With the Australian Open just around the corner, let’s take a trip down memory lane to remember the man who brought greatness to Aussie tennis – Rod Laver.
Rod Laver is not only regarded as one of the greatest Australian tennis players of all time, but has even been argued as one of the greatest tennis players worldwide too. His career success in tennis not only earnt him the honor of having the Australian Open centre court, Rod Laver Arena named after him, but also the annual Team Europe vs Team World tournament, the Laver Cup.
Australian tennis had started to peak around the 50s and 60s era, with big-name players such as Ken Rosewall, Roy Emerson and John Newcombe blasting onto the scene and representing the land downunder in their stride. However, it was Rod Laver who led this movement, absolutely dominating the 60s era of tennis with 11 Grand Slam wins just in that decade.
In 1962, Rod Laver became just the second man in the world to win all four Grand Slams in that calendar year, a feat which was previously achieved by American player Don Budge in 1938. This was a huge milestone for Australian tennis, and the world began to recognise Australia as one of the “tennis hubs” of the world, possessing an arsenal of world-class players.
As the 60s progressed, it became relevant that the tennis scene was being dominated by the Aussies, with 32 out of the 40 Grand Slams played within the decade of 1960-1969, was won by an Australian player. This achievement was a joint-effort between Rod Laver and Roy Emerson, Australia’s ace players at the time, who obtained a combined Grand Slam championship title count of 23 Grand Slams together in the 60s.
Even when Rod Laver and Roy Emerson were off the scene in the Grand Slam finals, Australia’s huge arsenal of tennis stars would often rise to claim the title. Such players included Neale Fraser, Fred Stolle and John Newcombe, all of whom secured more than one Grand Slam in the 60s.
Essentially, there was almost always an Australian player who would be in the finals of a 60s Grand Slam, and at times even 2 Aussies battling it out for the title. While Rod Laver was not the most accomplished Australian Grand Slam winner, as this feat was toppled by Roy Emerson, who secured 12 during his career compared to Laver’s 11 titles, there are other more prominent reasons which gave rise to the legacy of Rod Laver essentially becoming the father of Australian tennis.
Perhaps one of the greatest achievements that can be made in one’s tennis career, winning all four Grand Slams within the same calendar year, is a feat that requires the utmost of dedication, focus and effort to accomplish. Rod Laver not only became the second man ever to do this in 1962, but became the first man ever to achieve the feat twice, repeating another calendar Grand Slam win in 1969, completely dominating 2 entire years of professional tennis in the 1960s.
What many do not know about Rod Laver, is his enormous success outside of Grand Slam tennis, which essentially propelled him to heights higher than his high-achieving Australian comrades. Such achievements include, but are not limited to, leading the Davis Cup Australian team to victory on 5 occasions, in an era where the Davis Cup was as significant as the Grand Slams, making this a huge accomplishment for Rod Laver and the Australia’s status in the tennis world.
Rod Laver’s success in tennis is a little more complex to describe using modern ATP Tour terminology, as many events have been renamed and restructured. Additionally, other tournaments, such as the Davis Cup, have lost much of their significance, which may downplay the true nature of some of Laver’s accomplishments.
Before the Open Era of Grand Slam tennis existed, that is, prior to 1968, professional players were not allowed to compete in Grand Slam tennis, as these were originally reserved for amateur players. As Rod Laver turned pro in 1963, the years between 1963 and 1968 was a time when Laver was not allowed to enter Grand Slams, due to him being a pro and the Open Era yet to begin.
As such, what many people do not realise is that Rod Laver competed in professional tournaments known as ‘Pro Slams’ during this time, which consisted of the Wembley Pro, US Pro and French Pro. Unbelievably, Rod Laver secured another calendar year win during the Pro Slams in 1967, for a total of 8 Pro Slam titles to his name during his 5 years away from the amateur Grand Slam events.
Amazingly, this would mean that Rod Laver won 11 Grand Slam titles and 8 Pro Slam titles, for a total of 19 Major tennis singles titles, which rivals the insanely high numbers we are seeing from the ‘Big 3’ today. Furthermore, seeing as the Davis Cup was equivalent to a Grand Slam title during that era, we could count in Laver’s 5 Davis Cup titles for a total of 24 Major titles to his name, which surpasses every player in history’s Major title claims.
Without a doubt, Rod Laver’s achievements are absolutely astonishing and when properly understood, it is easy to see how he earnt such a legendary status in the sport. His achievements could definitely be compared to the ‘Big 3’ of today, and what he has done for not just Australian tennis, but for tennis as a whole, is truly remarkable in every sense of the word.