Monday 22 May 2017

Memories of Rockhampton Rocket flood into focus

Sean Diffley

Rockhampton, that 70,000 inhabited city in Queensland, devastated by floods in Australia's high summer, was famous long before Noah's Ark was necessary.

Remember the Rockhampton Rocket -- Rod Laver -- arguably the greatest tennis player of all time, who hails from there?

He is now 73-years-old and, as he now lives in Carlsbad, California, has avoided the terrible downpours. He, no doubt, continues to oversee the dispensing of an extensive range of sports equipment, suitably inscribed with the Laver logo.

After all, when you're 73 you don't rush the net as earnestly as you used to. And so say all of us.

The red-headed Laver was a left-hander and was noted for his tactics of rushing the net, even on his second serve.

It brought him 11 Grand Slam triumphs -- one of which was the Wimbledon final in 1968 when he beat Tony Roche after gaining the first newly legal professional dispensation.

Laver won Wimbledon four times, in 1961 and '62 and again in 1968 and '69. He won the French champ-ionship twice, in '62 and '69, a feat Pete Sampras never managed.

Laver won his own Australian championship three times (1960, '62 and '69) and the US title in 1962 and again in 1969.

It is ironic that Laver nowadays is involved with modern sports implements when we remember that the rackets he manipulated in his playing days were wooden and not the nuclear efficient synthetic affairs that react virtually like an auto-pilot on an aircraft, or kike a five-iron in golf rather than the old fashioned mashie.

Things were, indeed, different in Laver's days. Perhaps, not quite as off-putting as Emma Bombeck giving us a rough idea in her book, 'If life is a Bowl of Cherries -- What am I doing in the Pits?'

Emma told us that every day in every way her game was getting stronger.

"I saw one enthusiast the other day," she writes, "playing with his racket out of the press. I'll have to try that."

Anyway, in those days Laver would have to buy his own rackets. When the game went professional -- in the last amateur days of 1968 -- Laver won both the amateur and the professional tournaments and thereafter the amateur was dispatched into the never-never land.

There had been an attempt to introduce professionalism and the top player in the 1950s, the American Jack Kramer -- who won two US titles and one Wimbledon -- tried to organise a pro circuit, but that perished on the sacrosanctity of the simon-pure amateur game of the time and it was two decades before what was dubbed an 'open' came into being.

I met Laver once, many years ago, when he played at the old Fitzwilliam grounds.

It began raining, as I recall, and I attempted an interview with Laver, but the tape on my recorder decided to perform a tangled mess.

Laver was very clearly not impressed and I never got around to enquiring which brand of press he used for his wooden racket.

Irish Independent

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