- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
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 second round.
Then, against 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.
Newcombe analyzed 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 at Wimbledon.
"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 tournament."
Rosewall, nearly 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.