Tony Roche and Rod Laver, 1969 US Open

After his wins at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Rod Laver headed for New York, in search of a fourth major in a row. He was taken to five sets by Dennis Ralston in the fourth round 6-4 4-6 4-6 6-2 6-3, then defeated Roy Emerson 4-6 8-6 13-11 6-4 in the quarterfinals, and defending champion Arthur Ashe in the semifinals 8-6 6-3 14-12. He then faced Tony Roche in the final.

From Rod Laver’s autobiography A memoir:

The final was postponed for a day, until Monday 8 September, when the rain had eased a little. It now fell steadily instead of teeming. In the countdown, Tony and I sat side by side in the locker room, gear on and ready to play, both on edge, hoping for the sun to pierce the purple clouds above. Out in the grandstands 4000 hardly New Yorkers huddled under umbrellas. I was extra toey because Mary had been due to give birth on the 7th, the previous day, but as yet there was still no sign of our newborn’s imminent appearance. Believe me, as time ticked by I gave those leather racquet grips one helluva workout.

Even though he was bone-tired after beating Newk in 169 minutes two days before and I was daisy-fresh in comparison, having taken only a short time to finish off Arthur Ashe, Tony exuded calm confidence and he had every right to do so. That year, he had beaten me five times in our eight meetings.

It was mid-afternoon before Rochey and I were able to go onto the court, which was wet, slippery and slow. Since early morning, there had been a helicopter hovering over the court in a bid to dry it off, but all the chopper blades did was suck up more water to the surface and make it even soggier. An important match wouldn’t proceed under those conditions today. Yet I was confident that I’d handle the sludgy surface better than Tony because I had played on much worse surfaces time and again as a pro – mudheaps and waterlogged bullrings where to take a step would be to lift chunk from the surface – while Rochey was only a recent arrival in the pro ranks and had spent most of his career playing on pristine, perfectly maintained courts. As a precaution, however, before we hit up I fronted match referee Billy Talbert and said, ‘If I find myself sliding, can I wear spikes?’ He said, ‘Be my guest. This is the last match of the tournament so it doesn’t matter if you tear up the court.’
The spikes were three-eighths of an inch (9.5 millimetres) long but, unlike sharp running shoe spikes, the ends had been cut off and were blunt, so if it became necessary to wear them they would definitely churn up the court. I started the match wearing my normal shoes, thinking I’d wait to see how I went in the mud.

I should have won the first set, but deserved to lose it. And lose it I did. After sliding all over the court, I was serving for the set at 5-3. Tony broke me with a magnificent backhand return, which I couldn’t reach on the slippery surface. I asked the referee ‘Can I put on my spikes?’ Seeing that the conditions were hampering my game, Talbert gave his approval. Tony chose not to don spikes because he had strained his thigh muscle in the semifinal against Newk and worried that he might exacerbate the injury and cramp up with the quick and juddering stops you make when you’ve got spikes on. Although, because of the spikes, I was moving around the court well, it was so drenched and torn up that my feet were still going in directions I didn’t want them to. Rochey won that first 9-7. I had served five double faults, and I’d not been guilty of serving that badly for a long, long time. At that stage, Tony was looking invincible.

With spikes, I’d learned, you have to lift your feet higher than usual as you move around the court, because if you try to slide to reach a ball they do their job and dig in, which can bring you crashing down. In the end, it wasn’t too much of an adjustment to make, and for that, as for so many things, I had Harry Hopman to thank. Back in the early Davis Cup days, he had made us all train in them, lifting our feet high, just in case we ever had to wear them in an important match.

I have a distinct memory of a Davis Cup tie at Kooyong in the rain and before it Harry, one of whose many credos was ‘be prepared’, telling us, ‘Get your spikes on, grab your oldest racquet and come with me to the back courts, we’re going to get wet’.

Tony began the second set as he’d finished the first. On fire. He held his serve in the first game. Then he led me 30-40 on my serve in the second game and found himself in an excellent position to go on and win the set, which would put him in the box seat for the match. As I readied to serve again, Tony stalled to set himself to return. I settled myself too. I had to hold serve. The entire match, and the Grand Slam, which I confess was now top of my mind, could hinge on it. Usually, I try to serve at medium pace with spin, making sure the ball goes in and putting the onus on my opponent to handle it. This time I did the opposite, the unexpected, and I belted down a boomer, slicing it wide to Tony’s forehand. He scarcely got his racquet on it. He had blown his chance to break me. Such chances are rare, and I made sure he didn’t get another. The match did turn on that point. I won that game, and as I became more sure of my balance, I began to hit the ball as hard as I have ever hit it. Tony couldn’t handle the pressure I was able to exert. I won the second set 6-1.

A half-hour rain delay held up the third set. When play resumed, I won it 6-2. I felt in total control. In the corresponding US final in 1962 against Roy Emerson, I got the flutters for a bit and recovered. It was a mark of how being a pro had toughened me that I never took my foot off Tony’s throat in the fourth, and what proved to be the final, set.
Hop and Charlie would have approved. My spikes had allowed me to set myself for effective lobs and I lobbed beautifully that day, whereas Tony was hampered by sneakers that offered him little stability on the slippery grass and in the mud and so he struggled to counteract my shots. There was a tiny blip when I was serving for the set and match at 5-2; I made the old mistake of trying to smash away for a winner a sitter of a forehand volley return from Tony when a workmanlike, no-risk response would have done the trick, and I blew it. My second serve was slower and placed perfectly and Rochey’s forehand return went long. I had won the US Open final 7-9 6-1 6-2 6-2 in 113 minutes.

I ran to the net to greet Tony as the crowd stood and cheered. Right then is when I broke another of my rules. In my euphoria I forgot my dignity and leapt over the net. Even before my feet hit the ground I felt a fool. I had never been a show-off, a gloater who rubs his disappointed opponent’s nose in the mud by celebrating like a lunatic, and this is exactly what I was doing. I remembered how I’d learned my lesson when, as a green and giddy 19-year-old excited by my first victory over a world class player, I hurdled the net when I beat Herbie Flam in Adelaide back in ’57 and caught my foot in it and tripped and sprawled ignominiously flat on my mush on the court. Fortunately this time I cleared the net, but I was ashamed by my showboating and what might have appeared to be a lack of respect for Tony. No, the right thing to do when you win a match, and especially, and especially a hard-fought match, is shake your rival’s hand and say, ‘Tough luck,’ or ‘It’s my shout!’

I had won a second Grand Slam. I was the only player to do so and I had won my Slams seven years apart after being exiled to the wilderness of the professional circuit.
At the post-match press conference I announced my decision to Mary and our new baby first from now on and phase myself out of minor tournaments.

I love tennis – it’s my life. But so is my family.

When the reporters put it to me that winning the US Open was a bigger challenge because of the Grand Slam pressure, Mary’s pregnancy, delays and rain interruptions, soggy courts, the umpire’s microphone breaking down – and not forgetting the calibre of my opponents – I conceded they had a point.

This was probably the toughest competition I’ve played in

Read more:
Rod Laver’s road to the 1969 US Open final

From Rod Laver’s autobiography A memoir:

When I strode onto the court at Forest Hills, New York, in the first round of the US Open in the last week of August, I had won 23 matches in a row, beginning with my first round victory over Nicola Pietrangeli at Wimbledon. The last person to beat me was John Newcombe at Queen’s three months earlier. I had been fretting that my winning streak, one that was unprecedented in my career, would come to an end, as purple patches always do, and that when my luck ran out it would be at the US Open at the West Side Tennis Club at Forest Hills. […]

When I entered the cauldron to play against Mexican Luis Garcia in the first match of the Open, I was at peace with myself. I beat young Garcia, and then the Chileans Jaime Pinto-Bravo and Jaime Fillol without dropping a set.

Dennis Ralston, whom I faced in my fourth match, was a different proposition, a living, breathing wake-up call that I was not going to win this tournament without a mighty struggle. Dennis, who had pressed me in the past but was yet to beat me, lost the first set and then, playing the best tennis I had ever seen from him, won the next two. The 10,000-strong crowd at Forest Hills that gloriously sunny afternoon forgave their countryman for some disappointing Davis Cup performances in the past, and cheered him passionately. Their cheers were most ecstatic when he walked to the baseline after we’d had a breather when we changed ends, and when I stepped up there’d be a deafening silence and baleful glares that left me in no doubt that I wore the black hat that day. So to neutralise the crowd’s support for Dennis, I fell back on my old Harry Hopman ploy and assumed my position at the baseline at precisely the same time Dennis did. That way I soaked up the cheers that were meant for him, and nobody was going to boo for fear that Ralston would think he was the one copping the Bronx cheers.

I downed Dennis in five sets, 6-4 4-6 4-6 6-2 6-3. He succumbed to my persistent pressure in the fourth set and his hangdog body language in the fifth told me that his gallant resistance was finished and I overpowered him.
We Aussies stuck together and Emmo and Fred Stolle played a part in my win over Dennis when they came to me in the dressing room during the 10-minute break after the third set and told me to toss the ball up a little higher when I served, because many of my serves that day had been finding the net. Their advice paid dividends.

After my match with Dennis, the heavens opened over New York and in 48 hours dumped 16 centimetres of rain. The courts of the West Side Tennis Club became a quagmire. The organisers of this prestige tournament were ill-prepared. The few flimsy tarpaulins they had handy were never going to protect the court surfaces, which, because of the sparse covering of grass over their soil, turned to viscous mud and were not remotely playable. For the next two and a half days, while we waited for the deluge to end, I practised on indoor courts, worked out and had soothing hot Epsom salts baths in the gymnasium of the New York athletic club.

In my quarter final against my old mate and nemesis of so many years, Roy Emerson, my rhythm was out of whack and I began sluggishly. Before I knew it, Emmo had won the first set 6-4 on a court that was still waterlogged, which made the balls heavy and sodden. Then Emmo broke my serve early in the second set. I concentrated on settling myself and slowing down, doing the little things right, like keeping my eye on the ball and hitting through it, breathing evenly, getting my serves in by placing them precisely, simply returning back over the net anything he hit at me without necessarily going for winners, punishing his second serve… all the tried and tested stuff.
As slippery as that court was, I was moving quickly, faster than Emmo, and battling my way back into the match. I won the second set 8-6, and the third 13-11 on the back of a little good luck. Roy hit a forehand passing shot that he believed was good but which the linesman ruled out. Deuce. I then produced two passing forehands that he was unable to handle to win the set. In the end, it was the court as much as me that ended his US Open. He had a way of dragging his foot when he served and he was chewing up the baseline so much that soon there was no solid section of the court from which to serve. Then he began catching his dragging foot in the sludge. When it was my turn to serve from the end Roy had ripped up, it was not a problem for me for the simple reason that I did not drag my foot. I was ahead 5-4 in the fourth and serving for the match when I surprised Emmo with my first top-spin lob of our encounter. He was racing in to the net when the ball arced back over his head. The slippery court prevented Roy from stopping and turning to give chase, and he didn’t even try – he just kept running to the net, his hand outstretched and grinning that big gold-toothed grin of his.

On his way to our semi final showdown, Arthur Ashe‘s sledgehammer serve had seen him convincingly beat Manuel Santana and Muscles Rosewall, so he was on a roll. And of course in our match the crowd would be right behind him. With a final depending on the result, I needed no added incentive to beat Arthur, but I had a point to prove against him, because he had been putting it about that it was time for older generation players such as Muscles and me to stand aside for him and his contemporaries Newk, Rochey and Tom Okker. Speaking for myself, I had no intention of vacating the scene for anybody just yet, and I was determined to show Arthur that there was life in this old dog yet.
After I came onto court at the same time as him to bask in the cheers of his supporters, the Americans who made up the vast majority of the crowd, he went immediately into top gear, much as he had done at Wimbledon. His dynamic serves had me on the defensive and, at 5-4 to him, he served for the first set. Then Arthur’s inexperience brought him undone. Instead of coolly and accurately placing a winning serve, he attempted to ace me and the ball sailed out. His softer second serve was easy meat. I did my usual thing of just returning the ball to him firmly but surely, sending back to him everything he hit at me, applying the pressure back on him to hit winners. I was chipping, straight down the middle of the court and depriving him of the wide angles he needed to slam winners.
The first set was mine 8–6, and then I won the second decisively, 6-3. In the third, however, Arthur gave a glimpse of the skill and tenacity that were to make him a far better player in years to come than he was in 1969. After he led 3-0, I caught him up and we remained locked together on serve until night fell and play was called off for the day with the score 12-12. We left the court lost in our thoughts. I got the impression from Arthur’s worried expression that he would not be sleeping well that night. Arthur knew what he had to do; wrap up the third set the next morning and take the match to five sets. And I knew what he had to do, so I planned to blitz him from the outset, win the next two games, the fourth set, and the match. […]

When I did put my head on the pillow sometime after 11, I slept like a baby and felt fresh, relaxed and ready for action when Arthur, who looked drawn, and I resumed our match next morning. Also in my favor was that the was serving first. Now, serving after a break or first in a new match is never easy because you’ve had no time to warm up and get your arm and eye in. This is why I chose to receive when I won the toss in a match – it gave me a good chance of breaking my opponent’s serve. Which is what I did, and I held my own serve to wrap up those two games and win the match in straight sets. I was in the final.

That was the good news. The bad was that I’d be playing Tony Roche, who was in tremendous form and dead keen to avenge his loss to me in the Australian Open semi final in January on the back of what he will believe to his dying day was a questionable call.
I couldn’t help thinking of the parallels between me and tony, who was, and remains, a good friend: he hailed from a tiny Australian country town like me, and his dad had also been a butcher. I thought again of how Ken Rosewall scuttled his mate and doubles partner Lew Hoad’s Grand Slam bid in the US championships in 1956. My fear that my friend Roy Emerson would do the same to me in the final of the 1962 US championships proved groundless, but now I wondered whether it was ordained that this time another mate would end my Grand Slam bid. Then I banished those qualms from my mind. This match would be won by the better player on the day and anything that happened 13 or even 7 years ago would have no bearing.

Photo by Walter Iooss Jr. /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

Read more:
1969 US Open: Rod Laver completes his second Grand Slam

Andy Murray, Wimbledon 2015

Three weeks after the victories of Jelena Ostapenko and Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros, all players have their eyes turned to the grass courts of Wimbledon. With the absences of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, the women’s draw is once again wide open, while Roger Federer is the big favorite for the title in the men’s draw.
Follow our coverage on Tennis Buzz and leave us a comment if you want to share your pictures and stories.

Fan’s guide:

A trip down memory lane:

Wimbledon memories: Mrs Blanche Bingley Hillyard
Wimbledon memories: Charlotte Cooper Sterry
Wimbledon memories: Dora Boothby

1960-1969:
Portrait of Wimbledon champion Ann Jones
Wimbledon 1969: Laver’s getting beat by an Indian
Rod Laver – John Newcombe Wimbledon 1969

1970-1979:
Around the grounds at Wimbledon in 1971
Wimbledon 1975: Ashe vs Connors
1976: Bjorn Borg first Wimbledon title
Portrait of 5-time Wimbledon champion Bjorn Borg
Wimbledon 1976: Chris Evert defeats Evonne Goolagong
Portrait of Virginia Wade, winner in 1977
Wimbledon 1978 in pictures
1978: First Wimbledon title for Martina Navratilova
1978: Bjorn Borg defeats Jimmy Connors
Wimbledon 1979: Passing on the record

1980-1989:

1981: First Wimbledon title for McEnroe
1982: Jimmy Connors defeats John McEnroe
1984: John McEnroe defeats Jimmy Connors
1985: Boris Becker, the man on the moon
1986: Boris Becker defeats Ivan Lendl, wins second Wimbledon title
Portrait of 3-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker
Wimbledon 1987 SF Cash defeats Connors
Wimbledon 1987 Cash defeats Lendl
Tennis culture: Wimbledon victory climb
Wimbledon 1988: An era ends as Graf beats Navratilova
Wimbledon 1988: Edberg a deserving new champion

1990-1999:
Portrait of 2-time Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg
Wimbledon 1990: Becker vs Edberg
1990: Martina Navratilova’s historic 9th Wimbledon title
Wimbledon 1991: the first Middle Sunday
1991: Michael Stich defeats Boris Becker
1992: first Grand Slam for Andre Agassi
Andre Agassi: thanks to Wimbledon I realized my dreams
1993: Pete Sampras defeats Jim Courier
1994: Pete Sampras defeats Goran Ivanisevic
1995: Tim Henman disqualified!
Wimbledon 1996: singing in the rain
1996: Richard Krajicek upsets Pete Sampras
Wimbledon 1996: a winning streak
1997: Pete Sampras defeats Cédric Pioline

2000-2009:
2000 Wimbledon SF: Pat Rafter defeats Andre Agassi
Wimbledon 2000: did dad call the shots?
2000 Wimbledon Final: Pete Sampras defeats Pat Rafter
2001 Wimbledon 4th round: Federer defeats Sampras
Wimbledon 2001 People’s Final: Ivanisevic vs Rafter

2010-2016:
Wimbledon 2010: Rafael Nadal defeats Tomas Berdych
Wimbledon 2012: Roger Federer defeats Andy Murray
Andy Murray’s road to the Wimbledon 2013 final
Wimbledon 2013: Andy Murray, 77 years after Fred Perry
Wimbledon 2014 coverage
Wimbledon 2015 coverage
Wimbledon 2016 coverage

Discuss:

What if Edberg had coached Henman?

Fashion and gear:

Polls:

Who will win Wimbledon 2017?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Who will win Wimbledon 2017?

  • Venus Williams (19%, 4 Votes)
  • Karolina Pliskova (19%, 4 Votes)
  • Angelique Kerber (14%, 3 Votes)
  • Johanna Konta (14%, 3 Votes)
  • Simona Halep (14%, 3 Votes)
  • Someone else (10%, 2 Votes)
  • Svetlana Kuznetsova (5%, 1 Votes)
  • Agnieszka Radwanska (5%, 1 Votes)
  • Dominika Cibulkova (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Elina Svitolina (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Caroline Wozniacki (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 21

Loading ... Loading ...
Roland Garros 1978

Extract from Inside tennis – a season on the pro tour by Peter Bodo and June Harrison:

The French is the epicurean’s tournament, where the kiosks feature crepes filled with apricot jam and dusted with powdered sugar, and ice cream bars favored with Grand Marnier; where hot dogs doze in light, crisp rolls that resemble sleeping bags; where these and other specialities evolved through centuries of respectful doting on the sensitive receptacle that for some peoples is a mere stomach.

The French tournament site, like those of Wimbledon and the US Open, is located just far enough outside the city to achieve a slumberous, almost pastoral quality. The Stade Roland Garros borders the Bois de Boulogne, the rambling park that contains the famed Longchamp Race Course and the Racing Club de France. The stadium and its grounds, named after a World War I aviator killed in action, were constructed in 1927 primarly for the defense of the Davis Cup.

Despite the French preoccupation with style, there is a monotonous, almost martial quality to Roland Garros. Yet this grim undertone strikes a symbolic note, for the French is the most grueling tournament in the world. The Italian assaults the nerves, Wimbledon tests the spirit, and the US Open challenges the will. The French attacks the body and often defeats a player through sheer exhaustion. Matches routinely last four hours on the slow clay, and despite the draw of 128, five-set matches are the rule from the start. Tennis at the French is trench warfare; lobs are lifted like deadly mortars, except they almost always come back. Battles that commence while the idle are still taking croissants and café au lait on the the Boulevard Saint-Germain last long into the dusk. As late as nine in the evening, there is still enough light to keep the contestants engaged.

The main walkway at Roland Garros:

Roland Garros 1978

Arthur Ashe, serving and selling his way deep into the Paris underground:

Metro Porte d'Auteuil, Roland Garros 1978
Read More

2016 US Open coverage

Arthur Ashe Stadium, 2016 US Open

Relive some of the best moments in the US Open history and follow our coverage on Tennis Buzz:

If you attend the Open and wish to share your stories or pictures, please leave us a comment below.

Fashion and gear:

A trip down memory lane:

Top 5 strange events at the US Open
US Open biggest upsets
1970 US Open: Margaret Court completes the Grand Slam
1971 US Open: Chris Evert becomes the “It Girl”
1972 US Open: Ilie Nastase defeats Arthur Ashe
1973 US Open: Margaret Court defeats Evonne Goolagong
1976 US Open: Connors defeats Borg
1978: the US Open moves to Flushing Meadows
1978 US Open: 4th consecutive US Open title for Chris Evert
1978 US Open: Jimmy Connors defeats Bjorn Borg
79 US Open 2nd round: McEnroe vs Nastase, chaos on court
1979 US Open: John McEnroe defeats Vitas Gerulaitis
1980 US Open: John McEnroe defeats Bjorn Borg
1981 US Open: Tracy Austin defeats Martina Navratilova
1981 US Open: John McEnroe defeats Bjorn Borg: Borg’s last Grand Slam match
1983 US Open: Career Grand Slam for Martina Navratilova
1984 US Open: John McEnroe last Grand Slam title
1990 US Open: Linda Ferrando upsets Monica Seles
1990 US Open: Alexander Volkov upsets Stefan Edberg
1990 US Open, the spitting incident
1991 US Open: Connors, 39 qualifies for the semifinals
1991 US Open: Seles and Capriati introduce power in womens tennis
1991: Monica Seles first US Open title
1991 US Open: playing to perfection, Edberg grabs first Open
1991 US Open: Edberg’s final dominance doesn’t diminish Courier
1992: Stefan Edberg defeats Pete Sampras
1992 US Open: Edberg takes Sampras, US Open, No.1 ranking
1993 US Open: Pete Sampras defeats Cédric Pioline
1994 US Open 4th round: Jaime Yzaga defeats Pete Sampras
1994: first US Open title for Andre Agassi
1995: Pete Sampras defeats Andre Agassi
1996 US Open: Class act Edberg making one last run at US Open
1996 US Open: Pete Sampras’ warrior moment
2001 US Open: Venus defeats sister Serena
2001 US Open QF: Andre Agassi – Pete Sampras
2001 US Open: Lleyton Hewitt defeats Pete Sampras
2002 US Open: last Grand Slam title for Pete Sampras
2004 US Open: First time to NYC for a French fan of Agassi
2005 US Open: Roger Federer defeats Andre Agassi
Andre Agassi gives the Open crowd one more thrill ride, August 31st, 2006
September 3rd 2006: Andre Agassi’s last match
Andy Murray’s road to the 2012 US Open final
2012 US Open: first Grand Slam title for Andy Murray

Reports:

Polls:

Who will win the 2016 US Open?

  • Novak Djokovic (45%, 62 Votes)
  • Andy Murray (27%, 38 Votes)
  • Rafael Nadal (17%, 24 Votes)
  • Stan Wawrinka (4%, 5 Votes)
  • Someone else (3%, 4 Votes)
  • Gael Monfils (1%, 2 Votes)
  • Kei Nishikori (1%, 2 Votes)
  • Milos Raonic (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Marin Cilic (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Dominic Thiem (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 139

Loading ... Loading ...

Who will win the 2016 US Open?

  • Serena Williams (62%, 64 Votes)
  • Angelique Kerber (22%, 23 Votes)
  • Garbine Muguruza (6%, 6 Votes)
  • Simona Halep (5%, 5 Votes)
  • Someone else (2%, 2 Votes)
  • Agnieszka Radwanska (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Madison Keys (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Dominika Cibulkova (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Venus Williams (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Roberta Vinci (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Svetlana Kuznetsova (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 104

Loading ... Loading ...

View more

Photo credit: Michael C Dunne