NEW YORK — A quarter century after completing his first Grand Slam, Rod Laver has returned to Forest Hills to play tennis.
Laver, now 48, is competing in the Grand Masters Doubles Invitational, being staged this weekend in conjunction with the Shearson Lehman Brothers Tournament of Champions. Laver's partner is fellow Australian Ken Rosewall, another man bearing pleasant memories of Forest Hills, where he won the U.S. Nationals in 1956 and the U.S. Open in 1970.
"It certainly does bring back memories," Laver said. "The nostalgia and history of Forest Hills has gone on for so long. The clubhouse, the courts, they're all special, and there's a lot of excitement that comes back when you return to a familiar place.
"Nothing can match the wonderful memories of the success I enjoyed there. They can't take that away. I played my best tennis at the right time, and a lot of lady luck goes with being fit, not being sick, and coming to a peak at the right time in your career. You put a lot of hard work into it, so it's something you remember quite clearly."
Laver defeated Roy Emerson, another participant in the Grand Masters, to complete his first Grand Slam in 1962, and repeated the feat in 1969 when he beat Tony Roche. Other than Laver, Don Budge is the only man to win all four Grand Slam events in the same year, capturing Wimbledon and the U.S., French and Australian championships in 1938.
Forest Hills no longer is used for the national championship, but does play host to the Tournament of Champions each May.
In Saturday afternoon's quarterfinals, Laver and Rosewall were paired against Ramanathan Krishnan and Martin Mulligan, while Emerson and Mal Anderson faced Frank Froehling and Ron Holmberg. The other matches sent Andres Gimeno-Neale Fraser against Alex Olmedo-Whitney Reed and Owen Davidson-Cliff Drysdale against Frank Sedgman-Gene Scott.
The final is scheduled for Monday evening.
Although still looking trim and fit, Laver does not play much anymore, devoting more time to his work as a representative of the Nabisco Grand Prix tour. His last big competition was the Grand Masters Tour in Los Angeles a year ago April, when he defeated Rosewall in the final.
"I've played some one night matches and weekend matches," Laver said. "It's not quite the same as a tournament, but you never know. It's not as tough playing doubles. You get your partner to help you, and I'll be looking to get a lot of help."
Laver, who makes his home in Newport Beach, Calif., contends it is a lot more difficult for a current player to achieve a Grand Slam than it was during his era.
"When I played, there were three grass court events and one clay court," he said. "Now, with the Australian shifting to a rubberized surface, it seems the Grand Slam events are being played on four different surfaces.
"There also wasn't the depth in competition when I played. Now maybe there are 40 players capable of pulling an upset. From the very first round you're capable of being beaten, which wasn't the case then. Today's players have a lot more talent and they have more goals in their mind. There's some great young talent out there, people like (Stefan) Edberg, (Boris) Becker, (Miloslav) Mecir and (Mats) Wilander. You can go down the line and take a long time before you stop, and this makes it that much more unlikely one person will win all four Grand Slam tournaments."
Laver thinks it is tremendous that tennis has been internationalized to the point that top players are coming from all points of the globe.
"It's disappointing for the States not having a player coming up in the ranks," he said. "(John) McEnroe and (Jimmy) Connors are in the twilight of their careers. But it's certainly not going to be an end when it comes to U.S. players. There will be more talent coming along, although at the moment there's no one to pinpoint.
"There's a magic ingredient that has to come together to create a champion player."