In the Museum: Rod Laver's Grand Slam Spikes


On the heels of the US Open finals, we take a look back at a one-of-a-kind artifact of tennis history that we are proud to display in the Grand Slam gallery. 

In 1969, Rod Laver became the only person in the history of our sport to accomplish a monumental tennis achievement. After dropping the first set of the Men's Singles Final at the US Open, Laver changed his strategy a bit, with a change of his shoes. To overcome the soft court conditions, Laver changed his sneakers to grass court spikes, and the rest ... is history. 

In Rod's words... here's a memory of the match. 

"It had been raining for about several days, and the courts were slippery and soft. I asked the chair umpire, I think it was Billy Talbert, before the start of the match whether I could switch to spikes if I felt that I needed them, and he said sure. 

At one point that week they had a helicopter flying low over the court to dry it out. I don’t know that it worked.

I had spikes in my bag, because in Australia you always just expected there would be some rain and that you would then go back out on the court when you could and you would need spikes. We practiced in spikes in Australia. Anytime it rained, Harry [Hopman] would say, ‘bring your oldest racquet and your spikes and come down to the court to practice.’

So, after the first set, I switched to the spikes and it was a big help.

We were battling the conditions, slipping and falling. The spikes were a big help. Tony elected not to use them, but for me, I felt a lot more comfortable after I put them on. Of course, I played such a serve and volley, the spikes were important to help me get to the right spot. I was able to maneuver the ball much better and had much better footing

You have better footing with spikes, but, you have to know how to play in them. You have to have better footwork. You have to run to the ball and be balanced when you land. You have to really pick your feet up and get just to the right spot, you can’t expect to slide into the ball. It was important that we had always practiced in spikes in Australia and in that match at the US Open, I felt much more comfortable once I had them on.

There was a fair bit on the line with that match, but it didn’t worry me. When you walk out on court, you’ve both said that you’re ready to play the match. Whatever happens, happens. I’d done all that I could to prepare at that point.

It wasn’t nice conditions to play in, but I didn’t walk on the court and think about that. It isn't always the nice the conditions, so you have to be ready to play under bad conditions as well. You have to make the best of what you got. A lot of times, if you have that mental outlook, you're almost in charge of the match. You have to preserver through. You just have to tell yourself, ‘hey, I'm going to win this match.’ This match is not over till it's over and you have to keep trying your best and that’s what I did."

Rod Laver defeated Tony Roche  7–9, 6–1, 6–2, 6–2 to win the 1969 US Open. In doing so, he became the first and only person in tennis history to win all for majors in one year, achieving a calendar year Grand Slam twice (1962 as well). His spikes from the match are displayed in the museum at the International Tennis Hall of Fame.