This is the third in a series of examinations of tennis-related legends and whether they are true or false.
This installment is a re-format edition, so these legends have already been posted on this site, just not in this format.
This time around, you get a BONUS legend, with TWO legends involving tennis great Pancho Gonzales!
TENNIS LEGEND: The officials behind the pre-Open pro tennis tournaments once came up with a rule specifically to handicap Pancho Gonzales’ style of play.
Before 1968, there were two separate tennis competitions – “amateur” and “pro.” The amateur tour has most (if not all) of the most famous tournaments, while professional tennis looked a lot different. Rather than showing the best players competing against each other in tournaments, professionals typically went on “tour,” which is sort of like barnstorming – they would travel the world playing each other over and over again. The theory was that fans wanted to see the best players play each other, not a tournament where less famous people might win.
It was this attitude of “making it more entertaining” that led to an interesting decision regarding the rules of professional tennis.
Ricardo Alonso “Pancho” González/Gonzales (1928-1995) was one of the greatest tennis players of all-time.
Noted Tennis commentator Bud Collins has a great quote about Gonzales – “If I had to choose someone to play for my life, it would be Pancho Gonzalez.”
Gonzales became a successful amateur at a young age, leading to him being signed by promoter/player Jack Kramer. At the time, the way the pro tours worked is that players were signed by “promoters” who would then basically own the rights to the player and they would control what the player would do for the next X amount of years. In the case of Kramer, he first signed the young Gonzales to tour against himself (where Kramer won most of the matches) and later, signed him to play against other tennis players (when Gonzales, instead, won most of the matches).
For a remarkable period of about eight years during the late 1950s and early 1960s, Gonzales was the #1 player in professional tennis. During this time, he won the U.S. Professional Championship eight times and the Wembley Professional Championship four times. Also, he beat every Wimbledon champion who turned pro (which was what happened back then – you won Tennis’ most famous tournament, Wimbledon, as an amateur, and then within a year or so, you became a professional tennis player) for ten straight years!!
Gonzales’ serves were likely his biggest advantage over other players (Gonzales was much taller than most other players – and like in most other sports, if you can somehow manage to maneuver a sport while taller, it usually does give you an advantage – the rub is managing to maneuver the sport while taller – which is why so few of Gonzales’ contemporaries WERE as tall as he – because it is very difficult to get the speed and agility you need to compete while using a taller physical frame), but moreover, his ability to serve and then charge the net REALLY helped him a lot. He was so fast that he would serve and almost instantaneously he would be at the net ready to smash back the return volley from his serve.
So during his string of dominance, in keeping with the fact that the pro tour was less about “having the best man win” and more about “entertaining the fans,” the professional tennis association actually came up with a new rule specifically to handicap Gonzales!!!
The new rule stated that the server must wait for the serve to be returned and BOUNCE ONCE before the server could make his first return shot!
Isn’t that a freaky rule?
Luckily for Gonzales, he quickly adapted to the new rules and his dominance continued unabated, and eventually, the new rule was dropped.
No, the only thing that successfully slowed Gonzales down was aging – but even as an older player, he was a respected and feared competitor.
TENNIS LEGEND: Pancho Gonzales received a scar from a knife fight he had when a young teen.
To say Pancho Gonzales was misunderstood during his playing days is an understatement – he was so little known, it’d be hard to say that people knew him enough to MISunderstand him!
One thing that confused many people about Pancho was a scar he had on his left cheek (you can see it clearly in the next picture – oddly enough, it really doesn’t show up in the previous picture – but just to be sure, I’m including a second picture where I circle where the scar is)…
In his auto-biography, Man With a Racket, Gonzales explained the story himself…
Another popular misconception nourished by magazine writers, straining to come up with some sensational copy, was my scar. Around my parents and my own house it was simply referred to as “The Accident.” To hear the writers tell it, this scar, which is quite prominent, running from under my left sideburn and ending at the nose, was inflicted during a pool hall fight. Thousands of tennis spectators believe it to be true, because they think a knife scar and Mexican-American youth go hand in hand.
Not only have I never carried a knife, but as a boy I didn’t even have a bean-shooter!
The disfigurement happened in 1935. 1 was riding a home- made scooter bound for competition in a marble championship. Bill Williams was with me. He was a bigger boy with longer legs and could push his scooter faster. I was lagging behind.
“Come on, Dick!” he yelled.
Trying to close the gap, and paying no attention to the traffic, I got too far in the middle of the street. A car shot by, the door handle hooking inside my cheekbone, laying it open. Results: two weeks of hospitalization and a permanent scar. The car was driven by an off-duty policeman. He was blameless.
A lawyer came over to the house and talked at length with my parents. Extracting some papers from a brief case, he pushed them toward Mom and Dad.
“Just sign’ he said.
Dad asked for what reason.
“We’ll sue and win the case,” the lawyer explained.
“No,” Mom said, “it was Richard’s carelessness. What’s done is done.”
The lawyer was not easily dissuaded. His eyes ran over our inexpensive furniture, took in the many children. “You can use the money,” he pressed.
“Not that kind of money,” Dad said, showing him to the door.
So there ya go!
TENNIS LEGEND: During “The Battle of the Sexes” between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, there were special rules that gave King an advantage.
The Battle of the Sexes was an exhibition tennis match in September of 1973 between Bobby Riggs, a 55-year-old tennis star from the 1940s and Billie Jean King, the 29-year-old female tennis player who was one of the top-ranked female players in the world.
The match was held in Houston, Texas and was nationally televised.
Riggs was a master showman, and he played his male chauvinist card to the tee by challenging all the top female players in the world to a match that, he claimed, he would win because he was a man and men are just better than women in tennis, even if the man is nearly twice the age of the woman.
The match gained further attention due to Riggs having already defeated 30-year-old Margaret Court, then THE top-ranked female player in the world.
However, Riggs beat Court by using a series of drop shots and lobs. That was highly effective against Court who was not expecting such a style, but King very much WAS expecting it, so she was quite prepared when their match took place.
Riggs ultimately would have to change to straight serve and volley, but it was not enough, and King won in straight sets 6–4, 6–3, 6–3.
However, over the years, besides the rumors that Riggs intentionally lost (presumably because he secretly bet on King), a persistent story has sprung up that the match was played with rules that handicapped Riggs.
That is not the truth – the only handicap was Riggs’ age.
Most likely, people are confusing it with the 1992 take on the Battle of the Sex, when Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova played an exhibition match on Pay Per View (Connors was 40 and Navratilova was 35). In THAT match, Connors was only allowed one chance at each serve and Navratilova was allowed to hit into the doubles match area.
Connors won that match.
That has to be the reason why the rumors persist that there was some rules handicap for Riggs.
TENNIS LEGEND: A Wimbledon finalist was later convicted of murder.
The story of Vere St. Leger Goold is one of those things that you can barely even imagine how it would be handled if it happened in 2007 rather than 1907.
Goold was the top tennis player in Ireland in 1879. Buoyed by his success in Irish tournaments, Goold went to play in the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament of 1879, and made it all the way to the finals of the British tournament, losing to John Hartley in straight sets.
Goold’s tennis career took a sharp downturn at this point, and by 1883 he was out of the game for good as he descended into a life of drugs and alcohol.
However poorly his tennis career went, his life went possibly even poorer. He married a French dressmaker and he and his wife, Vera Goold, became rampant gamblers.
As is the case for most gamblers, the Goolds (who were going by Sir and Lady, which was due to Goold’s aristocratic background) felt that they had figured out a gambling system, so in 1907 they headed for Monte Carlo.
Soon, they had lost everything they had brought with them and were even in debt to people. One particular person was a Swedish widow named Emma Liven. The couple ingratiated themselves to Liven, who was the type of older rich woman who makes con men’s eyes gleam.
Ultimately, after a public row with another parasi…I mean, friend of Liven’s, Liven stated that she was leaving Monte Carlo over concern for her reputation (after being associated with such uncouth behavior). Vera Goold owed her some money, so before she left, she stopped by their hotel on August 4, 1907. She was never seen alive again.
When Liven did not show up at her hotel, her friend called the police who went to the Goold’s hotel where they were told that the Goolds had left to go to Marseilles. There was some blood stains in the room and some tools with blood stains on them, as well.
While in Marseilles, the Goolds left a large trunk at the train station. A clerk named Pons at the station was either curious about the smell from the trunk that was leaking blood (he was told it was freshly slaughtered poultry) or he was bribed to keep quiet and he just didn’t do so – either way, the police came and opened up the trunk to find the bloody remains of Liven.
The Goolds were arrested and tried for murder. Vere claimed that he did it alone, but no one believed him, and they were both sentenced to life imprisonment.
Vere died after a year in a French penal colony.
Can you imagine the media coverage if this happened in the 21st Century?
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org