The court was greasy, but somehow slow, which favored me because Tony’s slice didn’t take. Movement was tough, and this was a break for me because Tony decided not to put on spikes. He figured his strained thigh muscles would be jarred by the quick stops you make in spikes, possibly bringing on a cramp.
That first set was one of the strangest I’ve ever played. I should have won it and deserved to lose it. I got what I deserved and Tony took it 9-7, just took it right away from me after I’d been serving for the set at 5-3. He did it with beautiful backhands. I was sloshing and slipping around, and a couple of times I had asked referee Mike Gibson for permission to put on my spiked shoes. I’d wanted to begin the match in them, but he’d refused. After that game, Mike said all right. It meant all the difference to me.
Tony immediately won his serve in four points, but I felt surer on my feet and I knew I’d get going. Especially when I stopped him two points short of the set to keep even at 6-6. But I wasn’t so sure when I lost that first set anyway. I’d had a lot of luck during the year, and I wondered if it had run out at last. Although I’d worn spikes here and there throughout my career, the occasions were so rare during my professional days that they took some getting used to. You consciously changed your movements at first. Picked up your feet. No sliding. It was a new sensation until you were re-accustomed to them.
The slight uncertainty of moving in spikes was gone for good in the first game of the second set when I came through with a big serve at the crucial point of the match. With the first set his, and the pressure on me, Tony got me down 30-40 on my serve. One more point and he’d be up a set and a break, a pretty good edge in that mush.
We both knew this was a huge point. He took his time getting ready to return, and I did the same lining up—not overly so, maybe not even noticeable to the crowd, but we had to be right for this one. I was righter. I threw myself into the serve, and sliced it wide to his forehand. It didn’t come back. He barely touched it, and I could tell it pained him to miss the opportunity. You don’t get too many break-point chances on grass—and he didn’t have another.
It wouldn’t be apparent for a while, but the match turned upside down right there. I won the game and began hitting harder and harder as I got surer of my footing. Then I won the next and the next—five straight. From that break-point chance in the first game, Tony managed to win only five of the last 23 games. He came all apart as I wrapped him up, 7-9, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. Not even a rain delay of a half-hour at the beginning of the third set could rust my concentration or help him pull his together.
Unlike 1962, I had control of myself all through the final match of the Grand Slam. I was never dazed as I had been against Emmo seven years before during a brief case of nerves down the stretch.
Serving match game, I opened with an ace. I knew what I was about, and wasn’t going to let Tony breathe. It was 40-0 when I did try to end with a grand-slamming flourish on a forehand volley. I blew it. A minor disappointment not to be able to score with a put-away as I had on the championship point at Wimbledon.
It fell to Tony to lose it with a forehand that he hit long. Both of us were glad it was over. Afraid to use spikes, he’d been victimized in sneakers, unable to counteract my better shots, including a number of very good lobs. It was one of my best days with the lob, always a useful shot, but even more damaging that day when running was tough.
Not enough ordinary players realize the value of the lob, and I guess I didn’t until I became a seasoned pro. It’s much more than a desperation measure. As an amateur, even if the odds were against my making a shot, I’d usually let fly anyway. When I became a pro, I couldn’t risk throwing away points like that because the opposition was equal or better.
This meant I had to be realistic. If my chances of making a shot from a difficult position were doubtful, I found you seldom get hurt with a lob.
But there were no more lobs to be hit. Not one more stroke on a chase that began God knows how many strokes ago in Brisbane when I hit the first serve to a fellow I wouldn’t know if he walked into the room, Massimo di Domenico. The others I knew pretty well . . . Andres . . . Arthur . . Emmo . . . Tony . . . Newc . . . Dennis . . . Kenny . . . Okker . . . Smith.
There were 1,005 games in 26 Grand Slam matches, and now it was all over.
Laver captured 11 major singles titles during his career, including Wimbledon in 1961, 1962, 1968 and 1969. After joining Don Budge as the only man to win a Grand Slam by sweeping all four majors in 1962, Laver turned professional where he, along with fellow pros Hoad, Rosewall and Gonzalez, were banned from playing the “amateur-only” major tournaments. When the “Open Era” of tennis began in 1968, Laver netted another five major singles titles, including his Grand Slam sweep of all four in 1969. Laver won nearly 200 singles titles during his career and was inducted into the International Tennis of Fame in 1981.
I am delighted that THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER is back in circulation and available for a new generation of tennis fans,” said Laver. “Winning the Grand Slam for a second time in 1969 seems just like yesterday and this book brings back a lot of memories of the great matches and exciting times. I hope people enjoy reading my story.
Collins, himself a 1994 inductee in the International Tennis Hall of Fame, first met Laver in 1956 at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston during the U.S. National Doubles Championships. Thirteen years later, the two collaborated on the book that was only to be published if Laver won the Grand Slam. Collins is best known for his colorful television commentary – and his colorful wardrobe – as well as his columns in the Boston Globe. Collins currently works as a commentator with ESPN2 and Tennis Channel.
Rod Laver is one of the greatest treasures we have in tennis and THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER is one of our sports most important literary works,” said Collins. “Rod was always so humble and gracious, but he could play tennis like a hurricane. He was as a great a champion as we have ever had in tennis and one of the all-time nicest guys.
New Chapter Press is also the publisher of THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS by Bud Collins, THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION by Rene Stauffer and BOYCOTT: STOLEN DREAMS OF THE 1980 MOSCOW OLYMPIC GAMES by Tom Caraccioli and Jerry Caraccioli among others. More information on New Chapter Press can be found at www.NewChapterMedia.com.