in this match, however, Pancho, still without benefit of the tie-breaker, lost to his protégé, Arthur Ashe, in the fourth round.
But that same year Pancho entered the 1969 Howard Hughes Open and won the tour-nament, annihilating new tennis darling John Newcome (with a No. 1 world ranking in ’67, ’70, and ’71), beating Rosewall, Stan Smith (No. 1 world ranking in ’72), to whom Laver lost, and Ashe (winner of U. S. Open, Wimbledon, and a No. 1 ranking in ’75) in three easy sets for the title, 6-0, 6-2, 6-4.
The following year Gonzalez (age 42) was lured to play in a special winner-take-all format against Laver (1969 winner of the only men’s pro grand slam) at Madison Square Garden before a full house of 15,000 fans, which Gonzalez won. Two weeks later in De-troit with the same format, Gonzalez battered a hapless John Newcome (age 26) in three easy straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, and 6-2.
Gonzalez returned late the same year for the 1970 Howard Hughes Open, in which he trounced Andres Gimeno, Tony Roche (No. 2 world ranking in ’69), and beat Laver in four sets for the title. At practically age 44, Gonzalez entered and won his last pro tour-nament at the 1972 Des Moines Indoor Championships, beating Frenchman George Go-ven, as the oldest player in history to win an ATP open tournament. That same year Gon-zalez played in 14 tournaments, winning 32 of 43 matches (for a .744 average).
One can read in the USTA Official Encyclopedia of Tennis that: "Many experts believe that if ‘open’ tennis had come in the early 1950s Pancho Gonzalez would have been rank-ed as the world’s greatest player."
The Official USLTA Yearbook adds another dimension: ". . . [that Gonzalez is] one of the most colorful players ever, with unsurpassed ability to raise his game when threatened with defeat."
Julius Heldman observes: "The Gonzalez game has always been admired by every top player. He has no critics. He is universally recognized as a great stylist, a hungry competitor and winner."
We have already heard some of this admiration from some of Gonzalez’s rivals. We can complete our discussion with the feelings of a few more, beginning with perhaps his severest tormentor, Jack Kramer: "As far as I can see, he has no weaknesses; he is as perfect a player as I have ever seen or hope to see."
Though little love was lost between Gonzalez and Trabert, the latter has been able to say: "Gonzales is the greatest natural athlete tennis has ever known," and "There’s no question that Pancho has become one of the best of all time. I rank him along with Bill Tilden, Don Budge, and Fred Perry."
Another intense rival and admirer, Marty Riessen in Match Point comments: "Pancho was an idol of mine, as he was to many kids taking up the game in the fifties . . . of all the players I have seen (Hoad, Rosewall, Laver, et al.), I would have to rank Pancho number one . . . simply because, at his best, he could beat everybody else."
Barry MacKay, when asked whom he thought was the greatest player of all time in the San Francisco Examiner, said: "I guess . . . I’d go with Pancho, then Jack Kramer, Lew Hoad, Rod Laver and probably Don Budge. . . . I’ve seen . . . films of him [Tilden]," but "even though he was a fine athlete, I don’t think he was as great an athlete as Gonzalez, Hoad, or even Laver."
Gonzalez’s opponent in the historic match at Wimbledon, Charlie Pasarell, familiar with today’s competitors, offered as recently as 1995: "His greatest asset was that if you had to beat one player for one match where everything was on it, among the players of all time, the player I would take would be Pancho Gonzalez."
More recently in the San Francisco Chronicle, "King of the Court" (1999), sportswri-ter Bruce Jenkins makes a telling comment about Gonzalez in relation to today’s stars: ". . . you put everyone on equal terms, and he [Gonzalez] kicks everyone’s butt. . . . As much as I like Sampras, if you put these two guys on the court, I’m betting that Gonzalez is the last man standing."
Former player, coach, and manger, Ion Tiriac, commenting in 1995, the year that saw the loss of Gonzalez, Hoad, and Fred Perry, said: "Pancho was more the man of the day than anyone else. . . . He was the beginning of professional tennis as we know it. He was the father of everything we have today. . . . He was one of the greatest . . . "
Though there are still those who qualify Gonzalez’s greatness with "he was one of the greatest," we should no longer hide shyly behind such qualifiers and give the man his due by admitting without the smallest doubt that the unadulterated and objectively assessed record patently shows Gonzalez to be the greatest tennis player of all time – by far!
We can only wonder why the record has not been set straight these many years, and why since Gonzalez broke the "racial" barrier long before Althea Gibson or Arthur Ashe, Gonzalez has not received at least as much credit, having been the trailblazer who brought down the ethnic barriers in a previously all-white sport, especially considering that Gonzalez was a much superior player to Ashe. So, whether for being the first to over-come the prejudices of the white tennis community or for his surpassing accomplish-ments and talent, it is criminal not to give Gonzalez what he has richly earned. Fair is fair. The grand slam venue in New York has been named after Ashe. Where is Pancho’s stadium, the man who "was the father of everything we have today" in tennis?