Rod Laver

From Love Thirty: Three Decades of Champions, by Rex Bellamy, published in 1990:

Rodney George Laver was the most astounding player I ever saw, and may have been the greatest ever. His record is without parallel. Consider what that record might have been but for his exclusion from 21 Grand Slam tournaments when he was, presumably, at his physical peak, between the ages of 24 and 29. Had professionals been eligible for those events, Lew Hoad might have had the better of laver for a year or so and Ken Rosewall would always have been worth an even-money bet. But one has to believe that from 1963 to 1967 Laver would have collected another bunch of major championships and perhaps a third Grand Slam. Laver overlapped and dominated two Grand Slam eras separated by seven years. He did so because he had it all. Because he was adventurer and artist in one. Because he could raise his game to any level demanded of it.

Laver was only 5ft 8 1/2in tall and usually weighed around 10st 71lb. But he had gigantic left arm and his speed and agility were breathtaking. The circumference of his left forearm was 12in and the wrist measured 7in. The strength of that wrist and forearm gave him blazing power without loss of control, even when he was on the run at full stretch. The combination of speed and strength, especially wrist-strength, enabled him to hit ferocious winners when way out of court – often when almost under the noses of the front ow of spectators. And he was a bow-legged, beautifully balanced, and as quick as a cat. He had some glorious matches with Rosewall – and with Tom Okker, who could match Laver’s speed and panache but was second-best in terms of strength and technical versatility. Laver also had the eyes of a hawk and fast anticipation and reactions. Like Budge, he was feckle-faced and had copper-coloured hair. Another distinguished feature was a long nose that, in spite of the kink in it, gave a false impression of hauteur. For much of his career Laver was confessedly shy and self-conscious, but there was no ‘side’ to him. He was easy going – except on court.

Marty Riessen once summed up Laver admirably: “To look at him walking around, you wouldn’t think he was world champion. He doesn’t stand out. His stature isn’t something you expect, like a Gonzales or a Hoad. Off the court, his personality seems almost retiring. But it’s as if he goes into a telephone booth and changes. On court he’s aggressive. Such a big change of personality – when a lot of players play the same as they act. What impresses me is his quickness. Speed enables him to recover when he’s in trouble. And the thing I learned from playing Laver is how consistent one can be with power. It’s amazing how he can keep hitting with such accuracy. He combines everything. There are a lot of good competitors. But he’s fantastic.”

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From Rod Laver‘s autobiography A Memoir:

“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.