Novak Djokovic's straight-sets demolition of Rafael Nadal in the final of the Australian Tennis Open was a truly commanding performance. The commentators busily rifled through their trusty Dictionary of Superlatives trying to find a fresh one.

But speaking of superlatives, it's fitting to recall where the final took place, and the legend after whom it's named — Melbourne's Rod Laver Arena.

Rod "The Rocket" Laver is still alive and kicking at age 80, and still stands supreme as the only player to have twice conquered the Everest of tennis — the Grand Slam.

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To do the Grand Slam is to win all four singles titles of the major tennis championships — Wimbledon, French, United States and Australian — during one calendar year.

Three women have accomplished it — "Mo" Connolly, Margaret Court and Steffi Graf — but America's Don Budge was the only other man to achieve it way back in 1938.

So, of the great tennis superstars of recent decades — Roger Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Pete Sampras, Björn Borg, Serena and Venus Williams, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova et al — not a single one has been able to tick off a Grand Slam.

Yet Rod The Rocket did it not once, but twice.

And what made Rod's double-header even more remarkable is that he accomplished it in 1962 and 1969.

For the years in between — arguably the prime playing years of his life — he was barred from playing the major tournaments because he was part of a breakaway group of tennis players who advocated professionalism.

Having won their case, 1969 was the first full year that the rebel players were allowed back into the mainstream circuit. Laver picked up exactly where he'd left off six years earlier by winning another Grand Slam — four majors in one calendar year.

Rod Laver back in his heyday, winning Wimbledon in 1962.
Rod Laver back in his heyday, winning Wimbledon in 1962.

He finished his career with 11 major titles, but who knows what he would have achieved if not barred for those five years when in his prime. Even if Laver had only won a couple of majors for each intervening year, Federer would still be chasing his record, and without ever having achieved a Grand Slam to boot.

Djokovic is the only player since Laver to have won four consecutive majors, although not in the same calendar year.

For the rebel professionals, the wilderness years between 1963 and 1968 were hard graft. It meant that their small travelling troupe had to get out to places not normally part of the circuit in order to make a buck — places like New Zealand.

The breakaway group included some superstars of the time, of an era when Australia was the world tennis powerhouse.

So I, for one, got to see at Auckland's Stanley St courts not only Rod The Rocket, but the likes of other multiple majors winners Ken Rosewell and Lew Hoad — exotic court magicians working mystifying wizardry with raquet and ball.

Mind you, it was a time when you could also regularly watch Arthur Lydiard's world-beaters compete locally against other world-class athletes. Or when you could jaunt out to the Ardmore racing circuit and revel in the New Zealand Grand Prix being fought out between Jack Brabham, John Surtees, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill or Denny Hulme — world champions all — along with other legends Stirling Moss, Chris Amon, and Bruce McLaren.

Heady sporting spectacles, indeed. And perhaps a sign of the times that, before the actual Grand Prix, for a bit of fun, Bruce McLaren would jump in a Mini Cooper and have a bash in the curtain-raiser open saloon race.

The enduring memory is not of the Grand Prix itself, but of McLaren taking the saloon race's chequered flag in his Mini by the thickness of his bonnet paint, hemmed in on either side by two massive 1950s mark I Jaguars. Magic summer days for sports-mad kids of all ages.