Mervyn Rose, 7-time grand slam champion in tennis, dies at 87
Afterward, Harry Hopman, Australia’s longtime Davis Cup captain and coach, praised Rose’s victory as a breakthrough.
“At the beginning of the championship,” he said, “Mervyn was an outsider among the top men, but he came through and showed great fight to win. This win of Mervyn’s strengthens Australia’s hand for the future.”
Rose played for Hopman on six Davis Cup teams from 1950-1957 and was ranked No. 3 in the world in 1958, his highest ranking. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, in 2001.
Rose’s victories at the Australian Open were not his first major titles. He had won doubles at the U.S. National Championships (now the U.S. Open) in 1952 with Vic Seixas, an American, and in 1953 with Hartwig.
Rose and Hartwig also won the doubles title at Wimbledon in 1954. Rose would win two more titles: mixed doubles with Darlene Hard at Wimbledon in 1957, defeating Althea Gibson and Neale Fraser, and singles at the French Championships (also known as the French Open) over Luis Ayala of Chile in 1958.
But to Rose, nothing stood out more than his five-set victory over Nicola Pietrangeli in the final of the 1958 Italian Open.
“I knew how popular he was, and I really wanted to beat him on his home court,” he told The Coffs Coast Advocate, an Australian newspaper, 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.”
In his haste to leave the court, he added, “I never got my hands on the trophy.”
At the time, the tennis world was split between amateurs and professionals. Only amateurs were allowed to compete in the four Grand Slam championships, while pros played in tournaments controlled by promoters like Jack Kramer, a former player, who was eyeing top-ranked players like Rose.
By 1958, Rose was locked in a yearlong battle with the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia over travel expenses he had received for playing at various tournaments, including Wimbledon.
The association suspended Rose’s amateur status in August 1958, and later that year, he threatened to expose other Australian players who, he said, had done the same thing he had.
“I’ve got plenty of dope on our Davis Cup players,” Rose was quoted by The Sydney Morning Herald as saying. “I hate making threats, but on the other hand, I’ve probably been soft too long.”
He vowed that there would be a “a few blushing faces” among the amateurs at a coming tournament.
But he cooled off and did not, as he told The Herald, “blow the gaff” on fellow players. Instead, he joined the pro tour organized by Kramer, who promised Rose that he would make at least $20,000 (about $169,000 in 2017 dollars) playing in 10 tournaments and 75 exhibition matches in 1959. He would not play in another Grand Slam for another decade, after the start of the Open era in 1968.
Mervyn Gordon Rose was born on Jan. 23, 1930, in Coffs Harbour on Australia’s east coast, to Gordon and Nelly Rose. His father was a laborer, his mother a homemaker. He graduated from Collingwood Technical College.
Considered a free-spirited personality, he once smashed three rackets during a match and won a final in the rain while playing in his socks.
He is survived by his wife, the former Robyn Geran; two daughters, Debra Bouland and Yvonne Rose; seven grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and a brother, Maxwell Rose. His marriage to Coral Stuber ended in divorce.