Excerpts from Tennis by Pancho Gonzales


Excerpts from Tennis by Pancho Gonzales and Dick Hawk, 1962, Avenel, 123 pages
Out of print, but still readily obtainable used from Amazon.com.

    Tennis does for Pancho Gonzales what How to Play Tougher Tennis does for Jimmy Connors, but in a compact, low-tech way. Instead of lots of large full-color photos of the great player demonstrating all the shots, you get fewer, smaller, black-and-white photos of the great player demonstrating all the shots. The book is short and to the point, and it is very clearly written. The small, low-contrast photos leave a lot to be desired, but the book is a full description of the way the game was played by one of the all-time greats.
    Tennis was edited by Gladys Heldman, the founder and former editor of World Tennis magazine, and the lady who made the Virginia Slims women's pro tennis tour (the forerunner of today's WTA Tour) happen by asking Philip Morris chairman Joseph Cullman to back a ladies-only tourney in 1970. Heldman's introduction includes a good description of how Pancho Gonzales played the game. The book also includes a section on tennis gear and garb (circa 1962), and the rules of the game.
    Gonzales begins Tennis where many other books end: with a discussion of strategy and tactics.

Chapter 1. STRATEGY (pages 21-24)

    Too many players on all levels are unrealistic about their own games. Before working out an elaborate tactical plan relative to your opponent's game, analyze your own game in order to cover up or correct weaknesses and to display your full strength.
    Your service usually determines whether you will win or lose the match. You may be overhitting your first serve every time, or perhaps you are merely trying to put the ball in play. In either case, the error is fatal. Cut down on your power if your first serve is not going in at least 70% of the time. Three or four aces per set are not enough to counterbalance an erratic first delivery. Similarly, a soft or "push" service offers no problems to the opponent. Make a conscious effort to put more sting on the ball. Put your wrist, shoulder and entire body weight into the serve every time you hit it.

    The return of service is the second most important stroke of the game. If you cannot return your opponent's serve, or if you return it weakly, you will lose every other game. If his serve is hard, try to get ready fast. Watch the ball come off his racket. Don't wait until the ball crosses the net to make your move. If you are having trouble with his spin serve, try standing in one to three feet closer. The sooner you take it after it bounces, the less chance the spin has to be effective. Perhaps you are overhitting on returns. There is no need to skim the net if your opponent is staying back. If he comes in, throw up a few high lobs over his backhand side. This will have the effect of keeping him from coming in too close, and your passing shots will then be more effective.

    Almost every player is stronger on one side than the other. If your backhand is your weakness, play to the left of the center line. Just how far left you stand depends on your court-covering ability and the pace with which your opponent hits. Play aggressively on your strong side, but never be trapped into overhitting on your weakness. A smart opponent will try to force you onto your bad side. The correct parry depends upon his court position. If he stays back, simply hit your return deep to his weakness; if he comes to net, don't be ashamed to lob as much as you drive; and if his shot is not strong, step around and take it on your stronger side.
    Do not try to practice a deficient stroke during a match. In competition, you are trying to make the best possible use of your current stroke equipment. The backboard or hitting sessions are the best times in which to practice, but in match play you must use what you have to best possible advantage.
    Placement on overheads and volleys is far more important than pace. You can tell quickly if you are overhitting; there will be too many errors. Shorten your swing to avoid wild slashes at the ball and play your shots more cautiously. Sometimes you may hit too softly. If your opponent is out of position and still can get to your overhead or volley, you are "pushing" the ball instead of punching it. Don't take a bigger stroke, but use your body weight instead to give added pace to the shot.

Common Tactical Errors

    If your opponent hits a wide, short ball to your forehand, never return it crosscourt. You have left your whole backhand court open. You must either return down the line or come to net, playing to the right of the center service line, or hit a deep ball to the center of your opponent's baseline in order to give you time to get back into position.
    If your opponent is on his service line and has dropshotted, never dropshot in return. He is so close-in that he will be on top of the ball. Unless you have a perfectly disguised and beautifully executed dropshot, never use it except when you are inside your service line and your opponent is on his baseline.
    Don't hit every ball the same way. If you understand underspin on the backhand and heavy topspin on the forehand, vary them with your regular drives. However, never use spins if they make your ball fall short. Hit an occasional ball harder than usual and an occasional ball higher or softer (as long as they are deep) than you normally do. Keep your opponent off balance with the unexpected, but do not try shots that are not in your repertoire in a match.

    Don't hit every ball to your opponent's weakness. When you get an opening, hit a wide ball to his strength. If your opponent hits wide to your strength, don't go for the big shot. The lob is safer and gives more time to recover.
    Don't hit every ball at the obvious opening. Occasionally, hit a ball to the spot from which your opponent is coming. If you catch him on the wrong foot because he is going to the opposite direction, he will not be able to touch the ball even though it is only two feet away from him.
    Never rush yourself or allow your opponent to rush you. The player who is trailing will hurry himself too often on the service. If your opponent serves before you are ready, hold up your hand and ask him to play the ball over (you may not ask him to play the ball over if you have returned it). To keep yourself from rushing on your own service, bounce the ball once after you have taken the service position. Serving before you are ready is the fastest way to lose a point.

    If you are winning by playing from the baseline, don't start coming to net. If you are winning by coming in on every service, don't start staying back. In other words, never change a winning game just to show what a well-rounded player you are. Conversely, if you are losing, try making adjustments in your strategy, but never switch to a game you do not know how to play. If you are basically a baseliner, don't become a net-rusher after losing a set. Try a change of pace: more lobs, softer shots, or a switch from playing your opponent's backhand to playing his forehand.
    Vary your game to the conditions. Shorten your strokes on a fast court, play more steadily on a slow court; hit harder when you are playing against the wind and softer when you are playing with it.
    Vary your game to the score. If your opponent has 40-0 on his serve, try your big forehand "winner." If you are down 30-40 on your serve, make sure your first serve goes in. This is a vital point which may make the difference between winning and losing the set. It is therefore not the time to try a difficult shot.

    Ricardo Alonso "Pancho" Gonzalez was born May 9, 1928, in Los Angeles. 6'2" and 180 pounds, Gonzalez played the serve and volley "big game" that was dominant at the time, but said: "My legs, retrieving, lobs and change-of-pace service returns meant as much or more to me than my power, but people overlooked that because of the reputation of my serve."

    In 1948, ranked 17th in the US and seeded 8th, he won the U.S. National singles title at Forest Hills, defeating South African Eric Sturgess, 6-2, 6-3, 14-12. The following year Gonzalez defeated favored Ted Schroeder 16-18, 2-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, for the title. After helping the U.S. hold the Davis Cup against Australia, Gonzalez turned pro to tour against Jack Kramer on the tour then run by Bobby Riggs. The experienced Kramer won 96 of their matches while Gonzalez won only 27.

    After Kramer retired in 1954 (still running the tour, but no longer playing on it), Gonzalez won a tour over Don Budge, Pancho Segura and Frank Sedgman. In subsequent tours, Gonzalez defeated Tony Trabert, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, Ashley Cooper, Mal Anderson, Alex Olmedo and Segura. He also won the U.S. Pro singles tournament championship a record eight times. For all practical purposes, Gonzalez was pro tennis.

    In 1968, at age 40, Pancho defeated 2nd-seeded Tony Roche, a Wimbledon finalist, to reach the quarterfinals of the first U.S. Open. In the 1st round at Wimbledon in 1969, Gonzalez defeated Charlie Pasarel 22-24, 1-6, 16-14, 6-3, 11-9, saving seven match points in the fifth set. It was the longest match in Championships history, 112 games totaling 5 hours and 12 minutes over 2 days (this was the longest match at any grand slam tourney until 1992, when Michael Chang and Stefan Edberg went 14 minutes longer at the U.S. Open).

    Gonzalez was in the top 10 in the US for 24 years. In 1972, at age 43, Gonzalez became the oldest person to win a tournament singles title in the open era, defeating 24-year-old Georges Goven in Des Moines, Iowa, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. That year he was ranked # 9 in the US, the oldest ever to rank so high. Panch was ranked # 1 in the world in 1949, and # 6 in the world in 1969.

    Pancho won $911,078 between 1950 and 1972, and went over a million in seniors play. He was married six times. His sixth wife was Rita Agassi, sister of Andre Agassi. Gonzalez died July 3, 1995, of cancer in Las Vegas, where he was a teaching pro.

Pancho Gonzales page at the International Tennis Hall of Fame

Find more books by or about Pancho Gonzales at Amazon.com

Find tennis shoes made by: adidas -- Nike -- Fila -- Reebok
Find tennis racquets made by: Yonex -- Wilson -- Head -- Prince -- Babolat
Find tennis balls made by: Wilson -- Dunlop -- Penn -- Tretorn -- Slazenger

Tennis pages at quickfound.net:
This page's URL is: http://tennis.quickfound.net/training/pancho_gonzales.html