During his quarter-century career as a professional, Pancho Gonzalez faced a vast array of first-rate players, and the one he considered the most devastating was Lewis Alan Hoad. 'When Lew's game was at its peak nobody could touch him,' said Gonzalez, who cited Hoad as his toughest foe during his years of the pro tours, mainly head-to-head one-night-stands.
Hoad, who turned pro in 1957, after winning his second successive Wimbledon singles, was one rookie who seemed able to dethrone Gonzalez as the pro king. They were just about even when Hoad's troublesome back gave way during the winter of 1958. Gonzalez won the tour, 51-36, but felt threatened all the way, and trailed at one point, 18-9 as Lew won six straight. It was Pancho's closest brush with defeat after taking over leadership in 1954. Hoad, a strapping 5-foot-8, 175-pounder with a gorilla chest and iron wrists, may have been the strongest man to play tennis in the world class.
He blistered the ball and became impatient with rallying, preferring to hit for winners. It was a flamboyant style, and made for some bad errors when he wasn't in tune. But when his power was focused along with his concentration, Hoad came on like a tidal wave. He was strong enough to use topspin as an offensive drive. He was assault-minded, but had enough control to win the French title on slow clay in 1956, over Swede Sven Davidson.
Born Nov. 23, 1934, 21 days after Ken Rosewall, in the same city, Sydney, the right-handed Hoad was bracketed with Rosewall throughout his amateur days. Although entirely different in stature, style, and personality; the two were called Australia's tennis twins, the prodigies who drew attention as teenagers and were rivals and teammates through 1956. Hoad was stronger, but less patient and consistent, more easygoing.
His back problems cut his career short in the mid-1960s while Rosewall, whose style was less taxing, kept on going into the next decade. His countrymen fondly remember Hoad's Davis Cup triumph of 1953 over Tony Trabert on a rainy Melbourne afternoon. At 19, he and Rosewall had been selected to defend the Cup. The U.S. led, 2-1, in the finale and seemed about to clinch the Cup when the more experienced Trabert, already the U.S. champion, caught up at two sets all. Hoad hung on to win, however, 13-11, 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 7-5, and Rosewall beat Vic Seixas the following day to save the Cup, 3-2.
Although they lost it to the Americans the next year, Hoad and Rosewall were awesome in 1955, retaking the prize from the Yanks, 5-0. Hoad beat Wimbledon champ Trabert the first day and got the clincher with Rex Hartwig over Trabert and Seixas. The twins defended the Cup from the U.S. for the last time together in 1956, 5-0, winning everything. Lew wiped out Herbie Flam on opening day and united with Kenny a last time to decide it, over Sammy Giammalva and Seixas.
Their first major titles were bagged in 1953, when Lew and Ken were allied to win the Australian, French, and Wimbledon doubles. They missed out on a Grand Slam on the last leg, the U.S. at Longwood in Boston, in a quarter-final upset by unseeded Americans Straight Clark and Hal Burrows. But, taking 19 of 20 matches, he (in the left court) and Ken were the only male team other than countrymen Frank Sedgman and Ken McGregor (1951-52) and John Newcombe and Tony Roche (1967) to win three of the four in one year.
Lew won 13 major titles in singles and doubles, and in 1956 appeared on his way to winning all four (Australian, French, Wimbledon and U.S.) singles within one calendar year, thus achieving a rare Grand Slam. However, after Hoad was three quarters of the way there, Rosewall spoiled the Slam with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3, triumph.
In his last significant tournament appearance in 1973, Lew reached the final of the South African doubles with Rob Maud, losing to Arthur Ashe and Tom Okker. Despite losing out on a Grand Slam, his 1956 season was a luminous hard-working campaign that netted 32 titles: 15 victories in 26 singles tourneys on a 95-11 match record, 17 victories in 23 doubles starts on 79-5. He had planned to turn pro after that but decided to go for the Slam again. That dream was drilled almost immediately in the semis of the Australian by Neale Fraser.
Though Lew resolutely and smashingly did repeat at Wimbledon for the loss of one set, blasting Ashley Cooper in the final -- his 42nd singles title -- he felt it was time to cash in. He accepted an offer from promoter Jack Kramer and began preparing for Gonzalez. For five straight years, he was in the World Top Ten, No. 1 in 1956. Hoad (five attempts) and Bjorn Borg (10) are probably the two greatest players not to win the U.S. Championship. Lew married another player, country-woman Jenny Staley (finalist in the 1954 Australian singles.
He died July 3, 1994, in Fuengirola, Spain, where he and Jenny operated a tennis resort.
MAJOR TITLES (13)--Australian singles, 1956, French singles,1956; Wimbledon singles, 1956, 1957 Australian doubles, 1953, 1956, 1957; French doubles, 1953; Wimbledon doubles, 1953, 1955, 1956; US. doubles, 1956; French mixed, 1954. DAVIS CUP--1953, 1954,1955, 1956; record: 10-2 in singles, 7-2 in doubles. SINGLES RECORD IN THE MAJORS--Australian (15-5), French (17-5),Wimbledon (32-7), US. (21-5).
- Bio Courtesy Bud Collins