When I think of tennis, when I think of the pleasure I get out of it, I think of a whole existence—playing and traveling and meeting people and being with the guys and all that. When Rocket thinks of tennis, he thinks of one thing: playing tennis. He even relishes practice. He is like a pig in mud out on that court, even if it just means chasing balls until he is out of breath. We both love tennis very much, but we love it very differently.
Well, now it's one and 18! I beat him 6-3, 6-3. It was the first time since 1959 that Rocket had lost a match playing for his country. The victory for me made it 2-2 in the cup, and we should have gone ahead in the next match. Stan and I had Newcombe and Roche 3-0 in the third (best of three), but we let them pull it out at 6-4.
Roche, with those powerful volleys of his, is Newk's best partner. I guess they're the best team of my era. Roche would have been one of the very best if he hadn't gotten injured. Maybe best of all. He's always played the backhand court (what the Aussies call "second court") with Newcombe. John has all the shots from the forehand court (first court). Emerson has been a great first court player, too, the best, and he had to make up in speed what John can do with his strokes. Newk gets a very high percentage of his first serves into the corners in singles, so he takes a little off of them, and almost never misses in doubles.
Many people were surprised at the Davis Cup finals last December when Newcombe played doubles with Laver instead of with Rosewall, who was fresh, having been held out of the singles. But Newk has played with lefthanders in the second court for almost all of his career. Remember, doubles is a game of angles. The return Newcombe will get from an opponent if he is hitting back a lefthander's shot will be angled differently. Angles beget angles. Newk has got it all figured out. The Australian temperament also gives almost any Aussie combination an edge. Newk told me once, "If I think Dave-O did something wrong, I'll tell him, and he won't get mad. He knows I'm just trying to win the match. You bloody Yanks let things ride all the time, and so you have much more jealousy on your doubles teams. We bring things out in the open."
As far as the Laver match was concerned, it was just my turn. He wasn't playing very well at the start, and I sensed this and concentrated on getting the ball in and letting him make the errors. I remembered to lob, too, and used it to good advantage. I was hitting a sharp backhand slice from the baseline, and I was putting more volleys away than I usually do against him. He often makes me hit my first volley up, without much velocity, and then he comes in a step or so and passes me, but tonight he was off and I could hit down on my volleys.
Still, no one ever can feel secure against Rocket. People talk about me being a streaky player, but there is no one who can blow any hotter than Rocket. In 1968, in the finals of the Pacific Southwest, Rosewall beat him 7-5 in the first set, and then didn't win another game—love and love, a double bagel. When Laver goes on one of those tears, it's just ridiculous. He starts hitting the lines, and then he starts hitting the lines harder—and harder and harder. No one can stop him.
So, in the second set, I went up 5-1, and damn if he doesn't break back, and suddenly it is 5-3 and I'm down love-40 on my serve. Well, I am not a defeatist, but after 18 straight losses to the guy, you can imagine what was going through my head out there. And I am aware that everybody in the building, Laver included, is probably thinking the same thing.
But this time I steadied and held. Laver has one fantastic little shot that serves as sort of a weathervane for him. If this shot is working, you can be sure his whole game is on. It is a soft backhand under-spin lob down the line. He doesn't hit it high, but just sort of scoops it up—and he never uses it except to your backhand side. When that shot is on, it goes, diabolically, exactly one inch past your backhand reach and lands just inside the base. Rocket missed one of those tonight near the end, when he was coming back at me, and that was when I finally believed that I really might beat him at last. As the Aussies say, the game was up. But let me tell you, mate, if he had beaten me again, I would have gone round the bend. As it is, I'm flabbergasted and Laver's probably so surprised you could stuff him up a gum tree.