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Federer rallies with Rod Laver, beats Tsonga at exhibition match

Melbourne (AP): There was a time when the mere presence of Rod Laver on center court at Melbourne Park drove Roger Federer to tears.

Today, at a fundraising event billed as “An evening with Roger Federer and friends,” the 17-time major winner finally got to find out what it’s like to have a few rallies against the man who twice completed the Grand Slam.

Laver, 75, strolled onto the court named in his honor in shorts and vest, and had a hit against the 32-year-old Federer, who is preparing for next week’s Australian Open. He played some solid forehands but decided to move closer in to volley after netting a few backhands. And he got a standing ovation from the 14,000-strong crowd at Rod Laver Arena for his efforts.

“He told me that his wrist was hurting less on the forehand so he asked me to play there a bit more often!” Federer joked later.

Laver stayed to watch Federer beat 2008 Australian Open finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-7 (5) 6-3 7-5 in the main exhibition match. Organisers announced more than USD 1 million was raised before and during the event, an idea which Federer pitched to mark the 10 years since he first moved to No. 1, won the first of his four Australian Open titles and started his foundation.

“Hitting with Rod Laver for me clearly is an absolute dream come true. It’s in his arena as well, it’s named after him and he deserves it so much,” Federer said. “While I was playing my racket was feeling extremely heavy. That means I was very nervous, which I really was.”

Federer burst into tears after receiving the Australian Open winner’s trophy from Laver in 2006, and speaks with reverence about the Australian great.

“What an honor it was for me,” Federer said. “And I’m very thankful that he was willing to do something like this because it’s not normal in any way and that’s why I really appreciate it.”

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