Originally Posted by krosero
Vines wrote in his book (p. 52), in '78:
His greatest tour was against Lew Hoad. Gonzales was behind 21 matches to 9 [actually 18-9, later 18-11, still later 20-16] on their 1957-58 tour, even though he was at his peak and playing a less experienced Hoad. The Australian was getting to his backhand. Says Hoad: “Gonzales was not a top-class backhand shotmaker, but he could control his backhand. It couldn’t hurt you, but he could set up the ball for forehand winners with it, and he had a tremendous forehand.”
He adds that because of Pancho’s hammer grip he could hit backhands only “up the sideline.” Hoad would force this side and just cut it off at the net. It looked like the tour was going to be a runaway as Hoad was getting stronger match by match. Once a player gets that far behind on a pro tour it is difficult to catch up; the leader has the psychological momentum.
At 21 to 9 Gonzales did an amazing thing – he changed his backhand grip. A grip is so fundamental to a tennis player that a change of this sort in the middle of a tour is unheard of; yet Gonzales did it. He knew he would have to hit crosscourt off the backhand or he’d never close the gap. Almost overnight he moved his hand to the back of the handle in the approved Eastern backhand fashion and started hitting crosscourt too.
His greatest match against Hoad was on May 5, 1958, in the U.S. Professional tournament. After losing the first two sets, 3-6, 4-6, Pancho – a few days away from his thirtieth birthday – managed to call on all his experience to edge the much younger Australian powerhouse in a fantastic 14-12 third set. This was the turning point of the match and eventually the tour; Pancho ran out the next two sets 6-1, 6-4. The tour ended with Gonzales ahead 51 matches to 37.
The grip shift was only on groundstroke exchanges; on returning service he struck to his hammer grip on both sides. The automatic reflex for the backhand switch on a service return has to be acquired early. A weird psychology is at work here; the grip change takes only a split second, but to the unaccustomed it seems an eternity. Budge, Riggs, Tilden, Schroeder, Patty, Kramer, and Trabert did it effortlessly; Gonzales realized it was too late in his career unconsciously to change grips on returning serve; however, the baseline duels allowed time for the adjustment. Also his old-style backhand was well-suited for handling kick second serves because it was a shorter, more deceptive stroke than a regular Eastern backhand.
Interesting account but it raises one question for me: how was Hoad able to take an even greater lead on Pancho (13-5) the following year?
Vines' account is contradicted by Kramer, who describes how the turnaround in results was caused by Hoad's back problem.
This explains the sudden change in fortunes.
In 1959, Hoad led at 13-5 until, again, his back acted up.