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January 29, 2006

Rod Laver


ROD LAVER: Hi, how are you?

Q. How are you?

ROD LAVER: Feeling great. Terrific to be out here again and seeing what happened to Australian tennis. It's an amazing stadium. The tennis has been spectacular, I guess. I came out here only the last four days. Very happy to be here watching it.

Q. You won eleven Grand Slam titles, and you miss 20 because of professional status. If you had to pick one of those eleven, which one?

ROD LAVER: Probably, well, the most meaningful is probably the last one in '69 when I played Tony Roche, to which is completed the Grand Slam. It would have to be I would think something like that. The other one I think that I played was in '69, the French champions, because that's always been a tough one for Australians to play. Of course I was playing another Australian in Rosewall, but I think I probably played the best tennis, clay court tennis, that I ever played. Consistent, everything just flowed.

Q. What do you make of the world No. 1? I know you've said of all the players you've seen, he's capable of perhaps reproducing what you did in '69. What makes him so special?

ROD LAVER: Well, he's got so much talent. There's a lot of ingredients that goes into being a tennis player: the temperament to start with, the stroke production. Court positioning and anticipation, I think, is something that he seems capable of doing a lot more than other players. A lot of other players go back a little deeper on the baseline and slog away and hit heavy ground strokes. But Roger seems to just move around the baseline. As soon as they make a mistake, you know, he sits on top of them and he's got a wide-open court because he's not back very far and doesn't allow a player to get back into play. I think just his court coverage, I think, is quite unusual, uncanny. He doesn't seem to be out of position. I guess he concentrates very well, too. I haven't seen a lot of his tennis live, and that's the one thing that you miss a little bit catching what a player is doing watching them rather than on television. It all looks so easy on television, how they're doing it. But, you know, his backhand I think, yeah, keeps his game, you know -- if his backhand is in good shape, I think he just seems to roll.

Q. Is there any one he reminds you of that you've played against or have seen subsequently?

ROD LAVER: No, not really. You know, wood racquets, you couldn't put the amount of spin that is on today's game. The little wider head, it's a bigger face than, you know, a regular Maxfly or regular wooden racquet. But a lot of people have asked me about the volleying, more people maybe about his serve and volley. You probably know hitting the ball so much harder, the return of serve is more depth and a lot of heavy spin on the ball, so it's hard to volley that shot. Those that are coming up through the ranks and the Juniors never really get to learn to volley like a Roy Emerson backhand or a forehand. I mean, they don't learn the game at that level. There's no suppleness in their wrist or their game. So that's something that I think has changed for more of these players now. They're back hitting heavy ground strokes just like Marcos Baghdatis. He's a great retriever, great mover on the court. You'll find a lot of those players, it's not going to allow you the chance to get to the net too often. When you do, you're getting a ball at you with a heavy spin and a lot of speed. You might be able to get there, but then you've got to control it with that racquet. Of course, the metal racquets, composite racquets, are very heavy so it's hard to control that ball.

Q. Barring injury or illness with Roger, how many Grand Slam titles do you think he might be able to amass?

ROD LAVER: I don't know. What's he got now, five or six?

Q. He's got six.

ROD LAVER: That's a pretty good start, and he's 24. He's got -- the main thing is that he just enjoys -- looks like he's enjoying the game, and it's not pressure. He's just playing the game, and when it doesn't work, he tries something else. He finds a way to win. But if you're -- you have to grind out all the matches all the time. Mentally you're going to get drained and the desire starts to ebb. You think -- I was fortunate because I learnt the game as an amateur, just loving the game and playing and enjoying it, then coming up slowly and traveling overseas until, you know, I turned professional at 24. So then, you know, that five years, while I was really getting it, is when Open tennis opened it. They allowed the pros and amateurs to be together. I was up there and thought, "God, get back to Wimbledon again." Your desire is up right there at a high level again. I think age is not really an issue when you're looking at someone like, you know, Roger. He could be 31, 32 and be winning matches if the desire's there.

Q. You definitely think he'll pass Sampras?

ROD LAVER: Well, certainly amazing how well he plays in the finals. I wouldn't bet against him.

Q. What do you make of him as a bloke after you met him the other day? Is he a good ambassador for tennis?

ROD LAVER: Oh, yeah, I think so. Not only the way he speaks, he speaks so well about the game and enjoys it, but that his game speaks a tremendous amount. You can see, like I mentioned, he's enjoying the game and playing just as he sees it and plays beautifully. So, you know, it's a credit to, you know, tennis that Roger's in it.

Q. Five years, you miss five years. Five years makes for 20 Grand Slam tournaments. How many do you think you could have won?

ROD LAVER: I guess I was in my prime when I turned, but that's something that...

Q. Probably the best years of your life.

ROD LAVER: But at the same time, Hoad and Rosewall, Gonzalez, Manuel, Buchholz, they're all amateurs, so it's open. The competition gets a little stronger. I wasn't just playing a Roy Emerson or Neale Fraser.

Q. Eleven years.

ROD LAVER: Yeah, but no, I had no regrets turning professional, you know. Back in the amateur days, you can't do much with trophies. Otherwise, you sell insurance or you have a sports store or something like that when you're over the limit. But, you know, it was Ken Rosewall and Lew Hoad that convinced me that I wanted to play them. That was a challenge for me. The best players were pros, and that was something for me to enjoy. And of course I asked them to, under the contract I had was that Lew and Ken would stay on the tour until I reached my contract. Fortunately, Open tennis came, so we all got into it. But, I mean, that was a thrill for me to play against -- my idol is Lew Hoad, and Rosewall of course was an unbelievable talent. There we were, cruising up and down some of these slippery freeways (laughing).

Q. You think that helps the players, having the chance to watch their opponent on television and things like that?

ROD LAVER: Yeah, I don't know if it helped. I mean, I think it's better to watch it live if you're looking to see just hitting the ball. You know, you can almost -- I played by sound pretty much when I -- I could tell immediately, as soon as I was hitting the ball, how clean I was hitting it. I could sound it. Then all of a sudden you become a lot more confident because all of a sudden the sound is right. So I think that's something that, you know, you work with.

Q. Are you still enjoying it? Are you playing? Do you play from time to time?

ROD LAVER: At the moment I haven't played in the last sort of nine months because I had a knee replaced. I want to get back and start playing some, yes. But just socially. I enjoy playing, yeah.

Q. Do you belong to a club there? Where are you?

ROD LAVER: At LaCosta is where I spend most of my time. You travel around, out to the desert, the Indian Wells tournament that Charlie Pasarell and Ray Moore are doing, they do some social things and I work with the Nabisco Dinah Shore event, socializing with the people on court.

Q. Do you ever see American college tennis?

ROD LAVER: Not so much, no, I haven't. But I have watched some of them, yeah. Some of them are very talented.


ROD LAVER: All right, well. Thank you.

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