Why the Tennis Gods Made Rod Laver

Mark on his painting: For this painting I focused on his ear because it is such an intimate space. It is where whispers are spoken. It is the site of the annunciation. It is a space of vulnerability. Rod Laver’s iconic stature in the world of tennis is well established. And for those of us who never saw him play this iconic status becomes even more elevated. In a way we access his legend through players that acknowledge his legacy explicitly in their game. Like Roger Federer. When we watch Federer are we also watching Laver in a strange twice or three times removed way?

Why the Tennis Gods Made Rod Laver

The tennis gods looked down on the mess they had made: “We need someone so physically unremarkable and mentally unassuming no one could believe the tennis player he would become.” So the tennis gods made Rod Laver. 

“We need someone who will drive for endless miles on the edge of sleep like truckers do, play tennis in risky conditions in the spotlight of dim arenas. We need someone willing to get the snot beat out of him for two straight years by Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall, knowing you play the best to become the best, that you learn more from losses not wins.” So the tennis gods made Rod Laver.

Laver listened to whispers he had dirtied the sport, had shamed himself, by turning pro. He was banned from all the grand slams, banned from representing Australia in international competition. Laver listened to the tennis gods whisper.

“We were witnesses at the dawning of something original, new (did we help create it?): how he could hold every shot to the last possible moment before changing its spin or direction or pace, how he could play serve and volley and hit wicked topspin passing shots, how he who could hit all sorts of lobs–defensive, offensive, slice, topspin–and get back as quick as anyone to finish a point with an inside-out lefty smash.” 

Federer wept.

Laver hands Roger Federer the championship trophy after the 2006 Australian Open in Rod Laver arena. “I want to thank Rod Laver,” Federer begins. 

Note: Laver won the calendar grand slam in 1962 as the best amateur player in the world, then won the calendar grand slam a second time in 1969 as the best tennis player in the world.

Artist Bio: “Rod” is painted by Mark Shorter. This work is the result of a collaborative dialogue of art and words on famous Australian tennis players with Mark Shorter, the endlessly innovative Australian artist and head of sculpture at the University of Melbourne. My thanks to Gertrude Contemporary, the leading incubator of contemporary art in Australia, for hooking us up. You can check out our previous collaborations here. Our next work together is on Pat Cash.

Happy to announce that this blog has been named one of Feedspot’s top tennis blogs, websites & influencers of 2021.

2 replies on “Why the Tennis Gods Made Rod Laver”

I saw Rod play in Baton Rouge at Bocage in the late 60’s. He won the tournament and $10,000 dollars in the process. Even though I liked Ken Rosewall, I pulled mightily for Rod in their matches. Rod is always going to be my favorite. Thanks for this wonderful piece David L.

Hard not to love Rod Laver. So cool to see him in Baton Rouge at Bocage. Now the spring tournament at Bocage will mean even more to me when I play it next year. Thanks for this comment!

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