MELBOURNE, Australia — In the course of the Nineteen Sixties, before tennis entered the trendy era, Rod Laver and the opposite top tennis players on this planet needed to barnstorm the globe attempting to find paychecks, playing tennis matches all over the place from La Paz to Nairobi, like jazz musicians bouncing from gig to gig.
Envious of the riches that the golf stars Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were accumulating, Laver wrote to their agent, Mark McCormack, the founding father of the sports and entertainment conglomerate IMG, and asked for help.
“He didn’t think that tennis was large enough back in those years. He said he couldn’t do anything for me,” Laver said Friday afternoon. “I wrote back again two or three years later. He finally said ‘yes.’”
By then, tennis was starting its evolution from a largely amateur pursuit during which professionals couldn’t play the most important tournaments into the luxurious international spectacle it’s today, with its biggest stars making tens of thousands and thousands of dollars a 12 months.
A half-century ago, there was no greater star than Laver, who won 11 Grand Slam singles titles and who stays the last man to win the 4 biggest tournaments in the game in a single calendar 12 months.
The 2023 Australian Open
The 12 months’s first Grand Slam event runs from Jan. 16 to Jan. 29 in Melbourne.
Now 84 and living in California, Laver stays a king of the game, a slight, diminutive redhead-gone-gray with a magical left arm.
He spoke with The Recent York Times on Friday afternoon at a restaurant in the sector that bears his name in Melbourne Park.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You played in plenty of places that bear little resemblance to an immaculate facility like Rod Laver Arena. Do you concentrate on that, playing in La Paz, Bolivia, at 12,000 feet in a glorified gymnasium, as you watch the players compete on this grand stadium named for you?
Well, in La Paz, you’re so high and we were using regular balls. I used to be fiddling with Fred Stolle and Butch Buchholz and Roy Emerson, and we decided we needed to puncture the balls because they were flying all over. We put slightly hole in them so we were playing flat-ball tennis. At the least the individuals who got here then didn’t think we were animals.
I used to be in Nairobi once, and it was raining rather a lot, and someone got the thought to pour gas on the court and light-weight it on fire to dry it out. There was black smoke all over the place. We probably weren’t extremely popular.
How do you compare the best level of the game once you were playing to the best level today?
It’s a very different world. I feel our tennis was excellent. But we were fiddling with small picket rackets. Today’s players have a bigger-headed racket. They’re taller guys. They’re great athletes.
Would you will have liked to have competed with the trendy technology?
It will be nice. I did enjoy fiddling with the Dunlop racket. I feel I played some rattling good tennis with that racket.
In the event you had the trendy racket, are you able to imagine how you would possibly have played Novak Djokovic?
I feel I might need hurt anyone. My left arm is like twice the dimensions. I’ll not give you the chance to get the ball within the court, but I can get plenty of speed up. I’d must spin the ball to bring it down.
Do you see any a part of yourself in Djokovic in the best way he approaches and dominates the game?
No. Two different games. I used what I learned from my coach back after I was 14. He said, “You lefties have the worst chip backhands; you’ll never win Wimbledon. You’ve got to learn to hit a topspin backhand.” I used to be hitting into the low-cost seats for quite a while. Finally, I got slightly more control, and little by little I discovered that that was my best shot.
So do you’re thinking that you could possibly compete with today’s best?
I feel I might be competitive, but today’s players, they’re different. All the things is different. Emerson and I can be playing doubles on clay together, and we might come into the dressing room and kick our shoes off and just walk into the shower. There was red dirt throughout you, and that was how we might wash out clothes. We’d then hang them up, and they might be dry for us to play in the following day. Whenever you were flying in those days, sometimes you could possibly only have 20 kilos of garments on the plane with you, and I’m on the road all 12 months.
You ended up playing until you were fairly old for a tennis player back then.
My last match I used to be 38. In a single tournament after I was getting on I had gotten to the last eight, and I needed to play Bjorn Borg. I remember telling him, because we were good friends, I said, “You’re going to beat me, but you’re going to know that you just played me.”
What was the important thing to with the ability to play at such a high level until you were nearly 40?
It’s your attitude and likewise the best way you play. Did you wear out your body? I didn’t ever have problems. You usually have some kind of trouble together with your shoulders, your ankles. But in case you take care of yourself, you’ll be able to. We also didn’t have as many great, great players. We had a couple of. If we got to the semis or a final, you’d play them.
The best way the sport is now, there are such a lot of of them. All of the Europeans who’re competing, we didn’t have nearly as many after we played.