Rod Laver, AKA The Rocket, is regarded in some tennis circles as the best to ever lift up a tennis racket. Afterall, this is a guy who twice achieved the career Grand Slam. The career grand slam entails winning all the four major slams in a calendar year. These are the Australian Open, The French Open, Wimbledon, and The U.S. Open. The last time this feat was accomplished was in 1969.
When we look at all the great tennis players who have played since that time, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andre Agassi, Mats Wilander, to name few, it is unfathomable to think that none of these players could pull off this feat. As a tennis fan, I have always maintained that Roger Federer and Rod Laver are tied for the best to ever play. However it is equally amazing to think that Roger Federer was not and has not been able to achieve this feat.
Twice Roger Federer was halfway through to completing the grand slam, and waiting for him was his great nemesis Rafael “RAFA” Nadal. Nadal preserved Rod Laver’s golden record by twice beating Roger Federer at the French Open. Had Nadal not been around, Federer would have completed this feat in 2006 and 2007. That was as close as someone would ever come to the record. Nobody thought Nadal would have that chance. Afterall, up until 2007, the only major Nadal won yearly was the French Open. The Spaniard was known as the “King of Clay”. This is the preferred surface of most Spanish tennis players. Rarely have they ever had huge success outside of clay. Nadal followed this trend, but shocked people by playing in the Wimbledon final in 2006, losing in 4 sets to Roger Federer.
2007 would see Nadal and Federer meet again in the finals. It was beginning to be one of the best tennis rivalries in the making. Nadal would take Federer to 5 sets, and eventually lose in a very close game. Federer would later on say in the post game interview “I better win now before he starts winning them all.” It is reported that Nadal cried, following this loss and told his uncle and coach “I was so close. I don’t know if I will ever have another chance again to win this title.” And of course his concerns were legitimate. The last time a Spanish player won Wimbledon was in 1966. His fear was real, having two chances to win Wimbledon and not coming through.
2008 was the year many picked Nadal to win Wimbledon, and again across the net was Federer. This time, Nadal won in 5 close sets in a match that finished late in the night and was deemed by tennis experts as the best Wimbledon final ever. Finally he had won a major tournament besides the French Open. The question for Nadal became would he ever win one of the hard court majors (Australian Open, U.S. Open). And for all his success at the French Open, and now Wimbledon, he never made it to the finals at either of the major hardcourt tournaments. 2009, he changed that with another 5 set victory over Federer at the Australian Open. Everything then fell apart after this win.
This was the year everyone started talking about someone achieving the rare Grand Slam in tennis. Rafa was a sure lock for the French Open, the favorite at Wimbledon, and the only question was whether or not he would break through at the U.S. Open and finally win his first. However things did not go as planned. Rafa was handed his first defeat at the French Open, then was unable to defend his Wimbledon title as recurrent knee injuries led him to take some time off. Now the topic was whether Nadal would have the longevity to win any more majors. Nadal would return in time for the U.S. Open, but lost to eventual champion Juan Martin Del Potro in the semi-finals. He retired at the next major(Australian Open) in January 2010 in the quarterfinal after being down 2 sets. It would later be revealed that he had another knee injury. The story was already written. A great talent who just could not stay healthy.
Then came the French Open, and Nadal would go on a tear. Winning the French Open, Wimbledon, The U.S. Open, and now the discussion went from if only he could stay healthy to can he win the Grand Slam. It should be noted that the Grand Slam is holding all four majors in the same calendar year. But Nadal was attempting to hold all four majors over 2 years. It was dubbed the “RAFA SLAM”. He was one of the favorites to win the Australian Open. How fitting that he was going for this rare feat at ROD LAVER ARENA, the stadium named after the last man who accomplished this feat.
Nadal’s quest would come to a surprisingly screeching halt, as his fellow compatriot David Ferrer demolished Nadal and with that a very rare opportunity to witness history. Nadal could be seen wiping away tears, as he knew just how close he came, knowing that he probably let a rare opportunity slip away.
And so the golden record lives another year. As a fan of Nadal, I believe he may be able to do this again if he could consistently win the U.S. Open. He may have another shot at this some day, but he is in a race against time and against Federer who looms in the shadow.
(2009 Australian Open; Nadal-winner; Federer- runner up; Pictured with Rod Laver)