During this year’s French Open, the discussion of whether or not Roger Federer and Serena Williams had a chance to claim the ultimate goal in tennis, a complete sweep of all Grand Slam titles in one year, started and ended within a week as both players lost earlier than expected. And although they probably will get another chance at least one more time in their careers, the achievement earned by only a select group of players, the last being Steffi Graf in 1988, seemingly becomes more and more impossible to achieve as the years go on.
Those seeking insight in how one deals with the pressure of winning not only one Grand Slam, but all four, would do no wrong in picking up the recent re-release of “The Education of a Tennis Player” written by Rod Laver with Bud Collins. First published in 1971, the book is not only a sharp, funny, and candid look at the journey Laver took in 1969 to win his second career sweep of the Grand Slams, but also how “Open Era” tennis changed the way the sport was played forever.
Laver, who had won the complete Grand Slam earlier in 1962 as an amateur, goes into great detail about his road to tennis immortality recounting each match he played from Australia to Forest Hills and the ups and downs in-between. What I found most interesting was how he and his fellow professionals, who were the first to earn any sort of prize money, were viewed almost as second-class citizens when they showed up to play at the Slams. In fact when Laver turned pro, the All England Club sent him a letter saying his membership (which he earned after winning in 1962) was revoked and he could no longer wear the club tie. Only when those running Wimbledon, the last holdout among the Slams, finally agreed to allow pros and amateurs play together, did the modern pro tour that we know today begin.
But the book isn’t just about Laver. Readers are treated to a unique look at such legendary players as Ken Rosewall, Arthur Ashe, Tony Roche, Fred Stolle and Cliff Drysdale who at that time was one of the few pros to use a two-handed backhand. A whole chapter is also devoted to the popular yet irascible Pancho Gonzalez who was the game’s biggest star and sued Laver and others for attempting to start a nascent form of the current players association without him. Gonzalez didn’t want to join because he wanted the right to negotiate his own terms with tournaments and won the case based on antitrust laws at the time. Despite Laver’s success, Gonzalez was more popular at the time because of his longer career and his volatile personality which many thought attracted fans. To put it in today’s terms, it would be like Roger Federer being constantly upstaged by John McEnroe on a weekly basis. The fact that Laver’s achievements are more remembered today proves that after all is said and done, winning a Grand Slam always ranks higher than any amount of time spent at No. 1.
Aside from giving readers a taste of the heady almost rag-tag life of a professional tennis player, Laver also offers today’s players tips on shot selection, training and equipment that anyone could benefit from. Those with a love of the sport will enjoy this look back at one of the most important events in its history earned by the man even Roger Federer would admit is still probably the “Greatest of All Time”.
(Thank you to New Chapter Media for providing me a complimentary copy of this book.)