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October 10, 2013

Rod Laver


THE MODERATOR:  Questions, please.

Q.  What brings you here this week?
ROD LAVER:  Actually, a couple of things.  The ANZ Bank being a new sponsor here, their program of getting juniors, youngsters out of the on the court.  They've got an active program that they're working on.  Of course, Rolex is also another involvement that I have had for a year or so.  So both of those areas.  And I've never been here, into China.  This is sort of a combination of everything.

Q.  Do you like what you're seeing in men's tennis at the moment?
ROD LAVER:  Yeah, I do.  I enjoy watching it.  But at the same time also enjoy the camaraderie I think that the players have.  The top players seem to get along well together.  Of course, the play is unbelievably good.  They've mastered the art of playing with that composite racquet.  The huge spins.  Of course now everybody's a lot taller, so aces are galore.  You see plenty of aces coming along.
But, you know, the whole game has changed.  When I look at the Australian championships, their gate take is something like 700,000.  That is amazing when you think of where it was 20‑odd years ago.

Q.  I guess playing with the money today would appeal to you.  Would playing in the sport the way it is today appeal to you as much?
ROD LAVER:  Well, of course, I'm sure I'd like to try to be competitive in today's world of players.  But, you know, if you're not 6'2", 6'4", you'd have to do a lot of other things well to combat the bigger man.
But, you know, I found that when I tried to use those composite racquets, the size of them, compared with my little wooden racquet, it was just like night and day.  It was so easy to play with them.
You just don't know how far you could advance.  But I always put a lot of spin on the ball.  I see Nadal, with the spins that he comes up with, and that forehand that he's got.  Of course, he's got a big, strong arm as well.

Q.  As someone who factors into the argument, do you feel like this whole thing with the greatest of all time, is there any legitimate way you can compare yourself to Roger Federer, or can you just look at players from the particular same eras?
ROD LAVER:  I've always said if you're the best in your era, that's as good as you really can do.  You could take it back to is it Fred Perry, is it Don Budge, is it myself that came along.
When I look at Federer, with what he's accomplished, against the competition that he's accomplished it with, I'd have to say I would think that Roger is the greatest player, just because his record, the consistency over a span of six, eight years has been pretty amazing.  I think that sort of tells you something.
And, of course, the fact that he likes the world of tennis, the history of the game.  I think his charitable involvement is great.  Hit for Haiti was one that they did.  When Queensland had all those floods about three years ago, I remember he called up one day and said, What can we do?  That was awfully nice of him.
I said, You did something terrific last year with Hit for Haiti.  Can you do something like that with the players?  He went to Nadal, Roddick, all the players, said, Would you join in and help us play and have a special day?
So, you know, those type of things brings a player like Federer high in the eyes of not just the competition but the public.

Q.  In terms of his tennis, you were saying you think Federer is maybe regarded as the greatest.  Do you think your opinion might change in four or five years' time with what Nadal is doing at the moment?
ROD LAVER:  It is true.  You look at Nadal, the way he's proven himself.  How many Grand Slams has he got going now?

Q.  13.
ROD LAVER:  It's quite amazing that he's done so well.  But he's certainly an unbelievable player.  I watched the US Open this year with Djokovic.  It was just incredible.  It was such a great match.
You look at his game.  Then, of course, you can look at Djokovic two years ago, three years ago when he played so well on the clay back then.  We thought, How is he doing this?  He went on a regimen of training, stretching, diet.  That's what happens.
So, yes.  Well, I think you have to be able to see them at the end of their career.  Federer is not at the end of his career, but he's now finding it difficult to compete week in and week out, where before he had no trouble competing.
I think he's certainly capable of winning maybe the Australian, and of course Wimbledon is something that he's pretty involved with.  I think he likes those two type of games.  Unfortunately, someone like Nadal is always going to knock him off on the clay.

Q.  How hard is it for Roger where he is now?  He's still talking this has just been a moment, he's going to get it all back.  It seems realistic he's never going to be at that level consistently again.  Is that something when you've been a superstar that is tough to admit?
ROD LAVER:  The only thing I can say is sometimes when you get to be in your 30s, 30 to 35, somewhere in there, in my game, I played a match the day before, I played a terrific match, played 100%, as good as I was on a 21‑type thing.  The next day I go out and there's nothing there.
So what is it?  Is it the desire?  Is it your emotion, does it come up?  Is your adrenaline not flowing as well as it normally does in a match?  That's the times I found a problem.  I don't know whether Roger's feeling anything of that nature.  But sometimes I notice him, he just doesn't have it that day.  But the day before he was magnificent.
So it's not a training method, fitness, nothing to do with his body.  So, you know, you just wonder, is it adrenaline that gets you up for matches.

Q.  You talk about Federer.  You talk about Sampras.  They're both regarded as truly great players.  But they didn't do what you did.  Do you think anyone will ever do that again?
ROD LAVER:  You know, it was unique.  I thought that Sampras certainly, but on the clay courts he didn't learn much on the clay, so it's hard to beat some of the players that are there, that have been brought up on clay in Europe.
I even went back as far as Boris Becker and thought, he's a big guy, going to play well on grass.  He should play well in Europe on the clay.  He's a big, tall kid.  He likes the ball up high on hard courts.  What happened there?
So when you look at the players of today, I think it's probably much more difficult because of the competition.  You look at 30 players, 40 players on the tour.  Any of them, pretty much any of them, could win this tournament.  They're just so talented.  They're hungry.  We saw that at Wimbledon this year when you saw Nadal lose and then Federer losing in early rounds.
It's an exciting time when they're on Centre Court, all of a sudden they're playing these players.  Maybe they're a little bit below their par because it's a first round, they're not quite into the tournament itself.  So that happens.

Q.  You won three of your slams on grass.
ROD LAVER:  Right.

Q.  How much difference does that make to the equation?
ROD LAVER:  It makes a huge difference.  That's what there was back then.  I had to learn to play on grass.  I had to learn on play on clay.  There was no cement or hard court.  You played with what you're with.
I mean, today, you have the players playing on all the surfaces.  When you look at grass, maybe some of them don't like playing grass very well.  I know some of the ladies this last year were battling slipping and sliding, and didn't like it.  Maybe because they weren't able to play on the court enough because it was a wet summer.  There wasn't much chance to get out there and play.
But the Grand Slam is something, you've got to have Lady Luck riding on your shoulder to come through because you got no injuries, no sickness, no colds.  Whatever it takes for nine months to go through.  It's something that you have to go with.
And, of course, the other thing is, maybe some of the players you don't like to play are in the bottom half of the draw and don't get out to the semifinals and finals.
You have to play seven matches.  That's the criteria.  Forget about all the other things that are going on.  If you just think about, If he wins, he has to play...  You can't look that way.

Q.  So will it ever be done again?
ROD LAVER:  I would say yes, it would be done again.  I don't own this title.  It was something that I was thrilled to have been able to accomplish it.  I think, yes, it could be done.
When I look at the way Nadal plays on grass, clay and hard courts, especially this year, he's obviously one that can win it.  The only reason why Federer didn't win a Grand Slam was because of Nadal on clay.  Had he been an expert, a specialist, that good...  The both of them came along at a unique time.  They had a great rivalry.
Of course, you know, Nadal to win eight tournaments in a row at the French, it's almost unheard of.

Q.  The argument about the greatest of all time, in your era was it as pronounced?
ROD LAVER:  I don't remember them talking about something like that as much.  Certainly, yes, they brought up the older players, whether it be Budge, when you get into that era, you get into Lew Hoad.  Lew Hoad actually had three legs in and was playing the final of the US Open and got beaten by Rosewall in the final.  I happened to be there on that day.  At age 17, that was my first trip around the world.  I was in the stands at Forest Hills and watched that match.
So, you know, there's plenty of people that have been close.

Q.  You talked about injuries a little bit there, the hard court surfaces being so prevalent now.  Given what happened with Nadal last year, with his knees, did you find that injuries were such a big issue when you were playing as they are now?  Is this something that the tour should be looking at with regards to the length of the season, the number of hard court tournaments?
ROD LAVER:  You just mentioned, I played most of my tennis on grass.  Yes, you can slip and slide, groin injuries, that type of thing.  But you're not going to get sprained ankles on the grass.  It would be unique to have that happen.  Whereas today's players, you see Djokovic, I watched Djokovic, he didn't sprain it totally, but tweaked it anyway.  It made it uncomfortable for him when he was playing.
You've got such good footing out there, you can really push yourself to the limit.  There's no stopping you from getting to any ball.  Of course, you look at Nadal, and he pretty much does that.
But Djokovic has got that art of sliding on cement.  Scares the hell out of me.  I would think you could sprain an ankle very quick.  But he must have that art of sliding where he gets that inside foot, keeps it up so he doesn't have to roll over it.
But, you know, you're going to have injuries like that where we didn't have that type of thing coming up.

Q.  Because of the strength of the game, racquets, equipment, they now get wrist injuries and shoulder injuries, back injuries.  Were they as prevalent in your day?
ROD LAVER:  Yeah, everybody had some tennis elbows, that type of thing.  Back injuries, I certainly had my share of back injuries.  That's sort of an occupational hazard.  Being a left‑hander, I had a big left side, but nothing on the right.  Sometimes I'd just be brushing my teeth and fall in the sink because of just spasms.  So that happens.  That will put you out of the game for a few days.
I never had to default matches.  I think probably once I sprained an ankle, I just couldn't go any longer.  I remember.  But there was hardly any times when I couldn't play in matches or finish a match, that type of thing.
But injuries, as I said, the biggest problem with injuries now is the way they play.  It's so amazingly tough.  They're all playing from the baseline most of the time.  You know, your shoulders and wrists, they've got to take a beating.  You only have to miss‑hit a ball a few times before something starts to give.  That's how tennis elbows happen.  It's when you're coming in, maybe you're a little bit cold, you catch it on the wood, you're committing, something's got to give.  That happens.

Q.  As the greatest Australian player, how do you feel about how things are going in Australia?
ROD LAVER:  Tomic I think still has a chance.  I don't know what his age is now.

Q.  20.
ROD LAVER:  So he's a baby in a way.  Of course, he was good at 17.  Maybe he needs maturity.  Maybe something wasn't on his side as a youngster.  You know, a lot of times you're thinking too much of what your ability is.  Sometimes you don't try to bring all that out by practicing and working hard.  I think he likes the game now a little bit more than maybe he did a couple years back.
I saw him play at Wimbledon this year.  I thought he played some great tennis matches there.  He beat Gasquet.  Did he beat Gasquet or not?

Q.  A couple good wins there.
ROD LAVER:  Yeah.  It was amazing how he upset Gasquet.  You would think, How can you just upset Gasquet?  He had Gasquet.  He would hit two or three aces.  It was just things that he did.  Dropshot when he obviously shouldn't have.  Gasquet, he was befuddled.

Q.  Do you get a bit concerned with all the other stuff that goes on around him?
ROD LAVER:  Well, I do.  I don't know too much about it all other than the fact that his dad is a problem when it comes to, you know, things that are going on.
Is he the coach coach or is he the personwho makes the decisions?  Does he make all the decisions for Tomic, who he can play and when he can play?

Q.  Yes.
ROD LAVER:  That creates a problem.  If he can't be himself on the court, you've got to learn to win within yourself.  You can't go looking at the trainer or the coach and say, Well, what did I do wrong then?  You've got to work out what you did wrong before it happens and be ready for it.
So, yeah, I think Tomic is certainly a potential there.
I don't know the youngsters that are coming up, who's really potentially capable of rising to the top.

Q.  Rafa is a lefty.  Do you think it's one of his advantages in front of the other big guys?
ROD LAVER:  Well, you know, in some ways I think left‑handers have an advantage.  There's different ways to look at it.  Lefties generally seem to have more spin ability than a right‑hander.  Normally left‑handers have more spin.  They serve, they have a little bit more active activity on the ball.  So those things I think help.
And the other side of it is when you're playing and you're down 30‑40 on serve, where does your best serve go?  It can go way out wide, most times with a right‑hander, to their weakest side.  You have little advantages like that.
If you've got an ad‑in, if you've got the ad, those sort of things also apply.  You're taking your best shot on the court all the time.  I think those type of things do actually help with being a lefty.
It's no real answer, but I think that's probably a potential way lefties seem to work.  I think McEnroe always had that ability.  You're saving a match point on the ad court, which is your first best shot.

Q.  With Davis Cup, there's always this talk lately about, Let's fix it, put it into one week.  As somebody who played it in its purity, do you see where it needs to be changed?
ROD LAVER:  Yeah, no, I think changes need to happen to keep it at a high level.  When I played Davis Cup in Australia, if you were the champion nation, you just waited for a challenger to come up to play you.  They had to come to your place.  That was a lot easier on the players.  We lost it once and we had to go out in 1959 and play Mexico, we played Canada, all the places it's tough to play and win matches.
But, yeah, we did it.  But, I mean, I think the Davis Cup probably should be involved somehow in a short span of time.  I know that the purists probably think, no, they don't want to touch it.  But to keep the players involved in a slot that is for Davis Cup, I think it would be best if they can get to some agreement on how the matches could be, if it was 10 days, maybe there's two times in the year set aside just for Davis Cup.
Of course, the thing where everybody's going through is the small countries, it's money in the bank for them.  When the U.S. goes down and plays Bolivia, Uruguay, wherever it is, those type of things, it's their dollars for the whole year.  So the Davis Cup is important to the smaller countries.

Q.  You were saying earlier that you felt to succeed today you need to be 6'2", 6'4".  If you were playing today, if you had all the advantages of training techniques, nutrition, et cetera, how do you think you would get on today?
ROD LAVER:  I would think it would be tough for me.  My mechanics would have to be totally changed from a serve‑volleying person to just a baseliner.  Would I be capable of hitting the ball over the net 20 and 30 times and having it deep and having it accurate all the time?  I don't think that would be in me.  I never tried to do that in my career.  I figured if I got it over the net five times, I'm doing good, I'm going to the net (laughter).
But a lot of that came from the grass.  When you got pretty raw grass out there, you know, you can't let the ball bounce too many times because you know it's going to run along the ground, so you've got to get to the net, you've got to half volley it.

Q.  From your era to the present era, if you were to sort of take a look at the power of sport in changing the world, how different would it be, the power of sport to change the world?
ROD LAVER:  I like the combination.  I think the tennis is 100%.  I mean, I see there's no thing wrong with it.  Some years back they had access to the aces that were going on because they sped up the courts at the US Open and they tried to speed it up I think at the Australian.  They thought aces, that's why people primarily went, to see all these aces.
They've gone away from that.  They've gone back down.  Yes, there's still aces there.  But I think the game is, you know, terrific to watch.  For me, I like it 'cause there's volleying, there's the groundstroke ability, there's long rallies.  I think the public prefer and enjoy the long rallies.

Q.  I reckon at the French Open the ball must have gone over the net a few more times than five times.
ROD LAVER:  I learnt to play a little bit better on the clay (smiling).
I was over in Europe when I was young, probably 19, 20.  I just said, Book me into all the tournaments.  I've got to learn how to play on this stuff.  I want to go not in the cheap little places where you can get an easy win, I want to be where all the best players were and I want to be in there all the time.
Finally it caught on.  It's a strange thing to catch on because you're not trying to play a whole lot better; it's just when you play better.  The least number of mistakes you make was important.  But dropshots become good, topspin lobs become good.  When you're way out of position, don't try to hit a winner.
Today's world on the clay courts, you see them back about 20 feet back behind the baseline cracking winners, which of course you can't do with a wooden racquet.  But you had to learn and time the ball better.

THE MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.
ROD LAVER:  Thank you for coming by.  It's been fun.

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