Clearly Ken Rosewall and Rod Laver both have lost a step or two since their championship days. But last night, in the semifinals of the E.F. Hutton Masters Tennis Challenge, both exhibited many of the skills that helped them win 19 Grand Slam singles tournaments between 1953 and 1972.
Rosewall, 50, defeated Roy Emerson, 6-2, 5-7, 6-1. Laver, 46, beat Fred Stolle, 6-2, 7-6 (7-4), before 2,000 at Smith Center. Rosewall and Laver will meet in the final tonight at 7.
Emerson and Rosewall traded service breaks to start their match. With Rosewall serving at 2-2, 30-40, he hit one of his patented backhand slices cross-court to get to deuce. After Emerson missed a forehand, Rosewall executed a perfect serve and volley to go up, 3-2. Rosewall held twice and broke Emerson two times to take the first set.
Emerson, winner of 12 Grand Slam singles titles, approached the net more often in the second set to even the match.
In the deciding set, Rosewall went out to a 5-0 lead, largely by never giving up on a ball. Rarely was he caught out of position.
"I've always scrambled, trying to keep the ball in play," Rosewall said. "I'm happy with the way I played."
Stolle could not have been happy with the way he played early as Laver gained a 4-0 first-set lead. Stolle recovered and held serve twice at love but could not break Laver, who was whipping top-spin backhand passing shots with regularity.
Laver's double fault at 2-3, 40-30 gave Stolle an opportunity to break. He did, as Laver missed two forehand volleys.
Ahead, 5-4, Stolle had a set point, but Laver's backhand volley into an open court, followed by two excellent second serves, made it 5-5.
In the tie breaker, Laver led by 3-0, then 6-2. Stolle salvaged two match points. But Laver closed out the match with an overhead.