Merv Rose was the cheeky firebrand of his era, the John McEnroe of the 1950s and a seven-time Grand Slam champion.
A member of the winning Australian Davis Cup team of 1957, the 84-year-old was honoured on Saturday on the 60th anniversary of winning his home Grand Slam championship, where he showed he had lost none of his sharp wit and larrikinism.
Rose was honoured before a host of legends at the Grand Hyatt Savoy Ballroom, including Pete Sampras, the Australian Open men’s singles champion from 20 years ago, men’s and women’s champions from 30 years ago, Mats Wilander and Chris Evert, as well as a string of Grand Slam-winning greats including Rod Laver, Yannick Noah, Goran Ivanisevic, Martina Navratilova and Iva Majoli.
Rose's 84-year-old former doubles partner and the man he beat to win the 1954 Australian Open, Rex Hartwig, was also on hand to pay tribute.
Of all Rose’s success in the majors and at Davis Cup level, the Coffs Harbour-born left-hander cheekily notes the 1958 Italian Open as his standout triumph.
Where players think they have it tough having to contend with partisan opposition crowds cheering against them in the modern game, spare a though for Rose, whose Italian Open breakthrough stood out more for the manner in which he upset the hugely-popular local Nicola Pietrangeli than for the magnitude of the title.
It was suggested tongue-in-cheek that Pietrangeli was the second-most popular man in Italy to the Pope at the time.
“I had two friends I took around the world. They wouldn’t worry about the score; they’d say ‘how’d you behave, you’re representing Australia’?” Rose said.
“I said ‘I won. They threw bottles, cans, cushions’.
“I was happy to get out of the stadium back then. Still haven’t got my trophy, but I’m not worried about that.”
Steve Healey, president of Tennis Australia, said Rose was renowned for his cheeky larrikin demeanour, but underneath was a deep and clear tennis thinker, an on-court genius and a fierce competitor.
His tennis instincts translated into being an outstandingly successful coach after his retirement in 1972, going on to guide some of the greats of the game, including Billie Jean King, Margaret Court, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Nadia Petrova.
Healey said Rose was known to be very stubborn and determined when he wanted to be, highlighting his ongoing clash with legendary Davis Cup captain Harry Hopman.
When asked if he ever saw eye to eye with Hopman, Rose’s dry wit shone through in a flash.
“No, thank God,” he said, deadpan.
But Rose saved his best for his long-time fellow Australian doubles partner Hartwig, the man he won with in the US, Australian and Wimbledon championships.
“I used to call him Vera Lynn, do you remember her?” he said, referring to the English singer made popular during World War II.
“She used to sing 'Yours'. And that’s all I got playing doubles with him, ‘yours’.”