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Laver Reflects On Federer, Past Memories

Melbourne, Australia

Rod Laver, the 'Rockhampton Rocket', twice won the Grand Slam of four major championships in 1962 and 1969.© Getty ImagesRod Laver, the 'Rockhampton Rocket', twice won the Grand Slam of four major championships in 1962 and 1969.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Rod Laver's second career Grand Slam. The "Rocket" was available for a press conference at the Australian Open this week to discuss a number of topics, from his thoughts on Roger Federer's greatness to the style of today's game to the memories of his playing days. Here are some excerpts from the press conference:

Q.  Can you comment a little bit to follow up on Roger Federer's impact on the game and the whole men's tennis as intriguing as it looks like now, the situation how you see it there?
LAVER:  Yeah, well, Roger has certainly been a credit to the game.  Just unbelievable the consistency that he's had.  If you win six Wimbledons and I think (five) US Opens, consistency of brilliance is something that Roger seems to shine on. He hadn't been sick until this last year.  Last year down here seems like he was recovering.  It's unique that a player of that caliber and the amount of tennis he was playing to not have injuries and sicknesses.  All the shot making, he's probably got some of the best mechanics in the game of tennis.  He can play at the net, he can play at the baseline, he's got moving, he's quick.  It seems like he's improved his serve through this last year. Yeah, the competition is just unbelievable now.  It's great to see.  I look at Tsonga.  You look at any of the players out there, you know, even with Andy Roddick playing these days.  He seems like he's back and keen on playing better tennis and putting the effort in to make it happen. So you've seen it here this year. Djokovic.  When you look at Nadal, who is great talent and just a - I shouldn't say tenacious. It's just amazing what he can do on a clay court, and now he's providing it on grass and a hard court now.  He's in his own right a great champion. Roger's not going to have it his own way now.  He's got a lot of players to beat.

Q.  Forty years ago, how vivid are those memories?
LAVER:  Well, they're pretty vivid, especially with Andres (Gimeno).  We played professional tennis for five years, you know, just maybe six, eight, ten guys traveling around the world.  They weren't just exhibitions.  There was money changing hands every match we played.  It wasn't like, Well, I don't feel like playing today because I'm not feeling so well.  That's totally different. I think when Andres and I played matches, a full amount of effort goes into it.  I still remember a matchup we played up in the Arctic Circle.  It was cold, and not many people watching and we were playing indoors. The competition is strong.  But, yeah, the memories of maybe playing Tony Roche in the US Open in the final.  I mean, to put spikes on, those memories stay pretty close.  Playing (John) Newcombe at Wimbledon in the final.  

Q.  How does it feel when you take a seat on the court that's been named after you?
LAVER:  It's a wonderful honour.  I tell you, I guess, yes, I had a good, long career. To have my name on top of the stadium here is sort of the final part of my whole career.  This is the ultimate, to have your career be shown in lights on a big stadium.

Q.  You want to come back and play another match?  (Laughter.)
LAVER:  No, I enjoyed - we had a good length of time.  Fortunately, I played until about I think 1978 when I played WCT Finals.  A lot of things have happened.  I started off in 1956.  To go that length of time and not have injuries that cripple your career, I feel very fortunate.

Q. Those days seems like it was artistry.  You just get these kind of grinding and bombarding from the back of the court, it wasn't like that in your day.
LAVER:  No.  Well, a lot of things go into it.  We played three of the Grand Slam tournaments on grass.  It wasn't very good grass except Wimbledon.  Brisbane didn't have the best grass courts in the world.  They were green, yeah, but that's about it. The US Open on grass at Forest Hills was, I actually still remember playing Roy Emerson on one of the outside courts, or the semi grandstand courts but outside.  There were huge chunks of grass.  They had sodded it the day before.  When you're serving, you're ripping it up.  You're just tossing all this grass into the backstop.  So now you got to try and walk around serve somewhere else, because there's a big hole here. There's a lot of things that go on that you would never know today.  Those sort of things happen, and the game wasn't as big as you see today.  You see a stadium like this with all the courts, it's unbelievable, the advances that tennis has made. I think of Wimbledon, having a structure over it now, a roof.  I shouldn't say it's is a totally different game, but it's a great game.  Open tennis provided that.

Q.  Just another question on the heat.  How do players have to change their style of play today to cope with the heat?
LAVER: Well, you just don't get into long rallies.  There's no easy way yes, you're going to have longer rallies.  You just got to try and maneuver yourself around to shorten the points, not just keep the ball in play. Unless you think you're a lot fitter than the other person.  If you're a little fitter and you can stand the heat, maybe you want to make the dropshots and smashes and just make it uncomfortable for your opponent. That's also a tactic that goes into the heat of the match.

Q. I just wonder, when you're watching someone like Roger and you think about your own game and contribution to this sport, Roger is considered perhaps mechanically one of the best players of all-time.  You fit into that category also.  How do you think you would fit against him?
LAVER:  Got to put a wooden racquet back in his hand would be the first thing I would have to do.  You learn the game, and wood is so totally different.  It's a smaller head.  We had more errors, I'm sure, than today's players.  To see what they do is just incredible.  They've perfected the way of using this racquet now.  You play with what you're given. To try and put myself in today's world as a tennis player, it's almost impossible to know. In our era, we only had a couple guys over 6'3", Stan Smith and a couple of others at 6'2" and 6'3". The rest were six-footers. Rosewall, he's 5'6". That's a different game. Different structure on it.

Q.  The change of the countries dominating the tennis in numbers.  In your time it was mostly Australians and Americans.
LAVER:  I think it's the dollars and cents.  Again, it's the chance for parents, for their children to get out there and play.  They see Pete Sampras making $1 million winning the US Open or Wimbledon, and all of a sudden, that entices a lot of people to be involved. Certainly if you've got a talented child, you give them that opportunity to at least play in the world of tennis.  For me, it's a great game.


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