MELBOURNE, (Reuters) – Roger Federer traded shots with his hero Rod Laver yesterday in the stadium that bears the Australian great’s name before promising that his hunger for grand slam titles remains as strong as ever.
The 17-times grand slam champion beamed with pride after enjoying a few rallies with the 75-year-old, who was dressed in traditional whites and impressed a packed crowd with his movement ahead of Federer’s exhibition match with French world number 10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
“Hitting with Rod Laver for me clearly is an absolute dream come true,” Federer told reporters after a crowd-pleasing 6-7(5) 6-3 7-5 win over Tsonga in the fund-raising event for his charity, the Roger Federer Foundation.
“It’s in his arena as well, it’s named after him and he deserves it so much.
“He told me that his wrist was hurting less on the forehand so he asked me to play there a bit more often.
“While I was playing my racket was feeling extremely heavy, that means I was very nervous which I really was because you don’t want to miss a shot.
“I was happy we had some rallies. What an honour it was for me and I hope that the crowd enjoyed it and I’m very thankful that he was willing to do something like this because it’s not normal in any way and that’s why I really appreciate it.”
The 32-year-old Federer has won four of his 17 major titles in Rod Laver Arena and famously burst into tears when receiving the second of his winner’s trophies in 2006 from the Australian, the only man to complete two grand slams in calendar years.
Laver has returned the admiration and said during the Melbourne launch of his autobiography in October last year that the Swiss could hit back from his disappointing 2013 by winning the year’s first grand slam.
Federer heads into the grand slam seeded sixth and after losing the final of the Brisbane International to fellow 32-year-old Lleyton Hewitt of Australia.
The Swiss has not set any goals for himself at Melbourne Park as he battles to return to peak form but said the tour was still keeping the competitive juices flowing.
“It’s a different feeling today and the enjoyment factor I get out of playing on tour is totally different,” he said. “It’s a much deeper love I have today for the game and a much bigger appreciation and respect I have.
“I just remember playing on court 25 all along in my career. So now that I can play on centre court it’s an absolute privilege most of the time and if they put me on Hisense (Arena) or Margaret Court (Arena), I don’t care,” he said of the two other showcourts at Melbourne Park.
“As long as I can play in great conditions and enjoy myself I’ll keep on playing.”