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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 VC 07/15/2009 at 06:38 PM

"Won 15 MS by age 23."

That is one of his most under-rated achievements. He could set an insane record for the total number of MS titles won by the time he's done.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 06:39 PM

All I am saying that Federer and Nadal are one of the greatest players ever, but together...they are the greatest ever. Its not just the rivalry...its how they together obliterated the field. Sure, Sampras - Agassi might have had a good rivarly,Borg-McEnroe had a riveting rivarly but they never built an empire the whole year round nobody else could touch...they never denied the field they way Federer and Nadal have denied the whole year through, since 2005...these two are the ultimate soulcrushers

Its telling that the only people who won majors since 2005 are Safin and Djoker. If Federer takes the HC and grass, you have to deal with Nadal at FO. And now they have to deal with Nadal at Wimby and AO. And deal with Federer at FO. They left nothing....for the field.

Its sort of freakish the way both appeared at the same time.

Posted by Mr Rick 07/15/2009 at 06:40 PM

yep rafa doc, Rafa Maymo is quite important these days! Say, what kind of training do physiotherapist's of Maymo's level need to have, do you think? I assume it is not M.D. level training - but is it more than just getting a B.S. in Physical Therapy or the like? It seems that sports rehabilitation for elite athletes has become quite a technical specialty.

Posted by Babe 07/15/2009 at 06:42 PM

VC--I think it may be mainly an American thing. The truth is that Sampras was not #1 for a majority of the years he ended the year as #1. I remember he would take wild cards to play tournaments at the end of the year so that he could accumulate enough points. I think there was some rumble as to how bogus it became & the system was changed to where you started afresh each year accumulating points.

The other thing is that ending the year as #1 keeps your name as the #1 player for that year even though sometimes when the stats are broken down you find that that person was not really #1 for close to the entire year. So ending the year at #1 is visually better than being #1 for most of the year & then relinquishing it at the end...because you ended the season as the #1 player in the world.

Posted by OnlyHuman 07/15/2009 at 06:44 PM

It used to be best of 5 for some of the Masters Series finals, like IW, and Miami, now they are all best of 3. So it is less comparable now.

Posted by Babe 07/15/2009 at 06:46 PM

"i think Nadal had more ranking points than Pete when he ranked No. 1...i may have got that wrong though"

You're right Ladyjulia but I don't know anyone that grows up wanting to be second best. I certainly would not be screaming it down the street.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 06:46 PM

"they never denied the field they way Federer and Nadal have denied the whole year through, since 2005...these two are the ultimate soulcrushers"

ladyjulia : It shows a lot about the character of these guys that they could rebound from several crushing disappointments. For example, before this year, it was always Federer who was making it to clay-court finals and getting his dreams crushed by Nadal in MS events. Still, he battled his way to 3 straight French Open finals. This year, it was Novak who was beaten thrice by Rafa in the clay MS events, and was hotly tipped to make it to the RG finals, but he had a bit of a let-down after the Madrid loss.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 06:47 PM

VC, but tennis also has "well-defined" seasons. They're called years, or spring (HC), summer (clay and grass) and fall (outdoor and indoor HC), if you wanna break 'em down. As for there being "no tangible reward for ending the year ranked #1," I'd say all the brouhaha leading up to the YEC tells us otherwise.

Back to the issue of vacation weeks. I addressed this one 2 in my discussion with mick1303. Here's what I said (note that this took place near the end of last year):

As you may well know, top players like Sampras focused mostly on the Slams and chose to play no more tourneys (including the Masters Series) than “necessary.” Now why didn’t they try to rack up more points? That’s right, because the ranking points they’d scraped up were enough to qualify them as the year-end No. 1. No doubt they also expected to spend their “vacation weeks” at the top, so I find it hardly “fair” to erase those weeks from their records retroactively. And as you noted yourself the tennis season ends on a different date every year. In other words, each year provides a different number of “active tour weeks,” which should tell us that trying to count the “right” number of weeks @ No. 1 for fair comparison is a futile endeavor to begin with.

That brings us to my more important beef: the very notion of “vacation weeks.” Let me explain. Almost all the top players are on “vacation” right now. Should we then count the weeks between the USO and the DC SFs as “vacation weeks”? Ah, but there are actually a couple tourneys going on, you say? True, but these tourneys offer no more than 175 points at most, obviously not enough for a lower-ranked player to challenge the top ranking. And like I said the top players aren’t competing at the moment. So if “precision” is your goal, what’s the “consequitive” (I take it that you meant consequential) difference between this “vacation” and the one at the end of the year?

And speaking of precision, how would you account for those Davis Cup matches that the top-level players compete in? As we all know the DC doesn’t offer any ranking points. (Looks like this will change starting next year, but the question is still valid.) And if you’re so concerned about the availability of tourneys to the players, just how “fair” is the YEC? After all it allows only the top 8 players to compete, so No. 9 and No. 10 (and a few other potential No. 1s) are left out!

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 06:47 PM

Onlyhuman,

The MS finals was still best of five till 2007.

Posted by Rosangel 07/15/2009 at 06:48 PM

Goodness. This thread has deteriorated.

"Nadal's wins (vs. Federer on HC) came early in 2004 and in 2006. After that he did not win a hard court match against Federer until the Australian Open in 2009. Well they met only twice and that too at the year end Masters. Why? Because they were seeded #1 and #2 and Nadal did not make a single final in Hard court tournaments where Federer had also entered."

Totally wrong. Purely from memory, Nadal won the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Toronto in 2008, Indian Wells in 2007, reached the Paris Bercy final in 2007, reached the Miami final in 2008. And Federer didn't reach any of those finals. The shoe isn't all on one foot. And no, I'm not disputing that Federer won more HC tournaments, and obviously HC slams during that period, just that the facts of this particular argument are very inaccurate - and would also have been extremely easy to check.

Trashing one player's record to aggrandise another isn't much of an argument at the best of times, but Nadal doesn't have much to be ashamed of in his HC record to date, considering he has three other HC Masters Series events in his collection too - Madrid 2005, Montreal 2005 and Indian Wells 2009. Those weren't against Federer either.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 06:49 PM

I also said this:

You’re right that “nobody is playing and rankings are not moving” after the YEC, but I’m not sure if that really matters. Let me explain (again). I think you’d agree that the ATP wouldn’t run a Masters event between the YEC and December 31 (or the AO, for that matter), so what does that leave us with? You guessed it: perhaps one or two of the 175-point tourneys I mentioned earlier. And I doubt many players of relatively high ranks would bother to play any tourneys around this time anyway, as the small number of points available almost certainly wouldn’t jeopardize their rankings. This is why I said there’s no consequential difference between the year-end “vacation” and the two- or three-week lull immediately following the USO, because the top ranking is pretty solid in both cases.

And I mentioned the Davis Cup not just because no other events are held at the same time as its SFs and finals (a few do take place, actually) but also because it doesn’t offer any ranking points but most top players from the participating countries still choose to compete. This should tell you how the very notion of “vacation weeks” is dubious to begin with. And let’s not forget my point regarding the futility of trying to determine the “fair” number of “active tour weeks,” as each year offers a different number which makes fair comparison of different eras difficult, if not impossible.

Posted by Babe 07/15/2009 at 06:51 PM

"...a bit of a let-down after the Madrid loss."

That's putting it mildly. Novak tends to let things linger, to say the least. Heck a single applauding of his double-fault can send him in an irreversible downward spiral mid-match.

Posted by Benny 07/15/2009 at 06:51 PM

I still think roger needs a coach and that Mirka has too much control despite the recent successes. Remember, there is no finish line!

Posted by OnlyHuman 07/15/2009 at 06:53 PM

Roger Federer
Hard (38)
Grass (11)
Clay (9)
Carpet (2)

Rafa Nadal
Winner – Titles by Surface
Hard (9)
Clay (25)
Grass (2)
Carpet (0)

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 06:54 PM

"As for there being "no tangible reward for ending the year ranked #1," I'd say all the brouhaha leading up to the YEC tells us otherwise."

NP : Way too much detail for me. :-) All I'd say in response to the above statement is I'd rather have the trophy than the ranking (if that's possible in any way). :-)

I remember a similar debate coming up a couple of years back when Mauresmo won two Slams, and Henin made all 4 Slam finals, winning one, and won the YEC. She ended the year ranked #1, but most people agreed that Mauresmo had had the better year.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 06:57 PM

Babe,

Correct me if I am wrong, but Nadal made one comment some years ago (2006? ) about that No. 2 ranking. If I remember correctly, he said :

"No. 1 ranking? I *am* the best player on Earth. Roger...he is from another planet".

As I mentioned before, if you have won 3 GS, 11 MS, reached 2 finals at Wimby, SF at TMC...and you're a No.2 who has never been ranked No. 1, you should be shouting that down the street.

I don't mean to pick on Roddick, but Roddick had won one GS and had been ranked No. 1. OTOH, you have player B who has won 3 GS but had never been ranked No. 1. So, you think player B has nothing to brag about all those years?

Posted by HK 07/15/2009 at 06:57 PM

Pondering recent events at RG and Wimbledon, a set of questions different from who is the GOAT seem to be interesting. After watching this year's French Open final, NBC showed excerpts of the 2008 Wimbledon final. Then the same night, I caught some of tennis channel's replay of the 1989 Davis cup match between Becker and Edberg. Having watched all three on the same day on my large home theater screen, I caught myself doubting whether Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal could match what Becker and Edberg were doing.

For one, the pace of shot in the Becker-Edberg match seemed faster not slower than last year's Wimbledon final and the court seemed to be lightning fast. Normally, when you watch older matches you expect to feel like you are watching something in slow motion. This was the opposite feeling. I was left wondering whether Roger Federer would be able to handle either of these guys on this fast a court. It reminded me how good Becker's return was and how good Edberg's volley was. It was truly breathtaking. No one today comes even within a mile of how well Edberg could volley. And I doubt anyone has a return as lethal as Becker's. This was like watching a match from an alternate tennis universe. After watching Edberg move around the court and cover the net, I was not so sure anymore that he was any worse an athlete than either Federer or Nadal.

Secondly, the style of play between the French Open final of this year and last year's Wimbledon final were closer than the style of play between the Wimbledon final and the Davis cup match from '89. I was reminded of how different grass court and fast indoor tennis used to be from clay court tennis.

What I am leading up to is that there definitely seems to be a homogenization of playing styles across surfaces these days. One could ask the following questions
1) Why has it taken such a short amount of time after Sampras, for his record of 14 grand slams to be broken?
2) Why have Federer and Nadal been able to dominate to the extent they have over the last few years?

One could answer both questions by pointing to the abilities of both these players. Surely this is a big part of the story, but I suspect not the whole story. I think the slowing down of playing surfaces and making them all be more similar in speed and bounce than they used to be also has a role to play. Add in new racket and string technology and what you have these days are playing styles that are more similar for all surfaces than they have ever been with a greater buffer for the players with the best abilities in any given match.

A couple of decades back it was hard for some one who did very well on clay courts to translate these abilities to do well on grass and vice-versa. Nowadays, that doesn't seem to be as much of a problem. Therefore, Federer probably has many more chances over his career to win the French than Becker, Edberg, McEnroe and Sampras had in their day. Same thing probably applies to Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in comparison to say Wilander and Lendl. Also, with courts playing medium paced everywhere the chance of upsets has also dwindled. With very fast courts, there was always the chance that a top player could get served off the court in match. There was much less margin for error. Similarly, on clay there was a higher chance that some clay court specialist could wait out and frustrate a top player. This seems to happen less these days. The spectacle at Roland Garros seemed to be one of power tennis (Soderling, Gonzalez come to mind). On a side note, I saw very little discussion of the fact that RG seems to have made the ball a little lighter and what role this might have played in Nadal's upset. McEnroe commented on this when asked after the final and said it was the fastest conditions he had seen at RG.

So, I wonder whether we can continue to expect more records to tumble since the variations between surfaces and playing styles have been reduced and this allows players more venues and chances to rack up the numbers. Maybe Federer will get to keep his record slam record for an even shorter time than Sampras. Maybe all this is a statement on the state of tennis as much as it is on the greatness of these particular players.

Finally, it also gives me pause in comparing players from different times. Watching Becker and Edberg at their best, it makes me far less ready to crown anybody the greatest of anything. But, it does make me sad that I don't see anyone volley like Edberg anymore and play all court tennis on a fast court the way Becker did anymore. Since Pete brought up the music analogy, it almost feels like losing a style of music (pick your favourite) and not hearing it anymore. When you hear it after a long time, it makes one nostalgic. I think the sport should be careful to preserve the diversity of tennis.


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

HK : Great post, I also have the hunch that we could see Career Slams becoming more common and players reaching bigger Slam totals. It's no coincidence that it took nearly 30 years for someone to emulate the Channel Slam, and now it's been done twice in two years. The Career Slam used to be a bit of a Holy Grail, now suddenly, Federer has done it, and Nadal has a shot at it at the US Open.

I'm not lamenting the decline of surface specialists though, I like it when the top players are a genuine threat at every Slam.

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

HK,

good point...but it dosen't answer the question you mentioned ...why Federer and Nadal could dominate their field and none of the others did? Assuming that Federer dominated grass for five years, HC for four years and Nadal dominated clay for five years (until FO this year).

If I remember correctly, Sampras reached 3 consecutive SFs. That's three. Assuming that it was hard for a fast court player to play on clay, he should have still been reaching 3 SFs per year. I don't know whether he did that or not. Also, it does not explain how Borg won FO and Wimby since it was pre-homogenization.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 07:08 PM

VC, I can't and won't argue against your preference. Let me just note that trophies and rankings aren't mutually exclusive.

The Amelie-Henin debate is a case in point. We wouldn't have had that debate if Henin had failed to win a Slam and posted relatively poor records all year long. Of course we can point out a few flaws in the ranking system and try to change it, but that says more about the system than Amelie's or Henin's performances in '06.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 07:10 PM

VC,

I think HK's post explains very well why there will be many more people who will win a career slam.

But it does not mean that people will win a greater total slam record any faster. Sure, they have more chances, but so does rest of the field.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 07:18 PM

ladyjulia : But it's no longer common to see guys who come out only for the clay season and do nothing for the rest of the year. Those sort of players caused lots of upsets in the past, but it's less common now. I don't think that's a bad thing, though. But it's possible I'm reading too much into the dominance of Federer and Nadal and specialists might make a return in the future when the top players aren't this good. I also found it surprising, as you pointed out, that Sampras's longest semifinal run was 3, and Djokovic has already managed a streak of 5.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 07:19 PM

Also, it's well-documented that grass has been slowed down, but I don't know of any evidence that clay has been sped up.

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

HK, very well said. I was a bit surprised that you rated Becker's return so high, but that's a small caveat. Props to ya.

Posted by Goldilocks 07/15/2009 at 07:22 PM

ladyjulia: Depending my guy when he is not even your numero uno guy, wow, I don´t know what to say, except: Thank you very much for your time and effort. Very much appreciated.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 07/15/2009 at 07:24 PM

HK. Interesting observations.

Rosangel, 6:48 alludes to the fact that when actual facts don't support the positions of certain fans, they choose to plug in facts from an alternate universe.

Yet another illustration of the fallacy of going to majors totals in order to buttress arguments concerning the mythical GOAT.

Borg skipped at least one French Open b/c of WTT and skipped numerous Australian Opens. (This has been noted numerous times by others.) Admittedly, one reason Borg skipped so many AOs was that he didn't want to burn himself out b4 the FO and Wimbledon. However, Borg used to pick up mucho dinero in many exhibitions during those years. Had Borg been more interested in accumulating majors titles, he would have substituted AO participation for exhibition lucre.

For much of his career, Borg's contractual obligations required him to play with a Bancroft Borg racket at the U.S. Open, instead of the Donnay Borg he was using to win the French Open and Wimbledon. This may have led to Borg's failure to win the U.S. Open.

Again, Rafa has not yet achieved GOAT status. But if Federer is the GOAT, Rafa is the GOATMASTER.

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

VC, I think the "grass-courting" of terre battue has more to do with the tennis balls than the surface per se. IIRC Emilio Sanchez said something about the balls being faster this year. There are some who say the surface itself is now thinner and faster, but I've yet to see any hard evidence supporting this claim.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 07:37 PM

MSF, I actually don't think Borg's winning the AO would've helped his GOAT claim all that much, unless other top players like Connors and McEnroe had also participated. After all we rate Slams highly because they're the most difficult tourneys to win.

Now I know some would add, "And it was played on grass back then." Yeah, but what if it were played on HCs and all the top players had competed? Like you said Borg had to use a different racket at the USO, and he wouldn't have had to deal with the rowdy crowd and distracting (to him) lights of the USO. You really don't think he wouldn't have had a shot at one or two Slam titles on HCs? Just one more reason why Borg shouldn't be out of the GOAT discussion yet.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 07:37 PM

Goldilocks and rafadoc,

No problem. I am fascinated by both players.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 07:49 PM

ladyjulia, you asked why Federer and Nadal could dominate their field and none of the others did. I can think of the following reasons.

1) The top competition in other eras was tougher. (Note that "top" and the plural "eras." I'm not just talking about the '90s.)
2) Homogenization of surfaces. I don't think it's just a coincidence that many GOAT candidates have failed to succeed (relatively speaking, of course) on one surface, be it clay or grass.
3) Homogenization of playing styles, probably due to 2) and the advances in technology.
4) Different seeding systems. In previous eras there were 16 as opposed to 32 seeds at a major, so upsets were more likely.

Posted by Anand 07/15/2009 at 07:55 PM

I see some contributors looking at Fed-Rafa grass H2H (2-1) and hard court H2H (3-3) and then stating "insignificant" etc.

Folks, H2H is not the definitive stat. The real way to measure who is the dominant guy on the surface is to see his win %. On that score, first Fed overpowers Sampras.

Since 2003, Fed is 72-1. Rafa is probably decent but nowhere close. That says Fed is the #1 of his era in Grass. It is not "insignificant".

A similar look at hard courts from 2003 till date will probably reveal that Fed is the dominant one there as well.

Fed set such a high standard in 2006 that his subsequent outings have looked good but not great, compared to what we've come to expect from him. Add to that, Rafa's phenomenal run of about a year or so, and our memory of Fed's domination is quickly wiped out, leading to the conclusion Rafa > Fed on clay and = Fed on others. Sure, Rafa had a better year but that came only after 5 glorious years that have now been capped by the GS record and CY slam.

Point is, you can say Rafa was the top dog prior to burning out in RG. But Fed has been the man of his era and you can't seriously doubt that.

Has Fed faced a problem vs Rafa? On clay courts (especially bouncy ones) yes. Still you have to admit that Fed has found ways to beat Rafa on clay and until the mono stuff slowed him down, had figured out ways to win consistently and reverse the H2H.

It stands now at 13-7 but the Rome 06 and Wimbledon 08 were so close... Had they gone the other way it would have been 11-9 which is respectable.

I still don't get how so many of you all can look at a guy who's made 16 of 17 Slam finals, has such an incredible win % and say Sampras was better or Rafa is his master and so on. For those of you who are in awe of Rafa's win % of 82-odd, here is something to consider. Fed was a slow starter, but if you consider his win % from his first tournament win (Jan 2009), he is at 85.4%. Rafa and Borg got off the blocks quickly, but Fed has been similarly prodigious once he got over the initial hump. Same thing with Slam wins... If you consider Fed's record from his first Slam win, played 25, W 15, F 20, SF 23. Borg: played 23, W 11, F 16, SF 17. Those to me are GOOE (greatest of open era) numbers.

To conclude, if Rafa can regain his top form and Fed maintains his current tempo, it is going to be very interesting for us. GOAT or GOOE or otherwise, I would love to see some seriously good tennis and let's hope Rafa gets back to full flow ... and stays out of trouble even if he has to cut down his schedule and perhaps forgo the #1 ranking in the process.

Posted by Corrie 07/15/2009 at 07:55 PM

HK, Edberg was my favourite player followed by Becker, and I watched all their matches, but it seems useless comparing them to my current favourites, Nadal and Fed because conditions are so different. I have a strong feeling they'd both be beaten easily by Fed on all faster surfaces and Nadal on slow, and maybe by both on everything, but all these things are totally subjective. Also, the game itself has changed so much that it's impossible to compare. Why on earth do we all spend so much time trying to do the impossible?

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 08:03 PM

NP : The seeding system wouldn't have any effect on Federer, he doesn't lose to ANYONE outside Nadal in Slams (yes, I know Safin and Djokovic have both managed it once in the last half a decade).

On the homogenization of surfaces thing, I'm curious to know whether there is a clear demarcation of when they started slowing Wimby down. For the record, I think Federer would have done very well regardless, because he beat Sampras in '01 when it was pretty quick, and I remember it being quite fast when he won it in '03 and '04 as well. The reason I'm asking is - maybe it isn't a coincidence he started doing better at RG after he adopted a baseline gameplan at Wimbledon.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 08:11 PM

Oh, and Safin and Djokovic were also seeded in the top 5 when they beat him in the semis. So you'd have to go back all the way to Kuerten. This guy matches up astonishingly well against the rest of the field, under all conditions, on all surfaces. Add to that his freakishly good fitness record, and preparation for the Majors.

Posted by Arun 07/15/2009 at 08:16 PM

VC: Randomly, that brings another thing to my mind. Since the start of '04, the Fed has lost to only 3 men in the championship matches (of any tournament!) -- Rafa, Nalby and Nole.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 08:17 PM

"ladyjulia, you asked why Federer and Nadal could dominate their field and none of the others did. I can think of the following reasons.

1) The top competition in other eras was tougher. (Note that "top" and the plural "eras." I'm not just talking about the '90s.)


2) Homogenization of surfaces. I don't think it's just a coincidence that many GOAT candidates have failed to succeed (relatively speaking, of course) on one surface, be it clay or grass.
3) Homogenization of playing styles, probably due to 2) and the advances in technology.
4) Different seeding systems. In previous eras there were 16 as opposed to 32 seeds at a major, so upsets were more likely."

NP...I agree with some ...but not all.

1. How is the competition tougher in other eras? The current field has won 13 slams (not counting Federer).

This is a chicken and egg problem...is the competition weak because they have been dominated, or the competition tough because one person did not have enough obsession to win?

I don't think there is enough evidence to prove this.

2. You bring up the homogenization of surfaces ...I am talking about Nadal dominating on clay ONLY and Federer on grass ONLY (pre 2008 scenario)...so what does homogenization have to do with Nadal obliterating everybody on clay for five years and Federer doing the same on grass for five years? The homogenization gives equal for everybody. So, Borg plays 7 matches on clay and dominates and so does Nadal. The homogenization affects whether Nadal can win Wimby and whether Federer can win FO...which i accept. But the homogenization dosen't predict that Federer WILL win 3 GS in 2006 and 2007 and that Nadal WILL win FO in 2006 and 2007. They won because they defeated the field and so between 2005 Wimby and 2008 AO...not a single person other than Fedal won a GS.

3) is a good reason...

4) Also a good reason, still i assume that during Pete's time...they had 32 seeds? Also, Federer has not lost to anybody outside the top 5 since 2004 wimby...wonder what was the breakup for the other contenders.

In a stretch of 22 majors, how many contentders lost to somebody outside the top 5?

I assume even if there are 16 seeds, you won't meet the top 5 until the QF...

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 08:25 PM

ladyjulia : The seeding argument is irrelevant in Federer's case, IMO. I made the same point a few posts earlier.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 08:31 PM

VC...yup..I agree...

Post Wimby 2008, is the same true for Nadal, counting Soderling as an exception. I know he lost to Muzz, JMDP. Don't recall him losing to anyone else in that period.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 08:33 PM

VC, I'm not so sure the seeding system hasn't had any effect on Fed. Say he'd met an unseeded but promising defensive baseliner like Simon or Murray or red-hot opponents like Tsonga or Kohlschreiber in early rounds. It's fair to say Fed might not have gotten through these players each and every time.

And I think I've already told you that the AEC was trying to slow down the surface as early as in the '90s. As for that one and only match between Fed and Sampras, I know Fed KADs often offer this completely watertight analysis: "Sure, Sampras wasn't in his prime, but Roger wasn't, either. And Pete was closer to his prime than Roger was to his, so Roger wins!" Uh, no. Like I said yesterday, a single match is too small a sample from which to draw sweeping conclusions. Just see how the Nadal-Tsonga H2H has unfolded since Jo demolished Rafa in the '08 AO SF: 2 wins for Rafa, on HCs. I'm sure others can think of many other similar instances.

Now to be fair, I've also seen Sampras KADs try to downgrade Pete's performance that day. Actually, Pete played quite well, serving around 70% and raising his game, prolly a little too late, in the last 2 sets when he realized this was no ordinary kid he was playing against. Fed just happened to play arguably his best tennis that day before he began his dominance, so he eventually came out as the victor. Props to him.

If there's one conclusion we can draw from that match it's that Fed would've been a force on the pre-claycourted grass as he showed he could S&V with the best of 'em (literally). But that's pretty much it. Trying to draw anything more from it is KADish cant.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 08:37 PM

NP : He's played most of these red-hot guys at some point. One round earlier or later, I'm not sure it makes much of a difference. Over five years, I'm sure it all evens out. You can point to Simon and Murray, but they haven't beaten him in Slams.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 08:38 PM

"If there's one conclusion we can draw from that match it's that Fed would've been a force on the pre-claycourted grass as he showed he could S&V with the best of 'em (literally)."

As for the rest of your post, that's all I was trying to do when I brought up that match.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 08:45 PM

"VC, I'm not so sure the seeding system hasn't had any effect on Fed. Say he'd met an unseeded but promising defensive baseliner like Simon or Murray or red-hot opponents like Tsonga or Kohlschreiber in early rounds. It's fair to say Fed might not have gotten through these players each and every time."

NP..as far as I can remember, Simon is the only player Federer has not played in a GS. And Tsonga, but Tsonga seemed to be pretty helpless while playing Federer last year in Madrid?

He has played Kohls and the Muzz in GS. I don't think any of these two have the same endurance that Nadal has for a five set match with the Fed. Nadal wins those five setters with Federer because he is exceptional in the head department, not to mention the feet department, not to mention that FH...you can't afford to blink for three shots as Roddick painfully realized this Wimby.

Except against the Djoker and Nadal, Federer has lost all his GS matches in tight five setters...which is only Safin actually.

So, I am not convinced that the seeding helped Federer. In five years, you run across everybody...red-hot opponents, old legends, magicians, friends, rivals...if I remember, he ran into Gasquet at Wimby, he has run into Gonzo, Marco...all kinds of streaky players.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 08:48 PM

ladyjulia,

1) The competition comparison will always be subjective. We can pick and choose all the stats we want, but KADs will hardly be able to convince one another. I say the '90s had more Slam contenders and the '80s had more competition at the top than this decade. Feel free to disagree.

2) The point about the homogenization of surfaces is that it's now easier to transition from one surface to another. For example, it was Borg's annual ritual to practice his ass off for two weeks on grass right after his triumph at RG, as the grass was even faster and the grass-court season even shorter back then than is today. And he S&Ved to his wins against top players in SW19. Can you imagine Nadal or, for that matter, Fed doing that today? Exactly.

3) Cool.

4) The majors didn't increase their seeding size to 32 until 2001 Wimbledon. And I explained why the new seeding system might have helped Fed above.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 08:49 PM

I meant for a stretch of 22 majors, except against Djoker and Nadal, Federer has lost all his GS matches in tight five setters...which is only Safin.

If I remember correctly, when they started playing it was Safin's birthday...when they stopped playing, it wasn't his birthday any more.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 08:52 PM

VC, can you name some of "these red-hot guys" Fed faced at the Slams? I honestly can't think of any. Gonzo maybe, but like I said I don't think he was as hot in the final.

BTW I didn't mean to say you're one of the KADs who spin the '01 Wimby final. I just decided to post a rebuttal 'cause I encounter that brilliant analysis so often.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 08:53 PM

"So, I am not convinced that the seeding helped Federer. In five years, you run across everybody...red-hot opponents, old legends, magicians, friends, rivals...if I remember, he ran into Gasquet at Wimby, he has run into Gonzo, Marco...all kinds of streaky players."

Exactly. At some point, the amount of evidence stacked up becomes so extraordinary that you have to acknowledge the obvious. In all my time watching tennis, I have never seen ANYONE come close to the sort of record Federer has compiled outside Nadal in the Slams. That can only mean he is freakishly good against 99% of the field, atleast in Slams.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 08:53 PM

NP..

"2) The point about the homogenization of surfaces is that it's now easier to transition from one surface to another. For example, it was Borg's annual ritual to practice his ass off for two weeks on grass right after his triumph at RG, as the grass was even faster and the grass-court season even shorter back then than is today. And he S&Ved to his wins against top players in SW19. Can you imagine Nadal or, for that matter, Fed doing that today? Exactly."

So, you agree that it has nothing to do with the fact that Nadal dominated clay for five years and had a ridiculous 81 match streak on that, which is the open era record btw...and Federer ,somehow freakishly in hte same era dominated grass for five years and had a riduculous 65 match streak on that, which is an open era record btw?

Let's just assume that Federer never played on clay, and Nadal never played on grass during those five years. Now, what does the homogenization of surface have to do with these dominating streaks?

I am just trying to understand what does homogenization have to do with one player dominating a surface?

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 08:58 PM

NP : Djokovic at Australian Open '07 (R4) comes to mind. He did very well soon after that tournament, reaching the Indian Wells final and winning Miami. He started to regularly go deep into Slams from that point onwards. He even played a decent match, but lost in straights. Federer was supreme in that tournament.

Another one was Gasquet in R1 at Wimbledon 2006. He is decent on grass, and I think he was coming in off a tournament win on grass. He has also played the likes of Berdych (the very definition of a streaky player) and Ancic more often than I care to remember. Safin a few times in R3 matches.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 08:59 PM

NP..

Federer has played Gasquet who defeated Roddick in that Wimby 2007 SF.

He has played Gonzo, Marcos, Haas, DelPo, Nalby,Mueller and others. Safin was on a streak at Wimby 2008..heck...why are we forgetting Soderling..that guy was on some red-hot streak - Nadal, Davydenko, Gonzo?

Ahem...and Roddick was on an incredible streak until the 77th game of the Wimby final?

So, was Haas till fourth round of RG and SF of Wimby.

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

ladyjulia, we can't predict how Simon, Tsonga, Kohls and others would've played just based on their seedings or even career records alone. As you may know Tsonga wasn't seeded at the '08 AO, but he played the game of his life against Rafa. Can you imagine Fed not playing his A game beating Tsonga in that match? I can't. Similarly Kohls doesn't play like he did against Roddick every day, and he was seeded 29th. You can do the math.

Posted by imjimmy 07/15/2009 at 09:07 PM

""This is a chicken and egg problem...is the competition weak because they have been dominated, or the competition tough because one person did not have enough obsession to win? ""

IMO the competition is NOT good enough.

Let's consider Fed's competition in his prime (except Nadal):

Statistically Roddick-Safin-Hewitt were Roger's contemporaries. Let's match them against the top players in other era's. I would argue that they would still be loosing heavily to:

Sampras-Agassi-Edberg and Becker in the 90's
Jmac-Connors-Lendl in the 80's
Borg-Newcombe-Smith in the 70's.

So Roddick-Hewitt-Safin wouldn't be great players IMV in "any"era.

Let's go down to Tier 2: Ferrero, Nalbandian, Davydenko, Haas, Ferrer, Gonzales, Blake.
These guys couldn't even get out of their own way, much less reach/beat Federer. Statistically they weren't even making QF's consistently. For instance:

-Blake 3 QF appearances in 7 yrs;
-Gonzales 1 F and 3 QF in 6-7 yrs ;
- Safin - classic headcase dropping out of top 10 repeatedly ;
- Hewitt from '03-'07 went OUT in the 1st week of nearly half the slams he contested).

I've said it before, but the fact that Nadal became #2 as early as '05 (when he was developing his game) was in large part to due with the inadequacy of Roger's contemparies (besides of course Nadal's brilliance on clay).

Murray and Djokovic came into picture only after '07, and Murray has made it to SF or after in a GS only once ( not counting Wimb. this year).

So it all comes down to whether you believe that Federer faced any other "great" player except Nadal. And even Nadal, as great as he is, had ZERO SFs in hard court slams before Jan 2008. (which is understandable as he peaked in '08)

So I don't see how the competition can be construed as strong. This is a weak era, dominated by 2 players, one of them an all time great.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 09:11 PM

NP..I am basing how they would have played ....on their actual GS matches with Federer. Except for Simon and Tsonga, for whom we have no data (but Tsonga is yet to defeat Federer in a three set match also)...but Kohls has played against Fed in GS. He played well in my opinion.

The only non-top5 player who is sure to defeat Federer in slams is( I think) Nalby...the guy did it in juniors, in pre-TMF days, in TMF days, in TMC final, in MS.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 09:11 PM

NP : The point is that it doesn't matter, since he's already played all these guys at some point. What does it matter whether he plays 29th seeded Kohlschreiber in the 1st/2nd, or 3rd round, where they're seeded to meet anyway? The latter would only give Kohlschreiber more time to go on a "hot streak". The only extra protection he has received is not to play guys ranked 17-32 in the first two rounds. I think that's a fairly insignificant detail in the larger picture.

As for Tsonga, Federer seems to like playing attacking power-based guys, so I'd be fairly confident. Tsonga played an excellent final, and Djokovic still beat him in 4 sets. Tsonga played a great match in the semi, but I think Nadal at that point was more vulnerable to that type of player on hard courts, which was part of the reason for the defeat.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 09:13 PM

"in TMC final"

ladyjulia : Federer was visibly impaired by injury in that match, but your point is a valid one.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 09:17 PM

ladyjulia, the homogenization of surfaces has to do with TRANSITIONING between surfaces, not dominating on a single surface per se. I'm sure Rafa would've dominated on clay and Fed on grass, to a lesser extent, in the '90s (sans Sampras), but whether they would've excelled on both surfaces is debatable. And I addressed the points you made @ 8:59 PM in my post above.

VC, I think you'll agree that Djokovic at the '07 AO wasn't the same Djokovic at the same event next year, but you're right, Fed was in his element at the '07 AO. Haven't seen the Gasquet match at Wimbledon 2006. Berd choked at this year's AO and Ancic isn't in the same class as Roddick, Goran, Krajicek or other grass-court "specialists." Don't remember seeing Safin and Fed go at each other except at the '04 and '05 AOs, and Marat was out of gas in the '04 final, having gone thru a nightmare draw.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 09:19 PM

imjimmy,

I have no idea how they would fare against each other in a hypothetical match. But I do know that Roddick would have won 4 GS and possiblly have a total of 6 if the danged GOAT contender was not in the way. Hewitt would have added atleast 2 more slams. Let's leave headcase Safin out.

"Let's consider Fed's competition in his prime (except Nadal):

Statistically Roddick-Safin-Hewitt were Roger's contemporaries. Let's match them against the top players in other era's. I would argue that they would still be loosing heavily to:

Sampras-Agassi-Edberg and Becker in the 90's
Jmac-Connors-Lendl in the 80's
Borg-Newcombe-Smith in the 70's."


I have no idea how they would fare against each other in a hypothetical match.


But I do know that Roddick would have won 4 GS and possiblly have a total of 6 if the danged GOAT contender was not in the way. Hewitt would have added atleast 2 more slams. Let's leave headcase Safin out.

I didn;t follow any of these guys, but did any of them take the other in the trio to a 16-14 in the fifth set of a GS final??? I don't know who would win between Sampras and Roddick, but I can say this...Agassi never took Sampras to a 16-14 in a fifth set. Roddick managed to do that against a player who is an all-time great. Not to mention he has lost 4 GS finals, 3 SFs to the same guy. Did Agassi lose 4 GS finals and 3 SFs to Sampras ?????

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 09:20 PM

VC,

If I remember right, Federer was down 4-0 in the fifth set and lost 7-5 then. If he can come back from 4-0 down with an injury, it dosen't mean much. Unfortunately.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 09:22 PM

NP : Federer and Safin played in Wimbledon '07 R3, Wimbledon '08 SF and AO '09 R3. You can attribute the Berdych match to a choke and you may not rate Ancic very highly (he's beaten Federer at Wimbledon in 2002), but I think you're missing the larger point for the details here.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 09:23 PM

NP...how come Nadal dosen't run out of gas??? He has energy to play Federer in a five setter after having played a five setter himself?

So, Marat is to be excused for running out of gas when his contemporary does not?

I want to hear the one day Federer lost a match because he was tired. Or ran out of gas.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 09:25 PM

ladyjulia & VC, the point I was trying to make is that you need to consider how the streaky players performed on a particular day. You can't predict how they would've fared against Fed just based on their career records alone.

VC, it does matter whether Kohlschreiber was seeded or not, 'cause it raises the possibility that he and Fed would've met in an earlier round and that might've given Phil an advantage, if his fitness to survive a 2-week-long marathon is indeed in question. And Tsonga didn't play as well in the final as he did in the SF. For one thing he didn't attack the net as much as he should have.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 09:25 PM

ladyjulia : I watched that match. Federer was nearly immobile in the 4th set and early part of the 5th. He was swinging freely for everything when he came back from 0-4 down (curiously enough, he made a similar recovery against Murray in the TMC last year). He was visibly impaired by the injury in that match. Full credit to Nalbandian, but the injury definitely affected Federer. Again, fitness is a part of tennis, and beating an injured opponent can be tough, so I'm not taking anything away from Nalbandian.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 09:29 PM

NP : As I've said, the only extra protection Federer has received is not to play guys ranked 17-32 in the first two rounds. I think that's very insignificant in the bigger picture.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 09:30 PM

VC, I meant to say Fed and Safin in his prime didn't get to play each other at the majors after the '05 AO. And I think I addressed the larger point in my last post.

ladyjulia, Nadal has run out of gas, like he did in the '08 USO SF against Murray. And I think you underestimate the draw Marat had to go thru at the '04 AO: Martin, Blake, Roddick, Agassi and of course Fed. Three of the matches were 5-setters.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 09:31 PM

NP...yeah, I thought you were replying to my post on how Federer and Nadal dominated their field. That was my question actually.

Miscommunication :-)

My point was that this era cannot be compared to previous eras (and in addition to obvious reasons like strings, changes etc) is that Federer and Nadal completely obliterated their field...something which none of the other pairs or trios did in their era...together, Federer and Nadal's are the greatest ever. Not just the rivarly, but the way they gave the remaining field nothing to chew on for the whole year.

Not even a single GS between 2005 Wimby and 2008 AO. Not even the scraps between that time. And then again between 2008 FO and 2009 Wimby. That is another 6 major streak where the field won nothing.

I entered grad school (and not the 2 year one), finished school, graduated, got a job...and its still Federer and Nadal at the majors.


Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 09:34 PM

NP : Safin's "prime" finished after the '05 AO. :-) Pity, but there you go.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 09:35 PM

imjimmy,

"I've said it before, but the fact that Nadal became #2 as early as '05 (when he was developing his game) was in large part to due with the inadequacy of Roger's contemparies (besides of course Nadal's brilliance on clay)."

Totally, totally,totally disagree with you there...NAdal became No.2 when he won the FO and 3 MS (or 2?)...that is enough points to become No. 1....Also, in 2005 Nadal reached the final of Miami...a HC major...so he didn't do exactly bad on HCs, did he? And yes, if he defeated Roger's contemporaries because they did not playe well, how on earth did he manage to take Federer to five sets????

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 09:36 PM

Miami should be MS tournament.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 09:36 PM

"VC, it does matter whether Kohlschreiber was seeded or not, 'cause it raises the possibility that he and Fed would've met in an earlier round and that might've given Phil an advantage, if his fitness to survive a 2-week-long marathon is indeed in question."

I don't have anything further to add. I believe plenty of players have got opportunities to do damage to Federer at Slams, and failed, irrespective of draws and seedings. I prefer to attribute that to Federer's excellence and consistency.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 09:36 PM

VC, but that extra protection could've indeed proven significant. Let me put it this way. As you know Phil played arguably the best match of his career against Roddick in the 3rd round, but not in the 4th. Now imagine Fed meeting a red-hot opponent like that (doesn't have to be Phil) in an early round 'cause he wasn't seeded. It's not unreasonable to say Fed would've had his hands full in that match. Of course that doesn't mean he would've lost, but if he did we wouldn't be talking about his amazing Slam SF streak right now. That's what I'm trying to say.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 09:38 PM

NP...by definition, i thought a streaky player meant they were on a streak???

Which means they are supposed to be playing good on that day by definition??? If they don't play good on that day, I think that also has something to do with the opponent, no?

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 09:40 PM

VC, that's a fair point. Of course the seeding system isn't the only component of Fed's dominance, which is why I listed it as just one of the four possible reasons.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 09:40 PM

NP : I don't really have anything new to add. See my post at 9:36 PM.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 09:41 PM

NP,

Gasquet was on a streak when he played Federer in Wimby 2007 SF.

Gonzo was on a streak.

Marat was on a streak in Wimby 2008 SF.

Haas was on a streak in Wimby 2009 SF.

DelPo was on a streak in RG 2009.

Soderling was on a hot-hot-hot streak in RG 2009.

Roddick was on a searing hot streak until the 77th game of the Wimby final.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 09:44 PM

ladyjulia, it's prolly sane to say eras can't be compared. Of course, we're not sane. :)

As for the streaky players, it's their very streakiness that makes 'em dangerous: You don't know which player you're gonna get next time. That's just one reason why the seeding system matters.

Posted by OnlyHuman 07/15/2009 at 09:44 PM

My general observation is Rafa is at his best in the early part of the year. I watched him play Murray last year at USO, he was really running out of gas at the end of the 4th set.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 09:46 PM

VC, gotcha.

ladyjulia, see above. BTW Roddick's streak is of a different kind from that of the other players you just mentioned.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 09:52 PM

IMO, the only place where Federer might have been vulnerable to an early round upset is at RG. That is, assuming the surface homogenization theory is true, and that RG has indeed been sped up. Obviously, two streaks of 10 and 10 with an upset at RG in between wouldn't have sounded half as good. The number "21" has a very nice "unattainable" feel to it at this point. :-)

BTW, the only surface transition players are required to make is from clay to grass, and it hasn't affected Federer even when he skipped Halle in '07 and '09. Grass comes naturally to Federer, so it is less of a problem. Had it been the other way around, it might have been different, because I feel clay is very much an acquired taste for him.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 09:55 PM

imjimmy, just read your post @ 9:07 PM. I agree that Roddick-Safin-Hewitt wouldn't be greats in any era. Marat has the talent, but not the mental stability and luck (injury-wise) necessary to push him above the 1- or 2-Slam Wonder Club. I see Roddick winning one or two more Slams, but not more than that. Think Hewitt has made the most of his talent.

As for Tier 2, I see Nalby as the only one who could've threatened Fed, but the guy was even more inconsistent than Safin (before the Muscovite's decline). He practically shows up only during the indoor season.

No beef with your analysis of Murray and Djokovic.

Finally Nadal is already an all-time great, just not in the elite GOAT camp.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 09:56 PM

"I don't have anything further to add. I believe plenty of players have got opportunities to do damage to Federer at Slams, and failed, irrespective of draws and seedings. I prefer to attribute that to Federer's excellence and consistency."

I second that..I third that. Either Federer manipulates the Gods at the highest level for freakish luck across 5 years and 21 majors ...or he is that good.

And if he was pleasing the Gods for lucky draws, he could have bribed them for pushing Nadal to play soccer and play with his 5400 rpm FH in the park at Mallorca. And then Federer would never lose to another left-hander.

There is something extremely nauseatic and freakish the way Federer and Nadal pile up the stats...esp. the consecutive stats.
Its not just one year...its freaking five years with these guys. Their DNA should be preserved in the museum.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 10:02 PM

As an interesting aside, Borg didn't play any warm-up events leading up to Wimbledon. As I said above, he would practice his ass off for 2 weeks before stepping on the grand Centre Court. John Lloyd used to practice with Borg and once said the Swede would've had no chance to win Wimbledon without those extensive practice sessions. And John also correctly noted that the records show Borg often struggled in the earlier rounds.

Posted by imjimmy 07/15/2009 at 10:03 PM

""Agassi never took Sampras to a 16-14 in a fifth set.Did Agassi lose 4 GS finals and 3 SFs to Sampras ????? Roddick managed to do that against a player who is an all-time great. Not to mention he has lost 4 GS finals, 3 SFs to the same guy ""

ladyjulia: I don't see your pt here. Are you saying Roddick is a MORE worthy rival than Agassi? How much does one tough 5 setter change? When Federer was in his prime, Roddick did not have a prayer, as the 2-19 h2h incontrovertibly shows.

It comes down to whether you think that Roddick EVER took it to Fed, before, as he did in Wimb F '09. We're talking about a resurgent Roddick against a Federer who's past his prime (but yet good enough to beat most players). If anything, the Fed-Roddick rivalry is substantially more one-sided than the Agassi-Sampras rivalry was.

Again if you're doubting Agassi remember that he managed to take Fed to 5 sets in UsOpen '05 even when he was 35 yrs old. Also Agassi beat Pete 3 times in Grandslam ( once in the F.O and twice at AO).
**You can discount the bad losses to Sampras in Wimb '99 and UsOpen '95 because of the surface and Pete being in the zone. **

So IMV Roddick is NOT a great player, where as Agassi most certainly was.

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

NP : That's interesting, and it makes Borg's Channel Slams more spectacular, because clay was natural for him and grass was an acquired taste. As I pointed out earlier, Federer starts out with an advantage there, being natural on grass.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 10:06 PM

okay...that's it with me folks...enough lobbying for Federer and Nadal for the GEOAT (greatest ERA of all time) from my side for some time..:-)

goodnight everybody!

Posted by BlueDog 07/15/2009 at 10:09 PM

imjimmy- "Statistically Roddick-Safin-Hewitt were Roger's contemporaries. Let's match them against the top players in other era's. I would argue that they would still be loosing heavily to:

Sampras-Agassi-Edberg and Becker in the 90's
Jmac-Connors-Lendl in the 80's
Borg-Newcombe-Smith in the 70's.

So Roddick-Hewitt-Safin wouldn't be great players IMV in "any"era."


This has a huge logical error as a comparison. If we are to compare the top players' 'competition' we can't include them. In other words if you take Rafa and Fed out of their era, you also have to remove Samprass and Agassi when comparing the 90's. You have to compare Roddick Hewitt etc. with Edberg and Becker etc.. Suddenly doesn't seem so weak.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 10:12 PM

imjimmy : Agassi was definitely a greater player than Roddick, but I believe Roddick has been hard done by to co-exist in Fed's era. Safin is too much of a headcase, and Hewitt made the most of being sandwiched between Sampras's and Federer's eras, but Roddick must be cursing his luck at this point. I think he'd be willing to try anything at this point, even land on Nadal's side of the draw for once (which hasn't happened too often). :-) The problem is Federer still beats him in finals. I think his case is a bit exceptional.

BTW, Fed-Agassi went 5 sets in '04 USO QF, not the '05 final. I believe Agassi played very well in the '05 match, and was coming in with good form in both those matches, irrespective of age.

Posted by imjimmy 07/15/2009 at 10:12 PM

'Nite ladylulia. Props for defending Rafa even though he's not your favorite :)

NP: Thanks for the 9:55 PM. Once again we agree.

I'm off too. Later everyone!

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 10:12 PM

"It comes down to whether you think that Roddick EVER took it to Fed, before, as he did in Wimb F '09."

Roddick did take it to Fed in Wimby 2004...*cough*....*cough*..then it rained.

The rain not only ruined Roddick's career, but that of the other 200 players who played tennis as well.

Except for one exceptional tennis player...even then that player was ranked No. 2 for a miserable 3 years before it...rained again.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 10:14 PM

VC, that's why Borg's 3 consecutive Channel Slams may be even more impressive than Laver's 2 Grand Slams, considering that one of the latter occurred before the Open era.

BlueDog, I think you're having a temporary brain lapse there. imjimmy didn't take out Fed and Rafa out of his era's competition. Rather, he was comparing how Roddick-Hewitt-Safin would've fared against other eras' top competition, 'cause we often hear that they failed to achieve more in this era because of Fed and Rafa.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 10:17 PM

"The rain not only ruined Roddick's career"

The problem for Roddick is, no matter where he lands up in the draw, and however much it opens up, at some point, he has to stare across the net at Federer's grinning mug. I'd be contemplating retirement by now if I were him. :-)

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 10:23 PM

Later, imjimmy.

VC, think you might be interested in what Paul Annacone had to say about Roddick back when everyone was apparently claiming him as the next best American hope, and Agassi gushing about his serve being better than Pete's. Paul said (on Charlie Rose) that he sees Roddick winning one or two Slams, but not more, and I agreed with him. And Pete in his autobio describes Roddick's game, somewhat dismissively, as "straightforward."

Now before any1 accuses Paul of standing up for his guy, he also said he considered Safin the best player of his generation, with the most potential--which was true, of course. Don't think Paul or any1 predicted at the time that Marat would fade away like this.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 10:24 PM

Agassi took Fed to four sets in US Open 2005, if I remember correctly.

I get your point....but I disagree with your weak era argument.

My argument is that we can't prove that this is a weak era because they are two demented, obsessive, freakish, non-human players playing at the same time for the past 5 years.

Posted by OnlyHuman 07/15/2009 at 10:27 PM

Why Becker/Edberg in the Sampras/Agassi era?

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 10:30 PM

VC,

I am mighty glad that Roddick did not give up...he's due for an upset to take out Federer some time or the other. Unless its really a tragedy.

Posted by OnlyHuman 07/15/2009 at 10:30 PM

ladyjulia

Agassi took Federer to 5 sets in 2004, actually winning more points. But Fed pulled out a winner, and went on to win his first USO.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 10:32 PM

OnlyHuman, we can put Becker/Edberg in the Sampras/Agassi era 'cause the old-timers consistency made the SFs and finals @ the Slams and MS events in the early '90s. Edberg was a Slam contender at least until '93 and in fact knocked out Pete at two consecutive Slams. As for Becker, he and Pete ruled the indoor seasons until '96. Remember the '96 YEC final? And Boris was consistent in SW19 for most of the early '90s: QF in '92, SFs in '93 and '94, and F in '95. He was in fact a favorite to win Wimby '96, but had to pull out in 3R due to a wrist injury.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 10:33 PM

Onlyhuman,

Thanks...I meant 2005 though?

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 10:34 PM

imjimmy,

goodnight..I am also going now...

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 10:38 PM

NP : I agree Roddick is essentially a limited player, but many limited players have had good careers in the past. Connors wasn't exceptionally skilled either, was he? Though I accept that might be an extreme example. But look at guys like Courier (who I think Federer would have matched up very well against even on his favourite surface clay), or Hewitt. They didn't have the most nuanced games, and still did fairly well in their careers. And Roddick has managed to get decent Slam results against many guys apart from Federer (Djokovic, Murray, Nalbandian, Hewitt, Safin, Ferrero etc.). So he would be making the most of his (limited) talent, if not for Federer, IMO.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 10:40 PM

"he's due for an upset to take out Federer some time or the other."

Failing that, bribing chefs and/or hiring assassins come to mind. :-)

Posted by mcakron 07/15/2009 at 10:45 PM

Hmmmmmm ... I think the homogenization of surfaces argument only goes so far. Yes, Wimby's courts of today aren't the same as a decade ago and beyond, but are we saying the RG courts are vastly different than they were ten or twenty years ago?

Just because Fedal have won on all three surfaces, let's not act like there weren't guys in the past who played well on all surfaces. Yes, Borg never won the USO, but he came pretty close. Likewise, Lendl wasn't all that shabby at Wimbledon for a few years. What's more, just because Fed and Nadal have proved themselves on all-surfaces, let's not assume their peers, or more specifically Nadal's peers, will do so. Muzz still looks a mite shaky to me on clay. Likewise, Djokovic has yet to look tremendously comfortable on grass.

The reason Sampras and Becker had such mixed results on clay is because the big power S&V game loses a lot of its steam on that surface. If you think of the S&V players who came closest to winning the FO in the last 25 years -- Edberg and McEnroe -- neither's game was heavily reliant upon booming aces. Ask Andy Roddick how the power game treats him in Paris.

Lastly, the clay-court specialist canard. Yes, these guys had a bit of a field day during the Sampras era, but similar players were certainly around in the days of Borg or Lendl and Wilander. The reason they fared well during the Sampras era is because, short of said dirtballers themselves, the top five/top ten was made up of guys who largely felt uncomfortable on clay. Heck, Becker never won a clay-court tournament his entire career and even a baseline guy like Agassi didn't learn the patience for it for years. Yet, it wasn't like a multi-surface guy with a decent clay game wasn't capable of winning in those years. Look at Jim Courier. I think he won two FOs and I'd hardly call him a clay-court specialist or put him in the ranks as Borg or even Lendl and Wilander as an all-around player.

Bottom line, I'll grant the Wimby grass has slowed over the years, but I don't know if the Channel Slam is tremendously easier to accomplish because of what Nadal and Fed have done the last two years. The Sampras era just happened to be filled with big names whose worst surface was dirt. In short, it was a good time to be Sergi Brugera.

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