On this day on February 2, 1975, forty years ago, a challenge tennis match was held in Caesars Palace, Las Vegas between legend Rod Laver and young aggressive upstart Jimmy Connors.
Why did this match occur?
The Open era began in 1968. Prior to that, only amateurs were allowed to play in the four main grand slams. But from 1968, amateurs and professionals were allowed compete for the grand slams, hence the term ‘open’.
In 1974, Connors won three grand slams, the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open, and was the number one player in the world. When he won the US Open, it was alleged that Connors shouted out ‘Get me Laver’.
In the 1970s, Laver, who was well into his thirties, hardly played in any of the major grand slam tournaments because he had contracts with the National Tennis League (NTL) and World Championship Tennis (WCT) tours, where at the time, most of the professional tennis players would converge to.
In 1974, Laver won six of the 13 tournaments he entered in and ended the year as the number four ranked player in the world at the ripe old age of 36.
Connors’ manager Bill Riordan, was a key instigator in making the tennis match between Connors and Laver into a reality. It was promoted as the “Heavyweight Championship of Tennis.”
Prior to the match, both parties negotiated terms. Connors would get $100,000 from the match, while Laver would receive $60,000.
When this match was played, Connors was 22, Laver 36.
When you look at the footage, Laver certainly has cat like reflexes around the net which was remarkable for a 36-year-old. Some of the volleying that Laver displayed in that match was outstanding, especially around the 3:04 mark. In fact so outstanding, commentators described it, saying “boy they are going to turn this town upside down”!
I thought Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer were great volleyers around the net, but technically, in my opinion, Laver has them covered.
In the footage, we pick up play in the third set.The footage, I assume only shows the third set and maybe the fourth, but never shows the conclusion of the match.
Laver’s backhand,whether it’s across the court or down the line was so lethal. After a slow start where he lost the first two sets, Laver comes back and makes a fist of it by winning the third set.
Laver certainly gave Connors a competitive match despite the age difference. However, in the end, the younger legs of Connors prevailed with the scoreline of 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.
For many years, you always hear about Rod Laver and his list of achievements which included eleven grand slam titles. And the only man to have won all four grand slams in the same year, twice.
At the Australian Open, the main court is named after him.
And as a professional, he won eight majors (US Pro, Wembley Pro and French Pro). So in effect, when you add the eleven grand slams, he won 19 major singles titles and 200 career singles titles overall from 1956-1976.
He played in an era where he used wooden racquets, where the sweet spot was small, which meant that he would only attack on the one side, whereas with tennis racquets of today, they could attack on both sides more powerfully, simply because the sweet spot is bigger. Therefore what it means is more baseline rallies and less court coverage.
Laver, who was nicknamed ‘The Rocket’ also didn’t have the benefits of huge support staff, or advanced video and technological analysis in working on their game or looking at their opponents game.
Yet, despite all that, he achieved so much, and it all came down to pure talent.
I never saw Laver play, as his career was before my time. However, after watching his contest with Connors, I have a growing sense appreciation of what Laver was as a tennis player.
For all the Roarers, if you have the spare time, watch the footage of Laver versus Connors. You won’t be dissapointed.
Laver is well and truly an all time great. Perhaps the greatest ever.