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September 7, 1994

Rod Laver


Q. Did you see that footage, you don't remember the court being that bad or do you?

ROD LAVER: I remember it being bad, but I never -- we've never had the access to see that footage, I don't know where it ask. I have to talk--

Q. Looked like a war zone, for heaven's sakes.

ROD LAVER: I was skidding three -- two and three feet in spikes. So it was a difficult court to play on. But, of course, we were delayed a day; we had to play on the Monday, and they had a helicopter hovering over the top of the place to try and dry the court, but I think that was bringing more of it out of the earth. But it certainly helped me, because, in that particular match, Tony (Roche) didn't want to put spikes on. He felt he was going to get cramps if he -- he liked to slide, and so he elected not to, and I'm not sure whether he even had spikes. But I talked to Bill Talbert, who was the referee and asked if it was -- if it would be all right if I found I couldn't hold up, could I put spikes on and he said, certainly.

Q. Were you still carrying them then?

ROD LAVER: Yeah, I always carry them. Never came out of my bag. But of course, then we played three grass court circuits. Australia grass court circuit the English grass court circuit and of course the U.S. had the Eastern grass court circuit. So lot of events were on grass. It was something like our angel, South Hampton or Newport would allow us to put spikes on.

Q. How about Wimbledon?

ROD LAVER: Never. No, I think the forefathers would roll over in their grave if anyone walked out with spikes on. In fact, I was over there this year for the 25th anniversary and I had to be very careful I didn't put my feet on the grass just at the entrance, they said, "Don't touch this grass." So...

Q. With the technology the way it is today is the beauty and the grace that you displayed, is that gone forever. I mean, Pete probably comes -- he has that total game, but is the aggressive tone of the game today, has that diminished what you guys used to do?

ROD LAVER: A lot of it has, I think because of the speed of the -- that the racket now on the ball, you can put so much excess spin on the ball, the speed, it doesn't allow you to put much angle into the shot, if you're trying to just return serve and angle the ball. You know, you're in trouble to begin with, because the ball is coming through at 110, 115, jumping high, lot of spin on it so your control is lost. And if you're not completely accurate on doing a slice like that across someone, if it's too high, it's just a freebee for the volleyer. So, unfortunately, the dimension is going to be purely, you know, serve -- either come to the serve and try and knock the volley off or stay back and blast away at groundstrokes and I must admit that today's players have much stronger groundstrokes than -- well, certainly me, but I think most of the players of our era. Someone like Rosewall, he certainly has a great ability, but today there are so many of these players hitting we heavy groundstrokes. I look at even Todd Martin, and these players, they they're hitting heavy, heavy shots. There's no chance to set up a point anymore. So, to really answer your question, the flavor of the game or the way a point is played out, there's limits to what you can do with it. I used to find myself chipping on one side and then going down there backhand side with a high backhand. You hit a high backhand smash with a wooden racket. You can't knock it off, so that was setting up my forehand all the time to me. I always had a plan to do that better it always worked -- but you certainly had a chance to accomplish that. And today, I didn't see anybody being able to try to accomplish that and even if you did, they can backhand smash it over the fence with these rackets.

Q. If you put a wooden racket in your hand now and put a wooden racket in Pete's hand, would you teach him a lesson?

ROD LAVER: No, but I don't think today's players could play the way you would have to with a wood racket. You have to time the ball a little more purely with wood and when you're -- the graphite composites -- I work for Pro Kennex, but the technology, you just have to swing at it. It's great for the club player. Tremendous -- it's one of the big assets that tennis has, is the head big racket for the club player. They start up very quickly. They're not frustrated. Starting to play with the wood racket, you have to be reasonably talented to play with a wood racket and improve. So therefore the club play level is -- when you start going up to this -- the higher level, how can you stop them from being just blasting away, and sometimes you think, well, maybe it's one serve, my -- one thing that I thought that we could look at, and could be experimented with is have the three second serves in each game, and I just mentioned that on TV and I think if you analyze it a little bit, I think, it has some merit. Not only because you have to protect your first serve a little more, so it's going to be three quarter speed first serve, because you're only allowed three second serves, then it's up. So, if that happened, then all of a sudden, if you have penalties, you know, it would be fairly easy to put a penalty in. If you're late for your serve, you just take a second serve away, so now he's only got two second serves left. So in some ways it could be strategized, I don't want to take the game of tennis away from what it is. But I think that sometimes, some way of, you know, restricting the server a little bit, might have merit. You can slow the court down, you can slow the ball down a little bit.

Q. Is the change in equipment responsible for what's happened here by way of upsets, the number of them?

ROD LAVER: Yeah, because there's so many more great young talents out there. You know, you go on the practice courts out there and there's probably 150 that are playing just beautiful tennis on the practice courts. I was in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and New Haven and I saw some unbelievable talent of hitting the shots. Then a matter of putting it into play and saying, "win the match," is another story. So the competition has gotten so much more than when we came along. But with these upsets, 140 isn't too far behind number 40.

Q. When you won the Grand Slams, you showed up at a tournament and won the Grand Slams, how many people do you think there were that said "This guy could beat me"?

ROD LAVER: Probably maybe 20. If I played up to my standard, which I felt like I should be able to do, would be, you know, 15, 20 people that you'd have to say, "I better be careful with these players," but anyone could give you trouble if you go out there unprepared.

Q. Do you think Rod Laver would have been able to do with today's racket?

ROD LAVER: Well, I think certainly, I can do a lot more with it. I've proved that just by playing with them now. It's just such a different game. I had tremendous amount of trouble trying to climatize myself or accustom myself to the speed of the racket. It was -- I did a slice backhand with a wood racket, I'd get good and deep and I did the exact same thing with a graphite frame and it would be right in the middle of the fence. So you just have to -- I feel like I'm swinging the same way, but now you've got to hold back your power for the right time. So, therefore, you've seen not too many people slicing. So therefore, now everybody has gone to the topspin which, in effect, maybe that's what I would have to do to be competitive on both sides from the baseline. You're not going to slice the ball hard enough to get the guy out of position. And so, I think you need topspin on both sides to be able to do that; and so I don't know what my game would look like. I think, I'd still always be a net rusher, given the opportunity. And I think a lot of times, players-- even someone like Pete Sampras at the French championships, I think -- I think in hindsight, looks back at his match with Courier and says, "I should have been at the net twice as quick," you know, just two, three hits, and get to the net. And he would have -- I think he would have pushed Jim, then, because he was -- at that stage he was fairly frail in his confidence, and Pete, I think, is a huge target. They're at the net to get it by him. So that, to me, when I look back at some of those things, I'd find myself at the net fairly often.

Q. For somebody who plays in an era with so many serve and volleyers, is it disappointing for you to watch now that there are so few?

ROD LAVER: So few serve and volleyers?

Q. Yes.

ROD LAVER: No, it's just a different game. I enjoy the tennis. I really think that there's a lot of great play. Maybe because I'm looking at it from a pure talent and I watched Agassi and Chang play the other night, and it was unbelievable tennis, in my mind. On the television. It was tremendous amount of shot making going on, but, again, those two players were small in stature so they're being able to pick away at someone's weaker side or move -- maneuvering. It was just, I thought they played a fabulous game of tennis, but, again, it was a baseline game. And that sort of -- when I hear and I read the paper that just serve and a volley and a mis-hit, I said, I wonder what that was, seemed to me that was good tennis.

Q. What about the fact when players reach the age of 24, 25 like a Steffi, she's considered a veteran and been around; when is she leaving? You guys were just getting started back in that era. What can be done, other than starting later; maybe making a rule -- these kids are starting too early; aren't they?

ROD LAVER: Well, I would say yes, they are starting too early, but I remember when Frank Sedgman and Ken McGregor and Lou Hoad and Ken Rosewall, they were sort of closing in, classifying them as being over the hill, was 23, 24, and that's because they turned pro. I mean, they sort of were forgotten. A lot of the press articles came out that they're over the hill, and I thought, what, seems strange that that was the case, but I think if you love the sport, and you believe in it, and you respect the game and compete, I don't think there's any magic of when your time is up. I felt I played probably some of my best tennis when I was over 30, and I think I was 31, 32, when I played the final in ' 69. So, I guess -- it's ancient looking at some of the players today, that they feel, can I make it through to 32, 33. I don't know, how old Ivan Lendl? He's, what, 33, 34?

Q. 34.

ROD LAVER: 34, so he's starting to feel that, you know, it's -- the pressure is too great, and that's because the talent is there and the depth in competition. When you walk out first match, and you're faced with someone that maybe just won -- just won a tournament week before and you're playing him first round, it just tells you that there are an awful lot of great players on the circuit trying to make a niche for themselves.

Q. Do you think the women's age should be raised; the women's age 14 is too young?

ROD LAVER: Yes. It's probably more so a problem for the woman than the men. The men certainly have some great talent. When you look at someone like Agassi, did very well at a very young age, you get put in your place because I think strength has a lot to do with it, in the men's game. But the women's game is timing and it's, you know, not knowing the pressures when you're 14 or 15. How can they know what pressure is? They're just having a good time out there and enjoying it, but let them win a few matches or win a tournament or two, now all of a sudden the press and television are rating them as the people to be. So now, all of a sudden on top of the 15-year-old with being immature and inexperienced and just still growing up, that pressure is just too much. And I think it maybe has shown on Jennifer Capriati. It is a shame that someone that talented now has mixed emotions about the great game of tennis. It is a shame and I don't know how you'd exactly restrict it, but certainly, it should be somewhere around 16 before she should be playing and then elevated, two Grand Slams each year, and then maybe a total of 9 tournaments. Let them be playing in some of the junior competitions.

Q. Were the parents of your day as forceful as some of the parents are today in pushing their kids into the game?

ROD LAVER: There were always some that were forceful, but, again, the wood racket, you know, you had to be -- you had to be unusual to be that good at 14, 15 to take on a Margaret Court or Billie Jean King and beat them. But here's someone like Capriati or Jaeger or Tracy Austin, there's a number in there that we can sort of pick on a little bit, but sometimes injuries happen because you started off too young.

Q. Who do you think is going to win the Grand Slam again, among the men?

ROD LAVER: Well, it's certainly more and more difficult than when I was successful, but, I have to figure that someone like Pete Sampras is the one that you'd have to -- earmark as being the person to accomplish that feat. He's -- I think he's got a real great attitude in competing and his mechanics is flawless. But, you know, he can repeat four times in a year and he's proved that. He can do it at times, and now, you can put it together in one year. So, I don't see it happening soon, it's an unbelievable feat, certainly tougher than when I did it to pull it off now.

Q. What is the rationale of the restriction of the serve?

ROD LAVER: What is the what?

Q. The restriction on the serve.

ROD LAVER: On the serve?

Q. Your suggestion of three serves, second serve?

ROD LAVER: Just three second serves in each game. Do you understand?

Q. Yes.

ROD LAVER: I just think that would stop the big serve from continuing. You'd find a way to have the -- if you're trying to play a match and your first serve is not working too well, you better slow it down pretty quick, because you're going to run out of second serves in that game. So therefore, your strategy is going to be -- now the receiver has a chance to be in the game. And so, he can net rush, so you're allowing a person, the receiver now to get to the net. And I think in many ways, that's the game that people -- spectators like to see, and I think players like to play, is the approach shot waiting for a volley, waiting for a smash, but then on the receiver side, the opponent, has that ability to pass, with heavy topspin or with lobs. And so, I just think it would bring out a little bit more of a flare in the game, and crowds like to appreciate winners. I don't think they like to clap and applaud losers.

Q. Are you amused by the personalities -- Pete Sampras didn't have personality, he showed his heart. Now everyone says Andre Agassi and his style can save the U.S. Open. How do you perceive that today?

ROD LAVER: Boring. I think Newcombe and Stolle, we'd all be classic boring tennis players. In fact, we were called that back years. But I think, you grow into fame. You find that like a match that Sampras played yesterday, and I only watched-- because I was on a plane-- but watched the last six, eight games of the match. And, you know, he did, he showed a lot of character. But I think that's going to live with him now and people are going -- you people are going to look at him a little differently. You're not going to look at him as being a guy that serves 134 miles an hour. And I think, that's what I'm thinking of character as you get older and I think that's maybe what Ken and I and Roy and the rest of us accomplished. As you go through your career and if you're consistent, you play hard and you try, and you enter. And whether you win or lose, you shake the guy's hand and say, "you're good" if they beat you. So I think there's a lot of good things. It is a shame that Pete lost, because I think he's a great asset to the sport. But I think at the same time, he probably showed some marvelous abilities to be resilient out there on the court and not show that he's going to just tank and walk off the court, even though he's exhausted, he's still plucking away.

Q. How much heightened pressure was there going for the Slam back then?

ROD LAVER: Well, there was -- I don't know how to exactly say it, but in 1962 there was more pressure than there was in 1969. And I guess that's because the second time around, it's easier. You know, if that can be said that way. And I -- I don't want to be tooting my horn, but in 1962, I felt the pressure, much greater playing Emerson in the final here at the U.S. Open in Forest Hills. I remember when I came in, I had match point I served and came to the net and I didn't -- I didn't have a grip, I didn't know what to do with it. I hit a backhand grip to the forehand volley and just drove it straight into the middle of the net. But I wasn't -- that's what I felt pressure. But until that time, you know, you don't think about it until all of a sudden you can just about see over the hill, it doesn't hit you. And so, that to me was the toughest. And then, of course, the great challenge was to play Open tennis and to be able to be all pitted together and that was more of a tennis challenge, and so I was proud of that accomplishment.

Q. How does it make you feel when you hear a guy like Sampras who grew up watching McEnroe, Connors, the guys in his own country talking about you and Ken and guys like Roy and John, they're the guys he idolized; how does that make you feel?

ROD LAVER: I'm honored and I'm proud that he feels that way about tennis. I think the history of tennis is very important no matter how far you want to go back. To Tilden and further on back. I think the fact that Pete has molded his game on some of the older players, it's -- you know, it is a thrill for me to feel that -- you know, that he feels that way. And I feel that he -- like he said a few times, he'd like his racket to do the talking, and I think that's admirable. It takes every champion -- different champion's response and I put Agassi as a champion, I put Becker and Edberg and Lendl as champions, but they've all got their own personalities. And I think you need all types.

Q. How busy are you in a week like this? Why do you still come out to tournaments?

ROD LAVER: This time it's the 25th' Anniversary, so I'm here to -- on the invitation from Bumpy Frazer the President of the USTA to come back to this and event and I'm thrilled to be a part of it. But I enjoy playing tennis, sometimes it's social, sometimes the ATP seniors have a circuit out which we enjoy. It's limited in the scope of, I think, success, but there is a niche there for it.

Q. What was your most memorable match; if there was one?

ROD LAVER: Sometimes I look back and I think it's against Ken Rosewall during the French Championships in '69. I probably played the best tennis of my life on claycourts.

Q. Did you serve and volley on clay?

ROD LAVER: I did both. I mixed it up. I felt that you couldn't let Ken or any of the claycourters get into a groove. Sometimes I'd serve -- sometimes I'd serve on the second serve and come in, but stay back, approach, do an easy dropshot to bring the other person in, but I felt like that particular match you were one that stands out as being -- from probably an hour and a half, hour and three quarters, it was straight sets to -- to play that well on a continuous level, it sort of, you know, I guess it bewildered myself sometimes that I could beat someone like Ken Rosewall in straight sets on probably his pet surface back then, and again, against Newcombe at Wimbledon in '69, I think it was another match we challenged each other.

Q. Who do you think the second greatest player of all-time would be?

ROD LAVER: I am told sometimes to -- there's so many out there I have to -- I look at Gonzalez, I look at Ken Rosewall, of course Lou Hoad is certainly -- he was my role model when I grew up. I tried to emulate his game. So I put him in that same situation. I looked at John McEnroe as being a great standard in the modern game as being a champion that had every shot, could play extremely well under pressure. When you can get up from matches under pressure at the finals at Wimbledon and five setters and still not get overwhelmed by the pressure, that's when I think a champion comes to life.

Q. The era of dropshots is over now?

ROD LAVER: On hardcourt it is, but I think on claycourts it is alive and well, and on grass.

End of FastScripts....

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