Roy Stanley Emerson Tennis Great: In a country where you have to be exceptional to have your name mentioned as one of the all-time greats of tennis, the name of Roy Emerson is one that will cause no debate, if for no other reason than his being one of the few able to prevent Rod Laver from winning every tournament held.
The two men staged some epic battles over the years. Another Australian, Fred Stolle, figures prominently into the mix, as does Tony Roche. Ken Rosewall and John Newcombe often found themselves on the negative side of the equation in Grand Slam tournaments. “Emmo,” as he was known, also defended the homeland by defeating up-and-coming American Arthur Ashe twice consecutively in the Australian Championships in 1966-67.
Before going any further, however, we once again have to beat the horse we have so thoroughly beaten in the past when the subject has been tennis. Emerson played in the era when along with Singles, players were expected to play Doubles and Mixed Doubles, unlike some modern players who would not stoop to share space with another player on the same side of the court even if more than one ball was to be played simultaneously.
Roy Stanley Emerson was born on 3 November 1936 (one year, nine months prior to Laver) in Blackbutt, Queensland, about 100 kilometres to the west and north of Brisbane. Even today, its population is around 1,000 only, as might well be imagined, since there are few that would truly enjoy answering, upon being asked, “Where are you from?”
Emerson first picked up a racquet there, but he was showing prodigiousness early on, so his family moved to Brisbane. He was the recipient of a much higher level of instruction whilst at the Brisbane Grammar Scholl and Ipswich Grammar School. He began his amateur career, and at that time the world’s top tennis players were amateurs all, in 1953. Emerson did not turn professional until 1968, when the true so-called Open Era of tennis began. Thus, all of his major accomplishments, including all of his Grand Slam Singles victories, occurred when he was an amateur.
Over the course of his career, he compiled 397 victories against 156 defeats in Singles; he was 204 – 65 in Doubles. He had a remarkable career, as would be expected, considering the state of Australian men’s’ tennis at the time, in the team format of the Davis Cup. He took part in four consecutive wins from 1959-62, again in 1964, and finally three consecutive 1965-67.
The list of the various records he holds is almost embarrassingly long. He is the only male tennis player who has won the Career Grand Slam in both Singles and Doubles. His 12 Grand Slam Singles tournament victories was the mark that lasted from 1967, the year he won the last, the French Open, until 2000, when Pete Sampras finally caught up to Emmo. For those interested in the comparison, Laver won 11 Grand Slam Singles titles.
To the 12 Singles Grand Slam titles, add 16 Doubles Titles. He was the runner-up three times in Singles and 12 times in Doubles. He was twice runner-up in Grand Slam finals, the 1956 Australian Championships where he partnered Mary Bevis Hawton, and the 1960 French Championships, when he paired with Ann Haydon Jones.
Roy Emerson’s first Grand Slam victory came in 1959 in the Doubles at Wimbledon, where he partnered his courntryman Neale Fraser. Emmo had reached the final in the Australian Championship Doubles in 1958, but he and Robert Mark fell to Ashley Cooper and Neal Fraser in a match that went the full five sets. Then, in 1959, just prior to Wimbledon, Emerson and Fraser lost the French Open on the slow Roland Garros clay in straight sets to a couple of Italian chaps.
His first Grand Slam Singles title came at the Australian Open over Laver in 1961 and his second came at the end of the Grand Slam season when he took the U. S. Open, allowing his opponent Rod Laver to win only 10 games over the course of three sets.
Emerson made what would be considered a career for many tennis players in beating Fred Stolle for five of his Grand Slam Singles victories. Those were the 1964 Australian Championships, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open. He beat Stolle again in the 1965 Australian and again at Wimbledon. Over the course of those five wins, he permitted Stolle to take only three sets. Keep in mind now, that Stolle was no weekend hacker.
He himself won two Grand Slam Singles titles and was runner-up in another five. His misfortune, however, was that across the net from him in each of those five was Roy Emerson. The 1965 Australian Championships must have been a bitter pill for Stolle, seeing as he had a two sets to nil advantage at the start. Stolle, to his credit, sent Emerson down twice in Doubles, once at the 1964 Australian and once again at Wimbledon in 1965.
Emerson achieved the number one world ranking in 1964. He won three out four Grand Slam Singles titles, failing only in the French Open, which he had won the prior year.
The exclamation point we will use for describing Roy Emerson’s career is his record of winning 10 straight victories in Grand Slam tournament finals. That remarkable string began with his second Australian title, which was the first of five consecutive. It concluded with his 1967 French Open victory, his second at that event. Sandwiched in between were victories at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Emerson did not retire until 1983, although his latter years were more of his expressing his gratitude toward the game and the legions of fans he attracted. He won his last professional title, his 105th overall, in the 1973 Pacific Coast Championships in San Francisco. He played sparingly thereafter, appearing a few times up until 1977. His swan song was a tournament in Gstaad, Switzerland, where he had won the Swiss Open five times.
Today, he lives in California with his wife Joy and daughter Heidi. He has a home in Gstaad. Many honours have been conferred upon him, including the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.