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Fantastic book, a must read to understand the history of amateur/professional tennis and Rod's place in it
on 28 November 2014
I set out to read this book to understand Laver's position in the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) debate especially. Laver is the only person to have won the grand slam of all four majors - the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open - twice in the same calendar year and the only male player to do so in the open era.
I have heard many a pundit and former player wax lyrical about Laver and his achievements and so was hoping to get a good idea for the challenges of playing in his era. And, as Federer rightly says in the foreword to this book "If you really love the sport you play then you must study its history to understand how it has evolved into the sport we know today"
Laver's career shows how popular a sport tennis was, in Australia, in those days and made them the top tennis nation along with the USA.
Laver stayed true to his humble roots from rural Queensland through the highs and lows of his career. He was deeply committed to family and especially his wife Mary, who was ten years older than him. He cared for her sincerely during the last years of her life through her severe debilitating illnesses just as Mary had done when Laver had a stroke earlier. The only surprising thing, as far as family, was Laver not letting his parents know about his wedding date and his mother finding out through a press reporter.
His fierce determination and competitiveness on the court was combined with his exemplary behaviour towards umpires, officials and opponents. He says the rudest thing he said to an umpire was "are you sure" - a far cry from the attention seeking and tantrums thrown by Nastase, Connors and McEnroe.
The book delves, in depth, the details of the divide between amateurs and professionals that existed through Laver's era and the tough choices that Laver and the others had to make. Professionals were considered mercenaries who were after money and shunned by the establishment. Only the amateurs were allowed to play in the majors and were paid a pittance. As Laver says, they used to get paid expenses and $5 for winning Wimbledon! Many amateurs were forced to take alternative careers to make ends meet after their playing days. To make matters worse, there were underhand deals, with money under the table, to stop the top amateurs from becoming pros.
It also helped me form my opinion on Laver's achievements and help put it in context of the GOAT debate. Usually, I would have to read multiple accounts to get a balanced view. It is not necessary, in this case, as Laver is both honest and objective.
I find that he and Rosewall were the two greatest players of their generation and can find no evidence to support categorically that Laver is the GOAT.
I enjoyed reading the book and recommend it highly to anyone interested in the history of tennis and how the game evolved through the 60s to the current open era.