Dennis Ralston, a former Wimbledon Champion, Davis Cup team member and captain played in his first competitive tennis match since having his leg amputated. He did this at the Westwood Senior Championships, in Austin, on Friday, May 25.
© D. Hackett / USTA Texas
AUSTIN, Texas – Dennis Ralston, a former Wimbledon Champion, Davis Cup team member and captain played in his first competitive tennis match since having his leg amputated. He did this at the Westwood Senior Championships, in Austin, on Friday, May 25.
Ralston, 69 now living in Austin, played in the Super Senior Men’s 65 Doubles division, teaming with Fernando Velasco. They lost 6-0, 6-2 to Chip Massey of Fair Oaks Ranch and Byron Smith, of Garden Ridge, starting at 12:45 p.m., at the Courtyard Tennis Club, one of the three sites for the championship.
In this USTA Texas sanctioned tournament, Ralston also played in the Senior Men’s 50 Doubles division, at 8 p.m., at the Westwood Country Club. He teamed with Michael Dillon of Manchaca. Dillon and Ralston fell to Bryan Canter of Middletown, Ohio and Jeff Gola of Roanoke 6-1, 6-3.
"Mike asked me to play at Westwood. I thought he was joking, so I said well sure, why not," said Ralston about the decision to return to competitive play about three months ago. "We started going to the gym together, training at seven in the morning, working with a really good trainer… working with me to learn to move better."
Ralston, pro emeritus at Gray Rock Tennis Club in Austin, said that he had been playing a little bit at his clinics and with the people that he hit with including Velasco, the Gray Rock general manager who plays regularly in USTA sanctioned events.
Ralston, now a champion supporter for wheelchair tennis and adaptive tennis, speaks from direct experience and relevance. In his heyday, Ralston was known for his fluid play and precision. His play was often described as polished but he now wears a prosthesis on his left leg due to complications from knee surgery in 1997. During recovery, he battled and overcame an addiction to painkillers. This is a story that he openly shares to anyone who will listen.
"I love to play and I thought what the heck," said Ralston, who aims to reasonably play well into his 70s. "I asked Fernando to play because next year he will be in his 70s. I am using this tournament as a starting point to improve on a bunch of things. This gives me an extra push to get in shape and stay in better shape."
A member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Ralston teamed with Rafael Osuna winning the 1960s Wimbledon Doubles title. He was US National Doubles Champion in 1961 and 1963-64, teaming with Chuck McKinley. He won the French Open Doubles title in 1966 with Clark Graebner.
Ralston achieved a career high world singles ranking of No. 5 and held the No. 1 US men’s singles ranking for three consecutive years in the 1960s. He was a member of the US Davis Cup team from 1960-66 and was captain from 1972-75. Ralston went on to coach Chris Evert and Gabriella Sabatini.
"Tennis is a great avenue for someone with prosthetics. Obviously wheelchair is big," Ralston said. "It is a great way to be outside and get out of yourself. Yes, you are going to have doubts whether you can do it. I had moments thinking what are you trying to prove? I am not trying to prove anything! It is just getting out and being active."