Twist and Shout: Laver Cup in the ‘60s
In a decade which heralded the arrival of professional tennis, who would have made the cut for Team Europe and Team World 50 years ago?
Noted British tennis author and broadcaster Richard Evans attended the inaugural Laver Cup in Prague. Here, he takes an imaginative leap back in time to explore the question: which players would make Laver Cup teams if the event was held 50 years ago?
Much happened in the ‘60s, starting with the arrival of the Flintstones at the start of the decade and ending with a moon landing. In between there were Civil Rights protests, the Vietnam War, presidential assassinations and the evolution of rock ‘n roll.
Tennis was no less turbulent. After years of argument, proposals and near misses, the International Tennis Federation voted to allow Open tennis in 1968. Amateurs and professionals could now play with and against each other. The following year, Rod Laver was to claim the second Grand Slam of his career, the first coming when he was an amateur in 1962.
Last year, world No.1 Roger Federer launched the Laver Cup as a way of honoring Laver and the generation of past players, who paved the way for the privileges and payment now afforded the modern tennis player.
“It’s really important that we bring in the legends of the game and we pay tribute to them, because they have paved the way,” Federer said.
Some of those legends continued playing as amateurs until the arrival of Open tennis: others signed to emerging pro circuits, including Rod Laver, who turned pro one year after he won his first calendar Grand Slam.
Setting the stage in 1968 to allow all contenders, Team World would surely be dominated by Australians. Where in 2017 there were two representatives from Down Under – Nick Kyrgios and alternate Thanasi Kokkinakis – in the ‘60s a strong and steady stream of Aussies kept tennis on the back page.
So who would make the final cut?
1968 Laver Cup: Team World
Captain: Frank Sedgman, highly popular among the Aussies and between 1948 and 1952, won 22 Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
- Rod Laver, for whom the Laver Cup is named, won the calendar-year Grand Slam in 1962, and his first Wimbledon in 1961.Turning pro in 1963, he won the US Pro Tennis Championships five times and Wimbledon in 1968. The following year, he was to claim a second Grand Slam.
- Ken Rosewall was still a contender for big titles at 34. Rosewall, from Sydney, turned pro in 1956 and was the reigning French champion 12 years later (beating Laver in the final).
- John Newcombe was 16 when he turned pro in 1960 and became the US Open runner-up in 1966. A year later, the dashing Sydneysider captured both Wimbledon and the US championships.
- Arthur Ashe: The American was an Australian Open finalist in 1966 and 1967, winning his first major, the US Open in 1968.
- Tony Roche, Newk’s doubles partner, was a left-hander and runner-up to Laver at Wimbledon in 1968. Rochey, from NSW, also had great pedigree on clay, winning the French championships in 1966. He was one of Laver’s most troublesome opponents, nearly upsetting him in the semifinal of the Australian Open in ’69.
- Roy Emerson dominated the amateur stage in the early to mid ‘60s. He captured 12 majors in singles and 16 men’s doubles, turning pro in 1968.
1968 Laver Cup: Team Europe
Captain: Prague born Jaroslav Drobny was widely recognized as a ‘professor of tennis’. The Wimbledon champion with multiple passports was also a former ice hockey champion.
- Manuel Santana of Spain, turned pro in 1968 and was ranked world No.1 in 1966. The Wimbledon champion in 1966, US champion 1965, French champion in 1961 and 1964, Manolo (as he was known) was famous for saying, ‘Grass is for the cows’.
- Andre Gimeno, also Spanish, enjoyed his best results a year after he turned pro where he reached the Australian final in Brisbane 1969, losing in four sets to Laver. He later won the French Open in 1972.
- Tom Okker, of the Netherlands, turned pro in 1968. The Dutchman’s career flourished from the mid-’60s, and he was one of the most successful doubles players of all time, winning 78 titles.
- Roger Taylor, UK, turned pro in 1967 and reached the semifinals that year at Wimbledon.
- Wilhelm Bungert of Germany, turned pro in 1957. He was the 1967 Wimbledon finalist.
- Jan-Erik Lundquist, of Sweden, was regarded as one of the 10 best amateur players during most of the ’60s.
*Richard Evans has covered 200 Grand Slams and was a chief tennis writer for Tennis Week, and The Times of London. He is the author of many books on tennis including two about John McEnroe, McEnroe: Taming the Talent and McEnroe: A Rage for Perfection, and Open Tennis: The First Twenty Years.