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Speak, Warrior 07/14/2009 - 4:56 PM

86262095 by Pete Bodo

Well, we had that conference call with Pete Sampras a few hours ago.Pete made himself available on behalf of the upcoming Los Angeles Tennis Open (title sponsor: Farmer's Insurance Group), where he'll be honored, as well as play an exhibition match against Marat Safin.

Most of you remember that the Sampras-Safin U.S. Open final of 2000 was a match of astonishingly high quality - at least from Safin's end of the court, although truth be told it wasn't as if Sampras, the no. 4 seed, was off his game. We didn't actually get to see enough of his game to come to any conclusions about that.

Safin, who was seeded 6 and on his early-career upward arc, simply bludgeoned Sampras off his theoretical home court in what remains a high-water mark for power tennis. It was a 4-3-3 whitewash, and Sampras himself was so impressed that he couldn't be bothered to work out what he might have done differently, or even indulge in a little bit of that hateur to which a stung champion is entitled. Jimmy Connors would have snarled words to this effect: Yeah? Let's see if this Commie with the head shaped like a can of dog food can back it up for a few years, and then get back to me about how great he is. . .

Sampras, to his credit, just shrugged it off with the proverbial hat tip: The guy played great, give him all the credit. He's got a big future in this game.

Watching that match led many journalists (and other pundits) to a Jon Landau moment. Landau almost single-handedly launched Bruce Springsteen's career when, after seeing the E-Street band perform, he wrote a blathering rave review containing those now immortal words: "I have seen rock and roll's future and its name is Bruce Springsteen." 

Well, Safin turned out not to be tennis's equivalent of Springsteen (although it would have been an appropriate analogy in many ways if he had). What we ended up with instead was tennis's equivalent to the Beatles in Roger Federer, and the more I think about the parallel the more it apt it seems. Let's stretch the analogy to the breaking point: in tennis we have the Beatles vs. Rolling Stones reprised in the Federer vs. Rafael Nadal rivalry. Almost everyone in the baby boomer generation fell into either the Beatles or Rolling Stones camp, although if you were insufficiently fanatical you got to enjoy both. Being more than adequately fanatical, I was a Stones man myself, and wrote the Beatles off for good after that much ballyhooed White Album.

So naturally, Pete was asked about the Federer-Nadal rivalry - specifically, if he felt that Roger could be considered the Greatest of All Time if he can't establish superiority over his career rival (as Sampras did in his rivaly with Andre Agassi). You'll see from Pete's answer that he was slightly flummoxed, but one of his outstanding qualities always was his determination to honest, even if it meant delivering his opinion or thoughts through clenched teeth.

"I do understand the argument as far as being the best ever. You have to be the man of your generation.  He (Roger) has come up short against Nadal. I can see the point. It's hard to answer that. I don't know how to answer it.You know, it's not done yet.  Roger's career isn't done yet. He's going to play Nadal a number of times over the next number of years, and he has to beat him. He has to beat him in the finals of majors. To be considered the greatest ever, he certainly in my book is (already that). But he has to figure this kid out.  He has to beat him.  He's lost to him a number of times. You know, you got to be the man of your generation. He certainly is the man of his generation; he just has to figure out Nadal."

Pushed to elaborate vis a vis his own experience wih Agassi, Pete added: 

"Well, God, you're giving it some thought, huh (laughter)? It would have bothered me if I had a losing record against Andre in majors. It wouldn't have sat well with me. Did it mean I was the greatest or not the greatest? I don't know. It's the debate of greatest of all time. We so badly want to pin it on someone.  With the numbers you have to give it to Roger.  His record against Nadal, okay, you might not give it to him. 

"I mean, if I was 7-15 against Andre and I was done, it's hard to say I was the player of my generation - just because he got the best of me. Like I said, the story's not over yet. We have another probably three, four years of these two guys competing against each other. If anything, I think Nadal is going to be hungrier now, seeing Roger getting back to No. 1. It's hard to give you a definitive answer when it's not done yet. I think Roger knows he's got to figure out this kid.  It's a tough, tough matchup.  Nadal is one of the few guys that believes in himself that he's better than Roger."

You may remember that in his Wimbledon press conference, Rod Laver took the position that in one match, on grass, he would pick Sampras over Federer. Laver wasn't the only one who took that tack. Just a few weeks ago, John McEnroe told me, "Watching these guys today, I keep thinking that if Sampras walked out there, he’d still drive these guys bananas. In my opinion he’s still the greatest fast court-player who ever lived. Where Roger is the greatest, period."

I asked Sampras about that, too. He said:

"Well, I think one thing Roger doesn't see on grass the last number of years is really a true serve-and- volleyer, someone that's willing to come in and put the pressure on and make him pass, make him return these big serves. I don't think anyone really scares him. I think my game would make Roger a little bit more uncomfortable. I would obviously come in on both serves and put the pressure on his backhand, sort of go from there. . . I would sort of dictate the play.  But, you know, he'd be a tough guy to break, especially when he's hitting 50 aces like he did (in the recent Wimbledon final).  It would have been a great matchup.

"If I would beat him?  If I felt my best on grass, I did feel unbeatable, especially in the mid '90s.  I was a tough guy to break, played well from the back court to have chances, and I moved well enough. It's a flattering comment.  Do I think I could have beaten Roger in my prime?  Sure. I don't think anyone could beat me in my prime on grass. I felt as Roger does now - he feels unbeatable."

In terms of this discussion, Sampras also made an interesting observation about Andy Roddick, appended to his evaluation of how much Roddick seems to have improved: "(Andy's) backhand driveup the line is better and he's slicing a little better.  His transition game has gotten better.  As you saw on that set point, 6 5, he's still a little uncomfortable, but he's getting better at it. (But) I was sitting up there watching, (thinking) just serve-and-volley one time on your second serve because all Roger does is chip it. Put something in his head."

This is to me an endlessly interesting if unresolvable discussion, and it's what tennis players talk about when they gather to jaw about the players and game of today. But let's wrap it up with a bit about Safin, the player whose personality is as big as his talent, probably to his long-term detriment as a player. Surprisingly, the two men (Sampras and Safin) were friends - at least to the degree that anyone as soulful as Safin could be friends with someone as coldly realistic as Sampras. Sampras explained:

"Marat and I always got along very well when we were playing. He's a really nice guy, great player, showed what he could do especially at the US Open the one year, he tuned me up pretty good. He's an expressive guy on the court, shows emotion. Off the court, he's a happy-go-lucky guy. I was pretty reserved when I was playing, to myself.  For whatever reason, he and I seemed to get on really well.  We practiced quite a bit together. 

"You know, he's a champion. He got to No. 1. He won a major, I think two majors.  It's sad to see him go because I think he brought a lot to the sport. Haven't sort of kept in contact with him.  But certainly when I see him, we'll talk about some of our matches.  When Paul (Annacone) was coaching (Tim) Henman, Marat would ask Paul, How is Pete doing?  He was always just a personable guy, really nice guy, and someone that I've always gotten along really well with."

One day, Federer will be talking about guys -  Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, maybe even Nadal - just like this, just like the tired warrior that he will no doubt have become.

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Posted by Grant 07/15/2009 at 03:26 PM

"3) we can actually make GOAT conversations FUN (GASP!), MEANINGFUL (YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!), and PRODUCTIVE (SHUT UP!) if we erect large architectures of long-term analysis and overarching commentary."

Nothing says 'fun' like large architectures of long-term analysis and overarching commentary.

Taken from the Zemek summer camp brochure: 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. - campers will construct a post-Hegelian dialectic regarding the nature of 'time' as vis-a-vis the term 'Greatest of All Time'.
9:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. - ghost stories and s'mores.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 03:29 PM

Babe : Ok, fair enough. I'm a Federer fan myself, but would stop short of questioning Sampras's motives when he gives his honest opinions. After all, Laver and Borg aren't accused of blowing their own trumpets when they talk about it, so why Sampras?

Posted by Babe 07/15/2009 at 03:30 PM

Don't listen to all that gibberish, Benny. They are all so fickle & self indulgent. Anyone who watches Federer--independent of any subjective feelings--knows that he is the best there ever was. A game so blessed that he makes everyone else envious. Time & time again you hear it from people who have no personal interests in the debate, to wit, "he is the best I've ever seen". That says it all.

Sampras' graciousness is certainly well disguised cos from where I'm sitting he is sucking sourgrapes.

Posted by Tup23 07/15/2009 at 03:32 PM

I think what is clear is that Sampras himself puts much less thought into the GOAT debate than many of the posters here. Many of comments were made merely to accommodate the unrelenting media hounding, incessantly prodding for his take on 'the best ever', with each inquiry less original than the last. He's handled it very well, much better than many of the posters here have handled their overly-analytical criticism of the rare times when Sampras makes anything but the most glowing remarks about TMF's career.

Posted by mcakron 07/15/2009 at 03:33 PM

Well, Sampras KADs will be digging themselves out of the hole their man left on his clay resume for years. So far I've seen no persuasive arguments with which to fill it. But what the hey. On the other two surfaces, especially grass, the guy was pretty murderous. That's why I like to breakdown the GOAT debates by surface and then pick an overall guy from there. My pick is Fed among the Open-era hombres. But my opinion and a couple of bucks amount to a cup of coffee.

Posted by Matt Zemek 07/15/2009 at 03:36 PM

Stats, not opinions, in concert with orchestrating a meaningful GOAT debate/comparison:

Highest win % at majors, minimum 20 appearances: Borg

Highest % of majors won in career appearances: Borg

Most majors: Fed

Most Aussies, post-1987 (when tournament became 128-player event and regained legitimacy as a "real major"): Agassi first, Fed second

Most Frenches: Borg first, Nadal second

Most Wimbies: Sampras first, Fed second, Borg third

Most US Opens: Connors, Sampras, Fed--tie

Most Slam Finals reached: Fed (20)

Most Slam Semis Reached: Connors (31)

Most Slam Quarters Reached: Agassi (45)

Most majors per open-era decade:

1960s: Laver
70s: Borg
80s: Lendl and Wilander, tie
90s: Sampras
2000s: Fed

So much more to chew on. Go back through past threads and read.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 03:40 PM

"That's why I like to breakdown the GOAT debates by surface and then pick an overall guy from there."

mcakron : That's an even murkier debate. :-) Surfaces and equipment change so much over the years that it is impossible to make a convincing pick, leave alone the quality of competition. Evaluating overall career accomplishments is a much better metric, IMV, because it evens out the good and bad days a player can have, and takes into account his performances "in his prime" and when not quite at his peak. I believe the great ones should be fairly resilient to conditions, sub-par form etc. over a long period of time.

Posted by mcakron 07/15/2009 at 03:40 PM

Grant@3:26 -- you must have been hell on your teachers. Either that or had them laughing, too.

Posted by Babe 07/15/2009 at 03:43 PM

How about the most impressive--Most consecutive semis in a slam.

Posted by Babe 07/15/2009 at 03:46 PM

I agree VC--but, sometimes, they are. Of course Sampras gets the brunt of it cos he is the #14 man who was just passed. He has been in the middle of it since Fed started chasing him, so naturally, his comments are going to be the most dissected.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 03:48 PM

"He has been in the middle of it since Fed started chasing him, so naturally, his comments are going to be the most dissected."

Well, I don't overly dissect Federer's comments either, and he's been guilty of a few flippant ones.

Posted by Master Ace 07/15/2009 at 03:50 PM

"Hopefully Master Ace is keeping his lists and will do the Big Reveals of both WTA and ATP at the end of the year again. :)"

This year may be a little different in doing the ATP and WTA lists. So far, there has been some good matches and the USO Series has not started. So, I may have the TWibe mention some of the matches at that point. Then, I will take the ones given by the TWibe along with a few of my own and come up with the list. It is completely impossible to remember all of them.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 03:53 PM

This thread got stale for a while, but thankfully a few irrational Fed KADs have come to the rescue again. I'm loving this.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 07/15/2009 at 03:56 PM


"After all, Laver and Borg aren't accused of blowing their own trumpets when they talk about it, so why Sampras?"

VC, have Borg and Laver actually "blown their own trumpets" much in this matter?

Posted by mcakron 07/15/2009 at 03:58 PM

VC -- I have no doubt it is, and yes, I do take into consideration GS records, # of titles, longevity, competition, era played, etc., etc. But here's the beauty of my theory. I really have little or no interest if anyone agrees with me. If others think its Budge, Rosewall, Gonzales, Laver, Connors, Borg, Sampras, etc, so be it. I just reserve the right to join the debate on occasion and spread a little peace when possible. And yes, I took your comment and opinion in good faith. All's cool.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 03:58 PM

manuelsantanafan : No, they haven't. My point is not that they have done that, just to say that Sampras isn't guilty of this either just because he gives his honest opinion.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 04:00 PM

VC, you forgot to add that Rod usually says it's impossible to compare eras, and that Borg hasn't been asked as much about it.

Posted by mac 901 07/15/2009 at 04:01 PM

If you could pick one player in history to play for you, opponent unknown/surface unknown, in one match life or death- i think it would be Fed. Same situation, but you knew the surface would not be clay, I think the answer would change to sampras.

Posted by Matt Zemek 07/15/2009 at 04:03 PM

Salient stats culled from the past:

Match Records At The Majors (Not counting advancements due to walkovers)

Borg: 141-16 (89.8 winning percentage in 157 matches)
Federer: 182-26 (87.5 pct in 208 matches)
Nadal: 90-15 (85.7 in 105)
Sampras: 203-38 (84.2 in 241)
Connors: 233-50 (82.3 in 283)
Lendl: 222-49 (81.9 in 271)
McEnroe: 167-38 (81.5 in 205)
Agassi: 224-53 (80.9 in 277)
Wilander: 144-37 (79.6 in 181)


Victims in Major Finals

Federer: Roddick (4), Nadal (2), Philippoussis, Safin, Hewitt, Agassi, Baghdatis, Gonzalez, Djokovic, Murray, Soderling

Borg: Vilas (2), Connors (2), Orantes, Nastase, Pecci, Tanner, Gerulaitis, McEnroe, Lendl

Sampras: Agassi (4), Pioline (2), Ivanisevic (2), Courier, Martin, Becker, Chang, Moya, Rafter

Lendl: McEnroe (2), Wilander (2), Mecir (2), Pernfors, Edberg

McEnroe: Borg (3), Gerulaitis, Lewis, Connors, Lendl

Connors: Rosewall (2), Borg (2), Lendl (2), Dent, McEnroe

Agassi: Ivanisevic, Stich, Sampras, Medvedev, Martin, Kafelnikov, Clement, Schuettler

Wilander: Lendl (3), Vilas, Curren, Cash, Leconte

Nadal: Federer (5), Puerta


Conquerors in Major Finals

Federer - Nadal (5)
Borg - McEnroe (3), Connors (2)
Sampras - Edberg, Agassi, Safin, Hewitt
Lendl - Wilander (3), Becker (3), Connors (2), Borg, McEnroe, Cash
McEnroe - Lendl (2), Borg, Connors
Connors - Borg (2), Newcombe, Ashe, Orantes, Vilas, McEnroe
Agassi - Sampras (4), Gomez, Courier, Federer
Wilander - Lendl (2), Noah, Edberg
Nadal - Federer (2)


Majors won by the time of each birthday

21st birthday

Federer - 0
Borg - 3
Sampras - 1
Lendl - 0
McEnroe - 1
Connors - 0
Agassi - 0
Wilander - 4
Nadal - 2

24th birthday

Federer - 5
Borg - 8
Sampras - 6
Lendl - 0
McEnroe - 4
Connors - 3
Agassi - 1
Wilander - 6
Nadal - 6 and counting

27th birthday

Fed - 12
Borg - 11 (retired from sport)
Sampras - 11
Lendl - 4
McEnroe - 7
Connors - 5
Agassi - 3
Wilander - 7
Nadal - To Be Determined

30th birthday

Fed - TBD
Borg - retired
Sampras - 13
Lendl - 7
McEnroe - 7
Connors - 6
Agassi - 6
Wilander - 7
Nadal - TBD

35th birthday

Federer - TBD
Borg - retired
Sampras - 14/retired
Lendl - 8/retired
McEnroe - 7/retired
Connors - 8
Agassi - 8
Wilander - 7/retired
Nadal - TBD


Head-to-Heads At The Majors With Other Players On This List

Federer ---- 1-0 vs. Sampras, 3-1 vs. Agassi, 2-6 vs. Nadal
Borg ------- 1-0 vs. Lendl, 1-3 vs. McEnroe, 5-3 vs. Connors
Sampras ---- 0-1 vs. Federer, 2-0 vs. Lendl, 1-0 vs. McEnroe, 6-3 vs. Agassi, 1-0 vs. Wilander

Lendl ------ 0-1 vs. Borg, 0-2 vs. Sampras, 7-3 vs. McEnroe, 4-3 vs. Connors, 2-0 vs. Agassi, 5-4 vs. Wilander

McEnroe ---- 3-1 vs. Borg, 0-1 vs. Sampras, 3-7 vs. Lendl, 6-3 vs. Connors, 0-1 vs. Agassi, 2-3 vs. Wilander

Connors ---- 3-5 vs. Borg, 3-4 vs. Lendl, 3-6 vs. McEnroe, 0-2 vs. Agassi

Agassi ----- 1-3 vs. Federer, 3-6 vs. Sampras, 0-2 vs. Lendl, 1-0 vs. McEnroe, 2-0 vs. Connors, 1-1 vs. Wilander, 0-1 vs. Nadal

Wilander --- 0-1 vs. Sampras, 4-5 vs. Lendl, 3-2 vs. McEnroe, 1-1 vs. Agassi

Nadal ------ 6-2 vs. Federer, 1-0 vs. Agassi

Posted by Grant 07/15/2009 at 04:05 PM

From what I've seen Laver, Borg and Sampras have been pretty great. A sport that was lucky to have they when they played is still lucky to have them now.

Posted by Mike 07/15/2009 at 04:07 PM

Dr. Theodore Ennis: "For every irrational Fed KAD, there is an equal and opposite irrational Rafa KAD".

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 04:09 PM

Mike, Theodore who?

Posted by sally 07/15/2009 at 04:11 PM

sampras kad's are so funny!!
they are so insecure about roger
don't worry guys sampras is still great.

Posted by Mr Rick 07/15/2009 at 04:11 PM

Okay, you'all want REAL reporting and REAL analysis re: the GOAT controversy?!! Well, I have spent months interviewing ACTUAL REAL LIVE GOATS on this issue - here are the final words THEY have to say on the matter:


Baaaaaaaa! Baaaaaa! Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!




Ba ba baaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!


Oh, Rafa's knees, bbbbaaaaaaaaaaaa...

Baaa Baaa baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!


Baaaaaaa! Baaaa! Baaaaaaaagassi!

BAAAAAAAaaaa! full stop!

BBaaaaaaaa! Sampraaaaaaaaaaaas!!!

Baaaaaaaaaa! Rooooooooooooogggggggggggggeeerrrrrrrr!

Baaaaaaa! BBBaaast ever!!!!!!

Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Full stop.

Graaaaaaant! oh, head butt, OW!!!!!!!

Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba!

Staaaaatistics!!!!! Head to heeeeaaaddddddddddddddddd!!!

ba humbug

Posted by mick1303 07/15/2009 at 04:15 PM

I’ve developed a code recently (actually two separate, but similar in nature) to extract tournament information from certain websites on the tournament-by-tournament basis, whereas previously I was feeding the database of results match-by-match. Naturally it increased the speed of collection more than ten times. For the last week I’ve entered all WTA tournament for 2000 and second half of 1999. For ATP I’ve entered half of 2000 (I’m going backwards in time). Then Lars Jensen, the author of WTA96 website, even sent me his database. But I’ve discovered, that I can’t immediately marry it with mine, because the respective lists of players have to be verified and this is a work I can’t automate (very boring for a hobby).
Now I’ve switched to feeding the data from ATP 1984.
Along with overall career numerical comparisons I can compare year to year of different players, or even a player with himself from a different year. This is actually a lot of fun.
Earlier I’ve developed a “weighted ranking” approach -

Now I’m entertaining the idea to add another component (#8) – percentage of tournaments won out of all entered.

What I find difficult about comparing with 1984 (and I suspect 1974 and 1969 will be even worse) that no information on ranking value of non-Slam tournaments is available and I will have to make guesses. Probably will stick with some combination of prize money and historical references (for instance Rome and Canadian will be always the same ranking value across the years). Maybe anybody knows if the information about how much points tour awarded for smaller tournaments is available anywhere?

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 04:15 PM

Talk about pot vs. kettle. I'm dying here!

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 04:19 PM

mac 901, that's a fair assumption, though you might get a few infantile punctuation marks and caps from rabid Fed KADs. Props.

Posted by BlueDog 07/15/2009 at 04:20 PM

NP- Theodore Ennis aka T. Ennis-TEnnis (get it). It's from an ad on TTC.

Is a kettle allowed to talk about the other pots and kettles?

Posted by lines 07/15/2009 at 04:21 PM

One thing people always forget. Rafa is only one tourney away from the CAREER GRAND SLAM!!! He is what.. 22? If he wins USOPEN this year he's gotta be in the talks...

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 04:23 PM

BlueDog, thx. As to your question, beats me. I can just sit back and enjoy the kiddies play.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 04:26 PM

mick1303, I know we've had this conversation before, but the problem with any weighted rankings is that people will differ on which criteria to use and how much weight to assign to them. Subjectivity will always form a large part of the GOAT debate.

Posted by rafadoc 07/15/2009 at 04:29 PM

Matt Z: Thanks for posting those stats again. I remember seeing them on a recent post of Pete's. Very interesting and, without commentary (no offense!), sort of "fun" to look at. And, wow-one can appreciate our current ATP heroes, Roger and Rafa. It is interesting to look at bare stats that include the historical greats too.

Posted by Matt Zemek 07/15/2009 at 04:30 PM

Roger and Rafa, The Greatest Hits (Who Needs The Beatles or Stones):

Rafa: Clay match win streaks of 81 and 33

Roger: Grass streak of 65, hardcourt streak of 56

Rafa: Only man to win Monte Carlo five straight times (let alone five times period) and Rome four times.

Roger: Won 41 straight rounds at Wimbledon, tying Borg (Borg, I think, won more consecutive matches b/c Fed had a walkover in there)

Rafa: Won 16 titles as a teenager, tying Borg

Roger: Five straight French Open finals

Rafa: Four straight French titles, tying Borg

Roger: Seven straight Wimbledon finals

Rafa: Won first 48 best-of-5-set matches on clay

Roger: Only man to pull off Indian Wells-Miami double, did it twice

Rafa: Won at least 2 clay Masters events every year since 2005

Roger: (inactive) streak of 10 straight slam finals

Rafa: only simultaneous title holder of major tournaments contested on 3 different surfaces

Roger: Only man to win 5 straight Wimbies and US Opens

Rafa: 31-match win streak at French Open

Roger: 21 straight slam semifinals

Rafa: Only man to produce channel slam plus Olympic singles gold in same year

Roger AND Rafa together:

Met in 8 Masters finals, a record

Met in 7 major finals

Both have 15 Masters titles, behind Agassi's 17

Greatest Match of All Time

Won 17 of last 18 major titles

All Nadal titles attained by beating Federer

Nadal only man to beat Federer at a major more than once in the past 21 major tournaments.

Posted by rafadoc 07/15/2009 at 04:30 PM

lines: sssshhhhhhh. Don't jinx him. ;-)

Posted by Grant 07/15/2009 at 04:31 PM

"One thing people always forget. Rafa is only one tourney away from the CAREER GRAND SLAM!!! He is what.. 22? If he wins USOPEN this year he's gotta be in the talks..."

Oh, I think a lot of people remember the CGS possibility ;)
I personally already have Rafa as a potential member of the top tier of the Tennis Pantheon. And of course, even if he were to retire today he's had a career the vast majority of players could only dream about.

Posted by rafadoc 07/15/2009 at 04:32 PM

More good stuff Matt. Thanks!

Posted by BlueDog 07/15/2009 at 04:34 PM

NP-With a nice tall glass of your own special Kool Aid ;)

Posted by mick1303 07/15/2009 at 04:34 PM

NP,what I've discovered from experience is that data resists to interpretations to a certain degree. "Playing with weights" leads to changing the relative standings of players, if their respective performances during the considered period are reasonable close. Otherwise you will get the same result with various sets of weights. To put it bluntly, no amount of creative statistical analyses will result in annointing Vince Spadea a greatest or even great.

Posted by BrooklynNY 07/15/2009 at 04:35 PM

Here is the full interview from where many of these Sampras excerpts were taken. So they can be read in there proper context.

Posted by Matt Zemek 07/15/2009 at 04:35 PM


On this issue, the superabundance of opinion giving, without equally superabundant stats, historical references, and dry unpackings of facts has made it necessary for me to remove/withdraw personal commentary and allow the boatloads of numbers and records to do the talking.....

It's kinda like Pete Sampras insisting on letting his racket do the talking during his tennis career........

On the GOAT debate, less opinion giving and more truthing is the way to go!

Posted by Matt Zemek 07/15/2009 at 04:37 PM


PS--On matters of either grave social importance or weighty cultural interest, more opinion giving (the more explanatory and detailed it becomes) is better than concise attempts at data-centric brevity.

Posted by Grant 07/15/2009 at 04:37 PM

What is the Sampras Kool-Aid? Is it Blastin' Berry Cherry? Rock-a-dile Red? Sharkleberry Fin?

Posted by mick1303 07/15/2009 at 04:39 PM

Matt, I think Agassi also did IW-Miami

Posted by Grant 07/15/2009 at 04:39 PM

Oh wait, Rock-a-dile Red is obviously the Laver Kool-Aid.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 04:42 PM

Oh, mick1303, I don't disagree with you there. No one will be able to convince any sane fan that Spadea or even the likes of Nastase and Safin belong in the GOAT discussion. But once you get to the elite club of Laver, Borg, Sampras and Federer there's a lot of room for the "creative" statistical legerdemain that you mentioned.

BlueDog, wish I had a nice tall glass to drink Kool-Aid.

Posted by mick1303 07/15/2009 at 04:42 PM

Regarding 3 major surfaces - cross out "only" and replace it with just "first"

Posted by mick1303 07/15/2009 at 04:43 PM

Also you forgot about Puerta as Nadal's opponent

Posted by BlueDog 07/15/2009 at 04:46 PM

Thanks for the stats Matt.

The more stats given, the less clear any proof becomes. They are often meaningless without context and interpretation, which are both largely subjective.

Borg's winning % is probably skewed higher because he retired before his less dominant years could figure in. Fed won more points in W08, yet lost. What does that mean? Different things to different KADS.

It's an unwinable argument unless Fed pulls even in the H2H, and gets 2 calendar slams.

Posted by Mr Rick 07/15/2009 at 04:48 PM

yep, Grant, inspite of the depressing outcomes of the FO and Wimbledon, it certainly has occurred to me that this is the first time really Rafa has been able to head into the US Open Series fresh and truly rested. (god, please no repeats -ever- of USO '07...)

He had that nice long rest leading up to the AO in January, so fingers crossed that this recent hiatus will put him in optimum position for that Career Grand Slam.

Murray and Nole haven't exactly been setting the world on fire the past couple of months, either, so other planets seem to be aligning in cooperative fashion as well...

Posted by Matt Zemek 07/15/2009 at 04:49 PM


Thanks--Agassi did do it first (2001); Fed is the first and only man to do it twice, and more specifically, in back-to-back years.

Also, an addendum/modification of one stat:

Nadal is the only man to beat Federer more than once at a major tournament in the last 26 majors, not (merely) 21.

Trivia Question: Who is the last man other than Rafa to beat Fed more than once at a major? The question's answer is indisputable, but in relation to the above fact, it's best answered by going backwards in time, not forwards in a progression to the present moment.

Posted by Grant 07/15/2009 at 04:50 PM

"It's an unwinable argument unless Fed pulls even in the H2H, and gets 2 calendar slams."

And a time machine, to go defeat past greats in their primes.

Posted by BlueDog 07/15/2009 at 04:52 PM

NP, here, have some of mine. It still has a few years before it's expiration date. Federberry, mmmm.

Posted by Matt Zemek 07/15/2009 at 04:52 PM


Not disagreeing with you. What I want to achieve is to get anyone and everyone to cite more stats rather than less, and to do more explaining.

A few select stats (we all know what they are) have enjoyed too much dominance/leverage in this conversation. Widening the range of stats/facts cited by conversation participants can only be a positive, even though the spin and interpretation will still be (unavoidably, undeniably) considerable.

Posted by imjimmy 07/15/2009 at 04:53 PM

BrooklynNY @ 4:35 PM: Thanks a bunch for Pistol Pete's interview link. Very interesting.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 04:54 PM

BrooklynNY, these KADs don't care about the context. They just see Pete--who has already anointed Fed the GOAT in public on more than one occasion--granting that it's fair to question Nadal's superior H2H against their hero, and they go, "What an ego! Still not willing to hand over his crown! What sour grapes!" This after the interviewer specifically said he was gonna "put [Pete] on a spot." And of course this isn't the only thing Pete talked about during the interview. Like I said you gotta just sit back and enjoy the show.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 04:58 PM

BlueDog, have some of the Kool-Aid or your tall glasses? I frankly don't want either, but one is more preferable than the other.

Posted by mick1303 07/15/2009 at 05:00 PM

Nalbandian - AO & USO 2003

Posted by BlueDog 07/15/2009 at 05:00 PM

Grant- I think most people would give it to him, even without the time machine.

Besides if Fed beats Tilden then Fed ends up a cabbie in Majorca, and we never have the GOAT conversation (there's the silver lining). Those time machines are dangerous!

Posted by mick1303 07/15/2009 at 05:00 PM

Really easy to do such staff, when you have it in a database

Posted by Matt Zemek 07/15/2009 at 05:05 PM

NP -

Are these fringe Fed KADs, or regulars here at the TW tavern?

Someone comes out of the woodwork like that for virtually every big-name player.....

Mick -

You still had to do the work and have the database properly structured in the first place. Nothing wrong with being smart and prepared.

Posted by Grant 07/15/2009 at 05:07 PM

"Those time machines are dangerous!"

Well, if some temporal anomaly managed to prevent a future, it'd be easier to resolve various 'of all time' disputes.

Posted by BlueDog 07/15/2009 at 05:08 PM

NP, the Kool-Aid of course. I'd lend you a glass, but they're all half full.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 05:09 PM

Matt, mostly the former, though a few TW regulars also belong in the asylum, I'm afraid. I have no beef with reasonable KADs like you.

Posted by OnlyHuman 07/15/2009 at 05:10 PM

Matt Zemek 07/15/2009 @ 4:30 PM

Well, most of Rafa's impressive records are on clay. Let's just give him the Clay GOAT title, no disputing that.

Posted by imjimmy 07/15/2009 at 05:10 PM

Hilarious stuff - John W's latest SI Mailbag: The rabid Fed-KADs want his head for remarks on Fed's getup :)

I love this part from a reader:

""Roger Federer is not a common man. He is the greatest player in history. Why should he dress like he's going to a Home Depot in Alabama? I don't get it. He's not human; he's superhuman."" Heh!

NP: Word at 4:54 PM.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 05:12 PM

BlueDog, unfortunately Sampras himself has consumed so much Federberry I must be wary of the side effects. Thx, but I'll pass.

Posted by Grant 07/15/2009 at 05:14 PM

"He's not human; he's superhuman."

Oh please Rog no gold-trimmed cape next year.

Posted by BlueDog 07/15/2009 at 05:18 PM

"Oh please Rog no gold-trimmed cape next year."

If he wears the white tights and panties with a gold belt, even I would have to say that revokes any GOAT argument.

Posted by rafadoc 07/15/2009 at 05:19 PM

"On the GOAT debate, less opinion giving and more truthing is the way to go!"

Matt: So true and it does change the whole "mind-set" or "frame" of the issue. With just the facts, one can appreciate all of these guys with a clean palette. As soon as we try to comment, as "objectively as we might try" opinion sneaks in- we try to draw conclusions and that taints the whole discussion, putting a dent in ones ability to appreciate the players and their amazing records. That takes the joy out of it.

Agree that opinion has its place too. :)

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 05:19 PM

imjimmy, you want my share of Federberry? It's on BlueDog's tap.

Posted by BlueDog 07/15/2009 at 05:26 PM

NP- Probably a wise decision, though it's a pretty mild blend as they go. It can be combined with other flavors without irrational side effects.

Posted by Sherlock 07/15/2009 at 05:28 PM

"god, please no repeats -ever- of USO '07.."

Amen, Mr. Rick. :)

"Let's just give him the Clay GOAT title, no disputing that."

Doesn't Borg figure into that equation? I don't think Rafa's there yet.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 05:36 PM

BlueDog, think imjimmy may be interested. No referral fee required.

Posted by Mike 07/15/2009 at 05:36 PM

I could care less about the GOAT issue ... I'm of the mindset that there are too many variables ... including lifestyle, fitness, equipment, and others.

What gets my goat (NPI) is how Rafa figures into Fed's participation in any GOAT conversation. Fed has managed to set major records regardless of Rafa's presence ... and that's the bottom line.

If you want a reasonable GOAT debate ... keep Fedal Wars out of the equation, or it's going to go off topic. We can evaluate Fed and Rafa as individual participants in the GOAT Wars when they are both retired.

Posted by imjimmy 07/15/2009 at 05:37 PM

NP: Me Federberry? U kidding me ?

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 05:41 PM

Babe and others who dispute Rafael Nadal to be one of the greatest players ever...

Nadal has been ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 for an astonishing 4+ years...he wasn;t ranked No. 3 even for a week in between and that can only be because he defended what he won, year after year after year after year..he also owns a 81 match streak on one surface..his ranking points when he was No. 2 was equivalent or more than what other No. 1s (except Federer) have had...which is to say that if Federer wasn't around, Nadal would have been ranked No. 1 for an unprecedented 4 years.

That kind of ranking needs a dominating DNA...and Nadal has it..since 2004, its one dominating DNA pitted against another..Sampras never had to deal with such dominating DNA and neither did any one else...

The Fedal situation is unique...237 CONSECUTIVE weeks at No. 1 and 158 CONSECUTIVE weeks at No. the same time frame in tennis....there isn't a pair in tennis who has played 7 GS finals in 3 years. Ever.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 05:42 PM

Aww, c'mon, imjimmy. At least it sounds cool. :)

Posted by imjimmy 07/15/2009 at 05:48 PM

Thanks NP, but I'll pass. Gotta keep my sanity :)

Posted by rafadoc 07/15/2009 at 05:54 PM

ladyjulia: Just wanted to comment that I have enjoyed reading your fair minded posts. I can tell you are a fan of great tennis and appreciate the era we are experiencing now. Me too. :)

Posted by Mr Rick 07/15/2009 at 05:54 PM

"Oh please Rog no gold-trimmed cape next year."

already been done by both Liberace AND Elvis

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 05:56 PM

Gotcha, imjimmy. Meanwhile I shall go get drunk on the green grass of yesteryear!

Posted by BlueDog 07/15/2009 at 05:56 PM

imjimmy- If you'd already lost your sanity, would you know?

Posted by mick1303 07/15/2009 at 05:57 PM

re:Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 @ 5:41 PM

Nadal's number regarding weeks at #1 is 46 weeks. That is it so far. He is #11 on this list. Number of weeks at #2 is a nice trivia. But is it really a record to be proud of?
Try to forget about Federer and come up with records, which belongs to Nadal only and not to the pair of Federer-Nadal. They are not the Williams sisters and their records shouldn't be blended together (not that I'm advocating that either).

Posted by Mr Rick 07/15/2009 at 05:59 PM

Rafadoc is your sig line in tribute to Rafa's physiotherapist? I guess he would be a most important person in these critical times!

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 05:59 PM


thanks for the stats...but how many consecutive SFs or Fs or GS did the other contenders reach?

Federer and Nadal love the word consecutive you see..its either four CONSECUTIVE FOs or FIVE consecutive Wimbys and US Opens. Its 81 CONSECUTIVE matches on clay or 65 CONSECUTIVE matches on grass. Its 6 GS finals in three CONSECUTIVE years. Its 237 CONSECUTIVE weeks at No. 1 or 158 CONSECUTIVE weeks at No.2. Its 11 CONSECUTIVE majors between them.

Posted by Mr Rick 07/15/2009 at 06:03 PM

mick - what do you think the odds are for any 22 yr old tennis player to be #1 for 46 weeks?!! i dare say most tennis players would give just about anything to accomplish that -- and it most certainly is something to be quite proud of, thank you very much!

Posted by imjimmy 07/15/2009 at 06:04 PM

""Meanwhile I shall go get drunk on the green grass of yesteryear! ""

Great idea NP. That's a place where I would pay for entry :)

Posted by mick1303 07/15/2009 at 06:07 PM

Yes, I'm not getting that sacred meaning of consequtive in the career context. Why reclaiming the title after you didn't win it carries less weight than winning two in a row? I'm not sure. I'm more in favor of totals. And in favor of performance measures, expressed in shares - like win-loss ratio or points earned per tournament entered. The more various components you factor in you formula, the more precise it will be (if these components are not highly correlated)

Posted by mick1303 07/15/2009 at 06:12 PM

I think reaching #1 even for one week is already a reason enough to be proud, regardless of in what age it happened. But if we comparing him to the best, then this number is where it is. When you say, "or but he is so young", you invite everyone to extrapolate what would happen in future. But extrapolationg is a fancy word for guessing.

Posted by mick1303 07/15/2009 at 06:13 PM

Off to bed, it's past 1 am here and I will have to go to the office tomorrow. Have a nice chat, everybody

Posted by rafadoc 07/15/2009 at 06:14 PM

mick: Is that a record to be proud of? Err, yes. *puzzled*

Mr. Rick: Yes, indeed, a tribute to "the other Rafa", Maymo. :)

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 06:17 PM

I also do not understand why people give so much weight to the number of years a player has ended ranked as #1. Why should that matter? #1 is #1 no matter when you get it, because it incorporates the performance of the last 52 weeks, so all that should matter is how long you keep it.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 06:18 PM

*high-5s imjimmy*

And I'm off. Later, folks. Try to stay out of the asylum.

Posted by Sherlock 07/15/2009 at 06:19 PM

"Number of weeks at #2 is a nice trivia. But is it really a record to be proud of?"

If Rios was #1, no. But Roger? Yeah, I'll gladly take it. :)

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 06:26 PM

"#1 is #1 no matter when you get it, because it incorporates the performance of the last 52 weeks, so all that should matter is how long you keep it."

VC, mick1303 actually raised the same point sometime last year, and I explained why the year-end rankings do matter. Here's what I said re the issue:

"[Y]ou’re right that the tennis tour is an endless race, but that still doesn’t mean there is no finish. According to your logic, the [Lakers] aren’t the best team of the last NBA season because there’s another season coming, and our work is never finished because there’s always more work to do. To deny the importance of the end is to deny the importance of the beginning and thus the very purpose of human activities—including tennis. I’m not sure if this is what you really want. Players seek the year-end No. 1 ranking not just to get the bonus 'vacation weeks,' as you claim, but because it means something to finish a season as the top player. You’re right that this preference is based on a tradition, but it’s still a valid social construct, one as old as the ranking system itself. I’d be interested to see how you’d defend the ranking system but not the year-end ranking."

To reinforce this same point, just ask any player if he’d prefer to be No. 1 on December 31 or April 11, and I’m sure he’ll say he prefer the former. Yes, the total # of weeks is important, but so is the # of finishing at the top.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 06:28 PM

I also said this:

"The year-end No. 1 ranking and the number of weeks at the top aren't mutually exclusive. Near the end of the year you can try your damn hardest to finish as No. 1, but that's almost impossible to do unless you've been at or near the top in the earlier weeks. In fact Connors, Lendl and Sampras all have swapped the top spot during the same year. The (pre-2008) Federer era is a special case as he'd been dominant for so long and there was no one but perhaps Nadal to mount a serious challenge."

Posted by imjimmy 07/15/2009 at 06:30 PM

*high-5s NP* ..Later

I'm off too. Take it easy folks :)

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 06:32 PM


"Number of weeks at #2 is a nice trivia. But is it really a record to be proud of?"

If the ranking points you have are more than what other No.1s have had (i think the ranking points changed slightly after Pete..but i think Nadal had more ranking points than Pete when he ranked No. 1...i may have got that wrong though)...either way, it was more than at least a few No. 1 players.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 06:33 PM


Also, if you have won 3 GS in 3 years, reach the final of Wimby twice in three years, win 3 MS in each of those three years, SF of Masters cup in each of those three years and STILL remain No. 2...that position in ranking needs a little more attention, don't you think?

Well, lets outline Nadal's accomplishments on his own:

Wins FO in his very first attendence.
Wins first 32 matches at FO.
6 GS + Olympic gold by age 23.
81 match streak on one surface.
Four consecutive finals at FO.
Three consecutive finals at Wimby.
Made finals at FO and wimby for three consecutive years winning 4 out of those 6 finals.
158 CONSECUTIVE weeks at No. 2. Has not been ranked No. 3 since Wimby 2005. That is 4 years in the top 2.
Won 15 MS by age 23. Agassi has 17 MS at age 33.
Has won five consecutive MC...a MS tournament.
Has won GS on all three surfaces.
Has won titles on all three surfaces, other than GS.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 06:35 PM

NP : I can see the "vacation weeks" logic. The rest of your explanation makes more sense to me in the context of team sports, where you have "well-defined" seasons, with each team playing others a fixed number of times, and a trophy for the team ending with maximum points. In tennis, tournament wins are more valuable. If I were a player, it would make no difference to me if I were ranked #1 between say, 1 November 2009 to 1 February 2011, or between 1 February 2009 to 1 May 2010 (both 15 month periods). There is no tangible reward for ending the year ranked #1.

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