Monday, January 30, 2006

The Rocket

I'm sure this will be the only post I ever make about Tennis, but I think it's worthwhile to make this point. There's been a lot written and said (and deservedly so) about Roger Federer and his assault on the all time Grand Slam wins record. The record is 14 and is currently held by Pete Sampras who many have called the greatest men's player ever. Federer now has 7 career grand slam titles and is the current challenger to Pete's claim as the best ever. While you can argue the merits of these two men as the best ever, the person that is somehow overlooked in this conversation and by all rights should be holder of that title is Rod laver. Rod Laver has 11 Grand Slam titles and is the last man to win the slam, and the only one to ever win it twice.

Clearly it would be foolish to argue that Rod Laver is the physical match of the players of today. In his prime, I'm not sure if he ever cleared 150 pounds, but you can only judge players across different eras by comparing what each did in his own era. Laver was an amateur when he won the slam in '62, he was a professional when he won it in '69. The rules of the game were different back then. Professionals were not allowed to compete in the Grand Slam tournaments until '68. Laver turned professional after winning his first slam and so he was not allowed to compete for another one until '68. He dominated the professional tour winning their "Major" in three of the five years that he was denied the chance to compete for the other majors. He also won Wimbeldon in the first year of the open era of tennis (1968). Some will say that he has "only" won 11 majors, but he shouldn't be penalized for wanting to earn a living.

So basically what we have is someone who was denied the opportunity to compete in 20 Grand Slam tournaments during the peak of his athletic ability. Given his domination of the years on either side of that ban, I believe it is more than conceivable that he could have won perhaps 2 a year at the very least. That would give him 21 Grand Slam titles. If we are more conservative and only allow for one title for each of those 5 years, that would give him 16. Even with those conservative estimates, he would have put the record beyond the reach of Sampras.

He also won on every surface. Sampras never won the French Open (in fact never got to a final) and Federer has yet to win there. I understand the sentiment that says that todays players are bigger and faster and therefore better, but if you look at what each of the players did in the major tounaments against the best competition of their eras, there is only one conclusion. Rod Laver (The Rocket) is the greatest player ever. Maybe it's because he's from Australia, or maybe it's because he's lefthanded, or maybe it's because he's a redhead (redheaded step-child syndrome), or maybe it's because he came along before Tennis was a major TV sport, or maybe people just have short memories, but his double slam is simply not mentioned among the pantheon of great sporting achievements. And it should be.

The Rocket is the best tennis player ever. The record says so. It's just a shame most people watching Tennis today have no idea who he is.

If you'd like to read more about Rod Laver, here's a link:



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