This year, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the US Open, we’re counting down the 50 most memorable moments in the history of America’s Grand Slam. Today, we take a look back at No. 9.
Seven years after establishing himself as the second man ever to achieve a Grand Slam when he was an amateur, Rod Laver set out to replicate that extraordinary feat in 1969, the second year of Open tennis. Laver was at his zenith that season, taking the Australian Open to commence his campaign, winning a critical contest over Tony Roche, 7-5, 22-20, 9-11, 1-6, 6-3, in the semifinals on the grass at Brisbane before casting aside the Spaniard Andres Gimeno. At the French Open, Laver turned the tables on his countryman Ken Rosewall. A year earlier, Rosewall had clipped Laver in the final at Roland Garros, but this time around, Laver masterfully defeated Rosewall in straight sets. On to Wimbledon, where Laver dismissed fellow Aussie John Newcombe in a well-played, four-set final.
And so the majestic left-hander headed for New York, in search of a fourth major in a row, in strong pursuit of a second Grand Slam. He was tested severely on the lawns of Forest Hills, most comprehensively by American Dennis Ralston in a five-set, fourth-round meeting. Laver then knocked out Roy Emerson and Arthur Ashe to set up a final-round appointment with Roche, the same fellow who nearly ended Laver’s Grand Slam aspirations back in Brisbane about eight months earlier.
The Laver-Roche final was played on Monday after a backlog of bad weather and was delayed more than an hour by rain. Earlier, a helicopter had flown low over the stadium to help dry the damp court. Laver led, 5-3, in the first set, but Roche rallied to win it, 9-7. Laver was then given permission to wear spikes on the slippery court rather than sneakers; Roche stuck with his tennis shoes. Thereafter, Laver soared to another level, and his free-flowing game came vibrantly alive. Laver was simply unstoppable, prevailing, 7-9, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2.
British writer David Gray described Laver’s victory accurately. “It was a test of technique and courage, the ability to play wonderful tennis under dreadful conditions.” Laver’s feat of winning a Grand Slam with so many formidable rivals surrounding him at that time was a singularly significant accomplishment.
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