Sunday, 4 September 2011

Tennis Match Marathon

Ricardo "Pancho" Gonzales, who was ranked the world's number one professional tennis player for eight years in the 1950's and 1960's, played in one of the longest tennis matches in history.  Ricardo Gonzales was born and raised in California, the son of Mexican-immigrant working-class parents.  At 12 years old, he first started playing tennis when his mother bought him a 51-cent raquette.  Largely self-taught, he used to watch the professionals play on the court in Exposition Court in Los Angeles.  Because of his brushes with the law in his teen years and the fact that he was from "the wrong side of the tracks", Gonzales was largely ostracized by the Anglo-Saxon upper-class tennis establishment. 

Even so, he seemed to have a natural athletic ability and by 19 years old, Ricardo stood over 6 feet tall and yet he could move like a "big cat" on the tennis court according to fellow player Tony Trabert.  Gonzales won the US Open in 1948 and 1949 at the tender ages of 20 and 21.  He dominated the sport in the 1950's as a professional, winning the Wembley Pro Championship from 1950 to 1952 and the US Pro Championship from 1953 to 1959.  He continued to play in the 1960's and had respectable placings, including a win and some final or semi-final matches.

But the game that is recorded in the history books as the longest tennis match in professional history took place in 1969.  The 41 year old Gonzales was paired with the 25 year old Charlie Pasarell at Wimbledon.  The match opened with a gruelling first set where the two players matched each other wit for wit, Pasarell winning 24 games to 22.  With dusk approaching, Gonzales pleaded with the referee to postpone the match to the following day, but the referee refused and the game continued with Pasarell winning the second set 6 to 1, Gonzales pretty much throwing in the towel.  Finally, the referee agreed to postpone the match to the following day where Gonzales came back stronger than ever.  The "big cat" was back with a vengeance, rebounding to win the next three sets convincingly 16-14, 6-3, 11-9.  The tennis match lasted 12 hours and 5 minutes and resulted in the tie-breaker rule in tennis today. 

Unfortunately, although Gonzales progressed to the forth round of Wimbledon, he was beaten there in four sets by Arthur Ashe.  It was not until Wimbledon 2010 that the 1969 longest match record was broken by Isner and Mahut who played an 11-hour 183-game long match.  The "big cat" not only had the moves on the court, but the physical and mental stamina to back it up, likely due to his maturity.  In all Gonzales won 113 titles in his 25 year career.

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