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Ricardo Acuna reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals in 1985.

Players Rally For Ricardo Acuna

Pro-am helps to raise funds for his care

The tennis family is rallying around former player and coach Ricardo Acuna, who is battling Alzheimer’s disease.

A pro-am was held Wednesday to raise funds for the Chilean former Top 50 player, ATP and USTA national coach. Chilean gold medallists Fernando Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu, along with current and formers players Brian Baker, Robby Ginepri, Brian Gottfried, Tommy Paul, Reilly Opelka, Giovanni Lapentti, Diego Moyano and Raleigh Smith took part in a pro-am at the Royal Palm Tennis Club in Pinecrest, just south of Miami.

Additionally, a Go Fund Me page has been set up to raise funds for his care.

Former player Andres Pedroso, who helped to set up the pro-am, said that Acuna was a mentor when he worked as a USTA national coach in Boca Raton, Florida. “Ricardo took me under his wing, taught me a lot and helped me become a better coach for the players I was working with,” Pedroso said.

“He was always very loyal and an important lesson he taught me over dinner once is that true friendship involves staying in touch with people, asking how they are doing, keeping up with their lives, asking about their families. It wasn’t just about the tennis; he exposed me to another side of life. He taught me to invest in people and I have never forgotten that. I have tried to live that way.”

Acuna, now 58, played college tennis at Northwestern State University in Louisiana, where he was an all-American in 1979. As a pro he reached a career-high singles Emirates ATP Ranking of 47 in 1986 and he won three doubles titles. One of his most memorable runs came at Wimbledon in 1985, when he defeated David Pate and future champion Pat Cash en route to the quarter-finals. Acuna also served on the ATP Player Council during his career.

Brian Gottfried, who played Acuna just once in 1983, said: “He was an unusual player to hail from Chile; he was one of the few South Americans who played better on a faster surface. He was a good serve and volleyer and an accomplished doubles player.”

Gottfried spent much more time with Acuna after both retired when they worked side by side at the ATP Tennis Club at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. When the club opened in 1989, Acuna was the club’s first head pro and he later became tennis director when Gottfried was promoted to general manager.

“Ricardo showed tremendous loyalty and work ethic and was always a great team player, covering whatever needed to be done,” Gottfried said. “He did a lot of teaching for us and he had clients who would stay with him for so long that we joked that those clients were his college trust fund for his kids.

“He brought in pros to train at the ATP club and he still could handle most of them even when he stopped playing professionally. He kept himself in great shape and was always doing something physical, whether it was tennis, golf or soccer, and he was always smiling.”

J. Wayne Richmond, a former ATP executive and now the general manager of the Emirates Airline US Open Series, says that he treasures his friendship with Acuna. “I was fortunate to meet Ricardo during his great quarter-final run at Wimbledon in 1985 and we continued our friendship through when we both came to work at the ATP in Ponte Vedra.  He loved the sport and made friends with everyone he met along the way. A true pro in every sense of the word. Ricardo was so much fun to be around on and off the court.”

American player Brian Baker said that Acuna was instrumental in his development: “He was the first coach I worked full time with from the USTA. I met him when I was 14 or 15 and in my last couple of junior years he would travel with me. When I turned pro he’d travel with me, Amer Delic, Bobby Reynolds and a little bit with Rajeev [Ram].

“Ricardo was a great coach but also a really good friend. He had a no-nonsense approach to practice which I enjoyed; although practices were hard you felt like you accomplished a lot. He took his job seriously and he worked hard and stayed in shape. He remained a really good player and early on he’d beat us pretty bad when we played.

"He could also easily flip roles from on court to off the court, where he had a lively personality and he could joke around with the best of us. He was always up for doing something. When he lived in Ponte Vedra I would come down to train with him and stay with him and his wife and kids (Rachel and Christian).”

As Acuna’s family, friends and colleagues coalesce to support him during his battle with Alzheimer’s, Gottfried best sums up the feeling within the tennis family. “This is something we want to do for Ricardo, not for charity, but to say thank you for touching our lives.”

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