On this day in 1962, Rod Laver defeats fellow Australian Roy Emerson in four sets to win the U.S. Open. With the victory, Laver became the first man to win the tennis “Grand Slam”–four major tournaments in the same year–since Don Budge in 1938.
Having already won the first three major tennis championships of the year–the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon—the 5’8″ 24-year-old Laver had a lot to be confident about as he entered the 1962 U.S. Open final. He started off strong, winning four straight points to break Emerson’s serve and win the first game. Laver went on to dominate the first set and control the second, making up for an uncharacteristically inconsistent first serve with strong play at the net and booming topspin forehands. Emerson finally found his stride in the third set, which he won 7-5, and, with the crowd on his side, struggled mightily in the fourth. But, after Emerson broke Laver’s serve, Laver immediately broke back and finished off the hard-fought match 6-4 in the fourth set to bring home the U.S. Open title and the coveted Grand Slam.
Laver turned professional the next year, which meant he could no longer compete in the Open championships, which were then amateur-only. In 1968, Wimbledon and the other grand slam tournaments ended their amateur-only policy and allowed professionals to compete, marking the beginning of the “Open Era” in tennis.
In 1969, Laver became the first man to win the Grand Slam twice. He won a total of 11 Grand Slam events in his career, in addition to 47 other singles tournaments. He was the first tennis player ever to earn $1 million on the court. Had the Open era existed between 1962 and 1968, Laver likely would hold more grand slam singles titles than any other player. He is generally considered the best men’s tennis player in history.