We all know the main court at Melbourne Park is named after him, and we’ve heard greats like Federer and Sampras pay tribute to him, but what has made Rod Laver so revered in a game brimming with outstanding talent and superstars?
His autobiography, Rod Laver – A Memoir, helps answer this and offers a wonderful insight into what lies behind the determination, grit and sheer talent of such an incredible player.
The book explores Laver’s early years growing up in Rockhampton, setting the scene for the tennis player he was to become. Smaller than average and the youngest of three boys, he was always up against it and this seemed to toughen him, steel him, yet never harden him.
His description of his relationship with his first coach Charlie Hollis is the stuff of Hollywood film. Hollis not only taught Laver what it would take to succeed at tennis, but at life. Along with Hollis, another great coach and influence, Harry Hopman, gave Laver a firm foundation from which to move the world, and boy did he.
Laver’s memoir is as much a history lesson about the golden era of Australian tennis as it is a story about a player. Currently no Australian males are ranked in the top 10 in the world tennis, yet during Laver’s playing days, eight of the top ten male tennis players in the world were Australian. The thought is almost inconceivable nowadays.
Laver writes of Australian tennis legends he played and more often than not beat, as they toured the world during his amateur and professional career. Names like Rosewall, Hoad, Emerson, Sedgman, Roche and Newcombe are described not only as friends, but fierce rivals.
While Laver didn’t win every match he played, you feel like he never lost the ones that truly mattered. The bigger the stakes the better he played, the tougher the challenge the higher he soared. His exceptional records when games went to five sets proved that he had a will to win that had no match.
An interesting element of the book is the evolution of tennis from the amateur to the professional and onto the open era. From the ‘gypsy years’, when Laver recounts how players would travel to towns and earn a wage if spectators showed up, to being banned from amateur events after turning professional, it was a world away from the security, prize money and endorsements of today. But, as Laver tells, this era of tennis brought out the best in its players, playing to promote the game they loved and secure a livelihood.
There is a gripping undercurrent through the book about Laver – his determination and passion is as evident as his on-court success. His gamesmanship, professionalism and, above all, his deep respect for tennis, shine through as he shares his journey.
His record is phenomenal. There are too many victories to mention, but the one that stands out for most is the fact that he won the Grand Slam of tennis twice, the only person in history ever to do so.
As you read his memoir you begin to get the feeling that Laver, with his Popeye-sized forearm is invincible. So when he describes his stroke at 60 years of age, you’re blown away that such a person could be struck down. But with the knowledge you pick up through the book, you know he has what it takes to beat it. Just like he did so many times in his career, Laver grits his teeth, wills himself to be sharper, to work harder and to do whatever it takes to win. His battle to recover from the effects of his stroke is no less inspiring than his Grand Slam wins, if anything, it’s more.
When you tune into the Australian Open this year, and they focus on the red-headed older man sitting in the front row of the arena that bears his name, have a greater respect, understanding and admiration for the legend that is Rod Laver.
To purchase Rod Laver – A Memoir visit panmacmillan.com.au