Class of 1987
World No. 5 (1966)
Grand Slam Results
5-time major champion and 9-time finalist
Overall: 260- 187
Member of the U.S. Davis Cup Team 1960-1966
Member of the winning Davis Cup Team 1963
Coach of the U.S. Davis Cup Team 1968-1971
Captain of the U.S. Davis Cup Team 1972-1975
Captain of the winning Davis Cup Team 1975
Overall Record: 25-9
Singles Record: 14-5
Doubles Record: 11-4
By all accounts, Dennis Ralston lived a charmed tennis life. He won NCAA Championships as a collegian at the University of Southern California, won five major doubles titles, led the United States Davis Cup teams to victories as both a player and a captain, coached the Southern Methodist University men’s tennis team and coached fellow Hall of Famers Chris Evert, Yannick Noah, and Gabriela Sabatini.
A native of Bakersfield, California, Ralston was the prototypical player who honed his game by logging long hours on public courts. It didn’t hurt matters much that his early tennis tutelage came under the watchful eye of Pancho Gonzales. He started at USC as a two-time All-American in 1963 and 1964, winning the NCAA Division I Singles and Doubles Championships both years. He was the force in leading Coach George Toley’s Trojans to the NCAA National Championship both seasons. He shared doubles titles with Rafael Osuna – who would figure prominently in Ralston’s amateur career – in 1963 and William Bond in 1964.
Ralston had polished strokes and a grooved forehand that he hit with pace. His pinpoint serve and crisp volleying suited him particularly well in doubles, where he won five majors and was a finalist in eight others, four in both men’s doubles and mixed action. As a 17-year-old in 1960, he and 21-year-old Osuna became the second youngest Wimbledon Gentleman champions in history. They arrived in London unseeded and departed the All England Club with a 7-5, 6-3, 10-8 victory over Mike Davies and Bobby Wilson.
Ralston won his three subsequent U.S. doubles titles with a new partner, Chuck McKinley, and two of those championships – the 1961 and 1963 U.S. Nationals – were achieved with Osuna and Mexican partner Antonio Palafox on the opposite side. The 1963 victory was drawn out in five sets, 9-7, 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 11-9, after losing the 1962 final to the same duo in similar five-set fashion. Ralston and McKinley ousted Brits Mike Sangster and Graham Stilwell in 1964 final (6-3, 6-2, 6-4). Ralston earned his final doubles championship at the 1966 French Championships alongside Clark Graebner, impressively defeating Ilie Năstase and Ion Ţiriac, 6-3, 6-3, 6-0. Ralston fell in the 1966 U.S. Nationals finals in 1966 with Graeber, the 1969 US Open with Charlie Pasarell and the 1971 Wimbledon Championships with Arthur Ashe in five sets to Roy Emerson and Rod Laver.
Ralston played in four mixed doubles finals with four different partners, losing the 1962 and 1966 Wimbledon Championships with Ann Haydon Jones and Billie Jean King, respectively, the 1961 U.S. Nationals with Darlene Hard, and the 1969 US Open with Françoise Dürr.
A major singles title eluded Ralston, though he came close to winning the 1966 Wimbledon Gentlemen Singles championship. Seeded No. 6, he outlasted No. 7 seed Cliff Drysdale in a five-set marathon semifinal, 6-8, 8-6, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3. He had a fighting chance against No. 4 Manuel Santana, the Spaniard who said “grass is for cows.” In the final, though, the Centre Court grass suited Santana just fine and in one hour, 40 minutes earned a hard-fought 6-4, 11-9, 6-4 victory in a match the Associated Press called “easily one of the best finals seen here in many years.”
Outside the majors, Ralston had good success, winning, the U.S. Indoor Singles Championship (1963), doubles with McKinley (1963, 1965); the U.S. Clay Court Singles Championship (1964, 1965), doubles with McKinley (1961, 1964) and Graebner (1966); the U.S. Hard Court Singles Championship (1964, 1965), doubles in 1964 (with Bill Bond) and in 1965 (with Tom Edlefsen); and the U.S. Pro Doubles Champion in 1967 (with Ken Rosewall).
In 1966, Ralston turned professional, explaining to the Associated Press that “professional tennis offers me a future while amateur tennis in the United States offers a player nothing.” The financial terms were not disclosed, but it was believed Ralston signed a three-year contract for $100,000. “I’ve got a family and I do have to start looking toward the future,” Ralston said. His professional career saw him reach the semifinals of the U.S. Pro in 1968 and the quarterfinals of the Wembley Pro in 1967 and 1968.
Ralston was a member of the Handsome Eight, the original eight players signed to the World Championship Tennis tour at the end of 1967. In January of 1968 the tour began and paved the way for the ATP World Tour. Once the Open Era began, Ralston went back to playing in the major tournaments on the tour.
Ralston was ranked in the World Top 10 in singles five times between 1963 and 1968. He also represented the United States in Davis Cup competition as a player (1960-1966), a coach (1968-1971) and captain (1972-1975). He holds the distinction of being one of the few men to win the Davis Cup as both a player (1963 over Australia) and captain (1972 over Romania).
Ralston coached the SMU men’s tennis team from 1981-89, 91-93, compiling a 209-95 record, second best in school history. In 1983 he was named the NCAA National Coach of the Year and led the Mustangs to a second place national finish, best in school history. His third place national finishes in 1982 and 1986, fourth in 1985 and sixth in 1984 and 1987, all rank as the best subsequent marks in SMU tennis history.
Ralston was elected into the ITA Hall of Fame in 1983.
Australian Open: SF 1970
Wimbledon: F 1966
U.S. Nationals: SF 1960
Australian Open: SF 1971
French Championships: W 1966
Wimbledon: W 1960
U.S. Nationals: W 1961, 1963, 1964
French Championships: QF 1966
Wimbledon: F 1962, 1966
U.S. Nationals/US Open: F 1961, 1969