If you have not read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 or Part 4 of this blog series please click on the links to check them out. This is the final article in my “Greatest Tennis Player Of All Time” series. Before you make a decision on who you believe is the G.O.A.T I’m going to introduce you to a largely “unknown legend”. He is universally considered one of the all time greatest tennis players by everyone who played with or against him. Even today many experts consider him the G.O.A.T
Richard (Pancho) Gonzales
Pancho Gonzales was an American tennis player. He was the World No. 1 professional tennis player for an unequalled eight years in the 1950s and early 1960s. He won two Major titles and fifteen Pro Slam titles. In his professional career, Gonzales won the United States Professional Championship eight times, the Wembley professional title in London four times, and the Tournament of Champions three times. In pro matches Gonzales went on to beat Ken Rosewall (a huge rivalry) by a final score of 50 matches to 26. He swept the Australian Tour in November–December 1954 by beating Frank Sedgman 16-9, Ken McGregor 15-0, and Pancho Segura, 4-2.
If this isn’t impressive enough, he also beat in head-to-head pro tours, all of the best amateurs who turned pro. This included every Wimbledon champion for 10 years in a row!
Most of Gonzales’s career as a professional tennis player fell before the start of the open era of tennis in 1968, and he was therefore ineligible to compete at the Grand Slam events between 1949 (when he turned pro) and the start of the open era in 1968 (read more about this in Part 4). As has been observed about other great players such as Rod Laver, Gonzales almost certainly would have won a number of additional Grand Slam titles had he been permitted to compete in those tournaments during that 18-year period. Jack Kramer, the long time tennis promoter, has speculated that Gonzales would have won an additional 11 titles at the Forest Hill and Wimbledon tournaments alone.
Jack Kramer, writes that although Laver was “absolutely unbeatable for a year or two late in the 1960s”, a “careful comparison” could be made between Laver and the somewhat older Gonzales and that Kramer is “positive that Gonzales could have beaten Laver regularly. Kramer sees as evidence of Gonzales’s superiority over Laver the fact that Gonzales defeated Laver in a US$10,000 winner-take-all, five-set match before 15,000 spectators in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in February 1970, when Gonzales was 41 years old and Laver was still considered the World No. 1 player.
Gonzales was well known for his fiery will to win, his enormous serve, and his dominating net game. This combination was so powerful that the rules on the professional tour were briefly changed to prohibit him from advancing to the net immediately after serving. Under the new rules, the returned serve had to bounce before the server could make his own first shot, thereby keeping Gonzales from playing his usual serve-and-volley game. He won even so, and the rules were changed back.
Let me just say that again…the rules of the game were changed because he was too good. Truly Incredible! Watch the video bellow to hear what some other experts have to say about Pancho Gonzales.
Before I sign off I want to make one thing clear. It is easy to claim one player is the greatest because of the amount of titles and perhaps he or she is the greatest accumulator of titles but ‘the greatest’ is not the person with the most titles but as the dictionary says ‘the highest in quality or a distinguished person’ (above the rest).
In actual fact the word ‘great’ comes from both the German and Dutch words for big. So if we are guided by the true original meaning of the word, judging the greatest tennis player of all time should be simply a case of measurement. Players such a Karlovic and Isner and other big players are the greatest of all time. For a bit of fun we could always get Hawkeye involved to do the measuring with their high tech equipment. Then again what’s the true definition of big? is it size or weight? But seriously, wordplay aside, the dictionary says origin of big is ‘strong and mighty’ perhaps that’s the best description yet! Anyway I’m going a bit stir crazy now.
A recent quote from Federer is a sensible one. When asked if his era is the greatest he says “I’d say no, but I don’t know, because then you have Sampras Edberg Becker and Agassi those guys weren’t good or what? Further back Connors and Lendls, they weren’t good either? I mean I don’t know so for me that’s respectful.”
Perhaps its easier and more fun to create the ultimate player. Picking a serve from one player and a backhand from another. Like a PS3 video game we can create our best players to compete. But if I had to pick one player who I think is the best of all time, I’d say ME! Now get back to work! Someone’s watching you;)