Did Tennis Tournaments Once Come Up With Rules Specifically to Handicap Pancho Gonzales’ Style of Play?

SPORTS 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 had 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.

The legends is…


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