Supremely fit and equipped with powerful shots and an ice-cool temperament, Rod Laver was all but invincible in his prime.
However, he believes he would struggle to make an impact today, even with the benefit of modern racket technology and sports science.
“It would be tough for me,” Laver said. “My mechanics would have to be totally changed from a serve-volleying person to just a baseliner. Would I be capable of hitting the ball over the net 20 and 30 times and hitting it deep and accurate all the time? I don’t think that would be in me. I never tried to do that in my career. I figured if I got it over the net five times: ‘I’m doing good. I’m going to the net.’
“But a lot of that came from the grass. When you got pretty raw grass out there, you couldn’t let the ball bounce too many times because you knew it was going to run along the ground, so you had to get to the net.”
Laver, who has lived in California for many years, also believes that his 5ft 8in frame would have counted against him in an era dominated by bigger players. “If you’re not 6ft 2in or 6ft 4in you’d have to do a lot of other things well to combat the bigger man,” Laver said.
Recalling he had “once sprained an ankle”, Laver said playing mostly on grass had meant he rarely suffered injuries. “The biggest problem with injuries now is the way they play,” he said. “It’s so amazingly tough. They’re playing from the baseline most of the time. Your shoulders and wrists, they’ve got to take a beating. You only have to mishit the ball a few times before something starts to give.”
Laver said the key to his two calendar Grand Slams had been learning to play on clay. “I was over in Europe when I was young and I just said: ‘Book me into all the tournaments. I’ve got to learn how to play on this stuff. I want to go not in the cheap little places where you can get an easy win, I want to be where all the best players are and I want to be in there all the time.’ Finally it caught on.”