Looking Back With Australian Tennis Great, Ken Rosewall

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It is now some years ago, but I had an enjoyable time writing a book together with Ken Rosewall. That was mainly because once I had convinced him to embark on the project, he was fully committed and wanted to tell his story. One of the top six players of all time, Rosewall was at the forefront of men’s tennis through the late 1950’s and up to the launch of the Open Era in 1968.

Now 84, Rosewall still has a great love of tennis and of the history of the game. Over the past fifteen years or so he has been the main force behind running a Tennis Museum at the major tennis stadium in Sydney, but this has always been inadequately funded by Tennis Australia. Rosewall has now moved away from Sydney and it is unclear whether the museum will be able to continue.

Rosewall and I worked together on the book “Muscles” for 6 months or so, and I met with him doing a lot of one-on-one interviews. I didn’t expect that he would become as personally involved in reading everything I wrote down! But in the end he more or less checked through every chapter, picking up facts, and offering suggestions.

The book regularly intersperses Rosewall’s own words amongst the narrative, and that material came directly from recordings of the discussions we had.

There is no question that Ken Rosewall’s record stands up under any sort of scrutiny. He was a marvelous tennis player. Everyone still talks about his sizzling sliced backhand as one of the greatest shots of all time, and the match he played against Rod Laver in the WCT final in May 1972 as one of the greatest matches of all time. He won eight grand slam singles titles.

As an 18-year-old in 1953 he won three of the world’s major championships: the Australian, the French, and the U.S.

The following year he reached the final of Wimbledon, and probably should have won. The 19-year-old was up against the 32-year-old exiled Czech, Jaroslav Drobny, who appeared plump and out of condition, but nevertheless had a stockpile of tricky slice shots, well suited to Wimbledon grass.

Poor Rosewall never won the Wimbledon championship, and it is his only blemish in a marvelous career. He reached the final of the championship four times, and the Wimbledon committee ultimately made him an honorary member, but what he wouldn't give to have held that trophy aloft!

The other notable feature about the Rosewall career is that he turned professional in January 1957, which meant there were 11 years when he was simply barred from playing in the world’s major tournaments – due to his professional status. It is hard to imagine that the man would not have won Wimbledon and many other major championships during that 11-year period.

Both Rosewall and I were keen to write what is a true history of the game, and are quite unapologetic about that. From the time that Rosewall becomes a professional the book tells the story of life at the pro tour in the late 1950s, and the gradual moves towards open tennis. These were largely political developments and important matters in the world of sport.

Writing the book, I think both of us were keen to see them accurately researched and recorded. This is especially so when Rosewall himself was closely involved in many of these developments.

Equally, the first five years or so of open tennis was a remarkable period of dynamic change with struggles between the new professional promoters, the players, and the traditional forces in the game (represented by the International Lawn Tennis Federation) – which had allowed for “open” tennis, but now sought to place restrictions upon the way the game evolved.

This all ultimately resulted in the WCT players (including Rosewall) being banned from playing Wimbledon in 1972, and then the Association of Tennis Professionals (including Rosewall) withdrawing from Wimbledon in 1973. These were two more occasions when he could have possibly won the event!

Richard Naughton is the co-author along with Rosewall himself of the book “Muscles: the story of Ken Rosewall, Australia’s little master of the court”. The book is available for sale on our site. Richard can be reached at richardbnaughton@gmail.com

Other articles enjoyed: Wimbledon, Bastion of Tradition, American Men In Tennis, Gone, US Open Finds A New Home

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