Over the years, there have been many famous road shows. "A Chorus Line" is still playing, not just in New York, but all over the world. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby made road pictures a part of our language. But for long-running road shows, it's tough to beat Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall.
The two great Australians have played from one corner of the earth to the other so many times in so many places that neither can calculate how often they have met. Last night in Smith Center, before a crowd of about 2,000, the two "grand old men" hooked up again and, as usual, a good time was had by all.
Rosewall won the match, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. It was billed as the final of the E.F. Hutton Classic, a four-man tournament with prize money guaranteed to each player. But the crowd didn't come to see who won the title, it came to see Laver and Rosewall.
"It's not as serious as it used to be," Rosewall said. "But we still feel the pressure to play up to a certain level and keep the crowd entertained."
They did both last night. Each player stirred memories at times, Laver in the first set with a five-game run in which he allowed Rosewall just five points. Even at 46, he showed that he still can cover the court, still get to short balls, still unleash an occasional ground stroke that leaves people gasping.
In the third set, it was Rosewall who drew the oohs and aahs. "I got into a pretty good purple patch there, didn't I?" he said with a smile. "I think the call at the end of the second set may have thrown Rod a bit, but I was playing very well in the third."
The call Rosewall referred to came with Laver serving at 4-5 and 30-40. He slammed a hard first serve that appeared to be long. Rosewall hit a lunging return and then he and Laver stopped, assuming the serve was out. Rosewall's return was in.
But no out call was forthcoming on the serve. Chair umpire Ken Slye called, "game and second set, Rosewall."
Both players stopped, shocked. "The ball was out," Rosewall said to Slye as Laver stood and watched.
Apologetically, Slye answered, "I saw it good, sir."
Rosewall, who was being awarded the set, shrugged at Laver in disgust. Laver, still not having complained, walked to the base line to begin the third set. "Sometimes we count on the linespeople to make the right call too much," Laver said. "I thought that ball was so clearly long it wouldn't be a problem. But you should play every ball, and I didn't. If the serve had been called out, I'm still serving a second ball at set point, so who knows."
Laver smiled. "But it did throw me a bit."
That's about as much of a complaint as you'll get from this generation of tennis player. Rosewall won the first three games of the last set without losing a point and coasted to victory from there, ripping his trademark backhand from base line to base line.
"He just played super in the end," said Laver, who plans to play about 10 weeks on the Grand Masters Circuit this year. Rosewall, who is 50, even kidded in his postmatch remarks to the crowd that, "I've played in Washington so many times that the linesmen know me better than Rod so they helped me out a bit tonight."
As Rosewall walked off the court someone suggested this match might make his record against Laver 500-500.
Rosewall laughed. "Could be," he said. "Could be."