Roland Garros 1969: Rod Laver defeats Ken Rosewall

From Rod Laver‘s book The education of a tennis player:

“No matter how many times I played the French Open, it was still startling to come into Stade Roland Garros. You walked down through a tunnel. It was so dark that you were practically feeling your way, and then suddenly you were in the arena with 12000 people surrounding you, responding excitedly to your appearance. Maybe it’s like being the girl who pops out of a cake at a stag party.

From the minute we began, I couldn’t miss. Usually I was the one on the string as Kenny played me like a yo-yo. Not this time. I had perfect control, and everything I hit was going so deep that Kenny didn’t have much chanceto do anything but chase and scramble. I could get to the net all the time, and i was moving quickly either way to cut off his passing shots. I don’t know of any match I ever enjoyed more because I just kept getting better, and the points rolled in.

I never took Rosewall for granted. He never got his due. I thought about it before the match. He’d won this title in 1953, at the time I was deciding tennis would be my career. I was fifteen. Fifteen years later, he won it again. In 1971, he won the Australian title that he first won eighteen years earlier. In 1974, at the age of 39, he reached the final of both Wimbledon and the US Open, losing both to Jimmy Connors. He even won a pro title at age 43 in 1977. There are no comparable feats in tennis history.
I wondered if, having won the French for the first time in 1962, I’d even be playing it in 1977. How many times would Kenny have won it if he hadn’t turned pro, or if open tennis had come sooner?

Kenny and I have brought the very best out of each other, but the day of the 1969 French Open final was not one for sentimentality. 12000 people wanted to see us do it again. After leading 3-1 in the first, I fell behind 3-4 as he won three games in a brisk streak. I held for 4-4 and broke him to take the first consequential step;

The first set was mine at 6-4 and my confidence was soaring. If I couldn’t keep my shots near his baseline, I was in trouble with Kenny because he took anything short with his backhand, ramed it into a corner while he dashed to the net. He may not have been a heavy hitter, but when he got position at the net his volleys were crisp and well angled.

But my groundstrokes were working so well and landing so deeply that he was having trouble getting to the position he liked. He couldn’t swoop in on the short balls simply because I wasn’t offering him that many. I kept him pinned behind the baseline and you can’t hit an approach from back there. Sometimes he tried, but he had too far to go to reach the net, and I was passing him.

My volleys were charmed, and I spent most of the points finishing off points with them. My deep groundstrokes kept me at the net, and Kenny away.
Straight sets in a French final? I couldn’t quite believe it when I completed the 6-4 6-3 6-4 victory. Monetarily it meant $7000.

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