Forty years on, tennis fans of a certain age still get breathless at the thought of Pancho Gonzalez.

It's not just because he was married six times. He holds another tennis record which is unlikely to be beaten.

Gonzalez won the US Open in 1948, and in 1969, at the age of 41, triumphed in what many argue was the greatest match ever played. It was certainly the longest (5hr 12 mins). Given current rules it's likely to remain so. His Wimbledon match against 25-year-old Puerto Rican Charlie Pasarell lasted so long that it prompted the introduction of the tie-break. He won 22-24, 1-6, 16-14, 6-3, 11-9. And there were no chairs on court then for players to sit on between games in those days.

After the first set, in failing light, Gonzalez asked that play be suspended. Referee Mike Gibson refused and the petulant Gonzalez effectively threw the second set. He was booed as he walked off Centre Court.

In the fifth set, Gonzales won seven match points that Pasarell held against him, twice coming back from 0-40 down. But he then lost in the fourth round to Arthur Ashe.

Pasarell later confided he had been in tears in the locker-room, and that Gonzales had come in and sat next to him, patted him on the back, put a towel over his his head, and said: "I'm sorry."

Gonzales won eight professional singles titles from 1953 to 1961, and doubles titles at Wimbledon and the French Open in 1949. He was world No.1 for some eight years.

He taught himself to play with a racket his mum bought for 50 cents. The sport captivated him so much that he was pursued by school attendance officers and police. From a Mexican refugee family, he was ostracized by the exclusively European, predominantly upper-class Los Angeles tennis establishment of the 1940s. When the autocratic head of Californian tennis heard he was a serial truant, he was banned from tournaments.

But he was befriended by a tennis shop owner and sometimes slept there. Years later he was to buy the shop.

He was arrested for burglary aged 15 and spent a year in detention before serving two years in the Navy from which he received a bad-conduct discharge in 1947. He won his first US title the next year.

US champion and commentator Tony Trabert, badly beaten by Gonzales on a 101-match tour, disliked him intensely, but acknowledged: "Gonzales is the greatest natural athlete tennis has ever known."

"Gorgeous" Gussie Moran, who scandalised Wimbledon 60 years ago this year with her highly visible lace knickers, said that watching Gonzales was like "seeing a god patrolling his personal heaven."

Commentator Bud Collins said three years ago: "If I'd to choose someone to play for my life, it would be Pancho Gonzalez."

Pete Sampras rated him "potentially with anybody, including Lew Hoad." And Hoad said: "I think his game was the best game ever. Better than mine."

Gonzales made and lost fortunes, doubtless helped by having married and divorced six times and having seven children. His last wife was Rita, sister of Andre Agassi. When Gonzalez died, broke and almost friendless in 1995, and estranged from all his ex-wives and kids, except for Rita and their children, Agassi paid for his funeral.