After 75 years, tennis great Rod Laver at last admits he has a story worth telling


Given that barely a sniff of success is justification for an autobiography in today's commercially-driven world, it is extraordinary that one of tennis's all-time great players has taken until his 75th year to get around to telling his story.

Rod Laver: A Memoir, published in Australia last year by Pan Macmillan, is due to appear in UK book shops in June this year.

The publisher described the book as an inspiring story of how the diminutive, left-handed, red-headed country boy became one of Australia's greatest sporting champions, a dominant force in world tennis for almost two decades.  Among more than 200 singles titles Laver won -- a record unsurpassed -- was the unique achievement of winning the Grand Slam twice, in 1962 and 1969.

Laver's nature was always to be modest, however, which might explain why he never felt compelled to remind everyone of what he had done in a full autobiography.  A humble man, he said he an interview only last year that he still regrets his behaviour at the US Open in 1969, when he jumped the net in his moment of triumph, forgetting first to shake the hand of his opponent, Tony Roche.

The Rockhampton Rocket, as he became known, lived from his mid-20s in California, having married an American girl, but has become a regular visitor to the Australian Open in Melbourne, where the centre court is named in his honour.

Asked why he had decided, 37 years after his retirement from the full-time circuit, finally to commit his memories to print, he said simply that "it seemed like the right time."

Reviewers of the book in Australia were particularly fascinated with the stories Laver tells of what for him were the wilderness years between the two Grand Slams, when the majority of leading players chose to join the professional circuit and were barred from playing in the Grand Slam tournaments as tennis clung to its amateur traditions.

During that time Laver was US professional champion three times as well as winning the French pro title in 1967, during which year he won his fourth UK title at the Wembley Pro tournament, which was held at what was then called the Empire Pool (now the Wembley Arena) on a wooden surface erected on top of a drained swimming pool.

In between those 'majors' the circuit was far from glamorous, the pros moving from one venue to another, spending almost as much time on the road as on the court, staying in modest hotels in small towns, playing on portable courts that had to be adapted for use in ice rinks and basketball courts, yet still managing to play scintillating tennis and paving the way for the huge rewards the current leading players enjoy.

The 2014 crop of tennis books also includes a number of titles from New Chapter Press, whose managing partners include the former US Tennis Association executive Randy Walker.

And another tennis veteran, the now 82-year-old coach Nick Bolletieri, tells his life story in Changing The Game, in which among other things he discusses his 10 champions, eight wives and seven children.  It is due out in April.

On a slightly more niche note, in July the US tennis writer Sandra Harwitt, who contributes to ESPN's tennis coverage and writes also for the Miami Herald, offers The Greatest Jewish Tennis Players of All Time, which includes features and biographies of such figures from the circuit as former Wimbledon champion Dick Savitt, fellow American stars Harold Solomon and Brian Gottfried and the "Flying Dutchman", Tom Okker.

An updated version of The Bud Collins History of Tennis is also due in the summer.

John Barrett's epic Wimbledon: The Official History, which was updated only last year - 12 years after its first re-release in 2001 as an updated version of the 1986 celebration of 100 Wimbledons -  undergoes another revision to take account of Andy Murray's historic Wimbledon triumph, with Vision Sports Publishing setting a September publication date.

John Blake Publishing, meanwhile, has three biographies in its catalogue.  In May, look out for former News of the World journalist Tina Campanella's biography of Laura Robson, and Novak Djokovic: The Sporting Statesman, by Chris Bowers.

Bowers, who has written biographies of Roger Federer and, in the political arena, of deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, writes about Djokovic both as a tennis player and an iconic figure in Serbia's quest to establish its identity after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

In June, Tom Oldfield's biography of Rafa Nadal is re-issued in updated form.

Kevin Mitchell, the Guardian and Observer sports writer who has written some critically acclaimed books about boxing, turns his attention to tennis in Break Point: The Inside Story of Modern Tennis, which focuses on the all-powerful quartet of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray at a time when their grip on the men's game is threatened by a new generation of hungry young stars.  Published by John Murray, it is due to hit the shelves in May.

Last but not least, John McPhee's Levels of the Game, an extraordinary work that examined human behaviour, race, politics and the social divisions in America through the prism of a single tennis match, between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner, is published in Britain for the first time by Aurum Press in June.

Levels of the Game was hailed as the best tennis book ever written and 'the height of American sports journalism' when it was first published in the United States in 1970.

For details of these titles and more tennis books, visit Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.



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