Monday, January 26, 2015

Rocket Rod Laver and the Last True Grand Slam

It's more than fitting that the finals of the Australian Open are played in Rod Laver Arena, named for the compact redhead with the powerful left forearm who is the holder of the last true Grand Slam in men's tennis.    

The Rocket won the Australian, French, Wimbledon and U.S. Open in 1969, the second year of the Open Era, repeating the calendar Grand Slam he won in 1962 as an amateur.  No man has won a calendar year Grand Slam since, and none have really even come close --Sampras, who won 14 Grand Slam events,  never even reached a French Open final.  Laver, who won 11, missed 1963-1967 because he turned pro when only amateurs were allowed to compete in the slams. He surely would have won more if he hadn't missed those years, and most likely would hold as many or more as Roger Federer's leading count of 17.

Federer, Andre Agassi, and Rafael Nadal have won the career Grand Slam, but Laver won all four twice in the same year, and forty-six years ago he did it against all-comers -- pros and amateurs alike.  To his credit, Laver is very gracious, saying that the game was not as good in his day as it is now.  And three of the four slams then were played on grass and one on clay, unlike today's mixture of two hard courts, one grass and one clay. But the fact is Laver did it, not once, but twice.  

Until Djokovic or someone else comes along and lofts all four championship trophies in the same calendar year, The Rocket should still be called the Grand Slam king.

You can read Laver's beguiling memoir,  The Education of a Tennis Player, (co-written with Bud Collins and reissued by New Chapter Press) and watch his 1969 Wimbledon final win below.

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