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January 28, 2009

Rod Laver


THE MODERATOR: Questions for Rod Laver.

Q. Rod, Jelena Dokic is an incredible story. Is there any argument that she wouldn't have been as good as she is without the Damir influence? Secondly, what massage would you give to parents, or would like to give to parents, who have a talented youngster and want them to be a tennis player?
ROD LAVER: Of course Jelena, it's unbelievable what she's done this two weeks, to be able to, you know, playing under pressure like that. I know that the parents, or the father, I guess, the main problem occurred with her when she was young and an aspiring junior coming up.
I saw her play. Actually, she might have been 16, 17. You knew she was so talented. But to come back from, you know, the depression or just not being able to compete was quite uncanny. She just plays well under pressure. That's the one thing that, you know, not many players have. Being able to play when the chips are down.
I noticed in the third set, all the third sets, she's played some superb tennis. The other opponent was not going away, so she had to win those matches. I think that's a credit to her force of just not quitting.
So it was a great, great effort. I think parents can be a great asset, and also a detriment to natural talent. 12, 13, 14 is when you start seeing some of that natural talent coming out in some of the youngsters in the country or wherever they might be.
It seems like until the Jelena's father came into the picture, I don't think there was anybody where -- no parent down in Australia was giving any problems. I look at, well, I guess myself. If you look at myself, I had parents that really encouraged me to play. They didn't get involved with any decision making. Of course, it was amateur tennis.
Today you're looking at millions of dollars out there. I think the parents want the child to win more so sometimes than just trophies, and is my child enjoying her or his game. You're looking at, What's in it for me? I think that's unfortunate if a parent does that. That will detract from their ability to play.

Q. Do you feel that this, especially when the parents having had an influence, it seems to have been more of an issue with young women's players than, you know, men's players. Do you have any particular reason for that?
ROD LAVER: No, I don't know if I would be able to comment on that. Maybe the young players, the talented juniors, the men or the boys, maybe they're a little bit more independent. I don't know. Sometimes you're protecting your children when you're off traveling in various neighbors, various countries.
Maybe sometimes the women or the mothers may be a bit too protective of the young women potentials.

Q. With the heat today, 41 degrees and 43 tomorrow, what do you think should happen with the roof?
ROD LAVER: I don't know. I mentioned it to you know, Jeff about could they close it. I think they're discussing that now. It seems like it's not unfair, because if everybody is playing on that same court, it should be something that -- you know, I think for the interest of the health of the player, and maybe you could also take it one step further and say about the public and the ball kids and umpires, maybe it would be good to close it.
If I have my thoughts it will be closed. I have no decision making in it at all. Just the mechanics say we're going to have this sort of heat for the next three days, why not just close it right now and leave it closed? You're going to see your best tennis. It's going to be hot anyway. I imagine they can air condition it.
It's just wonderful that they have a roof they can close, so take advantage of it.

Q. Did you tend to play in conditions much like this back when you were a top player? Did you have days where it was 43 degrees on court and you had to play through that?
ROD LAVER: Yeah, I don't know, Brisbane could be up to 95, 100 degrees. There were hot days even at Wimbledon. Some of the times we played there they would have heat waves come through. Nowhere near the 40 degrees celsius. You've got to pick your way through it and gear yourself accordingly.
Used to be you get into long rallies, and that's not a good idea when you got this much heat. I just worry about Djokovic when he -- that's where he played -- you think, Well, don't stay back at the baseline and fight this out. Try and find another way of winning.
I think that's what maybe we did when we go back 30, 40 years back there. But there's always times when you -- we played in the United States out in Las Vegas, and it's desert climate. Not quite as hot as this though.

Q. Just getting back to Jelena's situation, most tennis players have to face pressure, and however they deal with it it's up to them. Can you imagine the type of pressure that she would have been under this week, the talk about her father, the emotional opening up that she had over here, and then trying to also hit tennis balls?
ROD LAVER: Yeah, I think -- fortunately, I don't know how much training she did prior to coming here, and that's probably what put her in good shape to be able to withstand the heat and the pressure. Because the pressure, a lot of times it's an emotional pressure, and she's an emotional girl.
She's certainly portrayed a confident individual on the court. When I watched two or three of the matches from California where I live, it was just unbelievable how she was coming back from almost hopeless positions. If you're a competitor, I mean, that's where you shine. If you play well under pressure, you know, that's something that's a gift.
If you look at someone like Roger Federer, when he gets to the quarterfinals, he just plays so much better. Because when you're under pressure, you're still thinking about the what-shot-is-the-right-shot attitude. That's how he gets a lot of his wins, is just playing well under pressure. Not the early rounds that you see where you're hitting the ball beautifully. That's not the really key factor. The key factor is winning the points when you got a break at 30-40 on someone else's serve and you don't lose that point.
You don't give it away by hitting the ball out or hitting it into the net. You put all the pressure back on your opponent. I think that's what he's been able to do throughout his whole career.
Jelena, it's great to see someone that loves the game as she must to pull this all the way back. I don't know how much training she did when you look back at her last six months. How did she do that? Was it training and where was it and what sort of court it was on and who was her opponents? That would be some of the questions I would like to ask. Just how did she pull all those players together. Because she's fit.
Also even when she sprained her ankle. I thought there was no way she could continue playing, but she did. She's tenacious.

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?
ROD 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 three US Opens, maybe four, 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. Just another question on the heat. How do players have to change their style of play today to cope with the heat?
ROD 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?
ROD 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. 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. 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.
ROD LAVER: No. Well, a lot of things go into it. We played three of the Grand Slam tournaments were on grass. It wasn't very good grass except Wimbledon. Brisbane didn't of 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. Is it a better game?
ROD LAVER: Yeah, I think so. Well, I shouldn't say better, because the one thing that I think tennis provided, and Andres Gimeno's right here. He was sort of an artist of stroking the ball and not putting a lot of heavy topspin, but just placement.
And if it's a dropshot -- so you couldn't -- like if you go down someone's backhand side to hit a backhand like that, today you see the guys hit 'em, they just go over there and whack that down and hit it over the fence nearly.
You couldn't do that with a wooden racquet. So that artistry. You're maneuvering someone around. Many Rosewall could cut it shorter or deep. He had just all types of shots like that. That's the difference in the game.

Q. How does it feel when you take a seat on the court that's been named after you?
ROD LAVER: It's a wonderful honor. 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.)
ROD LAVER: No, I enjoyed -- we had a good length of time. Fortunately, I played until I was about -- until 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. How surprised are you to see the two countries dominating the tennis in numbers now in tennis are Spain and France and not United States and Australia like in your time. Why do you think?
ROD LAVER: The change of champions?

Q. The change of the countries dominating the tennis in numbers. In your time it was mostly Australians and Americans.
ROD 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.

Q. Forty years ago, how vivid are those memories?
ROD LAVER: Well, they're pretty vivid, especially with Andres. 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. I'm playing, I thought, some of my best tennis. I walked -- I had to shake his hand and say, he-beat-me-again attitude. Those sort of things happen out there. The competition is strong.
But, yeah, the memories of -- maybe it's playing Tony Roche in the US Open in the final. I mean, to put spikes on, those memories stay pretty close. Playing Newcombe at Wimbledon in the final. But Andres needs to talk, not me.

Q. Why do you think Spain and France are dominating the tennis in numbers, when at your time it was Australia and United States? What are these countries doing well?
ANDRES GIMENO: Well, what I do believe is that always in Spain has been a special country tradition of tennis. We have a club right now in Spain is 108 years old. It's in Barcelona. So the tradition of the game always has been in Spain, particularly in Barcelona.
The champion, they came from this area. I do remember that in the '20s, in the early '20s, we got two great brothers, Alonso, who one of them is in the final of Wimbledon. At that time, they used to be challenge. They play all the match through, and then the winner, I think, was Bill Tilden, who wait for to play the final. So we get finally champions of Wimbledon. We get final of Wimbledon and ladies the same way.
And then it just happen in Spain after the Civil War. We just happen something like I was -- my father was a tennis coach, and Manolo Santana was a pick balls in Madrid. It just happened to come up a generation at that time who just became players.
After the Civil War, we didn't get much tennis, because obviously we was a very poor country. But we came back. I turned professional in 1960. I decided to go with the professional. Then Santana, a year later he came up as one of the greatest players. He won Roland Garros twice, won Wimbledon and won US Open. If I knew that I might stay amateur, because we always said, Manolo and myself, maybe we could win the Davis Cup, us against Australia.
It was difficult, but with me and Manolo we got a better chance. It did not happen. Manolo stay amateur and I turn professional. We keep the game going.
There was a period where of 15 years that we got one guy who keep the last twenty was Emilio Sanchez-Vicario, who's the Davis Cup captain now. And then from Bruguera till now came a lot of player. Why? I don't know. I think it's the climate. I think it's they have good academies in Spain. I think the tennis associations, regional and nationals, are doing very well to help the kids. And like Rod say before, Nadal is making a lot of money. That he makes a lot of childs come to the tennis again.
Remember, that in Spain, the main game is soccer. I mean, soccer is the game. Then is another game, and tennis is getting closer to the second game in Spain when used to be 10 the 12. Soccer, basket, and I would say tennis are very close. That's why a lot of children now -- eventually most of the children, they played soccer.
But we have another children who try to play tennis. I can see that every day here. We have a junior right now here, I think he's coming up. So the kids are coming. The climate is good. The coaches improve a lot in Spain. One of the things that the association make very well is to teach the coaches how to teach the kids.
I remember a long time ago to give a title to coach was easy. Just say, What is your name? My name is, da, da, da. Here, you have your tennis coach.
ROD LAVER: I think that's one of the things that the countries that you're talking about have found coaches and the special mechanics that they've gone through now. I think the coaches now are actually teaching pretty much a uniform method. I think Argentina has a good group coming up. I don't know how Serbia got a huge thing.
I think their desire is just to get out of that country or get out of it one time. Now their chances of exposing tennis around the world is just great. I think coaching helps it.
ANDRES GIMENO: In Spain -- I don't know. In France is coming, too. I think Spain has better players, I think. The coaches in Spain are right now very good. That's why the game coming so up. What we need is girls. We used to have Arantxa and Concita. They are gone, and now we need girls.

Q. What's the first piece of advice you give to a tennis player starting out their career now?
ROD LAVER: Enjoy it, firstly. If you're a kid just starting up, I think starting at a young age is important. You can start at, nine, ten, eleven. If you can get that feeling going and if they have a love for the sport or they enjoy it, that's half the battle.
That you're prepared to put the work in to improve your game. I think that's an area where you have to work with youngsters.

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