Mervyn Rose: 1930-2017
Australian character, renowned for his great wit
Mervyn Rose, one of the leading players produced by Australia in the 1950s, who would later coach numerous players including WTA greats Billie Jean King, Margaret Court and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, passed away on Sunday aged 87.
Fred Perry, a winner of eight Grand Slam singles titles, once commented that the Australian left-hander “possessed the most rhythmic game in tennis.” With profound tactical nous, Rose was also able to execute delicate and decisive volleys to become one of Australia’s leading lights, although a weak backhand meant that he was overshadowed by youngsters Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall in an era of Harry Hopman’s great champions.
“Rosie”, who made his Grand Slam championship debut in 1949, was often at odds with Australian Lawn Tennis Association officials for his unorthodox, irreverent and rebellious ways. He ranked in the Top 10 between 1951 and 1958, when he reached a career-high world ranking of No. 3, according to the ‘dean’, Lance Tingay, the tennis correspondent of London’s Daily Telegraph. Overall, Rose won seven Grand Slam championship singles, doubles and mixed doubles trophies.
At the age of 24, he won his first major singles title at the 1954 Australian Championships, avenging his 1953 final loss to Rosewall in the semi-finals en route to beating his long-time doubles partner Rex Hartwig 6-2, 0-6, 6-4, 6-2. After a two-year hiatus travelling on the European tour he returned in 1957 and picked up his second major trophy a year later, surprisingly on his least favourite surface, with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Chile’s Luis Ayala at Roland Garros. He was a three-time Wimbledon semi-finalist (1952-53, ’58) and made the US Championships last four in 1952.
Rose also won the singles championships of Canada (1953), Germany (1957) and Italy (1958), the latter being a 5-7, 8-6, 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 five-hour victory [at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome] over Iocal hero Nicola Pietrangeli, which he cited as his best performance. “Of all the Grand Slams and tournaments I have won in my career, nothing stands out more than the 1958 Italian Open,” Rose told his local newspaper, The Coffs Coast Advocate, in 2012. “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.”
As a doubles player, Rose reached 11 major finals, winning the 1952 US Championships with American Vic Seixas and three titles with Hartwig at the 1953 US and 1954 Australian Championships and 1954 Wimbledon. His lone mixed doubles crown, from five finals, came with American Darlene Hard at 1957 Wimbledon.
Rose, who turned professional in 1959, for at least $20,000 per year, thus ending his major championship playing days until the advent of the Open Era in April 1968, first coached future WTA founder and 20-year-old King in 1964. Together, they shortened all of King’s strokes, which initially affected the American’s timing.
"Every day he would help me,” remembers King, who would win her first major singles title at 1966 Wimbledon and collect 39 singles, doubles and mixed doubles trophies overall. “He would change my serve, my forehand. He changed my game, my tactics. I can't tell you how he changed my life. He taught me how to be No. 1."
Rose, who retired as a player in 1972, would also coach professionals Court, Sanchez-Vicario – who was curious about how a serve-volleyer could win at Roland Garros – Ernie Ewert, Michael Fancutt, Richard Fromberg, Eleni Daniilidou, Nadia Petrova, Magdalena Grzybowska and Caroline Schneider.
“My secret was that I had learnt skills from the best players in the world while I was a player and I would just show my students exactly what I had been taught,” Rose admitted.
Rose, who was renowned for his great wit, enjoyed playing cards, poker and golf off the court during his playing days. Born in the coastal town of Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, to Gordon, a labourer, and Nelly, he maintained a residence there all his life and continued to mentor young players.
The Australian played Davis Cup between 1950-54 and 1957, and was part of the championship victories over the United States in 1951 and 1957. In 2000, he was awarded the Australian Sports Medal, was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2001 – with his former pupil King present – and the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame one year later. In 2006, Rose was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his service to tennis as a player, and as a coach and mentor to both amateur and professional players.
Mervyn Gordon Rose, AM, tennis player and coach, born 23 January 1930, died 23 July 2017.