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AUSTRALIAN OPEN


January 25, 2012


Rod Laver


MELBOURNE, VICTORIA

THE MODERATOR:  Morning, everyone.  It's a great privilege I get to introduce Rod Laver, who is returning now to Melbourne.  50 years since his first Grand Slam in 1962.
Again, it's a complete privilege for not only us in Australia, all those in sport, but around the world to have you here.  Welcome.
I would like to start out with one question and then hand it over to everyone.
What's it like to be back?
ROD LAVER:  It's a huge honor to be back.  To be back for this anniversary of 1962, a flooding of memories coming back, some of the matches that were played, being able to just absorb some of it, enjoy it.
I thank you for recognizing it, because it's a great thing for me.  That's really the main thing, just being back here and seeing the name on this unbelievable stadium.  It's a great honor to be here.  I think it's the crowning jewel of my whole career is seeing the stadium lit up.
THE MODERATOR:  We'll open it up to questions.

Q.  (No microphone.)
ROD LAVER:  Sometimes you think, Boy, 50 years is a long time ago.  As I just mentioned, the flooding of memories coming back, especially when I meet Roy Emerson on the plane.  I played him in three of the four finals.  Those things immediately come back.
Of course, he reminds me of some of the things that happened in that match.  Yes, it's right there in front of you.  I never put a time on it, but 50 years is certainly a long time back.
I was just honored to be able to pull it off.  You don't start off trying to win the Grand Slam.  You're just very happy to play the matches, tournaments.  The thrill of going to the French Championships, Wimbledon, US Open.
Fortunately, the years prior to that, I had either won Wimbledon or got to the finals.  My ability, I felt it was possible to win tournaments, but not a Grand Slam, so...

Q.  When you were playing, was there the same sort of gap there is today before the four top players and the rest of them or not?
ROD LAVER:  Which players?

Q.  Today you have Nadal, Federer, Murray, and Djokovic who are the top four.  There is a big gap between them and the others.  When you were playing, were there four guys who were standing out as much or not?
ROD LAVER:  You know, it wasn't as noticeable with the four players.  It was amateur tennis back in those years, so they weren't only Australian.  There was a Neale Fraser, Roy Emerson.  The Hoads, Rosewalls had turned professional.
When you go to Europe, you have Santana, Pietrangeli.  There were a lot of good players out there, but I don't know that we could hit upon saying, There were four.  There were probably eight or ten talented players that won tournaments in the past.
My thought is, yes, there were players there.  Again, when you're playing amateur tennis, just playing in the tournaments, you don't have the criteria of who wants to win it.  It's amateur tennis.  No one was really high on, I've got to win this tournament for my career.  There was no career, because you're playing amateur tennis.  There's no money in it.
The whole cycle has changed for the good.  Tennis is just unbelievable.  What I saw last night, being able to see the winner is going to walk away with $2 million, is great for the sport.

Q.  Roger Federer has been so inspired by your career.  Do you think he can win here again this year?
ROD LAVER:  Again, we're talking about the four players.  But he's still in the tournament.  Of course, he's got a tough round with Roger coming up.  But on the other side of the draw...
It looks like his tennis, he looks to be playing confidently.  That's an important thing for Roger.  If his confidence is there, all of a sudden his first serve works.  He's maybe just that little notch quicker doing all the shots.
But it's hard to pick a winner at this moment.

Q.  Have you had a chance to chat to Federer since you arrived in town?
ROD LAVER:  No, I haven't.  I haven't had a chance.  Hopefully I'll get a chance in the next couple days to be able to say hello and enjoy his company.

Q.  What do you prefer, the slam of '62 or the one of '69?
ROD LAVER:  It's an interesting one.  The first time to have done anything like that.  The toughest one is probably 1962.  When I look back at '69, it was tough, too, but everybody was playing.  Hoad, Rosewall, Gonzales were now all open to play at Wimbledon and all the Grand Slams.
I would say the toughest was probably the first, but the most satisfying was probably the second because I had all the players in the world were open and playing.  Good fortunes have to be riding high on your shoulder.  Not only do you have to play your best tennis at four different times, but you have to have no sicknesses, illnesses, injuries that come along.  That's the one thing that I was fortunate, that nothing happened from that side.
I think when Nadal was down here a couple years ago, he had three legs in, going for the fourth.  Whether it was sickness or whether he had injuries, he got knocked out and wasn't able to do it.  Those sort of things happen all the time.

Q.  Let's say we give the racquet you played with in '62 to Nadal or Federer.  Whose game would suffer more?
ROD LAVER:  Probably Nadal's, only because he puts that heavy spin.  Of course, you've only got a racquet that is six inches wide or seven inches wide.  You're not going to get the whip that he plays.
But I think given Nadal learning the game with the wooden racquet, he'd have his own style.
Roger has I think more anticipation and timing the ball better.  That's the difference with those two, is that Roger has maybe more anticipation and smooth stroking, whereas Nadal, it was just hitting heavy spins, coming out with that heavy spin that comes off the forehand, gets up so high, which is another tactical ploy of Nadal.
The ball is coming up shoulder high.  Unless you're 6'5", it's hard to hit that shot back up there.  That wasn't the case.  We played on grass most of our tennis, except for Europe.  Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne, it was all on a grass courts.  Then, of course, the grass court circuit in England.  Then, of course, the grass court circuit in the U.S.  It was a totally sort of world if how we played.
It was a serve‑and‑volley game back in those years because not too many of the grass courts you would say were up to par with Wimbledon.¬† You let the ball bounce, and it may not bounce.¬† That's where the serve‑and‑volley routine came into play.

Q.¬† What do you think of Hawk‑Eye?¬† Do you wish you had that at your time?
ROD LAVER:¬† Hawk‑Eye?¬† No.¬† There were suspect umpires at times.¬† Actually, there were always sort of some fun stories.¬† Wimbledon, you had to be a certain age before you could get into Wimbledon to be a linesman.¬† At the same time you look back and the linesman is asleep.
Again, it was amateur tennis.  That was just a thrill for everybody to be part of Wimbledon and be able to be there.  Now it's a totally different world.

Q.  You mentioned Federer before.  You named him the best of the modern era.  Can you elaborate on that a little bit, why you put him ahead of the rest?
ROD LAVER:  I don't know exactly.  There's always talent.  I saw him win so many, like Wimbledon, then comes down here, plays his best tennis in the big tournaments.  I think that's important.
Not that there's much of a gap with all the players, but you have to name somebody.  The Herald Sun wanted me to name somebody.  They said, Give me your best 10 ever.  I had to go from the past and the present.  I think that was the only way.
Of course, when Roger's name came out in the present, he and Nadal, Djokovic, have certainly proved they're vying for first place.
By the time they get to where Roger is ‑ what, is Roger 30 ‑ so five or six years from now that same thing will be applied with the likes of Djokovic and Nadal, some of the other players that are coming up.

Q.  You mentioned some of the differences between the amateur days and the professional days.  What do you think of the players' current efforts right now to get a greater voice and address some of the problems with the tour, share of Grand Slam prize money, the length of the schedule?
ROD LAVER:  Well, you're probably talking to the wrong person saying, Is the prize money enough?
I think the scheduling is more of a situation that the players are worrying about because of the amount of tennis they have to play in each tournament, the talent that's there.  There's not an easy match on the circuit.  The first round could have been a final last week.  You've got to play your best tennis from the word 'go.'
Back in my era, there were players that you would think would win the tournament.  You had an easier one or two rounds.  Today the schedule is so rigorous that you've got to be able to play all the time because of the points systems.  It seems like the way it's being done now, you've got a lot of the points, you drop one off, whatever happens with Nadal this week, you know, he takes over, cuts off last year's.
There's always things you can look at.  I think there's always things we looked at.  We were looking at tournaments, because I came along when Open tennis came in 1968, the tournaments would start up.  Lamar Hunt was very big in football in the U.S., then soccer.  He wanted to do something with tennis.  He said, Hey, I got $1 million.  I want to get a promoter.  You could play 50 tournaments, $20,000 in total purse.  Find the tournaments, find your best 32 players that you can sign up.  I mean, that's how it was happening as Open tennis was unfolding.
It's a different world.  To play for $10,000 in those WCT matches, that was big money in our world because we just left Open tennis, and I turned professional.  There was nothing like that sort of money out there.

Q.  In regard to Australian tennis, obviously Lleyton is on the end of his career.  Bernard is hopefully starting.  What are your thoughts on both of them and Australian tennis in general?
ROD LAVER:  Of course, Lleyton has been a great credit to Australian tennis.  He's a fighter.  The Australian public, they like a full effort when they're watching a match.  I think Lleyton pulled off some unbelievable matches in his career, even the other night when he took a set off Djokovic.  No one was thinking that that was possible.
But at 30 or 31, he's had a great career.  He had to do it with his legs.  I think after a while it's tough.  But he's not a tall man, so he has to work from the baseline.
Bernard Tomic certainly has the potential, I believe.  It's mental makeup.  If he's prepared to put the effort in, learn more about the game, practice and practice and practice, all of a sudden something clicks.  That puts him in another level.
Also lucky wins.¬† Doesn't matter how you win, sometimes you improve overnight a lot of people say.¬† But that's where it happens.¬† You win a third‑round match that maybe you shouldn't have won, maybe he has a shoulder injury.¬† Doesn't matter how you won.¬† I watched Wimbledon, saw him play some great matches there.

Q.  On a lighter note, it's your arena, you can do what you want with it.  I know you were there last night.  What are your thoughts on the birds?  What needs to be done with them inside?
ROD LAVER:  I don't know.  Like my son said, We need a couple of ravens up there just to scare them off.

Q.  They're talking about a couple of eagles.  Is that what they need in there?
ROD LAVER:  Maybe.  Maybe just fake ones, I don't know.
I imagine it's happened with our matches in years past where distractions came along.  It's just like at Forest Hills, there was a train that ran right beside the courts.  It makes a helluva noise.  If you're on an outside court, you almost have to stop.
That's a distraction as well.  So just put up with it.  Your concentration has to be better than the birds floating around up there.

Q.  Equal Rights Campaign is going to be flying rainbow flags on Friday at Melbourne Park.  Do you think the Australian Open is a place for politics or to send a message like that?
ROD LAVER:  It's hard to know how to construct something like that.  But, I mean, to each their own.  Lifestyles, whatever comes up happens.
I would say it's difficult to not have something like that that is current with politics around the world.  That's all I could really say about it.

Q.  Back in '62, what memories do you have of your victory at the French in Paris?
ROD LAVER:  Yeah, I have fond memories.  For years I played there and got to the semis.  Didn't quite get through.
But I guess playing in the quarterfinals I had match points against me, against Marty Mulligan, an Australian, that lived in Europe, in Italy, so I had trouble with him when we were playing in the quarterfinals.
I guess I didn't have an easy match with Roy Emerson either.¬† He led two sets to one, 4‑1.¬† So, you know, it wasn't an easy final for me to play.
If you keep trying, working hard, you never know what will come of it.

Q.  Was it relief?  What did you feel at that time when you won it?
ROD LAVER:  Well, yeah, it's a thrill to have won it because that's a lot of problems Australians had, was understanding how to play on clay courts.  Here we certainly have clay courts.  But generally it's that sandy loam soil.  Up in Queensland, we use ant bed courts.
But Europe was totally different.  It was like a brick dust and you had to slide to the ball.  Depending on whether they were too wet or too dry, you had to learn how to play on it.
When I came away first in 1956, then in 1958 when I went back the second time to Europe, I liked to play in all the clay court tournaments.  Just put me in every one of them with all the best players, let me see how I can learn how to play on this clay.  That probably put me in good stead for '62 and '69, being able to pull off a win.

Q.¬† What are you going to be doing over the next few days to celebrate the 50‑year anniversary?¬† I believe there's special memorabilia, as well.
ROD LAVER:  Somewhere there's a cap here.  We have things going on.  I think there's a photo and memorabilia piece.  I think I'm giving one that is going to be auctioned off here to the LTA.  Hopefully I think there's maybe three or four others that will be available to purchase.  That's one of the areas.
Of course, the main thing is that I'm here to be a part of it.  That's how they've accomplished this.  I think there's going to be some things that will happen just prior to the final on Sunday.  I'm looking forward to seeing some of my opponents and friends while I'm here the next three or four days.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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