Rod Laver speaks out amid Novak Djokovic's Grand Slam bid

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·6-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Rod Laver is seen here with Novak Djokovic at the 2019 US Open.
Rod Laver says he'd be happy if Novak Djokovic could join him in an exclusive tennis club. Pic: AAP

Novak Djokovic has the chance to seal tennis "immortality" at the US Open and Australian great Rod Laver will be ready tip his hat to the World No.1 if he's successful.

Djokovic goes into the year's final major of the year with the chance to complete one of the rarest feats in tennis - a calendar year Grand Slam.

'NOT GOOD ENOUGH': Naomi Osaka's powerful statement at US Open

'IT'S CRAZY': Djokovic caught in 'ridiculous' US Open furore

'THINGS I DID WRONG': Naomi Osaka's mental health admission

The Serbian superstar drew level with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal's all-time record of 20 grand slam singles titles after capturing titles at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon in 2021.

If Djokovic can also add the US Open and complete the set, he will be the first man since Laver in 1969 to accomplish the feat.

Incredibly, Laver managed the remarkable feat twice after capturing a Grand Slam as an amateur in 1962, but he remains the only man apart from Don Budge in 1938 to win all four major titles in the same year.

Laver says he'd be happy to welcome Djokovic into the exclusive club if the 34-year-old manages to lift a US Open title that would also make him the most successful player in men's major history.

“I’d be very happy to shake his hand if he can win the four Slams. I’d be happy for him to be a part of — whether it’s a ‘club’ or not, I don’t know,” Laver said with a chuckle during a recent interview with The Associated Press.

A staggering 52 years has past since Laver became the last man to win all four slams in the same year.

That was so long ago that the Beatles were just about to release “Abbey Road,” and America was still revelling in Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk.

That surprises Laver, even if, as he says, “It’s tough to put them all together.”

It requires skill on a variety of surfaces nowadays: The US Open and Australian Open are played on two types of hard courts, the French Open on red clay, Wimbledon on grass. 

It also requires avoiding injury. And figuring out each opponent for 28 matches spread out over about eight months. And handling each day’s particular weather. And so on.

“I never said I was going for a Grand Slam; that’s pressure right there. And Djokovic, I think he wants to talk about it, and so that could be a detriment, if there is one,” Laver said. “He knows all the players, so there shouldn’t be any problem with (that). ... I think pressure is the one thing Djokovic may find himself having problems (with). Maybe he’s not feeling well. There’s lots of things that can go wrong.”

Pictured here, Rod Laver waves to the crowd during a Grand Slam match.
Rod Laver is one of only two men to have achieved a calendar year Grand Slam. Pic: Getty

As it is, Djokovic is the first man since Laver to claim a season’s first three major trophies. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, for example, never even managed to get just halfway there by winning the Australian Open and French Open in the same year.

The No. 1-seeded Djokovic will start his path at the U.S. Open on Tuesday night against Holger Rune, an 18-year-old from Denmark making his Grand Slam debut. Win that, then six more matches, and Djokovic would take advantage of what he calls “a very unique opportunity.”

Three women have gone 4 for 4 for a true Grand Slam, most recently Steffi Graf in 1988. Serena Williams came close in 2015, winning that year’s first three majors before losing to Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open semifinals in one of the sport’s greatest upsets.

The quiet, unassuming Laver, who has lived in northern San Diego County for years, said he’s never gotten any special satisfaction about being the last man to win the Grand Slam.

Rod Laver part of a 'special club'

He’s always been ready to be joined by a newcomer.

“It really doesn’t worry me,” Laver said Thursday evening, holding a cup of beer in that powerful left hand before a San Diego Padres game at Petco Park, where he was a guest of owner Peter Seidler. “When Don Budge won it in 1938, and I did it in ’62, he says: ‘We’re in a special club here. There’s only two of us in it.’”

Laver, now 83, was 31 in 1969.

Djokovic is a 34-year-old from Serbia. He shares the men’s mark of 20 career major titles with Federer and Nadal, who are injured and not playing in the U.S. Open.

Djokovic’s greatest attribute is his consistency, Laver said.

Seen here, Novak Djokovic practices ahead of the US Open.
Novak Djokovic practices ahead of the US Open, where he has a chance to win a calendar year Grand Slam. Pic: Getty

“He doesn’t have a big serve or a big forehand or backhand, but all of them are good. That’s one of the things he can rely on,” Laver said. “If one isn’t working as good as it should be, then he’s got something else to lean on.”

Laver was invited by the U.S. Tennis Association to go to New York for the final few days of the U.S. Open.

“If history is made at the 2021 U.S. Open,” USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier said, “what better way to celebrate it than with Rod Laver, the last man to accomplish such an amazing feat?”

Djokovic already did win four majors in a row, spread out over two seasons in 2015-16, but he wouldn’t mind getting some advice about the all-in-one-year achievement from Laver.

“Hopefully he can tell me something that could help me,” Djokovic said. “He is one of the all-time greats, legends of our sport. Someone I admire, respect and look up to.”

It wouldn’t be the first time the pair has spoken; they’ve often chatted at Melbourne Park, where Djokovic has won nine Australian Open titles at what is now known as Rod Laver Arena.

There’s something else with Laver’s name on it: his signature green-and-white Adidas tennis shoe.

with agencies

Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting