Wimbledon 1969: Laver’s getting beat by an Indian

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

It didn’t seem to matter whether I knew much of the Centre Court or not when I played Premjit Lall in the second round. We were out on Court 4, which was right across from Centre Court. No grandstand. Spectators stood in the aisles between the courts. The stuffed aisles alongside Court 4 looked like a run on a shaky bank. People were jammed against the fence six or seven deep, and the ones in the last row, pinned against the fences of adjoining courts had no chance of seeing anything. But they could hear the umpire calling the score. Once in a while they could see a racket above the mob if Prem or I went up for an overhead smash.

Laver’s getting beat by an Indian

was the word that ran round the grounds.

Well, there I was, with my racket feeling like an old frying pan in my hand. Premjit Lall and I go back a long way together. He is a nice-looking, tall fellow, soft-spoken, a university man from Calcutta where he sometimes works as a cement salesman.

I had never lost to him, but he was clearly outplaying me as he won the first two sets. Prem was the kind of player who always made a good showing but hardly ever could sustain good play long enough to swing a really big win or take a tournament. I kept waiting for somthing to go wrong with his game, and when it didn’t, I began to worry.

Prem didn’t seem to be feeling any pressure though. We went to 2-2 in the third. He held for 3-2 and I won my serve for 3-3. It was right here that I restated a very important truth about tennis to myself: You can only lose a tennis match. That’s all.
That’s the worst that can happen to you out there, and it’s happened to everybody… Tilden, Budge, Laver, everybody. They ate as well the next day; the sun came up; they laughed again. It’s good to remind yourself of this every once in awhile. I don’t think anybody who played a game ever wanted to win more than I do, but losing isn’t the end of the world. They don’t hang you by you thumbs from the backstop or revoke your passport. They don’t even deny you your daily grog.

If I was going to lose to Premjit Lall, I was going to go out with eveything blazing. Up to that moment, I had been gripped by a certain fear of losing, but after I’d gotten myself straight on that, the fear disappeared. I began hitting the ball better and stayed close to Prem in that game, 30-30. I felt I’d get him there for the break, but he hit a good forehand down the line that sent me into the corner on the enclosure and I had to lob. I’d been lobbing short all through the match, and I didn’t alter my pattern here. He had an easyball at the net, but the cement settled in his elbow. He knocked the ball past me and beyond the baseline. I had the ad, then the game with a good backhand, and I never stopped. That service break began a run of 15 games, as I won 3-6 4-6 6-3 6-0 6-0.

Since I was hitting again, and not pressing, I think I would have got him anyway. But one shot can change it all. Had he made good on that smash and held his serve, I’d still have been in a shaky position serving at 3-4 and two sets down.

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