The First Slam

Peter Underwood

In 1959 Alex Omedo defeated Rod Laver in Laver’s first major final.

At 21 years of age, Rod Laver first got through to the final rounds of a major—the 1959 Wimbledon. In the Final, he found himself confronting the Peruvian American Alex Olmedo.

Olmedo was strong, possessed a fine serve and volley, but was neither very quick nor very strong off the ground, particularly on the backhand. Laver possessed an all court game, and understood exactly what to do to exploit his opponent's weaknesses. But he lost in straight sets.

Back home, his coach Charlie Hollis was furious. He knew that Laver had not only got through the draw to reach the Final of the Men's Singles, but he'd managed the same in both the Men's and the Mixed Doubles.

Officials informed Rod that he had played over 600 games, many in the five days before the Singles Final. It might have been a Wimbledon record, but it had it taken the edge off his game.

If this had taught Rod the necessity of focus, at first the results didn't show it. When the young man returned home in 1959, he contested another four significant singles finals, and lost the lot. To most observers, the flashy left hander was beginning to look like the perennial bridesmaid.

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Peter Underwood is a doctor, writer, broadcaster, activist, and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. He has a long involvement with the Medical Association for Prevention of War, a group of health professionals who in 2009 founded the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons. He divides his time between peace work, medical education, growing fine wool, and writing. A passionate student of tennis since childhood, The Pros is his first nonfiction book.

The Pros: The Forgotten Era of Tennis

The Pros: The Forgotten Era of Tennis chronicles almost 40 years when the best players in the world were barred from competing in the biggest tournaments, including the Grand Slams. It focuses on the lives of careers of 8 players who dominated the traveling circus of pro tours around the world, from Bill Tilden to Rod Laver and all the champions in between, depicting the ruthless battles of these players for prize money and status as the best players in the world.

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