Rod Laver is among the greatest tennis players the world has ever seen, and the inspiration behind the Laver Cup.
He grew up playing on a court rolled on his family’s cattle farm in outback Queensland, as a small boy building his game around his gifts of speed and power and honing them with relentless determination and passion.
At 15 he caught the eye of Australia’s legendary Davis Cup captain Harry Hopman.
Within three years (1956) Laver was a member of the Australian Davis Cup team and just three years later won his first Grand Slam singles title, at the Australian Championships in 1960.
Laver was aggressive, using his power and accuracy to pin opponents into corners of the court and his speed to come to the net and finish them off. He once said he wasn’t a great orator, preferring to let his racquet do the talking – it spoke beautifully and delivered with thundering volume.
Over the next two years, Laver continued to rack up major titles, peaking in 1962 when he won the coveted Grand Slam – the Australian, French, Wimbledon and US titles in the one season. That year he also won the Italian and German titles and was a part of Australia’s winning Davis Cup team.
He did all this while working to make ends meet and cover his expenses, so the following season Laver made the big decision to turn professional, thus disqualifying himself from the Grand Slam tournaments – which at that time were only open to amateur players.
For five seasons, while in his prime years of 25 to 30, he played exhibition matches on the fledgling professional tennis circuit. He missed out on competing at 20 Grand Slam events – multiple opportunities to add to his impressive career haul of 11 Grand Slam singles titles.
Not that Laver struggled for success in the new professional era. Starting in 1966 he won 19 consecutive tournaments on the U.S. professional circuit, and helped popularise the sport in places and among audiences that had yet to experience top-level tennis.
Having dominated in the amateur ranks and on the professional circuit, Laver continued to do just that when, in 1968, amateurs and professionals were united at tournaments for the first time in what signalled the birth of the Open Era.
He won the very first “open” Wimbledon in 1968 and etched his name in tennis folklore when in 1969 he swept all four Grand Slam singles titles for the second time – against a more complete, and arguably far tougher, field.
No player in history has equalled his feat of winning two calendar-year Grand Slams.
The legendary Laver is a significant historical figure of the game, acting as a bridge between the romanticism and tradition of the wooden-racquet amateur era and the glittering professional era with which fans are now familiar.
Today, players like Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray play in imposing arenas under bright lights and earn multi-million dollar pay checks – none of this would have been possible had it not been for the brave move by Laver and his contemporaries to turn pro and set the game on its current path.
Anyone who saw “Rocket” Rod Laver play will remember his power, speed and accuracy. They also saw a humble man who knew the work required for greatness and the respect and love that needed to be shown to opponents and the sport itself.
He remains an eternal spring of inspiration for future generations.
1970 Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) – For service to Tennis
1981 International Tennis Hall of Fame
1985 Sport Australia Hall of Fame
2000 Center Court at Melbourne Park, home of the Australian Open, was renamed Rod Laver Arena
2000 Named an ‘Australian Living Treasure’
2000 Awarded the Australian Sports Medal – Possibly the greatest player ever and the only player to capture two “Grand Slams”
2002 Named a Legend of Australian Sport
2009 Queensland Sport Hall of Fame
2016 Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) – For eminent service to tennis as a player, representative and mentor, at the national and international level, and as a role model for young sportsmen and women
2016 Laver Cup announced – a new tournament named in honor of Rod Laver’s achievements
2017 Inaugural Laver Cup staged in Prague in September 2017.