THE AMAZING LIFE OF ROD LAVER: Everything you didn't know about the tennis legend from Australia

It has been more than 100 years since tennis became a popular sport played practically all over the world.

According to some data, tennis is the third in global popularity after football and basketball. Some sports like cricket and American football are more popular in certain states, but globally tennis is the third sport.

Tennis is also one of the most popular recreational sports, which is easy to notice, as each city has at least a few tennis fields.

This tells us that tennis has been played by several million people since the end of the 19th century.

However, one name has been synonymous with tennis for half a century – Rod Laver.

Although bigger stars and even more successful players have appeared, the famous Australian will forever remain famous.

And, many tennis fans don’t know enough about his life, successes, and impact on tennis.

We decided to change and bring Laver closer to our tennis audience.

In this text, you will learn more about his childhood, amazing career, rivals, style games, and private life.

Laver’s childhood

Rodney George Laver was born on August 9, 1938, but the whole world will hear about him about 20 years later.

He was born in Rockhampton, which is located in the northernmost Australian state, Queensland.

Today, Rockhampton has about 80,000 inhabitants, and in 1938 it had less than that, so Laver was not born in a big city.

Laver
Rod Laver photo by Guliver

Also, his parents did not belong to the upper class, and tennis was considered a sport of the rich and aristocracy at the time.

His father, Roy Laver, was a butcher and engaged in animal husbandry, while his mother, Melba, was a housewife.

That did not stop Rod from playing tennis and becoming the most successful player of that time.

He even left high school to play tennis, which was not such a common move at the time, as the sport was generally not as profitable as it is today.

The career of the great Rod

Laver’s career is divided into several parts because when he started, tennis was not an organized sport like it is today.

He was an amateur at the beginning, then he became a professional, and then came the Open Era, which is still relevant today.

Beginnings and amateur career:

Rod Laver is 173 cm tall, which was considered a height then as well as now, which will be a limiting factor for a player to probably achieve great results.

There are exceptions like Schwartzman even today, but his height also limited him to reaching the biggest players.

Since Laver is short by tennis standards, most coaches did not want to work with him.

That did not sway him, but he continued to train hard every day, and as we have already said, he even left school so that he could dedicate himself completely to tennis.

As effort almost always brings the desired results, so it brought him.

He was noticed first by Charlie Hollis, and then by Harry Hopman, captain of the Davis Cup of the Australian national team and the man after whom the Hopman Cup is named today.

It was Hopman who gave Laver the nickname “Rocket” which described his character and style of play.

The effort, work, talent, and acquaintance with Hopman brought Laver a place in the Davis Cup team of Australia when he was only 18 years old.

That 1956 was the year when Laver first appeared in the world tennis scene. In addition to becoming part of the Davis Cup team of Australia, he also started playing tournaments outside Australia.

In the following year, he became a two-time junior Grand Slam champion, and then in 1959, he played the Wimbledon final, where he lost 3-0 in sets to American Alex Olmedo, after beating Barry McKay in the semifinals, in a match that lasted 87 games, which at the time was one of the longest matches.

The following year came to his first Grand Slam title in singles.

After losing two zeros in sets to Neale Fraser and even saving the ball in the 4th set, he manages to turn around and reach the trophy.

In 1961, he won Wimbledon for the first time, where he defeated Chuck McKinley in the final in just 53 minutes, one of the shortest Wimbledon finals ever.

And then comes 1962 when something happened that never happened before, and then only happened again in 1969. Laver is responsible for both of those years.

Winning the calendar Grand Slam, ie winning all four Grand Slams in a year.

From 1969 until today, the closest to repeating that was our Novak Djokovic, who was one match away from that, but he was prevented by Daniil Medvedev.

Laver
Rod Laver photo by Guliver

Let’s go back to 1962. Laver won all 4 Grand Slams and 18 more titles, a total of 22 single titles a year. He won all three of the most important clay-court tournaments at the time – Roland Garros, Rome, and Hamburg.

Winning Roland Garros was the hardest.

As the slag at Roland Garros was very slow then, as it is now, it caused Laver big problems.

He had to play as many as three matches in a row in 5 sets – quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals.

In the quarterfinals, he saved the match with a famous service volley on the second serve, against Martin Mulligan.

In the final, he lost 2-0 and 3-0 in the third set to his compatriot and legendary tennis player Roy Emerson, and that match is certainly one of the biggest upheavals in the history of tennis when we take the result and the importance of the match.

He won Wimbledon and the US Open very easily, only Manolo Santana bothered him at Wimbledon, where he could take a 2-0 lead. Everything else was a routine for young Laver, who thus completes one of the most successful seasons in the history of tennis.

Professional career

At the end of 1962, Laver added the Davis Cup trophy to his showcases and decided that the only logical next step was to become a professional and join his compatriot Ken Rosewall, and other most famous professionals of that time.

After the initial defeats, at the beginning of 1963, when he first became a professional player, from the middle of 1963 until 1968, he won the biggest trophies.

He won a double-digit number of trophies every year, but the Grand Slams were not among them.

The reason is that before the Open Era, only amateurs could play Grand Slams, and professionals played other types of tournaments.

It is certain that Laver would have reached the number of Grand Slams that no one could have knocked down if he had had the opportunity to play them all the time.

LAVER CUP Prague, 24. 09. 2017 Rod LAVER photo by Guliver

Laver’s Open Era

The Open Era marked a whole new era of tennis, in the true sense of the word.

Professionals were allowed to compete with amateurs and that meant Laver could play Grand Slams again.

In general, the Open Era created tennis as we know it today and improved the quality of all tournaments.

In 1969, Laver repeated what he did in 1962 and won a total of 18 of the 32 tournaments he played, which is a record even today.

So Laver still holds that record and even twice a calendar slam, while no one has succeeded to win even one.

It seemed that Sampras, Agassi, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic would succeed, but so far no one has succeeded. That is exactly what speaks of how incredible this achievement is, and that is why no one will be wrong if he says that Laver is a GOAT, although he is often unfairly left out of that story.

Laver is also the first tennis player to earn a million dollars, which does not seem so much for today’s standard, but it was practically unattainable then.

He continued to play until 1977, but he reduced the number of tournaments in which he participated, so he did not repeat such successful years, although he was always at the top, until his retirement.

In the end, he ended his career with 74 titles in singles, so he is still in the top 10 by the number of titles.

Doubles

Today, we no longer have players, especially in men’s tennis, who win Grand Slams in both singles and doubles.

But when Laver played, everyone played both singles and doubles. Even the first big titles Laver won in the doubles, not in singles.

In 1959, he won the AO in the doubles, and he repeated it several more times, while he won Wimbledon and Roland Garros once in the doubles. He played the US Open final three times but lost all three times.

However, the US Open managed to win in the mixed doubles, as did one Roland Garros.

In total, he won 37 doubles titles, which makes him one of the most successful doubles players, although of course he was overtaken by the Briyan Brothers and other specialized doubles players.

Rod Laver’s biggest rivals

When it comes to the biggest rivalries in tennis, the matches between Nole, Rafa, and Roger probably come to mind first. Those older tennis fans remember, for example, Agassi and Sampras, Borg and McEnroe, Connors and Lendl.

But one of the greatest rivalries of all time in tennis is between Rod Laver and Kenny Rosewall.

The two of them played at least 164 matches against each other, and Laver leads 89-75, at least according to official statistics.

They played the most matches in 1963, as many as 51.

They met twice in the Grand Slam final, the score is 1-1, and in the Pro Slams finals, Rosewall leads 6-5.

They played a lot of fantastic matches and make each other better, which they both said many times in interviews.

Rosewall was not the only Australian with whom Laver played a large number of matches.

Emerson and Laver also played over 70 matches, although Laver was significantly more dominant in this rivalry.

He also played over 50 matches with Pancho Gonzalez, a player from the USA.

Laver dominated another legendary player from the USA, Arthur Ashe, after whom the largest tennis stadium in the world is named, and who is the only dark-skinned player to win AO, USO, and Wimbledon. He won the first 18 matches against him, and he lost to Ash for the first time when he was 35 years old.

The distinctive style of play

Laver’s style of play, as well as the style of play of all players from that era, differs significantly from the tennis that we see today.

There are many reasons why this is so.

Wooden rackets could not generate the blows that we see today, the same goes for strings and balls. Also, the fitness level of the players was much lower.

All this does not mean that tennis was boring then, it was just different.

Laver was one of the first to start playing from the baseline, with the service-volley game that dominated at the time.

Laver’s technique was perfect and so he made up for his short stature.

Laver is left-handed, which made it even harder for opponents to play against him.

He is among the first players to start playing with a lot of top spins, which are used today by practically all players to a great extent.

Due to his very strong hand, especially his forearm, Laver managed to hit a lot of winners from the backhand and thus created a huge advantage, as well as a service that varied and could very well hide the type of service.

At the beginning of his career, Laver was very attractive, but his style of play was not so effective on all surfaces, especially on clay.

Over the years, he adapted the game to all surfaces, and he was also known for being able to change tactics in the middle of a match if he sees himself losing. That brought him a lot of success in long matches.

Laver is certainly the most complete player of his generation when we look at technique, tactics, and fitness.

A little about Laver’s private life

Rod Laver is a person you will often see in the stands even today, even though he is in his late years.

And not just at the Australian Open, but all over the world.

On the other hand, he never exposed himself too much to his personal life.

From 1966 to 2012 and the death of his wife, he was married to Mary Bensen, with whom he has one son.

Also, three children that Mary had from a previous marriage lived with them.

At their wedding were Emerson, Rosewall, and other famous tennis players, who made a racket passage for the two of them after the wedding ceremony in front of the church.

Influence and tennis engagement after a career

Rod Laver’s influence and legacy are enormous.

He will forever remain among the most respected tennis players, and that is completely deserved.

Today, when he hands over trophies to the winners of the tournament, we can see the respect that all players have for him.

He has pointed out many times that he is a big fan of Roger Federer, but he follows Djokovic and Nadal equally.

He showed his greatness with statements so as not to take a game from today’s players, as far as they have progressed.

Only a man without vanity and who has achieved everything in life can say that.

And despite the modest words, we are sure that he would have a lot of success to play in today’s era because he would adapt his game and have modern equipment.

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