“It was a great feeling being able to see everybody.”Rod Laver
Tonight the 100th men’s Australian Open champion will be crowned and to mark the occasion, the nine living Australians to have won the title were invited to be a part of this historic match.
Led by two-time Grand Slammer Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, John Newcombe, Frank Sedgman, Bill Bowrey, Ashley Cooper, Roy Emerson, Mervyn Rose and Mark Edmondson were honoured in a special pre-final ceremony.
The past Australian Open champions each played a part in delivering the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup to Rod Laver Arena.
It was fitting that both Laver and Rosewall were involved in tonight’s ceremony – it’s been 50 years since Laver completed his first calendar year Grand Slam, while for Rosewall it’s the 40th anniversary of the last of his four Australian Open titles.
“Ken [Rosewall] pushed me around for about 20 years,” laughed Laver when asked about his friend and countryman Rosewall.
“It was a great feeling being able to see everybody,” he added.
“It’s always good to get together with some of your old compatriots,” agreed Rosewall. “Ones that you’ve played with and against many times.”
Between the nine, they hold 22 Australian Open singles titles, with Frank Sedgman having won the earliest back in 1949 and Edmondson the most recent in 1976. So who will be the next Australian to win his home major?
“Lleyton was looking pretty good for a while this week,” quipped Edmondson.
“Bernard’s coming along, he seems to play really well in the big matches, he’s done really well the past 12 months, he’s obviously a chance.”
Talk soon turned to the matches that have kept the tennis world enthralled for the past two weeks and the changes the game has undergone since these nine legends of the game played.
“The way these guys play today you have to give them a lot of credit, they have various styles, exceptional kinds of grips and two-handed shots. The tennis is quite exceptional,” said Rosewall.
“The two semifinals [are] probably the best tennis Australia has ever seen,” said Laver.
The stadium namesake has been present for a number of matches and even had time to catch up with current greats Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic earlier in the week.
As the last player to complete the calendar year Grand Slam, in 1969, Laver said that he believes that to repeat the feat now won’t be easy.
“It seems to me that it’s going to be more and more difficult because you’ve got specialists, when you’re looking at Rafa Nadal, he’s got a lock on the French. If there was no Nadal, Federer would have had a Grand Slam.
“The playing level now is so high … it’s a tough one to be able to do because there is so much competition.”
But who will win the men’s final? Laver predicts that it will come down to stamina.
“Who’s able and fit enough to go another five sets, because to me that’s what it’s going to be,” said Laver.
A classic five-set final would be a fitting end to the tournament, especially with so many past legends of the game in attendance. No pressure.