Laver Thinks Federer Could Be Best Ever
Thursday, January 25, 2007
By JOHN PYE, AP Sports Writer
MELBOURNE, Australia If he could pick any player from any era to test himself against, Roger Federer would like a shot at Rod Laver or Bjorn Borg.
Laver, the last man to win all four majors in one season, was in the stadium that carries his name on Thursday to witness Federer dismantle Andy Roddick in the Australian Open semifinals. After what he saw, Laver would just as soon stick to meeting Federer in the locker room _ after the matches.
Federer likes to put on a show when Laver is at Rod Laver Arena, and called his 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 victory over Roddick his best match in Melbourne.
"I had one of these days when everything worked," the Swiss star said. "I was unbeatable. I was playing out of my mind. I am shocked myself."
The win put him in his seventh consecutive Grand Slam final, tying a record set by Jack Crawford in 1934, and left him only one victory from a 10th Grand Slam title. He will meet the winner of the Fernando Gonzalez-Tommy Haas semifinal in Sunday's championship match.
With seemingly few challengers among his contemporaries, Federer is often asked about facing one of the greats from another time _ Laver and Borg come to his mind.
Both won 11 majors _ Borg from 16 finals spanning 1974 to '81, and Laver in a five-season run wedged around his absence from the Grand Slam tournaments from 1963-67.
By Sunday, Federer is likely to be only one major title behind, although Laver expects him to go a lot further and break Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles.
"I think the art of Roger is probably the best player I've ever seen ... The way he's compiling the Grand Slam titles, I think he's got a great chance of being the best ever," Laver said.
The 68-year-old Laver made a rare return to Melbourne from California to marvel Federer again.
"Roger's got too many shots, too much talent in one body," Laver said. "It's hardly fair that one person can do all this _ his backhands, his forehands, volleys, serving, his court position ... the way he moves around the court, you feel like he's barely touching the ground. That's the sign of a great champion."
And that's a daunting prospect for Gonzalez or Haas. Haas, a two-time semifinalist in Australia, has never reached a Grand Slam final. Gonzalez is into the semis at a major for the first time.
Roddick, who beat Federer in an exhibition tournament less than two weeks ago and had match points against him at the Masters Cup last November, rated the prospect of an upset as "slim."
The women's final Saturday features top-seeded Maria Sharapova against No. 81-ranked Serena Williams. Despite the ranking disparity, nobody is counting Williams out.
After playing just four tournaments in 2006 because of a lingering knee problem, Williams said the only other person that gave her a chance of winning an eighth Grand Slam title was her mother and coach, Oracene.
She led 5-1 in the second set of her semifinal before letting Nicole Vaidisova back in, wasting triple match point at 3-5 and needing three more before finally converting in a 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory.
"I almost did a gagarooney there," Williams said.
Now, close to a third Australian title, she's guaranteed of returning to the top 20.
"I can't believe it," she said. "That's awesome. If I play well, which I don't think I've even reached yet at all in this tournament ... it's really hard for anyone on the women's tour to beat me."
Sharapova turned her semifinal against No. 4 Kim Clijsters into an Australian farewell match for the 23-year-old Belgian, who is retiring at the end of the year, with a 6-4, 6-2 victory.
Sharapova is 2-2 against Williams and had match points in their last meeting _ the 2005 Australian semifinal.
"I think she has nothing to lose," said Sharapova, who will assume the top ranking next week regardless of Saturday's result. "Those are always dangerous opponents."
Federer reached the finals of all four majors last year, deprived of a Grand Slam in a four-set loss to Rafael Nadal at the French Open. He has led the rankings since February 2004.
Laver, who had Grand Slam seasons in 1962 and 1969, thinks Federer is setting himself up for a run at a Grand Slam season and has all the shots he needs to shatter the tennis records. After that was said, Federer put his full repertoire on display, leaving the sixth-seeded Roddick and bewildered in their 83-minute match.
"I've played good matches here, but never really almost destroyed somebody," Federer said. "I've done it at the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, French Open. Maybe not so much here because I didn't get so many chances yet. For me, that's a highlight of my career. I'm very, very happy about it."
Federer broke Roddick's first service game, and then was broken back immediately. It was the only chance Roddick had in the match, with Federer winning 11 straight games from 3-4 in the first set to go up a break in the third.
After falling behind 5-0 in the second, Roddick tried to smack a ball into the stands to let off steam. Instead, he lost his grip of the racket and sent it skidding into the knee of a photographer, drawing a warning from the chair umpire.
Federer closed that set with an ace, handing Roddick his first 6-0 set in 25 Grand Slam tournaments.
"It was frustrating. You know, it was miserable. ... terrible," Roddick said. "I was playing well coming in. I didn't foresee it."
Roddick, at coach Jimmy Connors' urging, rushed the net in his exhibition victory over Federer. He thought those tactics would work again. This time, he got scorched. Now with a 1-13 record against Federer, Roddick is back to square one.
"You do your best not to get discouraged. I caught an absolute beating tonight, no two ways about it," he said. "You deal with it and you go back to the drawing board."
Laver went into the locker room to congratulate Federer and renew a friendship that started last year. Asked of Laver's assessment, Federer replied: "Oh, he said it was excellent, which is nice to hear."
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