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Laver Improving After ‘Moderate’ Stroke

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is about a tenth of a mile from the Westwood Marquis hotel to the UCLA Medical Center.

That proximity proved to be providential for Australian tennis legend Rod Laver, who on Monday afternoon suffered what was called a “moderate” stroke caused by a small hemorrhage on the left side of his brain.

On Tuesday, Laver’s condition was upgraded from critical to serious. He is in intensive care at the medical center and is having difficulty speaking and moving his right arm and leg, Laver’s doctor, Neil Martin, said. But had Laver, who will be 60 on Aug. 9, been at one of his homes in Newport Beach or Rancho Mirage, his condition might not have improved as rapidly.

“He got immediate evaluation, and it’s very important in the fact he is doing so well,” said Martin, a vascular neurosurgeon and co-director of UCLA Stroke Center.

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“I don’t think he’d be quite as stable as he is now had he been farther away from a stroke center.”

Laver, scheduled to appear at a function Monday night for the Mercedes-Benz Cup at UCLA, was staying at the hotel and began having difficulty near the end of a 45-minute interview with a three-man freelance crew working on an upcoming series for ESPN.

The first symptom was a headache. Then Laver had difficulty speaking and felt a problem with his right hand. Martin said that Laver was in the best possible spirits and was even joking when he was admitted. He had one CT scan at midnight and another at 4 a.m. Tuesday.

Currently, Laver is on a series of medications to prevent problems from brain swelling and other complications.

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“We’re going to have to watch him closely over the next couple of days, to be certain no surgery is required,” Martin said. “We’re not planning surgery unless there is some deterioration, which would be unusual. Assuming he stabilizes, invariably a patient like this will experience progressive recovery over the next several months.

“We fully expect as he recovers, perhaps requiring some physical therapy, he’ll be walking, and regain good use of his hands. Where this will end up--whether he will be 99% or 95%, we don’t know at this point.”

Laver was with family members, including his wife, Mary, and son Ricky. The family was not available for interviews Tuesday. Martin briefed reporters--including a large contingent of Australian media--in a short news conference outside the main entrance of the hospital.

Martin operated on then Los Angeles King hockey player Tony Granato in March 1996 after Granato had a blood clot in his brain. Martin’s encouragement helped Granato return to the NHL.

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Will Laver be able to play tennis again?

“I wouldn’t rule it out,” Martin said. “Obviously, tennis is second nature to him. I’m optimistic about a good recovery, if not an absolutely perfect recovery.”

The news of Laver’s stroke stunned Australia and the tennis world. The only player to win the Grand Slam twice, he is considered Australia’s greatest sports figure. A hospital operator said UCLA received more than 100 phone calls in a one-hour span Monday night regarding Laver.

“I think we all were [shocked],” said former Australian Davis Cup star Fred Stolle, a Laver contemporary. “You never can tell when these things come over. I didn’t know too much about strokes, but now I do. My wife gave me a medical book and let me read about it.

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“It [the outpouring] is just amazing. He’s a very well-liked guy, low key, the quiet achiever of all of the guys, considering his accomplishments, possibly the greatest player of all time. His birthday is Aug. 9, and mine is the eighth of October. When something like this happens to someone who is so close in age, you really take a look at your life.”

Australian Patrick Rafter, the top-seeded player at the Los Angeles tournament, heard about Laver shortly after playing in a charity exhibition match Monday night.

“It just sends a shiver down your spine and just to think about that, it was incredible,” he said. “And then the feeling in the locker room, all of a sudden, went very dark. It wasn’t a good feeling. . . .

“He’s been an incredible role model for all of us. I see him more as an idol and someone I can look up to and respect. I feel proud when I’m out on the court because he’s done so much for us already and he’s laid the foundation.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Rod Laver at a Glance

GRAND SLAM TOURNAMENT FINALS

Wimbledon: Won 4, lost 2

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Australian: Won 3, lost 1

French: Won 2, lost 1

U.S. Open: Won 2, lost 2

SINGLES RECORD IN GRAND SLAM TOURNAMENTS

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Australian: 21-6

French: 25-6

Wimbledon: 50-7

U.S. Open: 44-10

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