In what was only the second Wimbledon in the Open era, the 1969 edition of the most significant tennis event in the world will forever be remembered for the first round clash between Pancho Gonzales and Charlie Pasarell, with the veteran prevailing 22-24, 1-6, 16-14, 6-3, 11-9!
The encounter had lasted five hours and 20 minutes and it would remain the longest Grand Slam match until 1992, with Gonzales and Pasarell pushing each other to the limits for two days to write Wimbledon history, with those 112 games staying at the top of the record charts until Isner vs Mahut match from 2010.
Pancho was 41 at that moment and had a lot to offer, known as one of the best servers in the history of the game and still competing on a very high level after turning 40. In what has been one of the biggest ironies in the history of our sport, Pancho never played in the quarter-final at Wimbledon, reaching the fourth round on debut in 1949 and staying away from the event until the beginning of the Open era as he turned pro in 1950 to stay away from amateur tournaments.
Charlie Pasarell took down the defending champion Manolo Santana in the first round in 1967 and pushed Ken Rosewall to the limits a year later, heading to Wimbledon with big expectations in 1969. By the will of the draw, he had to play veteran Gonzales in the first round and it turned out to be one of the most entertaining encounters ever seen at the All England Club.
The match brought all kind of drama already in the first set with Pasarell taking it 24-22 after converting the 12th set point, also taking the second set 6-1 before they had to leave the court due to darkness. Frustrated over the fact they didn't halt the match earlier, Pancho had a lot of work to do from set number three on the next day, stealing it 16-14 on the eighth set point when Charlie hit two double faults, leveling the overall score at two sets all after taking the fourth 6-3 when Charlie double faulted again.
Nonetheless, the ultimate test was still in front of Gonzales who saved a triple match point at 4-5 and 6-7 in the fifth set to stay in contention! He had to repel another one at 7-8 before moving ahead with a break in game 19 when Pasarell sprayed a volley error, bringing the victory home on own serve in the next game after more than five hours, winning the last 11 points of the match.
Gonzales needed all kind of efforts to come as a winner against the player he used to coach, often relying only on his serve in the latter stages and finding the strength to make that crucial break that carried him over the finish line.
Pancho then went on to reach the round 16 where Arthur Ashe beat him in four sets. In the chaotic and disorganized Tour between World War II and the start of the Open era, Pancho played at Wimbledon in 1949 and never returning until 1968, missing numerous chances to win many Wimbledon crowns since he was an ultimate serve&volley player.
His attacking skills were second to none and he is still the only player who had forced the officials to try to change the basic tennis rules to stop his dominance!