The Greatest Tennis Player Ever: Rod Laver Still Belongs In Discussion

Jeff KalafaAnalyst IIIJuly 10, 2009

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND - JULY 05:  Roger Federer of Switzerland (2R) celebrates with the trophy alongside Bjorn Borg (L), Pete Sampras (2L) and Rod Laver (R)  after the men's singles final match against Andy Roddick of USA on Day Thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 5, 2009 in London, England. Federer won 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 16-14, to claim his 15th Grand Slam title.  (Photo by AELTC/Pool/Getty Images)

Rodney George Laver.  "Rod", "The Rocket", the "Rockhampton Rocket" is considered by most folks who saw him play and many who've heard of his accomplishments, to be as great a tennis player that ever lived—current players included.

It's pretty hard to say just how many majors he won because prior to 1968, no professionals were allowed to participate in tournaments such as Wimbledon, the U.S., French and Australian Opens—it was amateurs only in those days but between the years 1964-1970, Laver was the No. 1 ranked player in the world.

As an amateur, Laver won the Australian Open in 1960, Wimbledon in 1961 and in 1962 he completed what is referred to as a "calendar grand slam".  In 1962 Laver won Wimbledon and the U.S., French and Australian Opens.

He was the last man to accomplish this feat.

The following year Laver turned pro and struggled to the likes of Ken Rosewall and Lew Hoad.  Hoad beat him eight times in a row but by the end of 1963 Laver ended up ranked No. 2, behind Rosewall.

In 1964 Laver beat Rosewall 12 of 15 times and won the two most prestigious tournaments on the pro tour, the U.S. Pro and the Wembley Pro.

Laver won five U.S. Pro Championships, three Wembley Pro Championships and in 1967 he won his second calendar grand slam (U.S. Pro, Wembley Pro, French Pro, Australian Pro).

Things changed in 1968—the tennis world united and professionals were allowed to play Grand Slam tournaments such as Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Laver won Wimbledon in 1968 and in 1969 he won his third calendar grand slam while winning all four major tournaments (Wimbledon, U. S. Open, French Open, Australian Open).

After 1969 Laver only competed in only five Open Championships but remained the leading money winner on the pro tour through 1971.

In 1972, because of back and knee problems, he started playing fewer matches.

Laver finished with 198 career titles and he led Australia to four straight Davis Cup wins (1959-62).  He helped win a fifth Davis Cup when pro's were allowed to play in 1973.

At Wimbledon 2009, Roger Federer won his 15th Grand Slam Championship and broke the all time record held by Pete Sampras.

All the greats turned out to see Federer set the record, including Rod Laver.  Borg, Sampras and McEnroe were there also.

With 15 majors, Federer deserves all the credit for reaching a goal that no one really thought was attainable so quickly after Sampras retired.

This has triggered off discussion as to who is the greatest of all time and frankly, it's good for tennis.  Tennis needs more recognition and this helps.

If were going to anoint Federer as the greatest because he's now won 15 majors, where do we put Laver on the list of greats?

Truthfully, I don't believe we can really say how many majors Laver won.  I don't know if we can count his wins as an amateur.  I don't know if we can count his first grand slam because at that time, the best players in the world, though few in numbers, were on the pro circuit.

But what about all the majors he won as a pro.  From 1963-68 he probably won at least two major professional events a year—maybe more!

We know he won five majors in the Open era and he won six more as an amateur.

I'm not going to speculate on how many majors Rod Laver should be credited with, I'll just remind all the fans of the great Roger Federer to remember the name "Rod Laver".

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