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Latino Tennis Aces 

Trailblazer of the Day | Saturday, September 14, 2013

Pancho Gonzales

First Latino to win Grand Slam Tennis Championship

When Spaniard Rafa Nadal won the U.S. Open this week, it was his 13th victory in a Grand Slam event (U.S. Open, Wimbledon, French Open, Australian Open). The first Latino Grand Slam winner, though, was Ricardo (Pancho) Gonzales, who won the U.S. Open back-to-back (1948, 1949).

A self-taught tennis player who served in the U.S. Navy, Gonzales transformed the game in the late 1940s and 1950s with blistering serves and a lively style. Sports Illustrated named him one of the “20 Favorite Athletes of the 20th Century”. He is known for winning the so-called “Greatest Match Ever Played” at Wimbledon: in 1969, Gonzalez and Puerto Rican star Charlito Pasarell battled for five hours over two days, a record that stood until 2010.

Another Latino tennis star shined in the 1950s: Ecuadorian Pancho Segura. He was ranked the #1 player in the world in 1950, and was tennis’s top money-earner in the 1950s.

The first Latina to win a Grand Slam championship was Maria Bueno, a Brazilian who won Wimbledon in 1959, 1960 and 1964. She was also the first person to win all four Grand Slam Doubles events in one year.

Other Latinos to win Grand Slam Singles events include: Spain’s Manuel Santana (1961, ’64, ‘66), Spain’s Andres Gimeno (1972), Spain’s Manuel Orantes (1975), Argentina’s Guillermo Vilas (1977, ’78, ‘79), Spain’s Arantxa Sánchez Vicario (1989, ’94, ’98), Argentina’s Gabriela Sabatini (1990), Ecuador’s Andres Gomez (1990), Spain’s Serge Bruguera (1993, ’94), Spain’s Conchita Martínez (1994), Brazil’s Gustavo Kuerten (1997, 2000, ‘01), Spain’s Al Costa (2002), Spain’s Juan Carlos Ferrero (2003), Argentina’s Gáston Gaudio (2004), and Argentina’s Juan Martín del Potro (2009).

El Salvador’s Rosie Casals won five Wimbledon Doubles crowns. The youngest player ever to win a Grand Slam match was Dominican-born Mary Joe Fernandez, who made her debut at age 14.