MELBOURNE, Australia — The world's greatest tennis players — minus injured Serena Williams — have arrived for the year's first major tournament, which starts Monday. But there also has been a related surge of activity in the Southern California beach community of Carlsbad, where Australian expatriate Rod Laver is back to fielding phone calls from far and near. Phone calls with a Grand Slam theme.
"It's been ringing quite a bit," Laver, 72, said.
No man has held all four major singles trophies since Laver completed his second Grand Slam, winning all four majors in 1969. Now, another left-hander, Rafael Nadal, is seven Australian Open match victories from joining the club, and Laver is again being asked to compare his golden era with this one, just as he was asked in 2006 and 2007, when Roger Federer was one match from monopolizing the titles that still matter most.
Nadal, who plays Marcos Daniel of Brazil in the first round, foiled Federer both times, beating him in the 2006 and 2007 French Open finals. It will be intriguing to see whether Federer — in full flow of late with an accent on the attack — can play the spoiler here, where he is the defending champion.
"It wouldn't be a Grand Slam, of course, but I certainly agree that it would be a hell of an effort," Laver said of Nadal's attempt to win four in a row, though not in the same calendar year.
It is indeed more attempt than quest. The quest for Nadal was winning the only Grand Slam title he lacked at last year's U.S. Open and breaking the Spanish drought on grass by winning Wimbledon in 2008 and 2010. Winning four Grand Slam events in a row — which is being called a "Rafa Slam" — is something of an afterthought, if an appetizing one.
Nadal, 24, has been asked so many times about how it would feel to win a Rafa Slam, he doesn't want to discuss it anymore. "I think is better if we continue with another question," he said at a news conference Saturday, "because for me, seriously, I can't answer this question."
He said he was focused on winning and not making or breaking records. Nadal said he is recovering from a cold and was "not perfect yet. … I'm better than a few days ago, so that's very positive."
Federer, coming off a confidence-boosting win last week, is vying for his fifth Aussie title and his 17th major. He said he hasn't set goals for this year beyond defending his title in Melbourne.
He shrugged off a question about whether all the attention on Nadal has stoked his desire to reclaim the top ranking. "Look, I think it's unbelievable what Rafa's been able to do. That in some ways makes him the favorite for this tournament," Federer said.