Rod Laver: Consistency will be the challenge for Roger Federer

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Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Roger Federer pose with Rod Laver (center) ahead of the Shanghai Masters draw. (AP)

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Roger Federer pose with Rod Laver (center) ahead of the Shanghai Masters draw. (AP Photo)

SHANGHAI -- Rod Laver backs Roger Federer's late-career chances of winning another Grand Slam title on hard courts or grass, but he knows from his own experience how difficult it is to bring your best consistently after turning 30.

"Federer is not at the end of his career, but he's now finding it difficult to compete week in and week out, where before he had no trouble competing," Laver said Thursday at the Shanghai Masters, just hours before Federer lost to Gael Monfils 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-3 in the third round.

Visiting China for the first time, as a brand ambassador for Rolex, Laver said he still considers Federer the greatest of all time because of his ability to maintain such a high level for so long, but that his consistency has been lacking this year.

"The only thing I can say is sometimes when you get to be in your 30s, 30 to 35, somewhere in there, in my game, I played a match the day before, I played a terrific match, played 100 percent, as good as I was [when I was 21]," he said. "The next day I go out and there's nothing there. So what is it? Is it the desire? Is it your emotion? Is your adrenaline not flowing as well as it normally does in a match? That's the times I found a problem. I don't know whether Roger's feeling anything of that nature. But sometimes I notice him, he just doesn't have it that day. But the day before he was magnificent."

The always-humble Aussie didn't sound optimistic when asked if he thinks he could compete in today's game in his prime. Changes in racket technology have made consistent hitting easier, but he's unsure if he could match the baseline style that dominates the modern game.

"My mechanics would have to be totally changed from a serve‑volleying person to just a baseliner," he said. "Would I be capable of hitting the ball over the net 20 and 30 times [per point] and having it deep and having it accurate all the time? I don't think that would be in me. I never tried to do that in my career. I figured if I got it over the net five times, I'm doing good, I'm going to the net," he said with a laugh.

Laver is the only man to win the Grand Slam twice, winning all four majors in 1962 and 1969. Back then, three of the four Slams were played on grass courts, whereas now the Australian Open and U.S. Open have moved to hard courts. Laver believes someone could join him eventually in the sport's most exclusive club of champions.

"I don't own this title. It was something that I was thrilled to have been able to accomplish it. I think, yes, it could be done [again]," Laver said. "When I look at the way [Rafael] Nadal plays on grass, clay and hard courts, especially this year, he's obviously one that can win it. The only reason why Federer didn't win a Grand Slam was because of Nadal on clay."