I’m entering my 80s and I think my life has been wonderful. Tennis gave me an opportunity. My natural ability to play the game was probably the most important thing in my life. But, I had to work at being a better tennis player − and better means you have to win. I think that was my motivation; competition made me improve. That’s how I built myself up.
I love the game of tennis. My parents played; I had two older brothers who played. The opportunity came playing junior tournaments when I got a little better and had the chance to travel in 1956. I went to Europe to play in France, to Wimbledon, and then over to the US Open. I had a lot of opportunities and thought, “I want to be a tennis player.” And that is how I started off.
Fortunately for me, everything came along well. And then fortunately for everybody in tennis, there was Open tennis! I think that was the best thing that ever happened to tennis. I was able to get all that experience behind me and so I performed pretty well when Open tennis started.
Being able to watch what tennis has done since Open tennis, I’m just in awe of the greatest things that have happened from amateur tennis. It took a long time to get to Open tennis. Then you rush ahead to today’s world, and you see such great champions. For the world of tennis, it is a long way from where it started to where it is today.
I had a stroke in 1998. The doctors said, “You’ll never play tennis again.” That was the best thing that they ever could have said to me. I did get to the point where I could get out of the wheelchair and stand, and then I thought, “My right side is paralyzed, hey, but I’m left-handed... Just let me get on a tennis court again.” I was able to start very slowly and I spent two or three months hitting tennis balls. I couldn’t move, but I could stand and hit. Then finally, my right leg moved and that was the beginning of my recovery. I wasn’t prepared to be in a wheelchair – I was getting out of that wheelchair as quickly as I could, and I did.
My retirement didn’t come easy. But, having started off in amateur tennis, having gone into pro tennis and then gone into Open tennis, I had a long career. Time is the essence when you’re looking at players that are coming up, that are younger, faster and better. I had probably the longest career of many, many champions.
I think I’ve proved to so many people that good things happen if you’re prepared to put the effort in. I think I have led a charmed life. Having won a lot of tournaments, competed under a lot of pressure at all the Grand Slams, I think that leads me up to a Rolex. I had a good career, I reached the pinnacle in tennis and getting a Rolex was a crowning moment in my career. It’s probably my best purchase ever!
I was in Australia at a Hall of Fame meeting in 1981. And on the way back to California, I wanted to stop in Hong Kong. While I was there, I saw there was a Rolex boutique and I had envisioned purchasing a Rolex watch: “I think I deserve a Rolex.” And I’ve been wearing this watch since 1981. With my watch, and the memories that go along with it: The birth of my son in 1969. Being able to travel to represent myself around the world, and to represent Rolex.
The Rolex I have on my wrist today is so embedded in my whole career. That this is what I wanted and this is what I’ve got.