No discussion about who might be the all-time greatest tennis player would be complete without mention of Rod Laver, the leftie from Rockhampton, Australia, who twice in the 1960s won the grand slam (taking all four of tennis's major singles titles the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S Open in the same year). No other male player of the Open era has managed the feat. Laver, who suffered a stroke 10 years ago, will turn 70 in August and has lived in California since 1966. On the eve of the Australian Open, he gave a rare interview from his home in Carlsbad to TIME's Daniel Williams.
TIME: What do you do these days?
LAVER: I don't have any set plans. Depends what the day brings. They have an Adidas shoe in my name and that encompasses going to a few places during the year, but nothing too earth-shattering in the tennis world.
How is your health?
Yeah, my fitness could be a little better, otherwise I'm okay. I don't play very much at all now. I get a little arthritis in the wrist. I guess I've hit a few too many tennis balls.
So much has been written and spoken about world No. 1 Roger Federer's attributes. What part of his game most impresses you?
Well, he's got all the shots, but it's his court coverage and anticipation. He has this sense of where the ball is going to come back. Quite amazing. He's facing these big-hitting guys, but he has what seems to be a ton of time. No one's able to rush him that much. There's also his concentration: it doesn't waver. He looks like he's always up for any match. He's aware of the game's history, which I think he respects very much. He wants to leave behind a record.
When Federer cried on your shoulder as you presented the trophy to him at the Australian Open two years ago, there seemed to be a kinship between you. Do you two talk much?
Yeah, we've chatted. Whenever I get to any of the tournaments where he's at, I try to make a point of finding him not bothering him, but to chat with him. There's no ego in Roger. The way he seems is the way he is, and I think that's unbelievable in someone who's done so much.
Have you ever thought about how you might have played him in your prime?
Not really. Because of the equipment differences [between our eras]... there's not much point. He doesn't have a weakness, so it becomes more of a mental game. You'd have to tell yourself, "Well, maybe I'm mentally stronger."
If you were 25 again, handed a modern racquet and given six months to practice with it and whip yourself into shape, could you excel in the current era? Is there anything about the demands of modern tennis that you couldn't have coped with?
These hypotheticals can come from a hundred different directions. But I finished my career in the seniors playing with a larger-headed racquet it was wood and graphite. And I went back about 10 years! It was, "Hey, I can serve, I can volley." I had a bigger surface to play with and could put more spin on the ball. But because of the spin, the ball bounces a lot higher. I'm not so tall... maybe you'd have to meet the ball a little earlier, I don't know.