At Longwood, for
instance, the Rocket went out to Marty Riessen in the quarterfinals. It has
been three months since Laver last won a tournament—the longest dry spell of
his career—and while his earnings for the year are already at a record
$207,767, some $160,000 of that came in the first three months of the year when
he breezed through the series of $10,000 one-nighters that was called the
Tennis Champions Classic.
Since then, his
confidence has declined with his game. It reached the nadir two weeks ago when
he lost to Bill Bowrey in the first round at Louisville. After that, Laver
discarded his aluminum racket and picked up his old-fashioned wooden clubs.
"You don't have to swing as hard with metal," he says, "and I think
I got lazy wrists and lost my rhythm. I know I lost my confidence."
Returning to wood
in Quebec, he struggled to the final, where Tom Okker beat him. Laver felt that
Boston might be his comeback spot. He had been in every final—winning all but
two—since the tournament moved to Boston and began to gain respectability and
solvency in 1964. He is Boston's boy, and the large crowd cheered mightily when
the Rocket pulled off a comeback three-set win over Ismail El Shafei in the
Riessen, Laver hung on, after squandering two match points, to face a tie
breaker in the last set. He has been nervous in tie breakers, unsure with the
innovation. Riessen annihilated him, seven points to one, to win 1-6, 6-4, 7-6,
and still another week had gone by without Rod Laver winning a tournament.
the man whose world he has seized: "It's mental. I think Rod's in a
transition period when he has to come to an accommodation with reality, as
Rosewall has. He's not over the hill at 33. He's not going to win every week
like he did two years ago.
"But he still
expects to. There are 10 guys in the world, including me, who are much better
than we were in 1969, but there's no way Rod can be better. The world has
caught up with him. He's got to accept this and not look for excuses like
changing his racket. His confidence started to crack when he lost to Roger
Taylor at Wimbledon last year. Rod played an abortion of a match, and couldn't
have expected to win. But it was a shock because he didn't think he could lose
"He began to
think for the first time in the pressure spots. Like against me in
Philadelphia. He'd always beaten me. He was serving for the first set at 5-3,
40-15—two set points. But he got nervous. Played a bad point. Double-faulted.
Deuce, and I was on my way. That's been happening to him in tournament after
four years Laver's senior, seems to better understand the realities of age.
Obviously, he paces himself. "He just isn't interested some weeks,"
Australian Ray Ruffels says. "He seems to know that he has to give his mind
time off between efforts." Certainly, that system seems to work. At 36,
Rosewall now holds the U.S. Open, U.S. Pro and Australian and South African
titles, and in awe of his powers of rejuvenation, the other players hung a new
nickname on him in Boston last week: Saint Kenny.