Aussies at Roland Garros – Rod Laver 1969
As we count down to French Open 2012, tennis.com.au will feature some of the best Australian achievements at Roland Garros.
As we count down to French Open 2012, tennis.com.au will feature some of the best Australian achievements at Roland Garros. The highlights will be revealed in chronological order and when all 20 have been named, you get the chance to vote for your No.1 achievement.
The top seed in Paris for the second year in a row, Rod ‘Rocket’ Laver was determined to not only win his second French title since 1962 but avenge his loss in the final to countryman Ken ‘Muscles’ Rosewall in 1968.
But for Laver, it almost wasn’t to be. An early upset was on the cards when unseeded Australian Dick Crealy won the opening two sets of their second-round match. Laver wasn’t ready to check out of Paris just yet though, winning the following three sets to progress. Laver accounted for eighth seed Andres Gimeno in four sets in the quarters and fifth seed Tom Okker in the semis to catapult himself into his second successive Roland Garros final.
Meanwhile, Rosewall’s title defense was well and truly on track. Unlike Laver, the SS Rosewall sailed through to the final on relatively calm waters, highlighted by a straight-sets win over second seed Tony Roche in the semifinals to set up a re-match of the 1968 French Open men’s final with Laver.
But unlike 1968, this time it would be Laver who got away to a strong start. And from there Rocket never looked back, running away with the match 6-4 6-3 6-4.
Sadly for Laver, he just missed out on a Paris double, losing the doubles final to fellow Aussies John Newcombe and Tony Roche, 4-6 6-1 3-6 6-4 6-4.
The singles title was Laver’s second major for the year after winning the Australian Open over Gimeno in straight sets. Following Paris, Laver won his fourth and final Wimbledon title and then completed his second Grand Slam by winning the US Open, making him the only player to complete the calendar year Grand Slam twice and writing his name in the tennis history books forever.
But it’s not just statistics that Laver is remembered for – his competitiveness, power and technique thrust his name into all GOAT conversations.
When asked about his great rival in 2009, Rosewall was effusive in his praise for Laver. “Rod was a good guy on and off the court. He was fair and he was tough, Rod.
“He liked to win every match he played. Others were good players on some days and not so good on other days. They didn’t have the competitive instinct to want to get out and win every match, but Rod did. He was always aggressive, he liked to hit the ball hard, there was a lot of natural ability.
“A number of times I played him, I thought I was going to win but he’d get me in the end. I’d have a lead in the third set or fifth set but he’d keep coming and I’d finish up losing,” Rosewall told the Herald.
Laver didn’t win another major after his 1969 Grand Slam, but continued to win tournaments around the world. He finished his career with 20 Grand Slam titles (11 singles, six doubles and three mixed). Laver missed 20 majors during the amateur–professional divide – it’s anyone’s guess how many majors he may have won.
Nobody on the men’s tour has been able to replicate Laver’s Grand Slams and the man himself is unsure if anyone ever will.
“It seems to me that it’s going to be more and more difficult because you’ve got specialists, when you’re looking at Rafa Nadal, he’s got a lock on the French. If there was no Nadal, Federer would have had a Grand Slam.
“The playing level now is so high … it’s a tough one to be able to do because there is so much competition.”
Aussies at Roland Garros – the complete list to date
1969 Rod Laver salutes in Paris on his way to his second Grand Slam