Rod Laver was widely regarded as one of the greatest in tennis history.
He was ranked World No. 1 for seven consecutive years, from 1964 to 1970 (1964–67 in the professional circuit then 1968–70 in the nascent Open Era), and also in 1961–62 by Lance Tingay of The Daily Telegraph.
Laver excelled on all of the court surfaces of his time (grass, clay, hard, carpet, and wood/parquet), won the most singles titles (200) in tennis history and holds the all-time male singles records of 22 titles in a single season (1962) and seven consecutive years (1964–70) winning at least 10 titles per season. Despite being barred from playing the Grand Slam tournaments during much of his prime, he still won 11 singles titles because he was the only player to twice achieve The Grand Slam, in 1962 and 1969, and remains the only male player to do so during the Open Era. He also won eight Pro Slam titles, including all three in 1967, and contributed to five Davis Cup titles for Australia during an era when Davis Cup was deemed as significant as the Grand Slams.
In 1971, Laver successfully defended his title at the “Tennis Champions Classic”, winning 13 consecutive winner-take-all matches against top opponents and US$160,000. He also won seven tournaments, including the Italian Open in Rome on clay over Jan Kodeš, the reigning French Open champion. For the year, Laver won a then-record US$292,717 in tournament prize money and became the first tennis player to surpass US$1 million in career prize money. In 1971 and 1972, Laver finished as the points leader of the WCT tournament series but lost the playoff finals at Dallas to Rosewall. The last match is rated as one of the best of all time and drew a TV audience of over 20 million. Beginning in 1972, Laver cut back his tournament schedule, partly because of back and knee injuries and his tennis camp businesses.
In 1973, Laver won seven tournaments and successfully participated in the semifinals and final of the Davis Cup, where he won all six of his rubbers for Australia. The following year, Laver won six of 13 tournaments and ended the year as World No. 4 on the computer. At 36, he was the oldest player during the open era to have been included in the year-ending top five. In 1975, Laver set a record for WCT tournaments by winning four titles and 23 consecutive matches but in 1976, Laver semi-retired from the main tour, playing only a few selected events. He also signed withWorld Team Tennis, where he became “Rookie of the Year” at the age of 38.
Overall, Laver won 77 titles during the open era, with all but eight occurring after he turned 30. And despite his relatively advanced age, his official singles match record of 536–136 (as listed by the ATP) places him in the top 10 win rates of the open era.
Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday salutes …Possibly the greatest tennis player in history…Rod Laver.