The last thing that Rod Laver could ever be accused of is being ungentlemanly, and he was just speaking frankly when he said that, if Rafael Nadal were to win the title at Melbourne Park this month to become the first man since the Australian in 1969 to hold all four majors at the same time, it would not have the same value as his own two calendar-year grand slams. “It would be a mini-slam, or whatever you want to call it,” Laver told Telegraph Sport, “but it isn’t the grand slam.”
If Nadal does go through the draw on the Rod Laver Arena, to lift the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup three weeks from today, his achievement would more than likely become known as the 'Rafa Slam’, though it is unlikely he would be the one to call it that himself (when Serena Williams won four successive majors across two seasons, she urged everyone to refer to it as the Serena Slam).
Such a result would also start more discussions about whether it matters whether you win your four in a row in a calendar year. Andy Murray is one of those who would argue that it would not matter that, if Nadal were to win the Australian Open, his four slams would be spread over a couple of seasons.
The marketing department in Melbourne would have it that the Australian Open is the grand slam of Asia-Pacific, and those who follow the Chinese calendar would contend that Nadal is just seven matches away from winning all four slams in the same year.
Laver, and many others, would disagree; there is something sacred, almost mythical, about winning all four in one year of the Gregorian tennis calendar.
Only two men have held all of the slams at the same time, and both of them did so after winning all four in the same season. It was after Don Budge managed it in the 1938 season that tennis looked for what they should be calling this unprecedented feat, before stealing a phrase from the bridge tables; he had done the grand slam.
Laver has twice won all four in a year, the first time as an amateur in 1962, and the second time as a professional in 1969, so Nadal would be the first man for 42 years to have all four majors squirrelled away in his racket bag.
“It is 40-odd years since I did the grand slam, and before that you had to go way back to the 1930s for the last time that anyone did it, so it’s not easy,” Laver said.
“Winning one grand slam tournament is difficult enough. I’m not knocking what would be a great achievement of Nadal’s to win four in succession, but I don’t think winning four in a row across two seasons would be the same as a calendar-year grand slam.
“It would be an end and a beginning. It would be a start. After maybe winning in Melbourne he could then go for the grand slam. People always used to say after winning the Australian Open: 'I suppose I’m going for the grand slam now then’. Winning the Australian Open would be a start for him.
“I think Martina Navratilova once won four in a row across two years, and she said herself that it did not have the same meaning as having won all four over the same calendar year.”
It should not be thought that, as Laver spoke, a little air escaped from the Australian Open balloon. If Nadal is able to add this year’s Australian Open to last season’s victories at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open, it would not be as fine as Laver’s calendar sweeps through Melbourne, Paris, London and New York in the 1960s, but it would still be an extraordinary accomplishment.
It was not so long ago that Laver was fretting about Nadal’s knees. “I was really worried how long his knees were going to hold up for, but it seems that he has found a way of controlling whatever problems he was having, and the way he runs around the court now he is looking as strong as ever. I like Nadal’s tenacity, and the way he plays every point to the max.
“He has also improved his serve. There are so many things I like about his game. I thought he played magnificently to win last year’s US Open,” the Rockhampton Rocket said of Nadal, a fellow leftie, who won the Australian Open a couple of years ago, reducing Roger Federer to tears.
If Nadal does become this year’s champion in Australia, he would be expected to win yet another French Open title, which would give him five consecutive majors and put him halfway to doing the calendar-year grand slam.
“To do the grand slam, you need a little luck, and for everything to work out for you. I thought that Federer would do the grand slam, but for so many years Nadal stopped him from winning the French Open.
“I thought that Pete Sampras had a chance, and Boris Becker, too. It never happened for any of them. Nadal could do it this year.”
Laver once told The Telegraph that Federer “could be the greatest player of all time”. Should Nadal win, many will suggest it is the Spaniard, and not the Swiss, who deserves such a billing.
Others would say that it is Laver himself who is the finest talent in the sport’s history. “I think everyone should wait until the end of Nadal and Federer’s careers and then have a discussion about this,” said Laver. “All a player can do is to try to be the greatest of their own era.”
Courtesy: The Telegraph