Rod Laver by Rod Laver

Rod Laver by Rod Laver

Author:Rod Laver
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Triumph Books
Published: 2016-03-10T16:00:00+00:00

13. Grand Slam II

I could hardly have picked a more momentous year to try to make sporting history. Neil Armstrong and his Apollo 11 crew landed on the moon, the Vietnam War raged on, the first Boeing 747 took to the skies, Richard Nixon became the 37th president of the United States and Charles de Gaulle stepped down as president of France, The Beatles made their final public appearance and released Abbey Road, James Earl Ray and Sirhan Sirhan were brought to justice for assassinating Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy . . . Quite understandably, with all that was going on, the game of tennis had to battle for headlines, but along the way we managed to make a few.

When Tony Roche and I played the semi final of the Australian Open on 25 January 1969, the first Austra­lian championships of the open era, at Brisbane’s Milton courts, we had a point to prove. In the crowd were many local officials who resented the fact that two professionals were fighting it out for a chance to claim the Australian crown in the final of their tournament against another pro, Andres Gimeno. We knew that and so, without ever discussing it, we both went onto the court determined to play our best tennis, not just to add the open silverware to our mantelpiece but to hold the flag high for ourselves and our fellow pros.

The old guard of Australian tennis had been dragged screaming and kicking into the open era, and at the Austra­lian Open tournament, their animosity was obvious. The tournament was among the most dispiriting I’ve ever played in. It was hardly promoted and this was reflected in poor crowds. The facilities for spectators and players were Dark Ages standard and were even worse than some we’d experienced as pros barnstorming through makeshift tin-pot venues in Third World countries. No real effort had been made to get Milton in shape for this major event. The court surfaces were uneven and patchy, and the dressing rooms were just as decrepit as they had been when I was a kid. We professionals were, at best, ignored and, at worst, treated with disdain by some officials. I had the distinct impression that to them we were a necessary evil.

This was my home court, and some of the things that happened at that Australian Open hurt. Former Queensland Lawn Tennis Association president and now LTAA president Big Bill Edwards, under whose auspices the event was held, and some of his cronies even took a day off from the tournament to go to the races. We knew Bill had no time for us as players, or for the concept of open tennis, but by his slack and incompetent staging of the event he insulted us and the tennis community. The player seedings defied belief, with Emmo, Stolle and myself drawn to play each other in the early rounds. There were not enough officials to go around and Bill Bowrey and Ray Ruffels played their quarter final without linesmen.


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