Class of 2001
World No. 3 (1958)
Grand Slam Results
7-time major champion, 12-time finalist
Member of the Championship Australian Davis Cup Team 1951, 1957
Overall Record: 1-2
Singles Record: 0-2
Doubles Record: 1-0
In 2012, Mervyn Gordon Rose was profiled in his local newspaper, The Coffs Coast Advocate. He was described as being, “cheeky with a larrikin demeanor on tour and a short temper, the John McEnroe of his era.” Cheeky means being impudent or irreverent, typically in an enduring way. Larrikin refers to being a mischievous person. The McEnroe comparison needs no translation.
Rose, an Aussie with seven major titles on his resume and an additional 12 finalist appearances in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles, didn’t dispute being referred to as a “character.”
When it came down to playing championship tennis, Rose was hard core and serious, but never lost his grand sense of humor. Two of his seven major championships came in singles (1954 Australian, 1958 French Championships), four in doubles (1952 and 1953 U.S. Nationals; 1954 Australian and Wimbledon), and one in mixed (1957 Wimbledon). But when interviewed by the Advocate, Rose made it abundantly clear that those championships – and three playing with the Australian Davis Cup team in 1951, 1952 (as an alternate), and 1957 – pale in comparison to the 1958 Italian Open title.
“Of all the grand slams and tournaments I have won in my career, nothing stands out more than the 1958 Italian Open,” said Rose. “I beat the hometown favorite (5-7, 8-6, 6-4, 1-6, 6-2) and got chased off the court with a barrage of items thrown from the crowd.” The opponent was fellow Hall of Famer Nicola Pietrangeli, Italy’s greatest player. “I knew how popular he was and I really wanted to beat him on his home court,” Rose explained. “I outplayed him all match and the crowd didn’t like to see their champion defeated, so they pelted bottles and cans at me. I was in such a hurry to get off the court, I never got my hands on the trophy.”
Rose provided a few other quirky tidbits for the publication, saying that he once broke three Slazenger racquets (insert the McEnroe description here) in a match, and played a final in the rain wearing just his socks and still won.
Rose was an aggressive left hander, who put aside his carefree nature when he stepped on court. He possessed a snappy, hard-kicking serve and slick volleying techniques. He wasn’t as proficient with his groundstrokes, so points rarely lasted long, but he was an adept player who won major titles on hard courts, clay, and grass. Between 1951 and 1958, Rose was ranked in the World Top 10 seven times between, reaching No. 3 in 1958.
A late champion by tennis standards, Rose won the 1954 Australian as a 24-year-old. He was seeded No. 5 and had to upset No. 1 Ken Rosewall in five tiresome sets, 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 1-6, 7-5 to reach the final. The previous year Rosewall dropped Rose in the final, 6-0, 6-3, 6-4, so revenge was sweet. Eight of the top 16 seeds were from Australia, so an All-Aussie final was likely, and meeting between Rose and his longtime doubles partner Rex Hartwig didn’t disappoint. Rose played with precision and focus, winning 6-2, 0-6, 6-4, 6-2. Rose earned his second major singles championship on the red clay in Paris, thoroughly whipping Chilean Luis Ayala, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, an unlikely result given clay wasn’t Rose’s preferred surface.
For many players, particularly the Aussies, doubles was treated with the same importance as singles, and Rose embraced his role as a doubles specialist. He played in 11 major finals and earned four championships, three with Hartwig. He captured the 1952 U.S. Championship with American Vic Seixas over the successful Aussie duo of Ken McGregor and Frank Sedgman, 3-6, 10-8, 10-8, 6-8, 8-6, in the toughest victory of the four. In 1953 Rose and Hartwig won the U.S. title over American’s Gardnar Mulloy and Bill Talbert. Two championships were corralled in 1954, the Australian in an easy triumph over Neale Fraser and Clive Wilderspin and Wimbledon, a quickly-played four set victory over Seixas and Tony Trabert.
After his playing days, Rose made a smooth transition into coaching, working with an impressive array of Hall of Famers, including Margaret Smith Court, Billie Jean King, and Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario. He was awarded the Australian Sports Medal in 2000, inducted into the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame in 2002 and honored with the Member of the Order of Australia in 2006 for service to tennis.
Australian Championships: W 1954
French Championships: W 1958
Wimbledon: SF 1952, 1953, 1958
U.S. Nationals: SF 1952
Australian Championships: W 1954
French Championships: F 1953, 1957
Wimbledon: W 1954
U.S. Nationals: W 1952, 1953
French Championships: F 1951, 1953
Wimbledon: W 1957
U.S. Nationals: F 1951