Among the many fascinating tidbits of tennis history, the reader can glean from The Education of a Tennis Player by Rod Laver with Bud Collins is that accusations of stinginess between top rivals didn’t start with Andre Agassi’s jokes about Pete Sampras being a lousy tipper.
Here is Laver on his great rival Ken Rosewall.
“Somewhere in his home outside of Sydney, Kenny has his first five dollar bill framed over the mantel.”
Laver goes on to say that Rosewall is the least appreciated great player in the history of tennis. He attributes this to the fact that Rosewall spent some of his best years playing as a pro in the era before the arrival of Open tennis.
Laver also points out that any ranking of the game’s great rivalries such as Chris Evert-Martina Navratilova, Sampras-Agassi and Rafael Nadal-Roger Federer must include the Laver-Rosewall matchups. The book reports that the two most likely tallies of this series of matches has Laver slightly ahead by either 71-68 or 69-67, as record-keeping was shaky during both players’ barnstorming “pro” years.
The Education of a Tennis Player is full of portraits of the game’s great players and coaches who were on the scene during Laver’s career.
As the only man to win two Grand Slams, in 1962 and in 1969, Laver is the perfect player to share stories and insight about the on and off-court battles of his era.
In addition, at the end of each chapter, there is an instructional segment designed to help readers improve their games, as well as becoming well-versed in the perspective of the man who may have been the greatest tennis player in history.
It isn’t hard to argue that if Laver, like Rosewall, hadn’t spent years at the height of his skills unable to play in the Slams, he might even have pulled off a third Grand Slam.
As it is, it doesn’t appear that his two-Slam record will ever be equaled. While Nadal looks like he is on the verge of being able to pull off a Slam after his first U.S. Open triumph, the idea of a second player being able to do it twice seems unlikely.
But even in his two years of triumph, Laver had some shaky moments. As it has been for generations of attacking players, the French Open was Laver’s toughest Slam.
In fact, his bid to win the Slam in 1962 almost vanished when he found himself down two sets to one and serving at 4-5, 30-40 against fellow Aussie Marty Mulligan in the quarterfinals. On that match point, he missed his first serve, but managed to pull the match out. Laver had to win three straight five-set matches that year to win in Paris.
New Chapter Press has reissued the book to honor the 40th anniversary of Laver’s second Slam in 1969, with new forewords from both Laver and Collins. This is a perfect pairing because while tennis people may argue about who the greatest player is, Collins is clearly the greatest tennis writer. And if any scribes or fans of tennis writing dispute this, yeah, A Handful of Summers by Gordon Forbes gives Collins some competition, show me another tennis writer who has won a “gold” ball, signifying a national championship. Collins won a U.S. national indoor doubles title in the 1950s.
This timely reissue of The Education of a Tennis Player, a collaboration between possibly the greatest player ever and the “Rod Laver” of tennis writers deserves a place on every tennis player’s bookshelf.