In 1969, Ricardo Alonso Gonzalez faced Charlie Pasarell in the early rounds of Wimbledon. The young Puerto Rican Pasarell captured the epic first set of the match by a score of 24-22, then easily won the second 6-1.
At this point the match was postponed on account of darkness and resumed the next day.
In set number three Pasarell came to the conclusion that the way to beat the 6’3” Gonzalez was to hit low returns to his feet, then consistently force him to the backcourt with lobs.
This strategy was effective, but only somewhat, as Gonzalez captured the third set 16-14, then the fourth 6-3. In the fifth set they dueled for yet another 20 games, with Gonzalez capping his comeback with an 11-9 win.
Over two days the match had lasted a total of five hours and 12 minutes, with Gonzalez saving seven match points.
As the two left the court, the announcer called it one of the most amazing events he’d seen in any sport, though its problematic length prompted the invention of the tiebreak.
And by the way, Ricardo Alonso “Pancho” Gonzalez was 41 when the match was played—16 years older than Pasarell—and had been playing professionally for more than two decades.
Jimmy Connors and Andre Agassi are widely celebrated for having careers of 20-year duration, but that’s the length of Pancho’s stay in the top 10.
Nowadays a 10-year stay in the top 10 is a significant feat; Gonzalez spent 10 years as the game’s No. 1 player.
He’s still widely believed to have had the best serve in the history of the game.
The fluid movement that seemingly contradicted his height led more than one observer to compare him to wild jungle cat. More than any of these things, though, his time at the top of the game was made possible by his love of competition—and his ability to thrive under it.
Jimmy Connors said the one man he’d want to play for his life would be Gonzalez; the walking encyclopedia of the game Bud Collins said the same.
In 1999, Sports Illustrated went one further: "If earth was on the line in a tennis match, the man you want serving to save humankind would be Ricardo Alonso Gonzalez."
His competitive fire had all the backdraws it did for the other men on this list: Like Sampras, he appeared sullen and solitary.
Like Connors and Hewitt, he was combative and prone to controversy. And with six divorces to his name, his combative nature apparently didn’t end when he stepped on the court.
But as a competitor he’s never been surpassed, and probably never will be.
The above photo is from match-tour.hr.