Old tiger who burned brightest

In 1969 Pancho Gonzales played Charlie Pasarell in one of the most extraordinary matches in the annals of Wimbledon. Here is Peter Wilson's contemporary report of the match which appeared in the Daily Mirror
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This was Wimbledon folklore in the making. Forty-one-year-old Pancho Gonzales, who first played at Wimbledon in 1949, came on to the Centre Court two sets to love down against 25-year-old Charlie Pasarell, and finally triumphed 22-24, 1-6, 16-14, 6-3, 11-9.

But fantastic as the figures are, they tell but part of the unbelievable tale.

Whereas the two Latin-American heroes had battled it out for two hours and 20 minutes on Tuesday, yesterday's three-act drama lasted two hours 52 minutes

The total number of games was 112. This was 19 games more than the record for a singles match at Wimbledon, set by Jaroslav Drobny and Budge Patty in 1953.

That match, of course, was played in one day.

But the total time of Gonzales' victory - five hours 12 minutes - was 52 minutes longer than the 1953 epic.

Still not satisfied that this was the stuff of which dreams are made?

Well how about the intestinal fortitude of the 41-year-old who fought off no fewer than seven match points against him in the final set.

Let us start with the 100th game. Gonzales, with the score at two sets all, was trailing 3-4. It was his service, and he struggled to an advantage point.

Then, as though shrugging off the years and the mounting hours, he served with such fury that Pasarell could not even get a racket to the comet- like ball. It was like getting a Test century with a six.

But now the supreme crises were approaching. With Pasarell leading 5- 4, Gonzales was beaten by a lob, stranded by a passing shot, and then put a forehand volley out.

Three match points.

Again Pasarell lobbed. It fell inches over the baseline. Like some primitive warrior invoking the power of his spear, Gonzales gripped his steel racket even tighter, and crashed down a winning serve.

One more match point to go - and Pasarell lobbed out.

But with the fatigue mounting in Gonzales so visibly that you could feel the ache in your bones, the sweat running into your eyes, the fire in your lungs . . . crisis had him by the throat again at 5-6.

Again he had to fight off three match points - and each time it was he who won the point rather than Pasarell losing it.

The first was the kind of smash you expect from a blacksmith; the second a thistledown stop volley; the third a winning service.

This man would not quit - and he defied Pasarell to knock him down. But how long could he last?

Pasarell went to 7-6 with an ace. He did the same to lead 8-7 and when in the next game Gonzales was within a point of defeat for the seventh time, you felt that this must be it.

Youth, and the cruel handicap of starting two sets down was to prove too much.

So Gonzales served and a rally developed and Pasarell lobbed . . . out.

Gonzales is as good with the shots he doesn't play as with the wonder strokes he produces.

He took that game by having the courage to leave a drive which only just blazed over the baseline.

Now the pressure had shifted to the younger man. Throughout, one of Pasarell's blemishes had been double faults.

Now, having lost the last two points of the 110th game, he started the next with another double fault.

The old tiger sensed a kill and licked his chops . . . then went for blood.

He had husbanded his strength, disciplining himself not to run for the wide shots, fighting off the cramp which threatened to strangle him.

Now he stepped up his game, waiting for his one-time pupil to crack. This could be it. Pasarell, having double faulted, raggedly volleyed out. Now was the time for a great shot.

It came in the form of a lob. Pasarell's racket groped for it like a butterfly net trying to catch a mortar shell.

Again Pasarell volleyed out weakly: his nerves were shot. And so, after five hours and 10 minutes play, Gonzales at last gained an overall lead of 10-9 in the final set.

Tiger, Tiger burning bright . . . Pasarell was now the tethered goat and there was no hunter to shoot down the rampaging Gonzales.

He got to 40-love, three match points with a singeing volley.

He needed only one of them, for poor, shattered Pasarell lobbed out.

One of the great, great matches of all time at Wimbledon was over.

And those who had jeered Gonzales on Tuesday when he complained about the failing light, stayed to cheer him to the echo nearly 24 hours later.

I was glad I'd been there.

'A guy who would never give up'

n He had probably the best serve of all time, but his greatest asset was that if you had to beat one player for one match where everything was on it, among the players of all time, the player I would take would be Pancho Gonzales. He was a guy who would never give up. Somehow he would figure out how to win a match. Charlie Pasarell

n I was in tears after I lost the match. I walked into the locker-room and went into a corner. He came over, sat down next to me, patted me on the back, threw a towel over my head and said, 'I'm sorry'. Pasarell

n He was such a fiery competitor, and he would show some temper on the court against you. But he was the idol everybody wanted to emulate. Pasarell

n It's bad for tennis, and it's very sad for Mexico. Even though he was in the US, we always thought of him as a Mexican. Raul Ramirez

n I was in awe of him, he always brought the best out of me. He was a lion on the court. If he'd been allowed to play at his best he would've won Wimbledon - without a doubt. Frew McMillan

n I really think that if he had been a young man today, he would have been bigger and better than Agassi. Billie Jean King

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