Rod Laver: One Of The Makers Of The Tennis History

Rod Laver

Rodney George Laver AC MBE (born 9 August 1938) is an Australian former tennis player.

Rodney George Laver was born in Rockhampton, Australia, on 9 August 1938.

He was the third of four children of Roy Laver, a cattleman, and butcher, and his wife Melba Roffey.

Amongst his relatives were the cricketers Frank Laver and Jack Laver.

Laver was a teenager when he left school to pursue a tennis career that lasted 24 years.

He was coached in Queensland by Charlie Hollis and later by the Australian Davis Cup team captain Harry Hopman, who gave Laver the nickname “Rocket”.

Laver was both Australian and US Junior champion in 1957. He had his breakthrough on the world stage in 1959, when he reached all three finals at Wimbledon, winning the mixed doubles title with Darlene Hard.

As an unseeded player, he lost the singles final to Peruvian Alex Olmedo after surviving an 87-game semifinal against American Barry MacKay. His first major singles title was the Australian Championships in 1960, where he defeated fellow Australian Neale Fraser in a five-set final after coming back from two sets down and saving a Fraser championship point in the fourth set.

Laver captured his first Wimbledon singles crown in 1961 beating Chuck McKinley in straight sets in the final, which lasted just 53 minutes (one of the shortest men’s singles Wimbledon finals on record).

Laver was ranked the world No. 1 amateur in 1961 by Lance Tingay.

In 1962, Laver became the first male player since Don Budge in 1938 to win all four Grand Slam singles titles in the same year.

He won an additional 18 titles, for a season total of 22.

In December 1962 Laver turned professional after winning the Davis Cup with the Australian team.

After an initial period of adjustment, he quickly established himself among the leading professional players such as Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, Andrés Gimeno, and also Pancho Gonzales when Gonzales returned to a full-time schedule in 1964. During the next seven years, Laver won the U.S. Pro Tennis Championships five times, including four in a row beginning in 1966.

With the dawn of the Open Era in 1968, professional players were once again allowed to compete in Grand Slam events. Laver became Wimbledon’s first Open Era champion in 1968, beating the best amateur, American Arthur Ashe, in a semifinal and fellow Australian Tony Roche in the final, both in straight sets.

Laver was also the runner-up to Ken Rosewall in the first French Open. In this first “open” year, there were only eight open events besides Wimbledon and the French Open, where professionals, registered players, and amateurs could compete against each other.

The professionals mainly played their circuit, with two groups – National Tennis League (NTL) and World Championships Tennis (WCT) – operating. Laver was ranked No. 1 universally, winning the US Professional Championships on grass and the French Pro Championship on clay (both over John Newcombe).

Laver also won the last big open event of the year, the Pacific Southwest in Los Angeles on hard courts. Ashe regarded Laver’s 4–6, 6–0, 6–0 final win over Ken Rosewall as one of his finest performances.

In 1969, Laver won all four Grand Slam tournaments in the same calendar year for the second time, sealing the achievement with a four-set win over Roche in the US Open final.

He won 18 of the 32 singles tournaments he entered (still the Open Era titles record) and compiled a 106–16 win–loss record.

Laver helped Australia win the Davis Cup four consecutive times from 1959 to 1962. In 1973, professionals were permitted to play in the Davis Cup for the first time, and Laver was on a winning team for the fifth time, claiming two singles and a doubles rubber in the final as Australia beat the United States 5–0. Australia was crowned Davis Cup champions in each of the five seasons Laver played in the competition.

Laver won 16 out of 20 Davis Cup singles matches and all four of his doubles.

  1. In 2000, the center court at Melbourne Park, which today hosts the Australian Open, was named the Rod Laver Arena in his honor. In 2016, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia.
  • The hall at the Rockhampton Tennis Association’s Victoria Park precinct in Wandal where Laver competed until the age of 14 was named the Rod Laver Hall upon its completion in December 1963 in recognition of his Grand Slam win the previous year.
  • In 1969, Laver was awarded the ABC Sportsman of the Year Award and the BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1981.

He was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985 and upgraded to a Legend of Australian Sport in 2002. He is also an Australian Living Treasure. In 1998, Laver received the Philippe Chatrier Award (the ITF’s highest accolade) for his contributions to tennis, and in 2000, Centre Court at the National Tennis Centre in Melbourne was renamed Rod Laver Arena.

  • Laver was named as a Queensland Great in June 2005. In 2009, he was inducted into the Queensland Sport Hall of Fame. Also in 2009, as part of the Q150 celebrations, Laver was named one of the Q150 Icons of Queensland.
  • Bronze busts of Laver and Margaret Court by sculptor Barbara McLean were unveiled at Melbourne Park in 1993 upon their induction into the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame. Another bronze bust of Laver, also by McLean was installed on the banks of the Fitzroy River in Rockhampton’s city center and was unveiled by Laver and Rockhampton City Council deputy mayor Dell Bunt on 7 December 2002.

There was some concern raised by the local community when the bust was removed in 2016 during the riverbank redevelopment. However, the bust was re-installed upon the completion of the redevelopment which was officially opened in 2018, with the recreational precinct on the low bank being named Rod Laver Plaza. A bronze statue of Laver by sculptor Lis Johnson was unveiled at Melbourne Park before the 2017 Australian Open.

In 1966, Laver married Mary Benson in San Rafael, California. Born Mary Shelby Peterson in Illinois, she was a divorcee with three children. Together, they had a son named Rick. The family lived at various locations in California including Rancho Mirage, Corona del Mar, a ranch near Santa Barbara, and Carlsbad. Mary Laver died in November 2012 at the age of 84 at their home in Carlsbad.

On 27 July 1998, Laver suffered a stroke while being interviewed by ESPN-TV in the United States for their Sports Century 20th Century sports retrospective series.

He was hospitalized for a month and suffered from memory and speech difficulties after the stroke, but recovered over the following year.

Laver resides in Carlsbad, California, and attended San Diego Chargers games on occasion. On October 1, 2017, he was inducted into the Southern California Tennis Hall of Fame.

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