The year-opening Grand Slam – the Australian Open – is now upon us, and the country has given birth to some of the sport’s greatest players of all time. We look to the past to chronicle 5 legendary tennis players who have each been pathbreakers in their own way and set several records.
#5 John Newcombe
Newcombe, along with another Australian great, Roy Emerson, was considered one of the best amateur tennis players in the period preceding the Open Era. He has 17 doubles Grand Slams and seven in the singles, with 11 of the former and 6 of the latter coming in the Open Era.
In his first year out of the juniors, Newcombe was part of Australia’s Davis Cup winning side in 1964.
Routinely rated as one of the greatest tennis players of all time, Newcombe has not just been on the Davis Cup side, but captained Australia at the tournament from 1995 to 2004.
Newcombe had major majors success with compatriot Tony Roche, and together the pair won a mammoth 12 Grand Slam titles, which until 2013 was the record for the highest ever number of titles a doubles pair had won together. It was eventually broken by the former World No. 1 American doubles pair of Bob and Mike Bryan.
The American twins currently stand at 16 Doubles Grand Slams, each of which they have won together.
Today, it may be Federer and former coach Stefan Edberg who are regarded as the definitive serve-and-volley specialists in modern-day tennis, but Newcombe routinely used it to his advantage to dismantle the mightiest of opponents.
#4 Roy Emerson
Emerson won 12 singles Grand Slams, although all of these were prior to the Open Era. He had unparalleled success at the Australian Open, winning the singles 6 times – of which 5 titles were consecutive.
He won each of the other three Grand Slams two times apiece at the singles, and was even a World No. 1 pre-Open Era, but his doubles records were unprecedented. Emerson holds 16 Grand Slams doubles titles, six of which he won at Roland Garros.
Winning 20 doubles titles in the Open Era, of which two were Grand Slams, Emerson was the first ever tennis player to win every Majors tournament at least twice.
#3 Ken Rosewall
Rosewall, like a few of his contemporaries, had success before the Open Era and during. The 12-time Grand Slam singles winner, for whom 6 of those titles came in the Open Era, set an Open Era record at the 1971 Australian Open, a title he won after defeating defending champion and American tennis legend Arthur Ashe.
The Australian went through the entire tournament without dropping a single set – the first time this had been done in the Open Era. Currently, Swiss Maestro Roger Federer, who is regarded as the greatest to have played the game, stands tied with Rosewall’s record.
1934-born Rosewall is the oldest singles champion at the Australian Open (winning in 1972), the US Open (in 1970) and separately, the oldest ever player in a Grand Slam final at the 1974 US Open, where he was beaten in straight sets by American Jimmy Connors.
No one has yet broken those records – although if any player is in line to break them, it is likely Roger Federer himself.
#2 Margaret Court
Court has won more majors titles than any player in tennis history, and was a pathbreaker in every sense of the word. The first ever woman in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam, she was only the second in the history of the sport to do so.
Unlike many players of her age and today, who tend to favour one surface in terms of their Court was immensely successful across surfaces. She had a singles career winning percentage of 91.37% and a Grand Slam winning percentage of 91.7% in the Open Era.
Although a number of players have since won a calendar slam, Court is the only player in all of tennis history to have won Calendar Slams in the singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
#1 Rod Laver
The name is synonymous with tennis. Laver is not just one of Australia’s greatest – he is regarded as one of the most iconic players to have played the game. The 11-time singles Grand Slam winner won every single Slam on multiple occasions.
Laver’s biggest singles success at Grand Slams came at Wimbledon, where he won 4 titles. He won 3 at his home Slam – the Australian Open, and two each at the US Open and Wimbledon, and has been most successful at the doubles on his home hard court, winning that title 4 times.
The now 79-year-old was coached by another legendary Australian player – then-Davis Cup captain Harry Hopman, in whose honour the Hopman Cup was named.
He is one of a number of players who had immense success both before and during the (current) Open Era of tennis. Making his debut in 1963, Laver was part of the winning Davis Cup side that year, and was considered the world’s no. 1 player by 1965, winning 17 titles that year.
Then, with the advent of the Open Era and professionals being permitted to play Grand Slams again, Laver won Wimbledon in 1968 to become the first Open Era champion at the tournament.
That year, he was officially ranked World No. 1 – and the next year, took his second Calendar Slam, also winning 18 of the 32 professional tournaments he played, and setting the record for most titles in a single tennis season. It is a title that, nearly 50 years on, is still held by Laver himself. He’d win 15 the following year.
One of the ‘older’ players in the Open Era, he won 74 titles – of which 69 were taken when he was older than 30, which is considered past a tennis player’s prime.
Top-ranked both before and after official rankings came into play, successfully defending titles before and during the Open Era, and with near-unsurpassed success across surfaces, Laver has gone down in history as one of the legends of the game.