Pancho Gonzales, who took Wimbledon when he was 41, taught himself to play on the Exposition Park cement courts near the Los Angeles Coliseum with a 51-cent department-store racket
, a gift from his mother on his 12th birthday, according to the New York Times.
That was 40 years ago. Sixty years ago, Gonzalez won his second consecutive United States Championships title. In between those championships, he toured the county as a pro, a much less popular sport at the time.
Gonzales was the oldest of seven children born to working-class Mexican immigrants and was American tennis’s first minority champion.
And his bio is the stuff of legends, repeated and embellished: He walked 900 miles
with his father from Mexico to Arizona, quit school (which high school did Pancho attend?) to play tennis and was caught burglarizing a home
. He then joined the Navy
only to be dishonorably discharged.
Tennis then became his life.
Early in 1995, he had chemotherapy and radiation for a tumor where his esophagus joined his stomach. Four months later, he died.