For an Australian kid growing up on his family’s cattle farm, it was a dream beyond imagination.
“I thought to myself, ‘I’ve certainly come a long way,’” Rod Laver said.
Laver, the tennis legend and a longtime Carlsbad resident, was mourning the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II, while recalling his encounter with her royal majesty.
Sixty years ago, when Laver won his second of four Wimbledon titles, Queen Elizabeth attended the match.
At its conclusion, with Laver capturing the second leg of the first of his unprecedented two Grand Slams, Queen Elizabeth made her way to the famed grass surface.
Laver was introduced and approached the queen, as she extended her right arm with her purse hanging from her other arm. Laver, a native of, appropriately enough, Queensland, was eye-to-eye with someone he once saw on his currency.
“It was a thrill that she was there and presenting me with the trophy on Centre Court,” Laver said.
Laver, then an amateur, joked for years about his winnings that day. When Novak Djokovic captured the title this summer, he received $2.5 million.
And Laver, on that memorable Sunday afternoon, when he was saluted by the queen?
“I got a 5-pound voucher that I had to use on the Wimbledon grounds and a firm handshake from the queen,” Laver said.
Laver would go on to shake up men’s tennis, winning his second Grand Slam as a professional in 1969.
It has been an incomparable career, and life, which led Laver to becoming friends with Frank Sinatra, playing tennis with Charlton Heston, golfing with Sean Connery and hanging backstage with Tony Bennett.
But few events matched meeting the queen, especially for a youngster raised in a nation that was part of the British Commonwealth.
“It’s something,” Laver said, pausing to embrace his good fortune. “I got the opportunity to play around the world and meet all these people that I did and it was just a thrill.”
Laver still gets his kicks from tennis and there’s plenty of get-up-and-go in this 84-year-old. He attended Wimbledon this summer and then the Open Championship, traveling to St. Andrews as a Rolex Ambassador to watch golfer Cameron Smith, another Queenslander, claim the trophy.
With Spaniard teenager Carlos Alcaraz winning this month’s U.S. Open, Laver is among those impressed with tennis’ youngest No. 1 player.
“He was amazing,” said Laver, who won the 1962 U.S. Open at New York’s West Side Tennis Club to seize his first Grand Slam. “His forehand is one of the best ones I’ve ever seen and really, he’s got the whole game. He is unbelievable and for him to be No. 1 in the world at 19 is pretty amazing.
“I know tennis is close to losing a lot with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic getting older, but there’s a lot of great players coming on right now and I think that’s encouraging.”
Catching Laver is like trying to master one of his topspin returns. He’s loading his suitcase again and heading off to London for next week’s Laver Cup, an international event that bears his name and continues to keep him close to the game he adores.
Federer was instrumental in organizing the Laver Cup, a three-day competition held around the world that features tennis’ top players. When Federer approached Laver about his potential involvement in it, Laver was floored.
“It was Federer that instigated all off this and when he asked me to lend my name to it, I was honored,” Laver said.
Just like most tennis fans are overwhelmed when meeting Laver. No one has ever won two Grand Slams, with Laver saying his second one, in 1969, was “the crown.”
But that year’s Wimbledon couldn’t match 1962. It was the one when the tennis booster with the real crown, Queen Elizabeth, told an appreciative Laver “congratulations.”
“When you go on the court,” Laver said, “you know when royalty is in the royal box.”
And with Laver on that court, the queen undoubtedly knew she was watching tennis royalty.