Happy memories as Laver prepares to come back


Rod Laver is on his way back to Australia. The greatest legend of the sport, winner of 11 majors and two grand Slams (in 1962 and 1969) is looking forward to catching up with old friends in Brisbane and Melbourne. “I’m looking forward to getting out and seeing all my tennis friends,” Laver says from his home in Carlsbad, San Diego.
“Newcombe, Roche, Sedgman, Rosewall … it’s a reunion for us all.”

In this year of celebrations - 30 years at Melbourne Park and 50 years of Open tennis – the modest, pioneering left-hander from Rockhampton admits that he doesn’t have too many memories of the Australian Open’s evolution from the grass courts at Kooyong (and before that, around the country) to the green, and later blue hard courts at Flinders Park, later named Melbourne Park.

“I didn’t get back to Melbourne Park 25 and 30 years ago,” Laver says.  “I was looking after my wife. But the time I handed Roger [Federer] the trophy the first time, he broke down and wasn’t able to finish his sentences. A lot of people know about that.”

That was 2006, marking the second of Roger’s five triumphs at Melbourne Park. Of his own victories, Laver cites his 1969 campaign in Brisbane playing countryman Tony Roche in the semifinals. “There were no tiebreakers. The fourth set was 22-24. That’s four sets right there and it was a five-set match,” remembers Laver. “That was a long match, we played for four hours. Tony was a lefthander, I was a lefthander, it was a different world out there on the court.”

Indeed, the match was played in 40-degree heat and both players reportedly put wet cabbages on their hats to help keep them cool. The men’s singles title was eventually won by Laver – the first step towards his second Grand Slam – beating Spain’s Andres Gimeno in the final. Laver also won the doubles that year with Roy Emerson, a man he competed against repeatedly for a 22-3 win-loss record.

“Roy Emerson and I played four times in Australia. Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and that was when mainly Roy, Neale Fraser and myself, we made up the amateur world.”

Of the young guns coming through today, Laver is predicting big things of Canadian Denis Shapovalov. “In about two or three years, he will be so close to the top and will have won some of the bigger tournaments,” Laver says. “He plays confidently all the time, he’s grit and determination. I see him being great.”
Whether watching from his armchair on the West Coast of the US, being seated in VIP boxes at Grand Slam tournaments around the globe, or being feted at the exciting new teams event in Prague – the Laver Cup – 2017 was simply amazing for the 80-year-old Laver.

“2018 could be a changing of the guard. It depends on how fit Djokovic and Murray are and whether Rafa and Roger can still stay and play the same as they have done. Roger at 36, he’s still playing as well as he did when he was 21. The racquet has helped them, the speed and control they get on the ball. It’s really all a mental situation these days.”​