Monday, December 16, 2013

Rod Laver's memoir like the player, all class

Tennis has an outstanding capacity to produce memorable autobiographies from some of its great players and Rod Laver – A Memoir is no different.

Perhaps it has something to do with the nature of tennis players that they appear to have a greater degree of self-sufficiency than many other sports peoples.

Rod Laver: A memoir with Larry Writer. Published by Pan Macmillan.

They are more often familiar with defeat, therefore better able to cope with disappointments although that doesn't make losses any less frustrating.
But in recent times the autobiographies of Andre Agassi and John McEnroe have been two examples of books that have gone beyond mere blow-by-blow descriptions.
Rod Laver is from an earlier era, one that pre-dates many who would have devoured the Agassi and McEnroe books with relish.
However, his story is not reduced by comparison and in many ways it enhances their particular stories.
Laver is from a more ordered time, one where the distractions of life were not so great. Yet his story is a graphic example of how much work has to go into a career for success to be secured.
The game was amateur when he started out and until he achieved his first grand slam. These notions may mean nothing to a generation brought up on tennis tournaments worth millions of dollars for participants.
However, every time a winner's cheque is handed over the recipients should tip their hand to Laver and those of his friends who ostracised themselves from the tennis mainstream during the mid-1960s when turning professional.
There was a stigma then in accepting your skills were worth money to you in that post-colonial, amateur time when to many, generally commenting from the security of their own mansions, it was a cardinal sin to believe you were worth more than a pat on the back and a gin at the end of a hard day's work.
As they attempted to ply their trade, especially in the United States, the small band of tennis professionals had to play in some horrendous venues on some unbelievable schedules where events were played between lengthy drives in cars to small houses.
That commitment bred something hard among the band of tennis brothers and when the establishment finally woke up and realised their game was diminished without the professionals, the younger players, like Laver, were well placed to take advantage.
All of the hardships, both physical and mental, are canvassed in Laver's memoir in a book that is not just a record of why today's stars should never forget what their forebears went through but also an example of what hard work, dedication and, ultimately, supreme skill can achieve when developed to the utmost.
Laver won two grand slams, the only player to achieve the feat, one as an amateur and one as a professional. He never lost contact with tennis and is revered by those who recall his influence on the game.
His recovery from a stroke, and his story away from tennis, supplement this book making it a must read to understand why tennis occupies such a prominent place in world sport and to demonstrate what places humility, grace and sheer, unadulterated class, still have in top-flight competition.

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