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Laver - 1st CYGS or 2nd CYGS - which was more difficult?

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Post by JuliusHMarx Wed 20 May 2015, 4:05 pm

Anyone have any thoughts?

I have no idea myself, but would be interested if others do.

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Post by Guest Wed 20 May 2015, 4:17 pm

As the great Paul Merson said "that's putting the pigeons amongst the cats"

There is only one poster to my knowledge on this board that can answer that with clarity and insight.

Over to you LF Very Happy

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Post by HM Murdock Wed 20 May 2015, 4:27 pm

I read a good article on the 2nd one earlier this year:

http://www.tennis.com/pro-game/2015/02/1969-rocket-launch/53950/#.VVzuAflViko

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Post by Jahu Wed 20 May 2015, 5:15 pm

Whats with different coloured name now JHM? Got a pay/rank rise?   thumbsup
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Post by JuliusHMarx Wed 20 May 2015, 5:27 pm

Pay? Haha. But yes. I was somewhat surprised by it myself.

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Post by Henman Bill Wed 20 May 2015, 8:10 pm

Rod Laver's first calendar year grand slam in 1962 was done in the amateur era when most of the best players, such as Pancho Gonzalez, Lew Hoad, and Ken Rosewall, were on the pro circuit and prohibited from playing grand slams. At a very very rough guess, maybe he only competed against 2-3 of the best 10 players in the world that had not gone pro (yet). It would have been like playing a tournament today where the main opponents was against say Ferrer, Berdych, Murray, Lopez, and Tsonga, but you didn't have to play against Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Nishikori, Raonic, Warwinka, Cilic. It would have been easier to win a grand slam in 1962 than a masters series today.

Despite this, Laver still required 5 setters in the FO QF, SF and F, in one of these he had to win the fourth set 8-6 to force a 5th, another he won 7-5 in the 5th, another he had to come from 2-0 down in the final against Roy Emerson, winning the 4th set 9-7. His other slams in 1962 were much more straightforward but it's extremely dubious that Laver, a serve-volleyer, would have won the FO against a full field.

Ken Rosewall was the best player in the world in 1962 and had Laver played against a full field including Rosewall it's very unlikely he would have won all four slams, I'd guess he might have won one. He was arguably the no 2 player in the world in 1962.

It would be unfair to say that Laver has 2 CYGS to Federer, Djokovic, Sampras, Nadal's etc zero. Really it's one to nil by any fair comparison since the others never had a pure amatuer field to go at.

The younger Laver improved as a player after turning pro. In his first three pro slams, in 1963-1964, he reached the final, losing to Rosewall each time before beating him in his 4th pro slam final in 1964 at Wembley winning both 4th and 5th sets 8-6.

In 1964 to 1966 Laver and Rosewall shared the honours fairly equallly at the major events, however Rod Laver had the head to head solidly in his favour overall from 1964 onwards and was really the better player of the 2 from 1964 on but not utterly conclusively perhaps until in 1967 Laver won all three pro slams.

In 1968, the open era began.

In 1969, for the first time in tournaments in which all players could enter, Rod Laver won the CYGS. His second was much the better achievement.

It's worth noting that Laver lost many matches in 1969. According to wikipedia he "He won 18 of the 32 singles tournaments he entered and compiled a 106–16 win-loss record." It's interesting that his W-L % in this year was worse than the best years of Federer, Connors and Mcenroe by a very clear margin, he is at 87% while those guys have managed somewhere around 95%. His W-L record in that year might be more similar to the best years of Djokovic, Nadal and Sampras.

So was his CYGS somewhat of a fluke, just happened to win the biggest tournaments, or was it a case of knowing when to peak and not taking lesser tournaments seriously?

A clue may be in the extent to which he was taken the distance. At every slam he was taken 5 sets at least once.

In his 1969 AO, he played one 5-setter and also had 3 sets where he had to win 18-16, 18-16 and 22-20 during the tournament so he was hardly blowing players off the court.
In the 1969 FO, he had 1 5-setter, coming back from 2-0 down vs D Crealey.
At Wimbledon, he had 2, in the first he had to come back from 2-0 down against Premjit Lall and then another 5-setter against Sam Smith.
At US Open, he had another 5 setter coming back from 2-1 down to win against D Ralston.

In these 5 setters, he did however tend to win the 5th set by comfortable scores like 6-0 or 6-3. Also, they all happened early in the tournament, he was never taken the distance in the final. Perhaps in some matches he was not playing at 100% and had to perk up when he went behind? He clearly showed his fighting spirit, but surely all these 5 setters and 16 losses indicate Laver was no better or more dominant a player than Mcenroe and Connors in one year they had in the early 80s and 70s respectively, and was really no better either than Federer 2006 or Djokovic 2011. Really just a few points here or there in one of two matches.

I'm not sure that we can use the CYGSs to say that Laver was the GOAT. Incidentally, after 1969, he never won another slam and already by 1970 there was no clear no 1 player and it was a matter for debate again.

For more, see the wikipedia articles for Laver, Rosewall, the other articles for their career statistics, the one with their rivalry, and there are also Wikipedia articles that show all the results for different tournaments such as the 1962 and 1969 slams.

And that article, thanks for that, that's very good, adding some great detail to the bare statistics.

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Post by MMT1 Wed 20 May 2015, 9:51 pm

Certainly the second was more difficult - any major without the touring and tournament pros must be discounted. This is generally the reason why Roy Emerson is left off of any GOAT discussions - all his majors were amateur majors. I should point out, however, that the first US Open was contested by two amateurs in 1968 (Arthur Ashe and Tom Okker), so there's no guarantee that the pros would have "cleaned up" had they been allowed to play the majors, but it is debatable. In fact, in the first "open" Wimbledon, the semi-finals were contested by 3 amateurs and one pro - the pro just happened to Laver.
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Post by laverfan Wed 20 May 2015, 11:02 pm

One thing to add to HB's historical note is that Laver played three Grass and one Clay slam. Very different from today's HC, Clay and Grass.

Another aspect of the slams that Laver was a part of was that he also played plenty of doubles, which is very similar to McEnroe and McEnroe/Fleming.

IMVHO, playing both events at slams for today's Pros is almost unheard of other than the McEnroe example, and perhaps Ashe.

For the interested - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rod_Laver_career_statistics .

I am biased as far as Laver is concerned, and hence would question my own objectivity in pronouncing him the Greatest Ever. The current game is very unlike what it was then and numbers do not do justice to the current players, by just counting slam titles.

His opponents were also some of his closest friends, which is unlikely to happen in the current atmosphere.

IMVHO (yes again), Pancho would be a hair's breadth away from Laver or vice-a-versa, in terms of Tennis skills for that time.

Every slam is a herculean task, a GS, even more so.

Djokovic getting a CYGS would be a fantastic achievement and yet another chapter in Tennis History.

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Post by socal1976 Wed 20 May 2015, 11:11 pm

Henman Bill wrote:Rod Laver's first calendar year grand slam in 1962 was done in the amateur era when most of the best players, such as Pancho Gonzalez, Lew Hoad, and Ken Rosewall, were on the pro circuit and prohibited from playing grand slams. At a very very rough guess, maybe he only competed against 2-3 of the best 10 players in the world that had not gone pro (yet). It would have been like playing a tournament today where the main opponents was against say Ferrer, Berdych, Murray, Lopez, and Tsonga, but you didn't have to play against Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Nishikori, Raonic, Warwinka, Cilic. It would have been easier to win a grand slam in 1962 than a masters series today.

Despite this, Laver still required 5 setters in the FO QF, SF and F, in one of these he had to win the fourth set 8-6 to force a 5th, another he won 7-5 in the 5th, another he had to come from 2-0 down in the final against Roy Emerson, winning the 4th set 9-7. His other slams in 1962 were much more straightforward but it's extremely dubious that Laver, a serve-volleyer, would have won the FO against a full field.

Ken Rosewall was the best player in the world in 1962 and had Laver played against a full field including Rosewall it's very unlikely he would have won all four slams, I'd guess he might have won one. He was arguably the no 2 player in the world in 1962.

It would be unfair to say that Laver has 2 CYGS to Federer, Djokovic, Sampras, Nadal's etc zero. Really it's one to nil by any fair comparison since the others never had a pure amatuer field to go at.

The younger Laver improved as a player after turning pro. In his first three pro slams, in 1963-1964, he reached the final, losing to Rosewall each time before beating him in his 4th pro slam final in 1964 at Wembley winning both 4th and 5th sets 8-6.

In 1964 to 1966 Laver and Rosewall shared the honours fairly equallly at the major events, however Rod Laver had the head to head solidly in his favour overall from 1964 onwards and was really the better player of the 2 from 1964 on but not utterly conclusively perhaps until in 1967 Laver won all three pro slams.

In 1968, the open era began.

In 1969, for the first time in tournaments in which all players could enter, Rod Laver won the CYGS. His second was much the better achievement.

It's worth noting that Laver lost many matches in 1969. According to wikipedia he "He won 18 of the 32 singles tournaments he entered and compiled a 106–16 win-loss record." It's interesting that his W-L % in this year was worse than the best years of Federer, Connors and Mcenroe by a very clear margin, he is at 87% while those guys have managed somewhere around 95%. His W-L record in that year might be more similar to the best years of Djokovic, Nadal and Sampras.

So was his CYGS somewhat of a fluke, just happened to win the biggest tournaments, or was it a case of knowing when to peak and not taking lesser tournaments seriously?

A clue may be in the extent to which he was taken the distance. At every slam he was taken 5 sets at least once.

In his 1969 AO, he played one 5-setter and also had 3 sets where he had to win 18-16, 18-16 and 22-20 during the tournament so he was hardly blowing players off the court.
In the 1969 FO, he had 1 5-setter, coming back from 2-0 down vs D Crealey.
At Wimbledon, he had 2, in the first he had to come back from 2-0 down against Premjit Lall and then another 5-setter against Sam Smith.
At US Open, he had another 5 setter coming back from 2-1 down to win against D Ralston.

In these 5 setters, he did however tend to win the 5th set by comfortable scores like 6-0 or 6-3. Also, they all happened early in the tournament, he was never taken the distance in the final. Perhaps in some matches he was not playing at 100% and had to perk up when he went behind? He clearly showed his fighting spirit, but surely all these 5 setters and 16 losses indicate Laver was no better or more dominant a player than Mcenroe and Connors in one year they had in the early 80s and 70s respectively, and was really no better either than Federer 2006 or Djokovic 2011. Really just a few points here or there in one of two matches.

I'm not sure that we can use the CYGSs to say that Laver was the GOAT. Incidentally, after 1969, he never won another slam and already by 1970 there was no clear no 1 player and it was a matter for debate again.

For more, see the wikipedia articles for Laver, Rosewall, the other articles for their career statistics, the one with their rivalry, and there are also Wikipedia articles that show all the results for different tournaments such as the 1962 and 1969 slams.

And that article, thanks for that, that's very good, adding some great detail to the bare statistics.


Wow very nice analysis by Henman Bill. I think it is very difficult to call a player from the pre-open era the goat. And since laver for most of his career was a pre-open era guy I kind of put him in that category. The globalization, improved training, and more money in the game has brought a much bigger field of competition than what existed 40 or 50 years ago. That is why I rate the victories of Federer, Nadal, Lendl, Sampras etc. much more than the players of that period. Not only did laver's first slam come against amateurs but the field in the sport of tennis is literally much larger when you consider how many more people worldwide are playing in countries where tennis in 40s, 50s, and 60s was unheard of. I mean that is why early on the US, Australia, England, and France so thoroughly dominated the game. Now the Asians, south Americans, and eastern Europeans are coming into the game and competing at a level that they couldn't compete at 40 or 50 years ago. Open Era is what I consider when rating all time greatness, is it unfair to people like Gonzalez and Rosewall. Maybe it is but the differences are so huge between now and then that any comparison is just not comparing apples to apples.

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Post by JuliusHMarx Thu 21 May 2015, 4:02 am

Seems a bit harsh though to say to a guy - you may well have been the greatest tennis talent ever but because you were born too early I'm not going to consider you.

It's not only about the competition, is about the level of tennis you produce compared to what has been seen previously.

Thanks to HB for the detailed post.

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Post by sirfredperry Thu 21 May 2015, 7:24 am

Laver beat Sam Smith in 1969? That shouldn't have been too difficult (see earlier, quite understandable, typo, from Henman Bill)

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Post by erictheblueuk Thu 21 May 2015, 7:25 am

Henman Bill wrote:It would have been like playing a tournament today where the main opponents was against say Ferrer, Berdych, Murray, Lopez, and Tsonga, but you didn't have to play against Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Nishikori, Raonic, Warwinka, Cilic.

You do realize that Murray has won 2 Grand Slams and an Olympic Gold medal? He also had to beat Djokovic in all those wins.
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Post by Silver Thu 21 May 2015, 7:51 am

I'm pretty sure he just picked names at random, eric. It is not intended as a slight against Murray.

Nice posts HB and LF. I don't have anything to add myself as I'm in the Julius boat of not knowing enough, but it's very refreshing to read about. It's amazing how much tennis has changed and evolved since the 60's. It makes me wonder what people in 2050 will think when they look back at the players of the 90's, or even our current crop. Assuming the sport still exists in the same form!


Last edited by Silver on Thu 21 May 2015, 7:53 am; edited 1 time in total

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Post by laverfan Thu 21 May 2015, 7:52 am

socal1976 wrote: I think it is very difficult to call a player from the pre-open era the goat. And since laver for most of his career was a pre-open era guy I kind of put him in that category.

Laver played his last match in 1979, 10 years after his CYGS, about the same length of time in Open Era as Nadal or Djokovic's entire professional career.

socal1976 wrote:Now the Asians, south Americans, and eastern Europeans are coming into the game and competing at a level that they couldn't compete at 40 or 50 years ago.

This is not true at all. I can name many who came from these far-flung corners and competed with others. Yes, the travel times are different, but that did not deter people from competing.

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Post by sirfredperry Thu 21 May 2015, 8:10 am

Interesting that Laver, who had ruled the roost in 1961 and 1962, was soundly trounced when he first turned professional.
But gradually he managed to master the top pros such as Pancho, Hoad, Rosewall etc, so that by the time Open tennis was introduced in 1968 he was top of the tree again.
Saw Laver at Wimbledon in 1968 and then again when he lost to Roger Taylor in 1970 and when beaten there by Tom Gorman in 1971. I must have been one of the few Britons said to see him lose to Taylor.

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Post by erictheblueuk Thu 21 May 2015, 8:40 am

Also weren't 3 of the 4 slams on grass back then? I mean how many slams would Sampras and Federer have won if this was the same for them.
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Post by laverfan Thu 21 May 2015, 9:30 am

There are many incidents of Clay specialists not participating on Grass claiming Grass was too fast. IIRC Santana may be one of them.

I am not aware that there has ever been a reverse case, of a Grass 'specialist' not wanting to play on Clay, because it was too 'slow'.

One aspect of this mix that is ignored is the fact that S&V requires speed compared to the slower conditions prevalent now. Does that make such players be better athletes regarding hand-and-eye coordination and movement compared to today's generation? It can be debated.

Borg would have been very comfortable in the 60-70s during Laver's time.

From what I can recall, both CYGSs were hard-fought achievements, and Laver also mentions this in his autobiography. At 5'8", competing with many taller than him, he had exceptional foot speed and the ability to turn, which rivals many of today's elite.

If interested - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87vijPUfB_I - listen to the audio as well. There is 45 seconds to start, there are no chairs to sit, the racquets are monster wooden ones, beasts by today's standards.  

To be able to play Tennis in that era was as tough, or even tougher, challenge, than it may be today.

Comparing eras is a journalistic exercise in futility, which is indulged in very frequently, and is a good pub discussion to have.

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Post by JuliusHMarx Thu 21 May 2015, 11:45 am

erictheblueuk wrote:Also weren't 3 of the 4 slams on grass back then? I mean how many slams would Sampras and Federer have won if this was the same for them.

We don't know. Perhaps a more pertinent question is how many of Laver's contemporaries managed to win 3 slams in a single year, let alone 4?

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Post by MMT1 Thu 21 May 2015, 12:41 pm

JuliusHMarx wrote:
erictheblueuk wrote:Also weren't 3 of the 4 slams on grass back then? I mean how many slams would Sampras and Federer have won if this was the same for them.

We don't know. Perhaps a more pertinent question is how many of Laver's contemporaries managed to win 3 slams in a single year, let alone 4?

That's a great point - if Laver played 3 of 4 majors on grass, so too did all of his contemporaries, so there's no inherent advantage there - in fact one could argue that having most of the majors on grass means that the likelihood, in the abstract, that someone would have a game sufficiently honed to beat him on grass. Again, I don't think it matter what the surface was/is: Bjorn Borg played 9 US Opens from 1973 to 1981 2 on grass (no slouch on that surface) 3 on clay (definitely no slouch on that surface) and 4 on hardcourts (again, definitely no slouch on that surface - he had more finals on hard courts than any other surface). But he never managed to win any one, so I think the focus on the surface is overwrought.
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Post by Henman Bill Thu 21 May 2015, 2:27 pm

erictheblueuk wrote:
Henman Bill wrote:It would have been like playing a tournament today where the main opponents was against say Ferrer, Berdych, Murray, Lopez, and Tsonga, but you didn't have to play against Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Nishikori, Raonic, Warwinka, Cilic.

You do realize that Murray has won 2 Grand Slams and an Olympic Gold medal? He also had to beat Djokovic in all those wins.

The intent here was to deliberately put one of the really strong players in the amateur field, it could equally have been Nadal or Federer. The names were picked fairly at random but the point is an amateur field would not have been completely second tier, but might have had say the world no 2 or 3 in it (which is where I see Murray at the moment), and say 3 of the top 10.

I think I meant Stan Smith, although a bit before my time.

On surfaces, if we are comparing to today, the surfaces are so homognized with the slow Wimbledon and US Open, that I don't think any achievement in the current decade is much better than the 60s. They had to play French Open clay and then transition to all out serve/volley at Wimbledon, which is more than can be said for today's players. A CYGS done in the 90s would have been really hard, though.

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Post by Henman Bill Thu 21 May 2015, 2:28 pm

Also, if Ken Rosewall and Pancho Gonzalez had had an open era, it's a fairly good chance they might have won a CYGS. They both had dominant years where they won all 2-3 of the pro slams in a given year. I think they both did this multiple times.

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