1960 Australian Open: first Grand Slam title for Rod Laver
“I’m proud to say that the 1960 Australian championships men’s singles final between Neale Fraser and me is remembered as one of the geat matches in Australian tennis history. Many who where at the match say they have never seen a crowd so emotionnally involved, with the possible exception of the legendary Lew Hoad-Tony Trabert Davis Cup singles match in 1953 when 17 000 spectators went crazy at Kooyong and most of the nation turned on the radio.
My match with Neale was a tense and brutal five-setter, played and in incendiary January heat in font of 8 000 wilting but highly excited fans wearing fun hats and zinc cream on their noses and fanning themselves with their programs. Most were barracking for the local boy, yours truly.
Neale and I made each othe venture to places neither of us had been before. It was a match in which all the things that I prided myself on, that Charlie Hollis and Harry Hopman told me would be the making of me – my fitness and stamina, my refusal to be beaten, my array of shots – clicked in … in the last three sets, anyway. Neale overwhelmed me 7-5 6-3 in the first two, and to many my cause must have seemed hopeless. At my flighty, erratic worst, I had been sacrificing accuracy for speed and power in my serves, and committed way too many double faults.
However in the third set I steadied the ship, got my serve back under control and, aware that Neale, who at 26 was five years older than me, was beginning to struggle in extreme heat, I upped the pace. I won the third set 6-3. Being the champion he was, Neale came back at me hard in the fourth, which, if he’d won it, would have given him the match.
It was match point against me in the 10th game of that set but I battled my way out of trouble by scrambling madly to retrieve Neale’s shots and level at deuce, then, having snatched back the momentum, I went on to win 8-6.
As we crossed over before the fifth and deciding set, Neale and I, good mates and merciless rivals, stood together for a moment in the shade of the grandstand. (Unbelievably, and shamefully, in those days in amateur tennis there were no chairs for the players at courtside, though plenty for the officials in the hospitality tent.) Whew , said Neale ‘how bloody hot is this!’
In the final set, we went hell for leather, and though we were both exhausted, physically and mentally – Neale’s legs were actually buckling, like a drunk’s – we played some thrilling rallies and each scored with excellent passing shots, and the crowd cheered itself hoarse with every one.
At one stage, Neale lobbed over my head and I raced back and gave the ball an almighty crack with my backhand and it driftd high and wide. Neale volleyed it with his backhand and fluffed the shot. That was the catalyst that swung momentum back my way.
Emmo, who was watching in the stand, went to Neale afterwards and said, ‘Frase, that ball would have gone out by 15 yards if you hadn’t hit it!’
Neale saved six match points. Afterwards he couldn’t remember anything about that set. In the end, luck was with me and I won the set 8-6.
At 21, I was the Australian champion, and only the second Queenslander to achieve that honour.