The great Pancho Gonzalez was both featured and honored at this year’s US Open. Fierce. Graceful. Combative. And until Sampras came along, arguably the best serve in the history of the game.
I watched Pancho play Raz Reed in a small clay court tournament in Lake Worth Florida, 1973(or4). I had lost in the first round to Eddie Dibbs, 3 and 2, he ran me literally from corner to corner. But in this particular match, probably the semi finals, Pancho argued with the umpire, play was halted, Pancho left the court, and in the wink of an eye Raz disappeared. The tournament director was surely going to plead with Raz and Pancho to continue, but absent an agreement from Pancho, the match was awarded to Mr. Reed. Pretty good win.
For many years I practiced and traveled with Tom Muench, a particularly gifted competitor. Not so much an excellent ball striker, but a canny strategist who seemed to win matches with inexplicable shots. He would play the occasional set/lesson with Pancho in Las Vegas. The terms were $100 per set/lesson. But the instruction occurred as Pancho allowed Tom to come close to winning, but at the critical juncture Pancho would run a pattern that Tom could not handle. Perhaps a backhand up the line approach, or a forehand crosscourt pass. The point of the lesson was to show Tom a particular if not glaring weakness, and to present it to Tom at a turning point in the set. Some years later I had similar experiences playing Whitney Reed (former US # 1 in 1963) where I would hit what I thought was a perfect shot at just the right moment, only to look up to see Whitney standing there. (Prescience – knowledge of things before they happen, foreknowledge, foresight).
In 1987 Don Kerr and I developed and patented an electromechanical teaching aide that measured angular momentum. The gizmo “whistled” when the force of the swing exceeded a preset threshold. Good servers would make it whistle at the top of the swing. Poor servers either could not achieve a whistle or timed it at a point well below and after the top of the swing. I began a Masters Degree in Sports Psychology at the University of West Florida, and used the Whistler for my Masters thesis.
During the coursework in biomechanics I chose Pancho as a template for the serve, for both descriptive and comparative purposes. I used film and video footage as well as a number of books about and by Pancho. And for the next few years I looked at his serve inside and out. Even presented it at a USTA teacher’s conference in New York – “Teaching the Serve: The Pancho Gonzalez Model.”
Pancho was fluid, grounded, loose, whippy, and with a forearm roll at the top of the swing. A lot like Federer and Sampras, but not at all like many of the women this week at the US Open.
I hope you enjoyed the footage. Apologies for the quality. Pancho was one of a kind.