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Rod Laver

Lead Up To First Grand Slam

The year 1960 was pivotal for Laver. In the first major tournament of the year, the Australian National championships, he faced his Davis Cup teammate Fraser in the finals. Down two sets, Laver came back to win his first major title, 5-7, 3-6, 6-3, 8-6, 8-6. Laver did not have a perfect tennis body. Relatively short, at only 5'8" and weighing about 155 pounds, his speed and agility on court made up for his lack of height. In his playing years, Laver was compact, and his left forearm had developed, after hitting thousands of tennis balls, into Popeye dimensions, as big as that of Rocky Marciano, boxing's heavyweight champion. In addition to his wristy, topspin forehand, Laver combined strength of will and determination on the court. He had no weaknesses for his opponents to attack. Though his serve was not huge, he could disguise it well and place it in the corners of the service box. He also was good at net, learning an aggressive game from Hopman, but particularly excelled from the backcourt. Hopman had also schooled Laver in behavior on and off the court. A true sportsman, he played a generally quiet game, and was an intensely private individual, giving few interviews.

That same year, 1960, Fraser avenged his defeat at the Australian singles by beating Laver in the finals at Wimbledon and at Forest Hills, though Laver was able to take home a trophy from the United States championships that year, in mixed doubles. From rivals, Laver and Fraser returned to being teammates to beat Italy in the Davis Cup finals in December of 1960. Laver failed to defend his Australian championship in 1961, losing in the finals, as he did at Forest Hills, as well. But he was more successful at Wimbledon, defeating his American opponent, Chuck McKinley, in a mere 55 minutes. Following the matches at Forest Hills that year, the former player and now organizer of professional tennis, Jack Kramer, offered Laver $33,600 to come on his pro tour, but the Aussie refused. He had his sights still set on the Grand Slam tournaments to which he would be barred if he turned pro.

Related Biography: Tennis Player/Coach Harry Hopman

Harry Hopman's name is synonymous with Australian tennis in the two decades prior to the Open era. As captain of the Australian Davis Cup team from 1950 to 1969, he gathered a group of players around him who he groomed in the finest aspects of the gentlemanly game of tennis. Called Hop by his friends, his "genius," according to E. Digby Baltzell in Sporting Gentlemen: Men's Tennis from the Age of Honor to the Cult of the Superstar, "was to take a wide variety of boys and mold them into a cohesive team of gentlemen…. Harry Hopman was a great organizer, disciplinarian, and believer in the virtues of the gentleman." Among the players he groomed were Frank Sedgman, Ken McGregor, Lew Hoad, Kenny Rosewall, Mal Anderson, Ashley Cooper, Neale Fraser, Roy Emerson, John Newcombe, Fred Stolle, Tony Roche, and most famously of all, Rod Laver. He gave his name to a tennis epoch, the Hopman Era, the decades in the 1950s and 1960s when the Australians dominated amateur tennis.

Born August 12, 1906, in Glebe, New South Wales, Hopman played tennis himself, and was a singles finalist in the Australian championships in the early 1930s. He was also a fine doubles player, winning the Australian doubles in 1929 and 1930, and twice a runner-up in the French doubles title. He and his wife, Nell, won the Australian mixed doubles twice. However it was as a talent spotter, coach, and captain of the Australian Davis Cup team for which Hopman is best remembered. Childless, Hopman and his wife poured their energies into tennis and the young men coming up through the ranks in Australian tennis. Hopman led his team to 16 Cups between his first captaincy in 1939 and near the end of his reign in 1967. Hopman emphasized fitness, pride, and most of all, gentlemanly behavior.

Hopwood last served as Australian Davis Cup captain in 1969, and after the loss to Mexico, he immigrated to the United States and became a successful teaching pro. With his wife, he opened his own camp, the Hopman Tennis Academy, in Largo, Florida. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1978, and died on December 27, 1985. The Hopman Cup tournament was named after him, the first competition held in 1989.

Laver began the tennis year of 1962 with a bang, beating Roy Emerson in the finals of the Australian championship. He beat Emerson again consecutively in Paris and Rome, though his was two sets down in the French championships, and then at Wimbledon he demolished his fellow countryman Martin Mulligan in less than 52 minutes, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1. With three of the four majors under his belt coming into the U.S. championships, Laver was all the buzz at the 1962 Forest Hills tournament. As Lardner noted of that year's tournament, "this hawk-nosed, freckle-faced, bowlegged Australian is a prime product of the almost unbeatable Australian system of spotting, nurturing and financing its best tennis players from the cradle." The world's press, fans, and other tennis players were wondering if Laver would be able to repeat Don Budge's accomplishment of winning all four majors in one year. Laver tore through the early rounds of the tournament, and then faced one of his usual Australian rivals, Emerson, in the finals. Laver hit "wildly spinning, hard, shoe-top-high shots almost impossible to volley," wrote Lardner of the match. "Very often he hit the ball so fast that Emerson could merely watch as it skimmed by." Laver won in four sets and after tossing his racquet in the air, finally cracked a smile, his first of the tournament. Later that same year, Laver teamed up with Emerson in Davis Cup to defeat Mexico, bringing the Cup home for their country for the eleventh time in 13 years. It would be his last Davis Cup competition for over a decade.

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Famous Sports StarsTennisRod Laver - An Aussie Upbringing, Chronology, Amateur Years, Lead Up To First Grand Slam, Related Biography: Tennis Player/coach Harry Hopman - CONTACT INFORMATION, SELECTED WRITINGS BY LAVER: