The Ken Rosewall record that eludes even the Big Three


Ken Rosewall has been watching the Australian Open.

Ken Rosewall has been watching the Australian Open. Credit:Scott McNaughton

Octogenarian Rosewall is being recognised at this year’s Australian Open on the 70th anniversary of the first of his eight grand slam singles titles – victory at the Australian championships in January, 1953. On top of nine major doubles titles, it’s brilliant return for a career of more than two decades near the top of tennis, but one shaped by the crossover of the amateur and professionals eras.

Rosewall’s face appears on this year’s official tournament coin, recognising his achievement as the youngest ever men’s winner of the Australian Open.

Now 88, Rosewall said the win including beating Australia’s Mervyn Rose in the final, 6-0, 6-3, 6-3, surprised plenty, but it wasn’t overly celebrated.

“No fantastic celebrations – we were conservative in those days,” he said.

Modestly, he said the field was weakened by missing some of the world’s best, often a reality in Australia until the tournament moved to Melbourne Park in the late 1980s.

Rosewall was the same age as another star youngster, Lew Hoad, but, before the tournament, he didn’t really give himself a chance.

“I think for both of us we hoped to do well,” he said.

“Lew’s game was a bit up and down, depending on this temperament of the day. On his good days he could get beat anyone. On other days he just didn’t bother too much.

“In the semi-final I played [American] Vic Seixas … who I’d played before, and I’d had a win over Vic.

“Then I was in the final against Merv Rose. I forgot who beat Lou. I’d played Merv several times, we were good friends, but he was always too good for me.

“But not on this day.

“I stared quite well and surprised everybody because I won the tournament – surprised myself, and surprised my parents.”

Rosewall was back at Kooyong on Saturday for the first time in about five years, partly because the COVID-19 pandemic affected his ability to travel. A much-loved figure, he was stopped by plenty of onlookers whose Saturday morning casual hit-ups were interrupted by the presence of a great.

Rosewall is still sharp and watches plenty of tennis – he’s a fan of injured young gun Carlos Alcaraz, and keeps close tabs on Australia’s fortunes under Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt. But he does lament some parts of the modern game, particularly how, on some surfaces and at different times, points are being elongated.


“I’m not too excited by the surfaces they play on now,” he said.

“I think [it’s] a combination of the synthetic strings and the racquets, and also the balls that are produced.

“You can’t deny the ability of the players, they’re all very good. But from a tennis spectator’s point of view, you’re seeing a lot of the same.

“When you play on grass or other surfaces it takes up risk going to the net, but usually nobody really wanted to win too many points from the back of the court. In the early days that’s why our longest matches were across about three hours – that was the longest match.”

Rosewall’s name rightfully adorns the stadium at the home of the sport in New South Wales – Homebush in Sydney’s west.

Reflecting on his tennis journey that originated from humble beginnings but coincided with the start of Australia’s golden period, having his name up in lights is not something he ever thought about.

“I was happy to be one of the group, you know,” he said.

“We have a lot of history in Sydney and unfortunately, it’s been shattered a little bit by the demise of White City [the former tennis venue].

“That’s where so many great matches were played.”


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