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Dennis Ralston…One Of A Kind

There was much more to Dennis Ralston’s illustrious tennis career than being the youngest player to win the Wimbledon Doubles title and after his playing days concluded, becoming one of the foremost coaches in the game, as Mark Winters story brings out…

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Dennis Ralston Photo Dallas Morning News

As bad as the year had been with the daily deluge of pandemic suffering and death news, along with flare-ups of racial disharmony, it became much worse when I learned that Dennis Ralston had passed away on December 6th. Having turned 78 this past July 27th, he lost his battle with brain cancer at his home in Austin, Texas. Though he wasn’t a close friend, we had a very strong relationship built over fifty-years of interaction. 

 
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1963 Davis Cup Team-Arthur Ashe, Dennis Ralston, Captain Robert Kelleher, Marty Riessen and Chuck McKinley – Photo Thelner Hoover (Gift To International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum From The Honorable Robert Kelleher, 2001)

Ralston first came to my attention in 1963 when the US faced Mexico in the American Zone Davis Cup semifinal at the storied Los Angeles Tennis Club (LATC). I was new to the game as a player and this was my inaugural Davis Cup experience. He teamed with Chuck McKinley to lead the US to a 4-1 triumph over Rafael Osuna and Antonio Palafox, representing Mexico. As legendary writer Allison Danzig wrote in the New York Times on August 18, 1963, Ralston “…played the match of his life today…” defeating Osuna 6-1, 6-3, 7-5 to give the US a 3-1 lead. 

As a Davis Cup novice, I remember being awed by the fervor of the supporters of both teams. The setting was captivating, but I found the backstory even more riveting. Ralston had teamed with Osuna to win the 1960 Wimbledon doubles title, (the first unseeded team to do so). What’s more, the tie pitted the two USC teammates against one another. They had regularly practiced at the LATC, where USC played its home matches, and coincidently, after Ralston captured the singles championship, (as he had in ’62 and again in ’64), they won the1963 NCAA Doubles title. In ’64, he partnered with Bill Bond to take the NCAA Doubles again (and that same year, he won the National Father & Son Grass Court Championship with his father, Bob). 

R. (Richard) Dennis Ralston was a rarity. Few elite players become elite tennis coaches after their playing days conclude. He had the uncommon skills needed to reach the top in both fields. At 17 years, 341 days old, he was the youngest doubles winner at The Championships. He enjoyed Davis Cup triumphs as a player in 1963, a coach from 1968-1971 and in 1972 as a captain, a position he held for four-years. (Interestingly, he was the first to captain the US team after the elimination of the Challenge Round in 1972.) 

“I will never forget being in Bucharest in ‘72 and watching him handle the flagrantly poor officiating and deliberate cheating of the Romanians with great restraint”, said International Tennis Hall of Fame member Steve Flink. “That was his finest hour.”

Ion Tiriac and Ilie Nastase led the guerilla war of disruption against the US, but thanks to Ralston’s steadiness, his team – Tom Gorman, Stan Smith and Erik van Dillen – survived the challenge and earned a 3-2 victory.

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Dennis Ralston at the BNP Paribas Open Photo Mark Winters

At the time, tennis historians likely found his exemplary behavior extraordinary after his career as a player. Tempestuous is a suitable descriptive adjective to use. So is feisty. He was fiercely competitive. He hated losing so much that if he didn’t hit perfect shots he would begin berating himself. On occasion, he turned his tennis racquet into a javelin and/or helped a tennis ball leave the court enclosure swiftly. After a deplorable display in the 1961 American Zone Davis Cup final in Cleveland, Ohio against Mexico, the United States Lawn Tennis Association suspended him for four months.

Dennis Ralston (far left) with junior doubles finalists at 1953 Southern California tournament Photo Thelner Hoover

Perry T. Jones, the crusty overseer of the game in Southern California, first met Ralston in 1951 when he was 9-years-old. His parents, Bob and Gail both outstanding players, raised him to be self-reliant. So, they confidently put him on a bus for the more than 100-mile trip from his home in Bakersfield (California) to the Los Angeles Tennis Club, in the Hancock Park area of LA, to play a junior tournament. Jones used to love recounting how Ralston walked into his office at the LATC, dragging a large suitcase, and said, “I’m Dennis”. Not surprisingly, Jones responded, “Dennis who?” To which the youngster offered, “Why, I’m Dennis Ralston. Where do I stay?” 

After his suspension, Jones asked him to come to the club. They discussed what had taken place then “Perry T.” who was nothing but proper, told him to accept his punishment and stay quiet…and he did. It is ironic that his behavior did an about face and in 1966 he received the USTA’s William Johnston Award which is presented for character, sportsmanship and contributions to game.

Dennis Ralston Photo International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum, Newport, Rhode Island

A stylish server and volleyer with a formidable forehand and uncanny feel for the lob, Ralston was ranked in the US Top Ten seven straight years, beginning in 1960. He was the first player since Don Budge (1936-38) to hold the No. 1 position three years running (1963-65). He was also the first of three men (Bob Lutz and Stan Smith followed) to win US doubles titles on grass, clay, indoor and hard courts. Playing the deuce court, with Chuck McKinley on the ad side, he won the US National Doubles title in1961, ’63 and ’64 at Forest Hills, New York. (In ’62, the two were finalists.)

During his career, the Bakersfield native won 27 national singles and doubles titles, along with 41 pro and five major doubles titles. These are consequential numbers, but they pale in comparison with the fact that he had close to 20 major surgeries, including knee replacements and later having his left leg amputated below the knee in 2012. After the operation, he returned to teaching wearing a prosthetic on his lower-left leg. If this wasn’t enough, in 2017 he had a hip replaced. In time, he candidly admitted being addicted to painkillers following the knee replacements and discussed how he overcame the problem. (I must add that in all our discussions over the years there were times when I knew he was in pain…but he never complained or said a thing about being uncomfortable; he just continued with the interview.)

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Court dedicated to Dennis Ralston at Mission Hills Country Club, Rancho Mirage, California Photo Mark Winters

Steve Solomon was the Tournament Director of the Campbell’s National Men’s 60 & 90 Hard Court Championships that took place at Mission Hills Country Club in April 2006. After the tournament he told me this story, “Dennis had been teaching at Mission Hills for part of the winter and said he would like to play doubles. I told him I would find a good partner. Then I called Charlie (Hoeveler)”. Hoeveler, President and owner of Nike Camps, remembered, “Steve said, ‘I see you’re not playing doubles. Would you like to play with a friend of mine, who has had both knees replaced; hasn’t played a tournament in years, but used to be pretty good? I said, ‘Why would I do that?’ Steve replied, ‘Because it is Dennis Ralston.’ I told him it would be an honor to play with Dennis.”

Hoeveler and Ralston reached the semifinals, (and Solomon explained that the dedicated Ralston had been teaching the morning of the match). “I hadn’t played since the Wimbledon 45 Doubles the year after having my second knee replacement,” Ralston told me. “That was roughly ten years ago (1996)”.

When he teamed with McKinley, Ralston played the deuce side of the court. Hoeveler revealed, “You can imagine how I felt when he told me that the last time he played the ad court was with a red-headed Australian lefthander, a guy named Laver”.

Discussing his performance, Ralston, in his typical self-deprecating style, said, “Actually, I played like a guy who had two knees replaced…I know Charlie and realized that he is a ‘Road Runner’. He is very fast and a great competitor. I had been practicing but I hadn’t played any matches. That made it tough. I didn’t enjoy missing shots that I would ordinarily make. I had a lot of trouble with my overhead in the semifinal. I must have missed something like ten in a row. I was worried that Charlie was going to lose all his energy and not be able to compete well in the singles final”. (Hoeveler did go on to win the title.)

Dennis Ralston – Photo by Thelner Hoover

At The Championships in 1966, he was a finalist to Manolo Santana of Spain, 6-4, 11-9. 6-4 and afterward he was “Ralston Honest” saying he hadn’t been prepared. 

He turned pro that year and in 1967 he became a member of the “Handsome Eight” – Pierre Barthes, Butch Buchholz, Cliff Drysdale, John Newcombe, Nikola Pilic, Tony Roche and Roger Taylor – They were part of the World Championship Tennis Tour.

Flink, the widely respected tennis historian, observed,  “He never fulfilled himself as a player and always seemed burdened by too many people expecting too much from him. But, thankfully, his coaching experiences were much richer and [more] rewarding.”

It certainly was as Flink continued, “He went on to work with all of those American players in the ‘70s (including Roscoe Tanner) leading up to his great years with Chrissie in the 80”s and then there’s the work he did with (Gabriela) Sabatini and (Yannick) Noah and others. I have not even mentioned his stint at Southern Methodist University as their head coach.”

He guided the men’s team at the Dallas school on two occasions.  Initially, it was from 1981 to ’89 then 1991 to ’93. He was named the 1983 NCAA Division I Coach of the Year after leading the team to the NCAA final where Stanford escaped with a 5-4 victory.

Charlie Pasarell, Pam Shriver and Dennis Ralston at Southern California Tennis Association Hall of Fame 2007 Induction Ceremony. Photo Mark Winters

Over time, Ralston was duly recognized. He was a member of the first Intercollegiate Tennis Association Men’s Hall of Fame class of 1983. He was inducted into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995; the Southern California Tennis Association Hall of Fame in 2007; and the Texas Tennis Museum & Hall of Fame in 2016. The ultimate accolade came when his name was added to International Tennis Hall of Fame honor roll in 1987.

“I am glad I saw him for the first time in nearly 15 years in Newport three years ago when I was inducted,” Flink said. (That was the last time that our paths crossed.)

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Linda and Dennis Ralston Photo Sandy Behrens

After learning about his death, I took time to sort through my many memories. The flood of recollections that ensued left me feeling sad but very fortunate. I remembered his rich candor and his sly, sometimes devilish wit. His patience explaining a competitive situation or a stroke technique was revealing. He never flooded me with unnecessary facts or asides. For someone who enjoyed so much success, his ego never invaded our discussions. On occasion, he expressed self-doubt. His love of the game and the enjoyment that he received from being part of it was boundless. The same was true of the joy that his wife of 56-years Linda, and his children, son, Mike and daughters Lori and Angela brought to his life.

Ralston was always rough on himself. Osuna said that he had never seen anyone more competitive. Revealingly, he told stories about rooming with Dennis and listening to his nightmares as he castigated himself about his play.

Ralston was a talented and complex individual who had a big heart. He genuinely cared for so many. I consider myself privileged to have had opportunities to take advantage of his desire to share his tennis knowledge and more important, a bit of himself…

To me, Dennis Ralston was…One Of A Kind.  

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Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev And Taylor Fritz Looking Forward To Diriyah Cup

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev and Taylor Fritz will start their Australian preparations in Saudi Arabia next week.

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Stefanos Tsitsipas (@WeAreTennisTR - Twitter)

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev and Taylor Fritz are looking forward to boosting their Australian Open preparations when they compete in the Diriyah Cup in Saudi Arabia.

 

The tournament takes place from the 8th-10th of December with the 12 player tournament offering the perfect preparation for the first Grand Slam of the year.

As well as Tsitsipas, Rublev and Fritz, the field includes some of the world’s best players including Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, Cameron Norrie, Nick Kyrgios, Dominic Thiem and Stan Wawrinka.

Speaking ahead of the event Tsitsipas claimed that the event will be very good preparation ahead of the Australian Open which starts on the 16th of January, “This is going to be very good preparation for me,” Tsitsipas told The National.

“Most players choose to have an off period from tennis but for me, it’s very important to get matches in before I travel to Australia. So having good competitors to compete against (top players), this is the best preparation that I can have before starting the 2023 season.

“I know that the people in Saudi Arabia may not have the opportunity to see tennis players like us very often. So, for sure, I’m going to give it my best. I’m going to have a good time.”

Saudi Arabia has held a whole host of events including formula one and Golf events with there being more and more concerns from fans over sports-washing given the country’s human rights record.

However the Greek isn’t too concerned about that and is looking forward to exploring the country’s culture:

“I’m happy they’re introducing a big event like this, and in the heart of Saudi Arabia to give opportunities to citizens from all over the world to explore this beautiful country, through its sports, through its very rich heritage and culture, and through other activities that are available within the country.”

As for Fritz, the American is coming off a career best season having won his maiden Masters 1000 title at Indian Wells as well as reaching the semi-finals at the ATP Finals.

The 25 year-old said that playing against the best players in the world will only help his preparations for the Australian Open, “I think it’s going to help prepare for the Australian Open and for the rest of the year because I can start out by playing against the best players in the world,” Fritz claimed.

“The field is so strong, so it’s always great to surround yourself with a lot of great players. People should come to support because hopefully it’ll be a lot of good tennis.

“Hopefully they’ll be cheering for me to win. They can expect a lot of big hitting, big serving, and hopefully some nice shot-making.”

Finally Rublev said that competing in Saudi Arabia will help find his level with the Russian having an inconsistent end to the season at the ATP Finals.

Rublev is looking to break more ground in 2023 as he searches for his Grand Slam breakthrough, “I think it’s really great because sometimes when you finish the season and you have eight weeks of not playing tournaments, you start to feel a bit stressed or nervous because you can’t tell if you’re improving or not,” Rublev admitted.

“So these kind of events help to check how your level is at the moment because you compete against other great players.”

The tournament begins on Thursday and will last for three days.

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Emma Raducanu Draws Inspiration From Andy Murray Ahead Of 2023

Emma Raducanu spoke about Andy Murray’s influence on her career.

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(@HeartThamesNews - Twitter)

Emma Raducanu has spoke about Andy Murray’s influence on her career and is optimistic about turning her form in 2023.

 

The former US Open hasn’t had too bad of an off-season after receiving her MBE for her services to sport.

Raducanu made history in 2021 as she won the US Open as a qualifier at 18 years of age.

However the Brit has yet to back that up with Raducanu changing coach on a number of occasions as she looks for some stability in 2023.

Speaking in a recent interview with Grazia Raducanu said that she believes that momentum can change quickly in tennis and that confidence is the key to success, “[In tennis] it could look like it’s all going down, down, down and just not getting any better,” Raducanu was quoted by tennishead as saying.

“Just one match can have a big influence on your confidence and once you have confidence and the momentum comes, you feel like you can’t lose. It’s a very individual sport – people are friendly but it’s difficult to be really close with those you’re competing with.”

One player that can relate to what Raducanu is saying is Andy Murray with confidence being a key theme of the highs and lows of Murray’s career.

Raducanu said that she talks to Murray regularly about the highs and lows of tennis, “Andy Murray is so good to talk to because he’s been through pretty much what I’ve been going through,” Raducanu said.

“I have always looked up to him and watched him winning his first Wimbledon and the Olympics.”

Raducanu will hope that she can use Murray’s words as inspiration for next season as she currently sits at 75 in the world.

The Brit will start her season in 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand on the 2nd of January.

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Fernando Verdasco Given Two Month Doping Ban

Fernando Verdasco has been banned from tennis until the 8th of January.

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Fernando Verdasco (@UniversTennis - Twitter)

Fernando Verdasco will miss the first week of the 2023 season after being provisionally suspended for two months after testing positive for the drug methylphenidate.

 

The former world number seven tested positive for the drug at the Challenger event in Rio De Janeiro and has accepted a voluntary ban until the 8th of January.

As well as testing positive for the drug methylphenidate, Verdasco had also forgot to renew his Therapeutic Use Exemption despite the Spaniard admitting that he was diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

In a statement published today the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA), explained why his ban has been shortened from two years to two months, “The ITIA accepts that the player did not intend to cheat, that his violation was inadvertent and unintentional, and that he bears no significant fault or negligence for it,” they said in a statement on his website.

“In the specific circumstances of this case, based on the player’s degree of fault the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme allows for the applicable period of ineligibility to be reduced from two years to two months.”

The 39 year-old will as a result miss the first week of the new season with the Spaniard being currently ranked at world number 125.

In 2022, Verdasco’s best results on the ATP tour were quarter-final performances in Buenos Aires and Estoril while he also won a challenger title in Monterrey in March.

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