Rocket Rod felt good to be back in his beloved Rocky
AS Rod Laver walked around Rockhampton's new tennis complex yesterday, he marvelled at the changes since his clay court era, before predicting many more champions to emerge from our region.
Rockhampton's greatest sporting product took a trip down memory lane, spending a day in the city where he grew up and honed the skills that won him two Grand Slams.
Laver was in the region after celebrating his brother's 80th birthday in Gladstone and said it felt great to be back.
"It really does feel good to be back in Rocky," Laver said.
"I saw an advertisement in the paper, or the television, and I saw all these blue courts and I've never seen them like this. I'd only seen the clay courts way, way back in my era."
Laver said while he was still passionately involved in tennis, he now preferred to watch from the sidelines and was honoured to still be recognised as one of the greatest tennis players in history.
"I watch the tennis and I've had the opportunity to meet Federer, Djokovic and Nadal and I'm honoured that they still know my name," Laver said.
"It really is a great feeling seeing those young players come along and the game has changed so much since I first picked up a wooden racket.
"Now they've got bigger rackets and quality rackets that you can get so much more spin on and also they're just greater, better athletes than we were."
Laver was confident Rockhampton would have a bright tennis future and said the upgraded facilities would attract more young talent to the sport.
He hoped one young tennis player in particular would follow in his footsteps.
"It's terrific to see the progress made in the court facilities and it should bring in some good young talent here in Rockhampton," Laver said.
"I just heard about Olivia Tjandramulia, I didn't know her name but knew she was from Rockhampton and I wish her all the luck."
Tjandramulia will step out onto the court today for the second round of the Australian Open junior girls' singles tournament, and is in the right form to put on an impressive performance.
"A lot of times you don't get a chance to know too much about the juniors.
"I live full time in California in the San Diego area and you don't get to see that level unless you get to Wimbledon or the French or some of the big tournaments like that where there's a junior tournament on, then of course you search out the Australians," Laver said.
"Of course, hopefully Olivia will get through to Wimbledon."
With the top games of the Australian Open being played on Rod Laver Arena, Laver said he was proud to have the facility named after him.
"It's a huge honour for me for them to be playing on Rod Laver Arena and seeing my name up there," he said.
"It's sort of the highlight of my career to see my name up there in lights and for the people down here who believed in me to see it."
With the Australian Open action heating up, Laver is tipping Federer and Djokovic to match up in the final, but said he was unsure who will wear the crown.
"It's a close one. I think Djokovic, not that he'd run away with it, but you know really be a force to be reckoned with but he's been battling the last couple of rounds," Laver said.