Saturday, September 5, 2009
By Clair Maciel
On the 60th anniversary of his second consecutive U.S. Championships win, Ricardo “Pancho” Gonzalez was honored Saturday night in an on-court ceremony at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Gonzalez was the first Hispanic male to win the U.S. Championships, which he won in 1948 and 1949 at the ages of 20 and 21.
Actor Benjamin Bratt hosted the tribute, in which he gave a speech recognizing Gonzalez’s legacy as a pioneer of the sport.
“Pancho’s passion and perseverance helped knock down walls and broaden the sport,” Bratt said. “Pancho was indeed a one-of-a-kind champion. In honoring him, we hope to showcase to young people of all backgrounds and nationalities everything that hard work can achieve.”
A video tribute commemorating Gonzalez’s life in tennis featured a few words from actor Robert Redford and former US Open champion Jimmy Connors. Actor Jimmy Smits also spoke of Gonzalez’s legacy, acknowledging the barriers Gonzalez helped to break down for minorities in the sport.
“As all pioneers do, he blazed new trails for those who would soon open doors in tennis,” Smits said. “He worked hard to help others achieve great heights. The greatest gift we can give is the gift of inspiration, and Pancho did that.”
During the ceremony, Lucy Garvin, USTA chairman of the board and president, presented a commemorative plaque honoring Gonzalez’s contribution to the sport to several members of his family, including his six children and a nephew. The plaque bore a photo of Gonzalez and an inscription recognizing his legacy.
Gonzalez, who taught himself how to play tennis at the age of 12, was considered one of the most talented tennis players of his generation and was a fan favorite on the professional tour throughout the 1950s and 60s.
Known for his sheer athleticism and dominant serve-and-volley game, Gonzalez was elected into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1968. Among some of his notable achievements were leading the United States Davis Cup team to a title in 1949, as well as reaching the semifinals of Roland Garros and the quarterfinals of the inaugural US Open at the age of 40. After his career in tennis had ended, Gonzalez remained a passionate coach and mentor in the game until he passed away in 1995.
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USTA Honors Legacy of Pancho Gonzalez
|By Clair Maciel
|Saturday, September 5, 2009
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