Rod Laver. The name is synonymous with sporting greatness. The Australian has achieved the most difficult feat in tennis. Twice. Complete a Calendar Grand Slam: win all four Grand Slams in a calendar year.
Laver first achieved the feat in 1962 when he won all four Majors in a tennis calendar year. But before the Open Era, the Grand Slams were only open for amateurs. So the Australian’s achievement didn’t receive the credit it deserved. There was always an asterisk mark against it.
But in 1969, the first full year of the Open Era, Laver, already an established great by then, was out to prove his doubters wrong.
When he arrived at the US Open which was known as the US National Championships before the Open Era, he was on a 23-game unbeaten run and had won all the three Grand Slams before.
He was the favourite to win at his favourite Grand Slam but it wasn’t easy for him to keep his focus. His wife was expecting a child and the due date was on the day of the US Open final.
But Laver revealed that he was asked by his wife Mary to focus on his job.
“Once Wimbledon ended, Mary returned to California and I went on the road and didn’t look back. I felt I was busy with my program. I was very happy and Mary was happy too, she told me to do my thing. She had her daughter, Ann, with her and there was plenty of people around, so we left it as was. Thinking of Mary certainly eased my concerns about completing the calendar-year Grand Slam,” Laver had told ATP Tour website in 2019.
Laver began the US Open against USA’s Denis Ralston, who took him to a five-setter in the fourth round (6-4, 4-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3). In the quarters, he needed four sets to get the better of Roy Emerson before he seemed at his sublime best in the semi-finals where he beat defending champion Arthur Ashe of USA (8-6, 6-3, 14-12).
But the final against compatriot Tony Roche, against whom Laver had played out an epic five-setter in the Australian Open semi-final earlier in the year, was going to be a tough ask.
On the day of the final, the weather too wasn’t kind. In fact, the final had been shifted to Tuesday, September 9, 1969. The US Open court which was a grass one at the time was slippery.
Laver struggled on the turf and lost the first set 7-9. The chair umpire allowed him to wear spikes from the second set onwards
“I ended up losing that set, but I had spikes on and felt more comfortable,” Laver was quoted as saying by Tennis Majors.
The impact was evident as he won the remaining three sets with ease, claiming the final 7-9, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2.
He had created history again and this time in the Open Era there was no room for any doubts.
But for Laver, there was no time to celebrate. After the game, he rushed to call his wife and tell her about his latest feat and also to check on her. She wasn’t in labour yet and she only delivered the child three weeks later with Laver by her side.
It all fell in place for the Australian who to date remains the only male tennis player to win a Calendar Grand Slam. It’s a fact that surprises the legend. Five men – Jimmy Connors in 1974, Mats Wilander in 1988, Roger Federer in 2004, 2006 and 2007, Rafael Nadal in 2010 and Novak Djokovic in 2011, 2015 and 2021 have come close, winning three Grand Slams in a year but nobody has managed to do what Laver did first in 1962 and later in 1969.
“It is amazing, when I look at the players who have competed over the past 50 years, whether it was Connors, John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Pete Sampras, or Federer, Nadal and Djokovic in today’s era,” Laver spoke of being the only male tennis player to win a Calendar Slam.
Laver’s historic feat came at the age of 31 when many believed he was past his best days. But the Australian delivered the most dominant performance in a calendar year by any male tennis player.
In 1969, Laver won 18 of 32 tournaments with 106 wins out of 122 although some new sources have him at 108 wins out of 124 matches. He of course won the Grand Slam but he also won big tournaments like the South African Open, the Philadelphia Indoors, the US Pro, Wembley among other tournaments.
His name is immortalised in tennis history and the centre court at the Australian Open was named after him in 2001.
Relive Laver’s 1969 Wimbledon win below:
Relive Laver’s 1969 French Open win below:
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