Rod Laver was running on a tight schedule yesterday. He flew into town at 2 p.m., practiced for a few minutes at 5 and won two tennis matches by 10.
Ever wonder why they call him "Rocket?"
Still blessed with the serve and backhand that originally earned him his nickname, Laver easily played his way into tonight's men's singles and doubles finals in the E.F. Hutton Champions tournament at George Washington University's Smith Center.
Laver defeated fellow 47-year-old Fred Stolle, 6-4, 6-4, in a men's singles semifinal, then joined Ken Rosewall to defeat local pros Graham Stilwell and Gene Russo, 7-5, 6-4, in a doubles semifinal.
For old time's sake, Laver and Rosewall will meet in the singles final at 7 tonight. They will play Stolle and Roy Emerson in doubles.
Earlier in the day, Virginia Wade won the women's singles title over Kerry Melville-Reid, 6-3, 6-1, then teamed with Emerson for the mixed doubles title by defeating Melville-Reid and Rosewall, 6-4, 6-4.
Laver, who had been at the WCT tournament in Dallas doing promotional work, plays only "a half dozen" Grand Masters tournaments a year, but still is the senior tour's biggest draw. Laver, the only two-time winner of tennis' Grand Slam, says he rarely practices anymore.
"I'd probably get stale if I practiced much," Laver said. "I'd ask myself, 'Why am I practicing?' Of course, it means I might not play as well, but I'm keener and more eager to play."
It was easy to spot his keenness and eagerness last night. Three times in the first set, Laver faced break point. Each time, he aced Stolle.
"I was happy about that," Laver said. "I'm glad I didn't give myself the chance to make mistakes on those points."
At 4-4 in the first set, Stolle made a crucial mistake, watching a Laver lob land inside the line to tie the game, 15-15.
Two points later, serving at 30-30, Stolle's drop shot fell wide, then Laver's backhand return down the line won the game.
In the second set, Laver broke Stolle twice and lost his serve just once.
"For hitting the ball for the first time, I played pretty well," Laver said. "You always want to play better, but I figured I'll save some for tomorrow."
The stars of the day came and went, literally. A few hours after Laver arrived, Wade left. Her afternoon became a complete success when the mixed doubles match ended in time for her to catch a 4:50 p.m. flight out of National Airport to Tucson for business.
"You tell yourself not to pay attention to the clock," Wade said as she dashed to the locker room, $8,750 richer for her 2 1/2 hours of tennis. "It's a cardinal rule in tennis that if you look at the clock, you'll start to make mistakes."
Obviously, she followed the rule. She quickly took care of Melville-Reid to win the $7,500 singles prize, then changed clothes, took a 10-minute break and came back to share the $2,500 mixed doubles check with Emerson.
"I played well today," Wade said. "It's funny. You get out of the game and you don't miss it at all. Then you come back and you actually enjoy it. You sort of get excited by it."