The Australian Open was called a “financial debacle” after tournament officials claimed the biggest loss ever in the history of the tournament.
In today’s troubled economic times, this is a headline that is quite believable. However, this was the description of the Australian Open 40 years ago today on January 27, 1969 – the day that Rod Laver of Australia won the national title of his homeland and the first leg of his historic second Grand Slam campaign.
Laver defeated Andres Gimeno of Spain 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 in the men’s singles final, and then paired with Roy Emerson to win the Aussie men’s doubles title over Ken Rosewall and Fred Stolle 6-4, 6-4. Following the conclusion of the event – which was held at the Milton Courts in Brisbane, Australia – officials at the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia (the modern day Tennis Australia) claimed that the tournament lost $14,700, which according to UPI wire service was “the biggest loss ever sustained in holding an Australian title tourney.” Only 15,250 fans attended the eight-day, 11-session event. Contrast that with today’s Australian Open numbers where $14,700 is the equivalent to second-round prize money and 15,250 fans are about one-fourth the number of fans that walk through the gates at Melbourne Park on a given day during the first week.
Laver went on to win the French, Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles to become the first player to ever register two Grand Slam sweeps of all four major singles titles in a calendar year. Laver also won the Grand Slam in 1962.
The following is an excerpt from my book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.tennishistorybook.com) that details 40 years ago today in tennis history Down Under.
1969 – Rod Laver defeats Andres Gimeno of Spain 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 to win the men’s singles title at the Australian Open in Brisbane – the first leg of his eventual 1969 Grand Slam. Laver’s toughest test of the championship comes in the semifinals against Tony Roche, who beat him earlier in the month of the New South Wales Open in Sydney. Roche and Laver battle for more than four hours in 105-degree heat before Laver prevails 7-5, 22-20, 9-11, 1-6, 6-3. Writes Bud Collins in The Bud Collins History of Tennis of the Laver-Roche semifinal match, “Both players got groggy in the brutal sun, even though they employed an old Aussie trick of putting wet cabbage leaves in their hats to help stay cool. It was so close that it could easily have gone either way, and a controversial line call helped Laver grasp the final set.” Before Laver’s win over Gimeno, Margaret Court beats Billie Jean King 6-4, 6-1 to win the women’s singles title for an eighth time.