For Rod Laver, it’s go big or go home

Rod Laver won 11 Grand Slam singles titles. (Reuters pic)

NEW YORK: Ask Rod Laver how the sport of tennis has changed since he won his last US Open title in 1969 and the tennis legend does not hesitate: the players today are big – really big.

“Yes, the tennis racquets – (there’s a) different technology there,” Laver, 80, said on Tuesday. “But how the big, tall guys came into play – I’m not sure where that came from.”

Laver, an 11-time Grand Slam singles champion, played the sport at the dawn of the professional era 50 years ago, a change that he calls “the best thing that ever happened to tennis.”

Today, he says increased athleticism and height have altered the game.

Laver was five feet eight inches tall (1.73 metres), far smaller than the majority of players on the men’s tour today.

Argentinian Juan Martín del Potro, who towers at 6 feet 6 inches tall, “can move as well as (a player who’s) 6 feet one,” Laver said. “Same as any of the big guys.”

Of course, even with the “superb athletes” in the modern era, there are pitfalls.

“Now the ace level is creating – not a problem – but it’s a lot less rallies,” Laver said. “If you’re going to see someone serve two to three aces a game, how much tennis are you going to see?”

Next month, a men’s tournament bearing his name, the Laver Cup, brings together top-ranked players to compete in team competition.

“It’s highly competitive still but I think it’s a different kind of pressure,” Laver said of the tournament.

As for the US Open, which starts next week, Laver was initially reluctant to predict a men’s singles champion. He did, however, have a few names in mind: “Novak (Djokovic), del Potro, (Kevin) Anderson.”

“Any of the big guys.”