For all those players and patrons who enter Rod Laver area, the official site of the 2009 Australian Open Tennis Tournament, and the home to much of Australia’s tennis history, it is important for them all to pay homage to ‘the greatest tennis player of all time’.
Rod ‘Rocket’ Laver was born into a family of tennis players. One of 13 children, they all played tennis, some at club level, some at State level and some at International level. The family always had a tennis court in their back yard, and one or other of the parents was always available to give lessons. The Laver family were a tennis institution. Tennis in the 1950’s was a game for amateur players, a gentleman’s game played by the sons and daughters of the elite. Money never entered the minds of the officials who ruled the major events.
In 1956 Laver won the US Junior Open, in 1959 he played Davis Cup for Australia, and he won his first Grand Slam in 1962, capturing the four titles in London, New York, Paris and Sydney. He appeared in 6 successive Wimbledon finals which was closed to professional players until the ban was lifted in 1968. His first Grand Slam achievement, as incredible as it was, was tainted by the fact that many of the top players were prohibited from playing because of their professional status. Rod Laver decided to join them, he turned pro in 1962 for a guaranteed three year income of $110,000.
For almost 7 years, when he was at his prime age of between 23 and 29, he was banned from every Major tournament, and from playing Davis Cup because of his professional status. Who can even hazard a guess as to the number of championships he would have won during those years. When the ban against professionals was lifted and tournaments were open to all the players, Laver jumped into the fray with both feet. He had lots to prove, and prove it he did. At the age of 29 he won his second Grand Slam, this time against the best players of the era. In the same year, 1969, he won 106 singles matches, and 17 tournaments. When the ban was lifted to allow professionals to compete in Davis Cup matches, he signed up at the age of 35, and led Australia to three consecutive victories over the dominant US team.
He was elevated to the Hall of Fame in 1981, and in 1998 he suffered a major stroke that left him paralysed. He has learnt how to walk again, and how to speak, and how to use his arms. He visited Roland Garros to present Andre Agassi his trophy for winning all four major tournaments, even though they were not in one calendar year. There is virtually a unanimous consensus among today’s top players that agrees with Rod Laver’s title as the ‘Greatest Player of All Time’.