The Coast News Group
Old - DO NOT USE - The Coast NewsRancho Santa FeSports

Jay Paris: Carlsbad’s Laver is treated like royalty at Wimbledon

Wimbledon’s Royal Box will have a touch of North County during its fortnight.

As well as a touch of class.

“I feel pretty fortunate,’’ Carlsbad’s Rod Laver said.

It’s obvious the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club feels the same about the iconic Laver.

Not only is Wimbledon bringing back its four-time champion, but its hallowed grounds are serving as the launch point for Laver’s new book.

“Rod Laver A Memoir” is being released in Great Britain at its most famous sporting venue. On Wednesday a queue of fans will snake toward the Wimbledon gift shop with Laver at the ready.

It’s a first for Wimbledon allowing an author to sign books and shake hands.

“Wimbledon has never done anything like this,’’ Laver said. “It’s amazing, it really is.’’

Laver’s name and accomplishments resonate years later. He hasn’t won a match in decades, yet he still moves the sport’s needle.

Not surprising, as the only player to win the Grand Slam twice: the Australian, French and U.S. opens, and Wimbledon, in a calendar year.

To put it in perspective, only five men have completed a career Grand Slam.

But there’s only one Laver.

“It’s surprises me,’’ said Laver, 75, who still endorses Adidas shoes and Rolex watches. “I’m more well known now than I ever was. I guess it’s the popularity of the game and how they are always talking about grand slam events, and how hard it is to win just one.’’

Laver won 11 grand slam singles titles, a number reduced because professionals weren’t always allowed to enter the Big Four. That doesn’t prevent Laver from being in any conversation about the game’s greatest players.

His notoriety is evident when visiting Wimbledon. While Laver gets about North County with anonymity, he’s swarmed in England from the time he exits his hotel until he calls it a night.

Tennis is more than a game to the Brits — it’s a passion.

“Wimbledon has a beautiful stadium and grounds but it’s the people,’’ Laver said. “They are very knowledgeable and they love the game. They will sit out in the bloody rain and wind just to watch a half-dozen games. It is amazing.

“On Kings Road leading to the stadium all the stores have TV sets in the windows and there’ll be a group of people outside looking in. It is such a tennis community.’’

Fans get a closer look at the game through Laver’s book. As usual, Laver told it like it was and is.

“I wanted to talk about the early years when everybody thought we were making good money and we weren’t making beans,’’ he said. “Then when we turned pro what we had to do.’’

Laver also talks of his family — his son, Rick, will accompany him to Wimbledon — and his affection for the Chargers. His tailgate parties are often as good as the games.

But it won’t be barbecue and beer in the Royal Box.

A fancy lunch precedes the matches and then everyone breaks for tea. There’s champagne served afterward and yes, they really do put cream over their strawberries.

For the humble Laver, he’s still tempted to pinch himself. It’s a long way from the farm life of rural Queensland, where he rose from the sticks to being among stars.

“It’s nice to get back to Wimbledon, nice to be wanted and be invited back,’’ Laver said. “It really is a thrill to see the matches, then see again the people you played against.’’

Laver said they chat about battles waged long ago and their “various body parts” fixed. In Laver’s case, he’s had two hip and one knee replacements — if he gets another knee done, can we call it his third Grand Slam?

“At least we are all bloody up and walking and still breathing,’’ said Laver, who attended his first Wimbledon as a junior player in 1956.

Laver gives Wimbledon life the moment he enters its gates. He’s treated like royalty, whether he’s in or out of the celebrated box above the baseline.

His pick to drop to his knees on Wimbledon’s final Sunday? He likes Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal, with Novak Djokovic close behind.

How about Roger Federer, 32, the seven-time champion who’s among Laver’s friends?

“He’s not the odds-on winner, but this might be his last year to make a go of it,’’ Laver said

Laver’s dark horse is Canada’s hard-serving Milos Raonic.

Laver’s favorite Wimbledon title? His 1969 triumph when a win put him one U.S. Open shy of his second Grand Slam.

Down a set and 1-4 in the third to compatriot John Newcombe, Laver rallied for his most satisfying championship.

“I hit a few shots,’’ the modest Laver said, “I didn’t have the right to hit.’’

Laver has the right to hear the Wimbledon applause one more time — you can book it.

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports.