Bud Collins, the great tennis journalist and raconteur, once said in an interview that if he needed someone to play a match for his life, he would choose Pancho Gonzalez. Largely self-taught on the public courts of Los Angeles in the 1940s, Gonzalez would use his cannonball serve, uncanny athleticism, and steel will to become the dominant player of his era. In the days of the “professional” player, Gonzalez was ranked No. 1 eight years during his career.
This fall K-Swiss is putting out the Pancho Gonzalez collection, honoring the tennis icon. The shoe ($80) will have Pancho’s image emblazoned on the tongue along with his signature. There are three options in the line—white, black, and grey—all with red, white, blue, and green stripes woven into the heel to pay tribute to Gonzalez’s American and Mexican heritage. The grey model (pictured) also has the aforementioned colors adorning the five classic K-Swiss stripes on the shoe’s upper. Perhaps a nonchalant player on a soft surface would consider these performance worthy, but like the Adidas Stan Smith or Rod Laver shoes, they’re probably better suited for casual wear.
Since the bulk of his playing career occurred before the Open Era, Gonzalez only captured two Grand Slam titles. He played Wimbledon once as a 21 year-old in 1949 and didn’t return again until 1968. The following year he partook in the one of the greatest matches every played. Before Isner-Mahut, there was Gonzalez-Pasarell. At 41—Gonzalez was one of the all-time great “older” players—Pancho came back from two sets down to beat his much younger opponent 22-24, 1-6, 16-14, 6-3, 11-9 in a two-day epic that clocked in at 5:12. Check out the video below for some of the highlights. Ironically, Pancho’s shoes don’t look nearly as supportive as the ones that now bear his name.