Continuing with our series on the greatest tennis players of all time, here’s No. 3 on our list.
No. 3 – Rod Laver
200 career titles, 7 consecutive years as World Number 1, 11 Major titles, 2 Grand Slams – one as an amateur and the other as a professional, 9 Pro Slam titles, the Professional Grand Slam, 6 doubles and 3 mixed doubles Major titles. Not bad, eh?
As someone who is wowed by Rod Laver’s feats after having watched only a handful of the great man’s matches on vintage tapes and greatest hits videos, this chronicler can only imagine what it would have been like to watch him in person, or even through live television coverage the way one watches Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic today.
But that, perhaps, only adds to the charm of the era gone by and the aura of the artist who was Rod Laver. BBC’s voice of Tennis, Dan Maskell, described Laver thus: “He is technically faultless, from his richly varied serve to his feather-light touch on drop volleys plus a backhand drive carrying destructive topspin when needed or controlling slice when the situation demanded it.”
Rod Laver had the ‘complete game’ – a term that has assumed almost mythical proportions. He could serve-and-volley, and he could play from the back, giving as good as he got. He could use his not-extremely-big but exceptionally clever serve to outfox many an opponent and get those most important free points. He he was all of five feet and eight inches, but he had exceptional agility and a great leap that made lobbing him very very tough.
Laver played in the transitional era of tennis; an era which started with a player being barred from partaking in tournaments by dint of being either an ‘amateur’ or a ‘professional’. Things started changing sometime in the middle of Laver’s career, and by the end of his playing days things had become more open, so to speak, and everyone could play everyone else. Actually, these were 3 quite separate eras during this time, and incredibly, Laver consistently dominated all of them.
His achievements are nothing short of phenomenal. People often ask the question: who is the greatest of all time? They often compare Pete Sampras or Roger Federer with Laver. On one level, one can argue that it’s the same sport, after all, and hence all tennis players can be compared with each other, exactly the way apples can be compared with apples. On another level, however, players playing in different eras of tennis are quite like apples and oranges, and any attempts at comparison may b e futile.
Rod Laver’s greatest achievement lay in the fact that he conquered all surfaces in an era where not just the governing structure of the game changed but more importantly, at the playing level, the technology did too. In a career spanning almost two and a half decades, Rod played across surfaces with racquets that ranged from wooden to steel to aluminium.
If you consider the players of today, the biggest adaptation that they had to make was making the transition from graphite to carbon. Take that into perspective and you will know why the comparison is akin to apples and oranges.
Rod Laver was also known for his flamboyance; it was something that came to characterize the early part of his career when one could describe him as perhaps being too rash. But as his career progressed, he began playing more of the ‘percentage game’ and became more solid with his strokes. He was prone to slow starts, but as the match progressed, he got into his zone and once that happened, his opponents knew that they were in for quite a tough time.
The joy of watching old black-and-white clips of players playing the touch game, almost in slow motion, is unparalleled. Rod Laver, however, was an exception. He was a classic who switched with ease to the post-modern. He was touch and grace but muscle too, all at the same time. He was top-spin and he was slice – together. He was power and he was cunning – simultaneously.
He is Rodney George ‘Rocket’ Laver. He is undoubtedly one of tennis’ greatest players. He is, for a whole era, tennis itself.
And now, here’s a clip showcasing some of the more memorable moments from Laver’s Open era career:
These are the other players who have made it to the list so far:
No. 20 – Venus Williams; No. 19 – Justine Henin; No. 18 – Ken Rosewall; No. 17 – Andre Agassi; No. 16 – Pancho Gonzales; No. 15 – Monica Seles; No. 14 – John McEnroe; No. 13 – Ivan Lendl; No. 12 – Jimmy Connors; No. 11 – Margaret Court; No. 10 – Billie Jean King; No. 9 – Rafael Nadal; No. 8 – Serena Williams; No. 7 – Chris Evert; No. 6 – Bjorn Borg; No. 5 – Pete Sampras; No. 4 – Martina Navratilova
Read the detailed write-ups on all the players in this list here: