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Rod Laver

Turns Pro

Laver announced in late December of 1962 that he was joining the International Professional Tennis Players Association, whose members had chipped in to guarantee him $110,000 for the next three-year period. In the early days of pro tennis, such a contract was very lucrative, indeed. In his first pro match, Laver lost to fellow Australian Lew Hoad, and went on to lose his next three professional matches, as well, until settling into the pro ranks. A long and vigorous rivalry began between Laver and Australian Kenny Rosewall, another of Hopman's students. Rosewall beat Laver in the 1963 U.S. Pro singles, but in 1964, Laver turned around to beat Rosewall and Pancho Gonzalez to win the first of five of those titles. Life in the pros was, however, far from romantic or even illustrious. In those days it meant long drives in a station wagon from one gym to another across the country, playing exhibition matches in front of a few hundred spectators at best. Once the evenings double match was finally concluded, perhaps as late as one in the morning, the players piled into their cars and drove a few hours in the darkness toward their next destination, then stayed at some roadside motel, got up in the late morning, and continued on their way to the next venue. The 1964 final, in which he beat Gonzalez, was indicative of the difficulties of the early pro tour. Laver and Gonzalez played in a raging storm that turned Boston's grass courts into a swamp, but the show had to go on and Laver managed to pull off some amazing shots to win the title, even under such inclement conditions.

Disappointingly, Laver's decision to turn pro eliminated him from competition in the world's major titles, still amateur affairs. Thus he missed the years 1963-1967 at any of the Grand Slams. Only when open tennis began in 1968 could he attempt to reproduce his former greatness at those events. That year at Roland Garros, Laver again lost to Rosewall in the finals, 6-3, 6-1, 2-6, 6-2. Returning to Wimbledon for the first time in five championships, he took the tournament, defeating Tony Roche in under an hour. The advent of open tennis also increased prize money available to the players. Whereas in 1968, there were only two prize-money tournaments in the U.S., with combined winnings of $130,000, by 1969 the U.S. Open alone offered a larger purse, and all the U.S. tournaments combined were worth $440,000. Worldwide, prize money had grown to $1.3 million, and Laver garnered $124,000 of that, becoming the top money winner. But Laver was after an even bigger prize than money in the 1969 season.

Additional topics

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: