“He was my idol,” say both John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. “I wanted to play just like him,” adds Martina Navratilova. Roger Federer goes one better: “For me, he is the greatest of all time.”
That is the acclaim that meets Rod Laver’s legacy.
The Rockhampton Rocket is the only player, male or female, to win two Calendar Grand Slams in his career, and remains the last man to do so. But those 1962 and 1969 sweeps are simply the crowning triumphs of a glittering career that both transcended and reshaped the sport.
Laver won 200 titles in his career, including 20 Grand Slams in singles, doubles and mixed doubles spanning both the amateur and Open eras, in spite of a five-year absence from the majors after turning professional in 1963. He was the first player to break the $1,000,000 barrier in earnings – not bad for a slight, short southpaw from Queensland, whose first racket was a wooden hand-me-down with a shaved handle at the age of six.
A keen team player in his own time, Laver was also a stalwart in Australia’s dominant Davis Cup side, winning five titles. Yet for all his success, he remains unerringly humble about his achievements and place in the pantheon of sporting greats.
“I was certainly in awe of myself in many ways, because I was thinking, ‘how did I do all this,’” Laver says when reflecting on his career. But when his place among the all-time greats is mentioned, the 79-year-old is satisfied to leave the debating to everyone else. “If you can be the best in your era, that’s all you can expe