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July 5, 2009

Rod Laver


Q. How do you see the match going today?
ROD LAVER: Today? I'd have to say that Roger is certainly favored to win the tournament. You know, there's always a few thoughts that go, you know, through your mind about a Roddick serve. If he serves well, he could give Roger all he wants. And he's been serving well, so there's no reason he won't come out there. Once his serve's working well, the rest of his game is working well.
But Roger plays a lot of individual shots and can break down a player when you're in a final like that 'cause there's a lot of pressure out there.
But it should be a good match.

Q. What goes through your mind when you watch Roger Federer play?
ROD LAVER: I just see it's amazing what sort of shots he can come with from impossible positions. It's a great feeling of being able to watch the talent that he has and the opponents that he beats comfortably, where other players have such a tough time to beat a player like a Karlovic, any of the players that can't get his serve back, but how come Roger can do it?
You know, he's just naturally talented and can change where he has to change.

Q. In your mind, how significant is what Roger might achieve this afternoon with the 15th title?
ROD LAVER: Well, you know, it's an unbelievable effort to have 15 Grand Slam titles. And, of course, Pete Sampras has got 14, which was an unbelievable effort right there. And, you know, you've got to be in the game and enjoy the sport to be able to do something like this. You're not going to make, you know, the 12 or 13 events if you don't respect the game and enjoy it. It's a thrill for yourself to get out there and play. That's the one thing that Roger has that I think is admirable for tennis.
It's great that tennis has someone like Roger. We always look at Roger, he and Tiger Woods are good friends, fighting to see who can have the best number of Grand Slams in golf and tennis. So that rivalry - different sport - but they're good friends. That all helps the game of tennis.

Q. What is your sense of the value of conversations about the greatest ever in men's tennis in particular? Do you give that much thought? If so, where do you come down on that?
ROD LAVER: Yeah, no, I've always thought that you're the best in your era. That to me is a pretty good compliment to your game, to your tennis, over your career. You know, if Roger gets to 16, 17 Grand Slams, you know, people in the press are the ones that are wanting to say it: Who's the best over.
My thought is that if you're the best in your era, you know, and you probably don't even know who Bill Tilden is, but was he the best ever? I know that Bud Collins has seen the likes of Tilden play.
So, you know, it's hard for anyone I think to come out and say who's the best ever. It's like boxing. Who's the best ever in boxing? I don't know anybody's come up there. To me it's an era.

Q. Would you like to play Roger Federer? If you were playing against Roger, what would your strategy be?
ROD LAVER: No, I don't think I can answer that one. It's a different world, a wooden racquet against a composite racquet. The whole structure of the game has changed. You've seen old film clips of myself, various matches that we played. It's a different speed. You know, you've got to maneuver the ball around with a wooden racquet.
Today's game, when kids start off at age eight with this composite racquet, you know, they've got spin and control within a couple of years. My coach, Charlie Hollis, said it's going to take you two years to perfect a forehand, two years for a backhand, two years for a serve, you know. So when you get through all this, you've played enough tennis out there, you know, that was the attitude when I came along.
But today the players can perfect all this in like six months, and then it's a matter of how do you come along and beat that. You've got players now that are just coming out of the woodwork and winning and getting to semifinals and finals. You think, you know, how is this? But that's the way the game is being played today.

Q. If today's player had to play with a wooden racquet, do you see any of them playing without problems, comfortable, and others playing with difficulty?
ROD LAVER: I think they'd be shocked when they moved away from the other racquets. I think someone like Pete Sampras, because I played with him one day, and he broke a string in his racquet and didn't have another one. Someone said, I've got one for you. They gave him a wooden racquet. He started playing with it and was playing okay. He said he wasn't getting the speed off it, but he certainly had the timing. That tells you certain players can pull off.
I think anyone that has loops and flicks would have a trouble with it. Yeah, they certainly can learn from it. But it would take a while to get started.

Q. You practically invented the topspin lob. You're known for your versatility. Do you feel kind of a kinship as a tennis-playing athlete with Roger in that regard?
ROD LAVER: No, I don't think so. You know, I certainly didn't know how to hit the ball flat. I had to put spin on the ball to control the ball. I wouldn't be able to play. Some of the players in my era, Roy Emerson, Ken Rosewall, Leu Hoad, they had nice stroke production, but you had to learn that type of stroke. I couldn't play that way. I put spin on my ball, my arm developed, I was able to control the ball.

Q. Pete versus Roger on grass here, how would you see that matchup?
ROD LAVER: Oh, boy. In some ways I think I might take Sampras, only because of his serve. He's got a big serve, volleying ability. He's a little more versatile when it comes to the power game.
You know, Roger, he certainly could get the ball at his feet. But to return a big serve like that, not many players are used to a person serving that hard and getting in close to the net and volleying with success. So I think it would be tough. That's a hypothetical thing, I think, of being able to say who's gonna do it. Depends who's in form that day.

Q. Do you think we've gone too far down the line now ever to having more grass court tennis? Is grass court tennis a thing of the past, apart from this month?
ROD LAVER: No, I'd agree that it's difficult to keep grass courts in good shape. Wimbledon is Wimbledon. I mean, that's a different game. This has been here forever and it's not gonna go anywhere. You know, Queen's Club, England certainly has some grass court tournaments. And the only one we have is at Newport, Rhode Island, in the Hall of Champions. There's a grass court event in the U.S. but there's nothing in Australia at all. I would say this is going to be the last event that will have grass.

Q. In terms of versatility that's needed to keep tennis alive in a sense, variety being the spice of life, if grass court tennis disappears, serve and volley disappears, it's going to be a sad day for the sport, isn't it?
ROD LAVER: I totally agree with you. And I hope that Wimbledon never loses the grass. I remember when we were coming up, certain players, they didn't play well on grass, so they hated it. So they would say, Get rid of this grass. Then some of you press people would write a big article, Why don't we get rid of the grass?
That's the thing, sometimes people get something in their heads. But, no, I can't see Wimbledon certainly leaving grass. I think variety in the game of tennis is slow courts, European clay courts. That game is totally different, and you have to cope with different speeds on court.
U.S. is on cement. Most times it's fairly quick cement. Well, the reason why some of the speeds come up is that the ball, when it hits the ground all the time, it's getting smaller and smaller.

Q. When did you receive your invite from the All England Club? Did you come first class?
ROD LAVER: I came over I guess it was business.

Q. Did you come with family or friends? The invite, was it just for you?
ROD LAVER: I have a friend that came with me.

Q. When did you receive the invite?
ROD LAVER: Oh, I've had invites from Tim Phillips for probably the last three years. But unfortunately I haven't been able to make it for a couple of years. But he wanted me to come in '68 for the first Open Wimbledon that I'd won, then '69. So it did turn out that I was able to be here for this year's.

Q. If you were describing Roger Federer to somebody who had never seen him play, how would you describe him?
ROD LAVER: I don't know. That's a tough one. You almost think about table tennis when you start thinking about the way Roger plays with the racquet, you know.
But I think watching Roger, I think the public should just watch his feet, just watch Roger and not the ball, and you'd see how great a player he is to pull off some of the shots. When he's half volleying winners off the baseline, you know, you just marvel at his ability to do that.
And I think that's the one thing a lot of players, a lot of the public don't do, is watch the player, they watch the ball. Keep your eyes on one player and you'll notice how much work they're doing and how they get to a Roddick serve. You'll see it's impossible. It's 136 miles an hour. How am I returning this?
To analyze his game is hard to. But he's got so many spins. He's coordinated and anticipates so well.

Q. Given what Roger has achieved over the last five or six years, are you somewhat surprised he hasn't achieved the Grand Slam of major titles?
ROD LAVER: Well, I certainly thought that Roger would be the odds on to repeat a Grand Slam in the same year. But it hasn't happened. You know, the Australian, the U.S. and Wimbledon was pretty easy for him when you look back at his career, winning three of each one. But Nadal came along and pushed him back.
So, you know, I think he would have won a Grand Slam if Rafa wasn't there.

Q. Is it still achievable now for him?
ROD LAVER: Yeah, I would have thought so. When I look back at the likes of a Rafa Nadal winning the Australian this year, he's already won four French, last year he won Wimbledon. So, you know, it's just one of those things. It all has to line up in a way that you have to be fortunate to play your best tennis at the right time. That's the way it is.

Q. There was a point when Roger sort of hit a rut and he was losing to players he normally had dominated, Nadal aside. As you watched him go through those struggles, did you feel at any point that he was sliding backward or did you chalk it up to the peaks and valleys - having been through a long career yourself - that players will invariably go through?
ROD LAVER: I think you go through those periods. I think a lot of people knew that he was ill down in Australia when he played, and you could see that he wasn't well. You see him with his head down, he's not up there ready with spirit to fight. You know he's down and he's out. Then through the U.S. circuit he was having trouble with his back. He mentioned when he was having trouble with a back, that affects your whole way you play, the way you're thinking about playing. And how do you practice very much when you're not easily going out there and enjoying the practice?
So it becomes a chore, and I think it was at that stage. But he's over that. Having won the French, he's so confident at this moment, for me I think he's certainly favored to win this particular tournament here.
Depends on how much he plays in the U.S. prior to the US Open.

Q. I was wondering how you view the advancements in the equipment in the game since you've retired, the racquets, the strings? Has this been to the detriment of the game or made it more exciting?
ROD LAVER: I guess exciting. It's tough when you look at people serving 20 and 30 aces in a match. I think the one I saw, Lleyton Hewitt playing I think Karlovic down at the French, and he served 52 aces and lost. It can't have been too much fun for the public to watch that, unless that's all you want to see, is aces.
Certainly the size of the racquet has made it easier to play. Now the guys have perfected how they use this particular racquet. That's one of the things, I think it's easy for the public to go out there and pick up a racquet and enjoy it.
But, you know, I think it's good. You see a lot more rallies. When we played, there was serve, volley, and go pick some more balls up and start again, 'cause in those years we didn't have ball-boys very often. You had to get your own.
But that's the way changes happen. I think it's good that you've got a lot of rallies. When you're looking at Andy Murray playing, he's working a player out in his head how to slice, he's putting some topspin, he's slowing it up, he's speeding it up. And you can do that with a composite racquet, where you can't really do it so well with a wooden racquet.

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