Dennis Ralston, a five-time Grand Slam doubles champion, died of cancer on the 6th December aged 78, in Austin, Texas according to Darin Pleasant, director of tennis at Grey Rock Tennis Club, after speaking to Ralston’s wife, Linda.
Despite all his accomplishments on and off the court, he was incredibly humble and would help anyone. Just a caring, genuine person Darin Pleasant, director of tennis at Grey Rock Tennis Club
He never won a singles grand slam title though he made the Wimbledon final in 1966 losing to Spain’s Manuel Santana and the semi-finals at the US Open (then the National US Championships) in 1960 as well as the 1970 Australian Open.
He was rated as the American number one for three years in the sixties in the days before computerised rankings and the sport turned professional.
He was one of the players who laid the foundations for the sport to become professional when he joined Lamar Hunt’s Worlds Championship Tennis in 1967 along with John Newcombe, Tony Roche, Cliff Drysdale, Earl Buchholtz, Niki Pilic, Roger Taylor and Pierre Barthes who were labelled the Handsome Eight.
That WCT circuit began the following year with the launch of the Open Era and lasted until the emergence of the current ATP Tour in 1990 having helped commercialise the sport with prize-money and bonus pools, colourful clothing as well as introducing the tie-break and encouraging spectators participation.
Ralston’s greatest successes came in doubles. At 17 he paired up with Rafael Osuna of Mexico to win Wimbledon in 1960. With countryman Chuck McKinley he won titles at the U.S. National Championships in 1961, ’63 and ’64 and finally with fellow American Clark Graebner, collected the 1966 French championships on clay. He was also a three-time Grand Slam finalist in mixed doubles.
Born Richard Dennis Ralston on July 27, 1942, in Bakersfield, California, he was coached as a young player by Pancho Gonzales. He attended the University of Southern California, helping the Trojans to NCAA titles in 1962, `63 and ’64, when he also won the NCAA doubles title.
Ralston eventually retired in 1977 and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame 10 years later.
As a coach he was a member of the U.S. Davis Cup team which won the competition in 1963. He then went on to captain the team from 1972-75, and coached thwm to victory over Romania in the 1972 final.
The Davis Cup was the beginning of Ralston’s coaching career. He spent six years coaching Chris Evert, including the early years of her burgeoning rivalry with Martina Navratilova.
“A deeply religious man, a devoted family man, and a superb player and coach…. he will be missed. RIP Dennis,” Evert tweeted.
Other players Ralston coached included Roscoe Tanner, Yannick Noah and Gabriela Sabatini. He served as men’s coach at Southern Methodist University during two stints in the 1980s and ’90s. For the last decade, he was on the teaching staff at Grey Rock Tennis Club in Austin.
“Despite all his accomplishments on and off the court, he was incredibly humble and would help anyone. Just a caring, genuine person,” said Pleasant, who recalled Ralston’s love of sharing stories from his touring and coaching days.
“Dennis had a very polished way of telling his stories in a very comedic way,” Pleasant said.
In the late nineties he had to have both his knees replaced but it didn’t prevent him from playing the Seniors Invitational event at Wimbledon. However he later had foot problems and following a series of infections was forced to have his left leg amputated below the knee.
He subsequently wore a prothesis that allowed him to play USTA league tennis, but was in constant pain and consequently became addicted to pain killers.
Ralston discussed his addiction publicly and eventually weaned himself off them following a stint at the Betty Ford Center.
He is survived by his wife of 56 years, and son Mike and daughters Lori and Angela.