Monday, July 6, 2009

Greatest ever?

There's been a lot of talk, one way and another, about whether Roger Federer should now be called the greatest (male) tennis player ever, after passing Pete Sampas' record number of major titles won.

So, in the spirit of those of us who remember three majors on grass, won by a guy with a wooden racquet, allow me to put forward the name of Rod Laver. Laver won 11 major titles, to Sampras' 14 and Federer's 15. However, he did so either side of leaving those tournaments alone for five years - five years of his absolute peak, no less. Laver joined compatriots Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall as professionals, on a separate tour, from 1963 to 1967. In 1962, he had won the Grand Slam as an amateur, and after the open era began, he won the Grand Slam again as a professional in 1969. His eleven major wins were:

Australian Open: 3 wins
French Open: 2 wins
Wimbledon: 4 wins
U.S. Open: 2 wins

The professional circuit had four events that ranked above the rest: the US Pro, the French Pro, the Wembley Pro, and for just one year, the Wimbledon Pro. These tournaments existed before and after this period, too, but the Rosewall-Laver years were when the pro circuit was most definitely the home of the best tennis players in the world. Just ask Roy Emerson. So, from 1963 to 1967, let's pretend those tournaments were majors. Here's Rod Laver's record in that time:

Wembley Pro: 4 wins
U.S. Pro: 3 wins
French Pro: 1 win
Wimbledon Pro: 1 win (the only time this was held)

That's 9 wins in 16 major tournaments over that period, for a nominal total of 20.

And then there's the Davis Cup. Professionals were barred from this contest until 1973. Laver had been on the winning Australian team each year from 1959 to 1962, then returned to the squad, even well after his peak, in 1973 and won the cup again.

Five Davis Cups, either side of a ten year break.

20 majors, two Grand Slams, five Davis Cups. Rod Laver: my pick for the greatest male tennis player ever.


Stacy said...

Yes, but has anyone had a religious experience watching Laver?

David D said...

Australian writers of the 60s lacked Wallace's sheer level of pretension.