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January 14, 2001

Rod Laver


Q. What is it like to be back?

ROD LAVER: It is a great thrill to be once again back in Australia, especially Melbourne, and to see this facility. It is quite incredible what has happened tennis down here in Melbourne. I remember Kooyong, I guess, I thought that was a pretty nice stadium. All of a sudden I come here and see the facility here that has been put together the last ten years. It is quite incredible. It is great for the young players that are out competing. It is nice to be back and be able to see it all.

Q. You had a career that went for something like 23 years. You were still playing at the top level at age 38. Now we have a fellow like Pat Rafter contemplating retirement at age 28. What has changed, do you think?

ROD LAVER: Well, I think certainly competition is stiffer now and I think -- probably a lot of things that mount up to players not playing as long as I did. Neil Fraser and Frank Sedgman, a lot of players, you know, we played, the amateur world was, you know, for me mainly on grass courts; some clay courts in Europe. But you go through a long span. You don't really have too much taken out of yourself. Today's players, they start off on hard courts, or the indoor courts are hard, hard on your body, and play is, I wouldn't say twice as fast, but I mean, it is just so quick out there to catch up with the ball that is very high, you know, over your shoulders when someone's serving kick serves, the ball is up so high - there's just a lot more taxing; a lot more needs for ability to play and like Patrick, you know, it is wear and tear on Patrick. I guess his shoulder is giving him some trouble even though right now he feels that I think his shoulder is okay. But maybe I think in the back of his mind that it is going to breakdown and does he want that to leave when he is not playing well and he has to quit. But I was surprised that he was contemplating potential -- maybe he will just shorten his circuit a little bit more rather than give up. I was disappointed when someone like Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg quit at age 28, 30, which you are unfortunately you are losing big players to the world of tennis. They are your draw cards and they are retiring, so you -- not that you build it, you as the press certainly give us the press, but the people that come along and like to see a Boris Becker, maybe Edberg play in the final here, all of a sudden they are retired next year. So it is disappointing that careers are shorter than certainly mine was. I was fortunate enough to have, you know, not too many injuries that stopped myself from playing. But I had the amateur world; then I turned professional, then I was -- Open tennis brought me back in so I had had three careers in a way, in my mind. So the interest and the desire came back to me two or three times trying to win a Wimbledon and then coming from the pro world because of the financial side of it I had to do something about my future so I turned professional. But then given the chance of Open tennis to go back to the various Grand Slams again, it was like three careers.

Q. How much have you had a chance to see Lleyton Hewitt playing in real competition. Where did you think he is now and is he a real prospect to possibly win here this fortnight?

ROD LAVER: Well, Lleyton certainly has got a lot of talent. I think his heart is his biggest attribute to making things happen on a court. He is certainly very steady and the one thing that I am marvel at is just the way he is able to get to the ball with so much time, which allows him then to have his options open to him whether he wants to go down the line or cross court, so he has got time. So he has got consistency which a lot of players don't have that consistency as groundstrokes, but yeah, I think he has got good opportunities. But as soon as you say that, something happens. But everybody is very closely linked together when you look at the final in Sydney. Sometimes it could be a first round at another tournament, so you never know just how close you are to losing but at the same time you can win the tournament.

Q. You talked about players retiring, but today we have got the news that Jelena Dokic will leave Australia. Is that a sad day for Australian tennis and what she would have brought to Australian tennis?

ROD LAVER: Yeah, well, I think it is sad for her. I think certainly tennis in Australia, you know, I think the various associations and the junior programs, you start off at just batting balls around, then all of a sudden you start improving and you feel, yeah, she is an Australian, you know, prodigy, but that is up to the Dokic family. Really not to close to it to know all the ins and outs of the problems that have occurred. She is certainly a talent, a lady to compete. But just whether she can leave everything and can play tennis on the court is certainly -- it is up to the family to make that happen.

Q. Do you think there is any substance to her claims that she feels betrayed by Australia particularly with the random computer draw that has seen her pitted against Lindsay Davenport in the opening rounds?

ROD LAVER: No, to me, the draw is the fairest thing I have seen on any of the Tours, just being able to feel like they are being shunned or taken advantage of is -- to me that seems to be ridiculous. I think everybody knows and I think you people would be the first to say it before Dokic would say it if you could find that there is a problem with the draw, unfair draws, I think the press would pick it up quicker than anybody else. I think it goes to show that I think it is very, very fair. The men don't seem to have any problem with it and I don't think too many of the ladies have a problem with it. I have had some pretty bad draws myself. I played Rosewall first round and I think well, hey, that is not fair, but you don't - (Laughs) - just come out -- yeah, too aggressive on it. You play. That is the way the ball bounces.

Q. When you watch tennis these days, does it still seem very much like the same game you played or have there been dramatic differences either in power or tactics?

ROD LAVER: No, well, certainly there is a lot of, you know, totally changed from when we played certainly while we were with wooden rackets to begin with, so you are talking about the speed of groundstrokes, serves, but in some ways I think the tennis is maybe not as attractive in some ways as we did years ago because there was more variety in the strokes and the rallies that we played. Seems like the drop shot became a very important, it was -- because you just couldn't do so much with the racket, today, you know, you see them hitting a backhand smash, they are hitting it into the -- over the fence. I think how can you do that. But I mean, that is the things that you look at, the racket technology has gone so far that it's allowed these things to happen. The racket is certainly a lot bigger, and, you know, it is more aggressive to allow, okay, say -- let's the public play with this particular racket, but all of a sudden they can start saying, well, hey, I am a player, I can play this game now. Used to be when you had a little tiny wooden racket it would it come back and hit you in the eye. You'd say, well, I don't like this game. So the racket technology has improved, the social play around the world, but these -- so the tennis we are watching I marvel at their ability but you do have to look at all the improvements that have been made to the game. I get the feeling that the courts are quicker, maybe the ball is quicker. I remember playing, oh, back here I guess on the grass courts or maybe they were a little bit damp, but down up on -- the Slazenger balls seemed like they were a lot heavier than they are right now. You had to time the ball better off a wooden racket to get the speed up. But they don't have to do that now. They certainly time it, but you don't have to -- you can just swing a little harder and the ball is going to pick up speed.

Q. Two and a half years ago obviously you had an unhappy incident. How amazing is it for you to be to be able be out there today playing as well as you were?

ROD LAVER: Well, I don't know how I played when I was out there. I will have to watch the television to check. But no, I feel very fortunate that I have come back as far as I have. I feel that I look back at the time when it happened and I think I must have got two or three thousand letters from Australia and good wishes. I think that all helps, and I feel very fortunate. Sometimes I start choking up because it is something that you bring a lot of the things back to where it was, but I have come away. I have come a good distance and I think that tennis is certainly one of the things that I feel that has brought my recovery back and I just thought when I did get out of the hospital that I could be, you know, if I could just only get on the court and try and start moving a little bit, I could get myself back again and I think, you know, when it happened, I did feel that soon after a while, as soon as my right foot would start moving and you know a lot of people said you probably won't be able to move very well. Finally it started to move. I take it right back to tennis as the thing that I got the recovery from.

Q. Last year Sampras finally over took Emerson's record. Now you have won 11 Grand Slams. Have you ever speculated on what you could have done in terms of numbers if you hadn't missed those six years in the pros?

ROD LAVER: No, I don't dwell on any of that. I just was very fortunate to compete when I did and I look at Mr. Fraser over there, and he was my first or second -- third time at Wimbledon -- second time at Wimbledon I got beat up by Mr. Fraser, so it is what you make of the career that you are playing. If you just trophy-hunting or whatever, it might be -- then maybe you could start to go back and try and analyze your career, but I was very fortunate to play some of my best tennis at the right time. But it is something that I don't dwell on. I am very, very happy that Pete is the record holder. I think Roy feels the same way. It is good for tennis that Pete has been as long in the game as he has put out playing great tennis. You don't see him play just average matches. He is always playing at his peak.

Q. When you played Ken Rosewall first round, do you remember what year that was?

ROD LAVER: Oh, when I played -- I know it was in Washington DC. It was when we had a new system that was put into play, I think with the WCT, so that everyone started off level. No points. And I played the first two tournaments and I think I lost first round both times. So I came in just very unseeded and Ken did enough where he got seeded and -- but that is the way the ball bounces. You try to change enough so that -- tennis is a form sport anyway meaning that the best players given five sets will a lot of times come through and win that match they play but if you have got matches that at varying times, if you are playing Rosewall first or second round, I mean, anything can happen. So I think that those sort of things are -- that they happen. I know that the ATP are trying to accomplish something of that nature this year that everybody starts off -- well, it happened last year -- starts off even and you don't keep adding on points or dropping points off. I think that is good for the game.

Q. Do you remember the year in Washington?

ROD LAVER: I would be guessing, probably 1970. I am not dwelling on it but just thinking on it.

Q. Do you see any of the younger players like Safin dominating the game like Sampras has done over the last seven or eight years?

ROD LAVER: I really don't. There is so many good players out there and I look at Lleyton Hewitt who has just come on in the last two, three years. And he came on at age 17. He is all of 19 now. So there are many young kids coming along, Safin winning the US Open. It is incredible to think that, you know, three weeks, four weeks earlier he couldn't beat anybody. He was having a terrible time. But you hit a spirt and you play some great tennis. You get confident. That is -- that can happen with probably 60 or 70 players here in this tournament that if they catch fire and you are not talking about the steadies, the Samprases and Agassis and Todd Martin. Just so many young players out there that can rise up and play their best tennis. I have always thought a lot of times that now you improve overnight, sometimes you play a match the day before and you have a struggle with it and you finally win that match and you come out the next day and all of a sudden you are a different person and you are playing great. You are confident hitting the ball in the middle of the strings. That is what I think happens with all the upsets that you see. Because I think Guga, Kuerten is like he played at Lisbon, he played just some great great tennis. Playing eight players in that tournament, you are thinking, do I have a chance to win against all these players when he looks at that draw, but here he comes, he is the champion.

End of FastScripts...

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