This year marks the 50th anniversary of TENNIS Magazine's founding in 1965. To commemorate the occasion, we'll look back each Thursday at one of the 50 moments that have defined the last half-century in our sport.
“Gorgo” was what Ken Rosewall and Rod Laver called their fellow pro Pancho Gonzalez. It was short for “gorgonzola”—i.e., the Big Cheese. The young Aussies, who dominated the barnstorming pro tours for much of the 1960s, resented the fact that the moody and mercurial American always received the lion’s share of attention from press and fans. No matter how many matches, tours, or tournaments that Muscles and the Rocket won, some people still believed that the only thing keeping the pros in business was Gonzalez’s dark allure. Whether he was playing brilliantly or behaving badly, all eyes were on the Big Cheese.
“Pancho always found a way to upstage you,” Laver said, referring to their respective performances at Wimbledon in 1969. By then both men had come in from the pro-tour wilderness and been allowed back onto Centre Court; yet from Laver’s viewpoint, nothing much had changed. While he went on to win the tournament that year, and complete his second calendar-year Grand Slam in New York two months later, the only match anyone wanted to talk about was Pancho’s now-legendary first-round win over Charlie Pasarell.
It’s easy to understand why. Only a handful of individual matches will be included among TENNIS's 50 Greatest Moments of the last 50 years, and fewer still will be first-round contests. But Gonzalez-Pasarell more than stands the test of time, for its statistics and its symbolism, and most of all for the show that Gonzalez put on in front of a Wimbledon crowd that had missed him during his prime.
He was a 41-year-old grandfather by then, but after two decades as a professional outlaw, the world’s most famous player had entered the world’s most famous tournament for just the second time since 1949. He had a lot to prove, and he proved it all in the space of 24 hours. Few players have ever been booed as lustily by the well-mannered Wimbledon audience as Gonzalez was when he walked off, enraged, after the first day’s play had been brought to a halt. And few players received as long and loud an ovation as that same man did when he walked off, head high, a winner the next afternoon.