Ken Rosewall: The Real GOAT? What About Roger Federer or Rod Laver?

AndersCorrespondent IIIMarch 8, 2010

Australian tennis player Ken Rosewall, circa 1965. (Photo by Getty Images)
Getty Images/Getty Images

The last couple of years, tennis fans and pundits have been engaged in a GOAT debate.

Eurosport is even running a fictive GOAT tournament, where the readers decide who proceeds in each round—helped by tennis writer Simon Reed's own pick and analysis.

Is Federer the GOAT, ahead of all the other contenders?

More and more people, who buy into the argument of there being a GOAT, seem to believe so due to his play and to his records. The other top contenders for the title are the usual suspects: Rod Laver, Björn Borg, and Pete Sampras.

Most have left Sampras out of the discussion after Federer beat his Grand Slam record. After all, Federer has won on all surfaces and Sampras only made it to the semis of Roland Garros once.

But Borg is still mentioned.

The iceman retired early and there is a lot of speculation on what could have been. Heck, he only went to Australia once so in effect he was really just playing three Slams a year and retired early.

Furthermore, his win percentage overall in his career and in the Slams he entered, are slightly better than the Swiss Maestro's, though not by much. As Federer has continued to extend his Grand Slam record, even the name of Borg seems to have somewhat vanished from the GOAT discussion.

Now only one man is left: Rod Laver, the two-fold calendar GS winner (1962 as an amateur and 1969 as professional).

He stands at 11 Slams, but more importantly there are those five years from 1963-1967, where he was in his prime and was banned from the Slams as he turned pro as pro's weren't allowed to enter the Slams before the Open Era began in 1968.

How many could he not have won, if he had not shut himself out by turning pro?

More than 20  is often presumed.

Some say 25.

Tim Ruffin declares 19 to be the number given that he won eight pro Slams during his five years of the professional tour (Four times at the Wembly Pro Championship, three times the U.S. Pro Championship, and one time the French Pro Championship).

Problem is, we cannot simply add these to his existing 11.


Because he captured six amateur Slams, including one of his Calendar Slams, while the majority of the top players already had turned pro and thus were banned.

In Laver's 1962 Calendar Slam, Rosewall was equally impressing on the pro tour, winning seven of the eight most important tournaments. 

In 1963 during Laver's first year on the pro tour, he lost his first eight meetings against Lew Hoad and 11 out his first 13 to Rosewall. He continued to be beaten throughout the year by Rosewall.

It's hard to imagine that Laver would have owned those players in 1962 or before had they been allowed to compete against him, especially, as there is widespread agreement, that the best pro's were better than the best amateurs.

Laver's 1963 record bears evidence to that.

However, did you notice that he did not have any Australian Pro Championships?

It did not exist.

We can make the following qualified guesses: Laver would have two of his six amateur Slams but he would have an extra three to four Pro Championships had there been an Australian Pro Championship (He won three-four times respectively on the other two Pro Championships played on grass).

Thus, we end up with 18-19 yet again.

But what about Rosewall?

Born in 1934, four years before Laver, he holds four Grand Slams as an amateur and four Grand Slams as a professional. However, whereas Laver won all his Grand Slam titles between 1960-69,  in a decade he was clearly dominating, Rosewall won his between 1953 and 1972!!

Rosewall was banned from the Grand Slams for 11 years—a period in which he won 15 Pro Championships plus. We may imagine an additional number of the non-existing Pro Australian Championship, where he won four of his eight Grand Slams ( in '53, '55, '71 and '72). 

But, we must also subtract a couple of Rosewall's amateur titles as Pancho Gonzales clearly was the No. 1 pro player throughout the 50's.

We end up with this estimate: one out of his four amateur Slams plus 15 Pro Slams plus five Australian Pro Slams (five Wembly, two U.S. (out of the six he played, he was absent for six years) and eight French Pro Championships), making it a total of 21.

Given his winning record in Australian Open, we might even put the Australian Pro's higher. 

With statistics alone one could therefore argue that neither Federer, nor Laver is the GOAT.

Rosewall is.

But statistics alone doesn't do it.

Federer has clearly been the most successful tennis players of the last decade. Likewise was Laver in the 60's (being No. 1 from '64-'69) and Pancho Gonzales in the 50's.

That leaves Rosewall with no decade to dominate although he did dominate the early 60s and he did own the French Pro Championship. He won it eight times plus an additional  two French Open's (some of the Pro's were on indoor wood, which is more remiscent to hard court than to clay). He did not even participate there in the 70's, where he won three other Grand Slams of his eight official Slams.

Rosewall did not have the almost decade-long dominance of Gonzales, Federer and Laver. But he did something neither of them did: He won Slams in three different decades and was in the top-20 for 25 consecutive years from 1952-77 both as an amateur and a pro. 

Maybe he is not the GOAT, maybe the concept doesn't make sense. But if we are discussing it, at the very least, he deserves to be at the very top of the discussion.

After all, Laver's part in the discussion is always connected to him being the only one with two Calendar Slams  (this is obviously not the only reason, but please show me an argument including Laver as the GOAT not mentioning this as one of the main reasons).

But it should be clear, that Laver would not have had two, but only one, had he been competing against top pro's like Rosewall in 1962. 

The argument against both Laver, Rosewall, Gonzales and all of the other old greats for that matter would obviously be the overall quality of the field, but that is the inevitable problem when you try to do the impossible: compare eras. 


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