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When it comes to worldwide reach and scope, few sports hold a candle to tennis. To celebrate all that makes tennis so rich and deep, Tennis Channel kicks off "TenniScope." Authored by Tennis Channel writer Joel Drucker, these short pieces describe many of the fabulous moments and places, people and products that have added sparkle and passion to our sport.

November kicks off with a birthday tribute to one of the most beautiful players who has ever wielded a racket, Australian legend Ken Rosewall.


Happy Birthday, Ken Rosewall

by Joel Drucker

November 2 marked the 73rd birthday of a major tennis icon, the diminutive Australian, Ken Rosewall - a player of staggering longevity and sublime elegance. Along with Pete Sampras, Rosewall is the only man in tennis history to have won Grand Slam singles titles in his teens, 20s and 30s. Of Rosewall's eight Slams - tied with such greats as Andre Agassi and Jimmy Connors - perhaps his most notable achievement was winning Roland Garros as an 18-year-old 1953 and then repeating his triumph 15 years later at the age of 33.

Even more than his numbers, though, Rosewall was an exceptionally pleasing player to watch. So attentive was he to his craft that what emerged was a rare form of racket-wielding art. Rosewall's footwork and balance were perfect, his eyes unwavering, his body always in position to strike the ball as efficiently as possible. Such discipline gave Rosewall many options, resulting in an uncanny ability to strike the ball with pinpoint accuracy, to the point where he was dubbed "the doomsday stroking machine." 

Rosewall's brilliance was particularly vivid on his backhand - on a par with Connors' two-hander and Don Budge's drive as the best backhand in tennis history. Struck with just a scintilla of underspin, Rosewall's shot was no chop, but a full-bodied bullet. Also nicknamed "Muscles"due to his 5' 8" height and slight frame, Rosewall's game carried considerable heft.

Having turned pro at the end of 1956 off the heels of winning the U.S. Championships at Forest Hills, Rosewall was banned from Grand Slam events for more than a decade. Alas, these were the years when he played his best tennis, overtaking Pancho Gonzales in the early '60s as the world's number one player, dominating Rod Laver when he turned pro in 1963 - and even more importantly, carrying the candle for the pro game at a time when few believed there would ever be Open tennis. Rosewall trouped on, competing on every surface imaginable - from ice and grass to even cow dung.

His patience and persistence were rewarded one sultry afternoon in Dallas, Texas. It was Mother's Day, 1972. The 37-year-old Rosewall was up against Laver in the finals of the WCT season-ending play-offs. At the time, this event ranked third in prestige - only behind Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, ahead of the French and Australian Open. The two battled for more than three-and-a-half hours, each showing the full repertoire of shots that made them all-time greats. Aired on NBC, the match aired into prime-time, drawing an audience of 21 million viewers - before King-Riggs, no match did more to boost tennis' popularity. 

Fittingly, it came down a fifth-set tiebreaker. Laver served at 5-4, two points away from the highly-cherished title and the biggest check in tennis, a $50,000 payday. As you might expect from a lefthander, he served wide in the ad court - at which point Rosewall stepped in and struck a powerful crosscourt drive that Laver could barely touch. At 5-5, Laver again went to Rosewall's backhand. This time "Muscles" ripped a down-the-line winner to earn a match point. So dazed was the great Laver by Rosewall's two brilliant backhands that he missed his next service return. Rosewall had not endured - he had prevailed.

Joel Drucker has been part of Tennis Channel since the network first hit the airwaves in 2003, most notably as co-producer and writer of "Center Court," as well as working for Tennis Channel at many tournaments as an analyst and writer and since 2006 authoring this website's "Roving Player" column. 

Drucker is one of the world's preeminent tennis historians, having authored dozens of articles on every generation of the game's leading players - from past stars Don Budge and Jack Kramer to contemporary greats Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer. Along with Tennis Channel colleagues Bud Collins and Steve Flink, Drucker is one of three American writers on the International Tennis Hall of Fame Enshrinee Committee - the group that each year builds the ballot for the worldwide panel of voters. Drucker's first book, Jimmy Connors Saved My Life, is considered by Sports Illustrated to be one of five "must-read" tennis books.

Read all the Tenniscope columns:

Happy Birthday, Ken Rosewall | Davis Cup: How it all started | Mixing It Up In Mixed Doubles | Aussies Set The Tennis Code | The Royal Reign of Margaret Court | Reflections on Michael Chang | Let's Take it Inside | Warm-Up Suits | Death of a Player | A Tale of Two Backhands | Court Management | Movie Review | Racquet Racket | Sampras: Book Review

Comments

  1. Andre (1/15/2008 7:47:05 PM) 

    With all due respect to Sliced Wide...Rosewall would never survive today without a topspin backhand. Todays players not only don't have their backhands break down, they also produce punishing winners from all parts of the court with that stroke.....Cheers

  2. Lou Giglio (11/13/2007 11:20:00 AM) 

    One of the tennis world's greatest ever backhands...I had the distinct honor to play with Ken in a ProAm clinic at Longwood Cricket Club in Boston, Ma. Just overwhelmed with the opportunity and caught up in the moment, I asked "what side do you want?" I will never forget the horror when I realized what just I said...Happy Birthday Ken and many more !!!!!

  3. Sliced wide (11/12/2007 12:37:07 PM) 

    I've enjoyed tennis and all of her great players since 1962. And after all this time I haven't yet seen another groundstroke as efficient, powerful and accurate as Rosewall's backhand. With all due respect to Don Budge (sweet stroke too) but I believe Rosewall still has the best backhand in tennis. During Rosewall's prime his backhand NEVER broke down under pressure--that's the true measure of a great stroke. (His backhand volley wasn't too shabby either.)

  4. Roger Worthen (11/6/2007 6:44:25 AM) 

    Very good article! I watched every minute of that '72 match. It is still my greatest of all time!. Looking forward to more articles like these.

  5. Kathy Poirier (11/5/2007 4:36:12 PM) 

    Ken Rosewall is one of my favorite players. As a matter of fact, I named my son after him. He showed dominance, a love of the sport, elegance, and class all in one. This is tough to do when you are out there sweating it out!....Kathy Poirier..San Antonio, Texas



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