WATCH: Roger Federer's farewell speech at Laver Cup.

This week usually represents the pinnacle of Canada's professional tennis season with a pair of 1000-level events are contested in Montreal and Toronto.

But just next month, Canada will host more world-class tennis. From Sept. 22-24, the sixth edition of the Laver Cup will be held on the country's west coast at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C.

Today marks the birthday of the man for whom the event is named. Rod Laver is now 85 years old. Across decades of big-time tennis, through a major health scare he had a quarter-century ago, in the wake of the 2012 death of his wife Mary, Laver continues to be a presence in his own understated, charismatic way.

One simple sentence summarizes the Laver resume: He is the only player in tennis history to have twice won all four singles majors in a calendar year.

Roger Federer and his management team created the Laver Cup to honor the incredible Australian.

“I had a vision once upon a time,” said Federer in 2017 at the conclusion of the first edition of the Laver Cup, “that we should honor the greatest players of our sport because there’s only that many roles that a legend can play in our sport ... I felt like we needed to see the legends of our sport more frequently.”


Roger Federer and his management team created the Laver Cup to honor the incredible Australian.

Roger Federer and his management team created the Laver Cup to honor the incredible Australian.

Federer is but one of many tennis players who’ve extensively praised Laver. These include Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Pete Sampras, Billie Jean King, John Newcombe and, most vividly, a pair of Laver’s fellow lefthanders, John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova—each of whom cites Laver as their stylistic role model.

But even beyond what Laver did with his racquet, perhaps the best way to emulate him is to study and practice his values. They are quintessentially Australian: grace, tranquility, high regard for fellow players, respect for the entire game. It all adds up to a transcendent blend of competition and camaraderie.

Said Laver, “My opponents were also my best friends.”

As one example of the code Laver personifies, Australians hate to talk about their injuries, lest they be seen as an excuse to justify a defeat and therefore reduce the significance of another person’s achievement. “I have never played him when he was well,” is an Australian’s way of subtly sharing contempt for such whiners.

At Wimbledon in 1968, Laver was so eager to conceal a sprained left wrist that, in the early days of the tournament, keen to avoid what Laver called “prying eyes,” he and Mary discreetly strapped it in a phone booth.


Amid such a high standard of sportsmanship and collegiality, it’s fitting that the Laver Cup is being played in a country that also embodies those qualities, particularly as played out in Canada’s preeminent sport, hockey. As Wayne Gretzky, arguably the hockey equivalent of Laver, said, “I think that from the time you start playing sports as a child you see that your responsibility to your team is to play the best that you can play as an individual… and yet, not take anything away from being part of a team.”

This was how Laver and his Australian mates approached their craft. Back in Australia’s glory years of the 1950s, ‘60s and early ‘70s, word had it that if you asked an Australian how to play another Aussie, you would not receive an answer. “There we were, from this small country, traveling the world from March to October,” said one of Laver’s peers, Fred Stolle. “We looked out for each other.”


My opponents were also my best friends. Rod Laver

It's also meaningful that the Laver Cup is a team event. For to Aussies like Laver, nothing mattered more than Davis Cup. Laver himself played on five winning teams, a period that spanned from 1959 to ’73. The last one came when Laver was 35. By his own admission, Laver that year had not played particularly well. But that fall, he’d whipped himself into form, competing all over Europe, Asia and Australia.

By finals time, seeking to break America’s five-year hold on the Cup, Laver was primed.

“We were determined that when we got on the Qantas flight back to Australia, in our luggage would be the Davis Cup,” wrote Laver in his autobiography. “We were men on a mission, but the Yanks had come to play and had no intention of rolling over for the Australian Dad’s Army.”

Opening day of singles began with Newcombe beating Smith, 6-4 in the fifth. Next it was Laver’s turn. The opponent was Tom Gorman, who’d upset Laver at Wimbledon in 1971. On this day, though, down two sets to one, Laver won the next two, 6-3, 6-1. Less than 24 hours later, Laver partnered with Newcombe to clinch the tie with a straight-set victory over Stan Smith and Erik van Dillen.


Fifty years after that grand Davis Cup moment, Laver’s appreciation of team play continues. All the greats gathered in Vancouver, from the retired Federer to captains McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, to the contemporary competitors on each team, will feel his presence.

In Laver’s youth, Australian Davis Cup captain Harry Hopman nicknamed him “Rocket.” This was intended as a form of humor because at that stage of his career, Laver showed so much talent for ball-striking that he did not always move with the greatest degree of urgency. That changed soon enough.

On his 85th birthday, celebrate the rocket who’s soared to accomplishments no one in tennis history has ever been. “I like to let my racquet do the talking,” is one of Laver’s signature quotes. Mission accomplished.