Rod Laver - The legend whose record of a Calendar Grand Slam might never be matched

Novak Djokovic failed in his quest for a calendar Grand Slam when he lost in the final of the US Open 2021, failing to match the record that Rod Laver set in 1969 by winning all four slams in the year.

Rod Laver remains the only player in the history of Tennis to have achieved the Calendar Grand Slam in the Open Era. (Image credit: Twitter)

In the US Open 2021, there was tremendous anticipation. Novak Djokovic, who had won the Australian, French, and Wimbledon titles, was now on the cusp of securing the US Open and clinching the Calendar Grand Slam. Only one person in the history of the sport had achieved it and that was way back in 1969. Djokovic was one match away from matching the feat of Rod Laver, who had last achieved the Calendar Grand Slam 52 years ago. Djokovic’s quest for a golden calendar Grand Slam was already thwarted when he lost to Alexander Zverev and Pablo Carreno Busta in Tokyo Olympics 2020.

But, in a stunning turnaround, Djokovic finally crumbled on the big day in 2021. He lost 4-6, 4-6, 4-6 to Daniil Medvedev in the final. Djokovic fell short at the final hurdle and thus, the quest also ended. For the first time in a long time, there was a hope that someone would match Laver’s feat. Now, after the failure of Djokovic to win the US Open, it seems that Laver’s immortal feat of a Calendar Grand Slam might never be broken.

The legend of Rod Laver

It is clear why Laver’s record might never be broken. Djokovic made the mistake of playing Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics back-to-back. A punishing schedule already made him fatigued heading into the US Open. It was evident from all the matches. He had to fight back from a set down or he lost a set in five out of the six matches. Before the final, he had endured a punishing five-set match against Alexander Zverev. That probably dimmed his chances of winning the US Open against an opponent who was fresher.

Thus, Laver’s record is intact at least for the foreseeable future. The remarkable thing about Rod Laver is that he is the only player in the history of the game to have achieved the Calendar Grand Slam not once but twice! Laver secured the first calendar Grand Slam in 1962 but that was in the Amateur Era. After being banned for five years due to his participation in the Professional circuit, Laver made a comeback when the Open Era started in 1968.

Remarkably, his skills never dimmed. Laver achieved his second Calendar Grand Slam in 1969 when he won all four titles. The fact that he has done it twice, that too in both eras, makes him the ultimate great of Tennis. Players in the modern era, due to the punishing schedules and also because technology is providing a level-playing field, might struggle to even come close to Laver’s achievement.

Reliving the Calendar Grand Slam of Laver in 1962

The year 1962 saw Laver start his campaign on a brilliant record. Before the Australian Open, Laver was consistently losing to Ken Rosewall and Roy Emerson. However, in the final, Laver defeated Emerson 8-6, 0-6, 6-4, 6-4 to win the Australian Open for the second time. He had earlier won in 1960. The two would again clash in the French Open final as well. Laver once again got the better of Emerson by winning it 3-6, 2-6,6-3, 9-7, 6-2.

Wimbledon was the crescendo of Laver’s dominance as he lost only one set in the entire tournament. Laver defeated Martin Mulligan 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 to win the title for the second consecutive time. The US Open completed his brilliant 1962 and for the third time, he got the better of Emerson. In the final, he defeated his Australian rival 6-2, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 to complete the Calendar Grand Slam in 1962. Laver won a total of 22 titles that year which is stunning.

In the professional circuit, Laver achieved the Grand Slam even in that. He won the US Pro three times but it was in Wembley that he was at his best, winning four consecutive titles from 1964 to 1967. When he won the French Pro in 1967, it seemed nothing could stop Laver. When he competed in the professional circuit, he was banned from playing all four Grand Slams.

Laver creates history in 1969

When the Open Era began in 1968, Laver came back into the Grand Slam fold. He won Wimbledon in 1968 by beating Arthur Ashe and Tony Roche. In the final of the French Open, he had lost to Ken Rosewall. But, in 1969, everything changed as that year became ‘Laver’s miracle year’.

In the Australian Open, he defeated Emerson in four sets and overcame a massive jolt to win in five sets against Tony Roche. Laver had won the first and second set but lost the third and fourth sets. But, Laver came back to win the final set. In the final, he defeated Andres Gimeno to win the Australian Open for the third time. Laver continued to dominate and in the French Open final of 1969, he defeated Rosewall in three straight sets.

In Wimbledon, Laver successfully defended his Wimbledon title by beating John Newcombe in four sets. The Australian was now on the cusp of something special. History was finally created in the US Open as Laver defeated Tony Roche in four sets to achieve the double Calendar Slam.

The ultimate Tennis record

Laver’s feat of winning the Calendar Grand Slam not once but twice is a feat unprecedented. His tally of 10 Grand Slam titles set the original benchmark for dominance. In the modern era, players like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have won double the number of Grand Slams. But, the feat of Laver might never be successfully replicated.

Djokovic is the only player in the history of the Open Era to have won all four Grand Slams twice. But, if one looks at the Amateur plus Open Era, Laver has already achieved that as well. The fact is Amateur Era stats are not counted so much as the Open Era. The fact that Laver excelled on all surfaces is a testament that his game was naturally great.

For 52 years, the world waited for someone to match Laver’s record. Djokovic came close but he stumbled. Now, one feels that this record might never be broken in history. Laver’s feat is probably like the batting average of another great Aussie sporting genius called Don Bradman. Like his average of 99.94, Laver’s Calendar Grand Slam feat might never be matched.

Sportslumo Desk

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