Former world number one Rod Laver won his last US Open title in 1969. Photo: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

NEW YORK – Ask Rod Laver how the sport of tennis has changed since he won his last US Open title in 1969 and the former world number one does not hesitate: The guys today are big, really big.

“Yes, the tennis rackets (there’s a) different technology there,” Laver, 80, said yesterday.

“But how the big, tall guys came into play, I’m not sure where that came from,” he added.

Laver, an 11-time Grand Slam singles champion, played the sport at the dawn of the professional era 50 years ago, a change that he calls “the best thing that ever happened to tennis”.

Today he says heightened athleticism and, well, height have altered the game.

Subscribe to the IOL Sport Newsletter!

Laver was 1.73 metres (five feet eight inches) tall, far smaller than the majority of players on the men’s tour today.

Argentinian Juan Martin del Potro, who towers at 6 feet 6 inches (1.98m) “can move as well as (a player who’s) 6 feet one (1.85m),” Laver said. “Same as any of the big guys.”

Of course, even with the “superb athletes” in the modern era there are pitfalls.

“Now the ace level is creating, not a problem but it’s a lot less rallies,” Laver said. “If you’re going to see someone serve two to three aces a game, how much tennis are you going to see?”

Rod Laver and John McEnroe speak during a news conference to announce details of the Laver Cup in New York City. Photo: Carlo Allegri/Reuters
Rod Laver and John McEnroe speak during a news conference to announce details of the Laver Cup in New York City. Photo: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Next month, a men’s tournament bearing his name - the Laver Cup - brings together top-ranked players to compete in team competition.

“It’s highly competitive still but I think it’s a different kind of pressure,” Laver said of the tournament.

As for the US Open, which starts on Monday, Laver was initially reluctant to predict a men’s singles champion.

He did, however, have a few names in mind: “Novak (Djokovic, pictured), Del Potro, (South Africa's world No 5 Kevin) Anderson. Any of the big guys.”