Jay Paris: Rod Laver’s ace of a tennis event raises funds for North Coast Hospice

Rod Laver looks comfortable at the Omni La Costa Resort’s center court and why not?

It is named after him.

“It’s nice to be remembered,’’ said Laver, the worldwide and local tennis legend.

The Carlsbad court bears the Carlsbad resident’s name. As does the Rod Laver Arena, the world’s third-busiest sports and entertainment venue, in Melbourne, Australia.

But Laver, the only man to win two Grand Slams, is putting someone else’s name first: Mary Laver.

His late wife is being honored at the second Mary Laver Memorial Tennis Event April 8 at La Costa.

Laver is raising money for the North Coast Hospice, which cared for his wife before she passed away in 2012.

“What these people did for Mary, and what they do for others, is amazing,’’ Laver said. “If there’s anyway I can help, I’m all in.’’

In tennis-mad North County, it’s a chance to watch tennis, while mingling with Laver and other former pros. Twenty-four players (12 pros, 12 amateurs) compete during the day, and better yet, a reception follows afterward where the legends swap stories.

“It’s always great to see all the guys,’’ Laver said. “It brings back a lot of memories.’’

Larry Stefanki, of Encinitas is among the pros. Bob Lutz, who with Stan Smith once dominated in doubles, is playing. Those two, along with 10 others, will rotate with amateurs in the round-robin format.

It culminates with a final on the court named for what’s-his-name?

“The quality of tennis was quite good,’’ Laver said of last year’s title match.

Ken Macdonald appreciates that observation. Carlsbad’s Macdonald was the co-champion.

“It was an absolute blast,’’ said Macdonald, who is returning to defend his share of the crown. “To be able to hit with those guys, and of course the chance to hang out with Rod, is awesome.’’

Laver, 78, feels the same about the North Coast Hospice crew. The level of care his wife received is something he never forgets.

So for the second year he’s aiding others. It’s for North Coast Hospice patients whom he’ll likely never meet, but through them, he can remember Mary.

The inaugural shindig raised $60,000 for the facility’s Pacifica House.

The Pacifica House benefits those needing it most, in the North County’s only in-patient hospice house.

“It’s hard to express how big of an impact this has,’’ said North Coast Hospice’s Shelly Dew, of Laver’s involvement. “It helps so many people.’’

The tennis goes from 1 to 5 p.m. Then everyone heads for a lively reception, which features food, fun, social sparklers and a tall tale or two.

“We’ll have plenty of all that,’’ Laver said, with a laugh.

Laver’s tribute to Mary is made possible, in part, by the San Diego Aviators. The World Team Tennis champions, who play their home matches on Rod Laver Court, are the presenting sponsor.

Fred Luddy, the Aviators owner who recently bought a major stake in World Team Tennis, is also hosting a fund-raising dinner in his North County home.

“They’ve really come through for us,’’ Laver said.

Laver’s impressive stack of auction items reveals the respect others have for him.

Roger Federer, who shot a promotion video for the event, chipped in two racquets with his signature. Jason Day signed the hat he wore at the recent Farmer’s Insurance Open. Bill Walton gave some classic UCLA signed pictures.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts didn’t leave Cardiff for Los Angeles until contributing an autographed ball. Bud Black and Bruce Bochy, two other skippers with Padres roots, sent some swag, too.

It’s all for Rod Laver. And Laver is doing it all for Mary, the love of his life who shared his last name.

“Mary and I had been together for 46 years,’’ Laver wrote in his recent biography. “We grew old together but I never stopped seeing her as the beautiful girl with the deep tan, twinkling eyes and dazzling smile. I owe her everything.’’

Follow Jay Paris on Twitter at jparis_sports. Contact him at jparis8@aol.com.

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