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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 ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 10:46 PM

Well, VC...hope he does not have to go to that extent.

That SF streak's got to be broken and Roddick is ripe.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 10:48 PM

okay...really going now...goodnight :-)

"Fedal for GEOAT"

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 10:48 PM

VC, Connors did have world-class BH & RoS, and prolly the most competitive mentality since Pancho Gonzales. OTOH I can't think of any special shot of Roddick's besides the serve, so that may be the difference between the 2.

I say Courier is pretty underrated these days. His FH, particularly inside out, was huge, and his serve was much better than it looked. (He might well have had the ugliest serve of all the tennis greats I've seen.) I actually think his best game beats Bruguera's on clay, though Sergi was more consistent. But you're right, Roddick's undying efforts to win that elusive 2nd Slam might've been a bigger factor in other eras.

Posted by BlueDog 07/15/2009 at 10:51 PM

NP-

Think more carefully about what I'm saying. The weak era argument hinges on how the less dominant players stack up against each other between eras (I consider Roddick, Hewitt Safin less dominant in the Fed era), not how they stack up against the top guy. Sampras isn't his own competition.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 10:53 PM

mcakron : Good post. On a related note, Sergi Bruguera... grr.. he had a rather annoying habit of taking out all my favourites. That stat of Becker not winning a clay court tournament is due to Sergi Bruguera. Not to mention the '93 RG final, and I remember him beating Sampras once at the French Open as well :-(

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 11:00 PM

The other flaw in the "Weak Era" reasoning is that after '93 Wimbledon (which was when Sampras entered his best years, and acquired the belief to win Majors), it wasn't Edberg, Becker, Courier (apart from '94 FO) or Lendl taking him out in Slams. It was mainly Agassi, and lesser players, or new ones like Rafter, Philippousis, Krajicek etc.

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

Though I accept the Lendl-Wilander-McEnroe-Connors-Becker-Edberg era might have been a particularly strong one, if all these guys were the ones taking turns to deny each other.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 11:06 PM

mcakron, Becker made 3 SFs at RG, and that was when Lendl and Wilander were still going strong. Not too shabby, I say. And I should stress that the homogenization of surfaces doesn’t have everything to do with clay. As you said Lendl (and Wilander, I should add) was never able to win Wimbledon despite coming close twice.

I don’t deny that Fed would’ve had better chances to win the FO than Sampras in the ‘90s, but as I often point out Pete’s clay resume before ’97 is actually pretty solid. I also grant that the ‘80s had their share of clay-court specialists, but how many of ‘em are in the same league with Muster, Bruguera, Kuerten and Courier (yes, I know Jim wasn’t a CC specialist per se)? With the possible exception of Bruguera I consider them superior to Fed on clay. And Pete happened to lose to Sergi and Jim (and Agassi) on his 3 consecutive runs to the FO at RG, in mostly competitive 4 sets each time. Again, not too shabby.

I didn’t mean to suggest that the Channel Slam is astronomically easier to accomplish now that the surfaces are similar, but it’s less of a hurdle to overcome. That’s a fair point, no?

Posted by BlueDog 07/15/2009 at 11:07 PM

Good point VC- Which also brings up the problem that eras overlap so much that there is no true comparison. One could argue that this is still the Federer era and so you must include Rafa, Murray, Nole etc. Ad to that Roddick's recent form, and you get an even more convoluted picture. The one constant is Federer winning slams and getting to semis.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 11:10 PM

BlueDog, 1st of all I was just trying to clarify imjimmy's point. Didn't mean to start the weak era discussion. But as to your point, I say the weak era argument DOES hinge on how the less dominant players stack up against the top guys, not each other. Just how many people in 2050 will care about the Roddick-Gonzo H2H?

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 11:18 PM

"And Pete happened to lose to Sergi and Jim (and Agassi) on his 3 consecutive runs to the FO at RG, in mostly competitive 4 sets each time."

He he, NP, you should know that Agassi waxed Sampras in straights in the '92 FO quarters. ;-)

As for Muster, Bruguera, Courier and Kuerten - I would expect Federer to match up pretty well against Courier. Bruguera might take him out on a bad, shanking day because he was very steady from the baseline. Actually, Muster would be the worst match-up for him because of the lefty, heavy topspin, steady groundstrokes, and retrieving. Still, Muster struggled against S&Vers like Sampras and Rafter, so I wouldn't rule out Federer's chances.

Kuerten in his prime vs. Federer on clay would be a match to die for. Lovely one-handed BHs and both great shotmakers. Again, Kuerten's natural aptitude for clay would probably give him the edge, but Federer wouldn't face anything like the matchup problems that Nadal gives him. It would be fascinating.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 11:19 PM

VC, Becker was clearly a factor well into the mid-'90s, and Courier was really a victim of the Sampras era. Here are some of the matches Pete won against Courier at the Slams: '92 USO SF, '93 Wimby F, '94 AO SF, '95 AO QF, and of course '96 FO QF.

The problem with Fed KADs in this matter is that they often assume the Sampras era began in '90 but then exclude Edberg, Becker and Courier out of the equation. And as I just pointed out they ignore the fact that Courier has fallen victim to Sampras many times, but they moan about Roddick never achieving his potential because of Fed. They can't have it both ways.

Posted by mcakron 07/15/2009 at 11:20 PM

I think it might be, NP, but I also think it has more to do with how Wimby has changed than the French. In which case, you would have more a bone to pick with Rafa winning the former than Fed winning the latter -- if compared to past eras. But maybe I'm missing something.

In terms of Fed stacking up against the '90s FO titlists. Well, I certainly wouldn't bet my life on him beating Guga or Muster. But Courier? I'd take my chances with Fed. Though I do agree with your earlier post that Courier is a tad underrated, and yes his serve was mad ugly, albeit oddly effective.

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 11:24 PM

"Courier was really a victim of the Sampras era. Here are some of the matches Pete won against Courier at the Slams: '92 USO SF, '93 Wimby F, '94 AO SF, '95 AO QF, and of course '96 FO QF."

Not too dissimilar to Federer-Roddick, then? ;-) BTW, I assume that Sampras came into his prime Major winning form only after he won his second at Wimbledon '93.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 11:27 PM

VC, yeah, but that was before Pete began his dominance. :)

I'll just say that Courier's game wasn't all about overpowering his opponents with his FH. I'd say Fed and Bruguera would be pretty even. And Muster might have struggled against S&Vers, but not on clay. Pete's sole win against Muster happened in '91, well before Muster was in his prime, so I try not to bring up that particular match when discussion Pete's clay game.

Kuerten's prime was in '00 and '01, and I say he's prolly the only one who could beat Borg and Rafa on their own turf if he could maintain the level he displayed at the '01 FO. Of course he suffered in the consistency department, which is why I rank him below Lendl and Wilander although Guga's best game is quite possibly superior.

Posted by BlueDog 07/15/2009 at 11:30 PM

For that matter, in 2050 there will only be 2 names remembered as significant from this ATP era. That's right: Ivo and Dent! We could probably chase tails all night on the finer points of comparing eras, so I'll leave it there.

I've got to pay some attention to my dear wife, or risk retribution, or worse, embargo...

Posted by mcakron 07/15/2009 at 11:30 PM

NP -- I don't know if the Sampras/Courier analogy to Fed/Roddick is exactly equitable. Courier had one Slam every year where he knew he could be in the mix and Sampras would largely be a non-factor. Roddick's never had that luxury. Or to think of it another way, imagine if Fed's best performance at Wimby the last seven years was one SF appearance. I doubt many of us would be feeling that sorry about Roddick's career misfortune as we do now.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/15/2009 at 11:30 PM

One more question:

How many players have won GS without a coach? And how many GS?

Posted by VC 07/15/2009 at 11:37 PM

NP : I get the feeling Muster struggled against S&Vers because Rafter and Stich beat him at RG in the mid-90s. He probably wasn't as good as Rafa at making stretch passes, so Federer would have to S&V regularly to overcome the lefty matchup difficulties.

I'm not sure about Kuerten's best beating Rafa, because I think of him more as a shotmaker than an attritional baseliner. Rafa would pound away at that one-handed BH.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 11:40 PM

Yeah, mcakron, the surfaces most likely have benefited Rafa more than Fed. Like I said I haven't seen any hard evidence supporting that the FO has gotten faster. No beef with your bets.

VC, but Courier pushed Pete more than Roddick vs. Fed, so there. :) In all seriousness, according to Higueras, Courier's one-time coach, Pete was the only one in his era who figured out how to play to Jim's FH, and he happened to be the best player of the time. Not unlike Fed's own figuring out the Roddick serve.

Posted by NP 07/15/2009 at 11:49 PM

Well, mcakron, but Courier had other CC specialists to worry about, and as I noted above he and Pete met at the other Slams quite a few times. That '95 AO QF was a classic, not just 'cause of the famous weeping by Pete but also 'cause of the superb tennis by both.

VC, Stich wasn't a S&Ver per se, and Rafter was more like Edberg: not the most powerful serve, but supremely athletic and volleys to die for. No wonder why he gave Muster fits. And let's not discount the advantages the new strings would've offered Tom, like making those passes.

And Kuerten is much better than Fed at handling those high balls off his BH. Rafa wouldn't be able to win just pounding away to Guga's BH.

Posted by Denny 07/15/2009 at 11:51 PM

In the world of tennis, math plays no part in the Fed/Nadal debate other than head to head (13-7). Rafa is truly the potential GOAT with 6 being greater than 15 in slams, 40 or 50 weeks at number 1 being greater than 240 or so weeks at number 1, current streak of zero consecutive GS semifinal appearances being greater than 21...

Fed can't beat Rafa, Djoko or Murray so these last two Slams don't count thus 6 is even more great than 13???

Posted by BlueDog 07/15/2009 at 11:57 PM

One last thought-

All sports evolve, times get faster, what seemed impossible becomes ordinary etc. This is also true with tennis, just harder to measure.

The players evolve to make the most of the available technology, be it wood, metal or graphite, and their style of play is tailored to it. Perhaps Laver was great with a wood racquet, but would have been only average playing with a modern one. Reaction times are different requiring different innate talents.

This makes it pretty much an exercise in wishful thinking to state who would have beat whom across eras. At the end of the day the only data worth a damn are the matches actually played.

Posted by JohnC 07/15/2009 at 11:59 PM

the weak era discussions and the associated thought experiments about who would have beaten whom are little more than bar chatter since they are unresolvable by any objective measure.

what one can do is measure tournament performance of a career, not by a flood of sports factoids, a la Matt Z, but by a disciplined statistical approach which recognises that the dataset is actually quite limited and therefore avoid double-counting of achievements.

the outcome is remarkably robust and highly resistant to different weighting methods. and that outcome is that Federer comes out on top in the post-Laver era in terms of career record, followed by Sampras and Borg (though the order of those two is more sensitive to data weightings).

For Laver and earlier there is simply no way to construct objective comparisons not only with the modern era but even amongst these earlier greats, both pre and post war.

This is separate to some extent to the GOAT debate, which if "greatest" is going to mean anything needs to include factors such as technique and character (both broadly considered), which are again not susceptible to any quantification that will find a consensus.

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 12:00 AM

Since we're still comparing the competition I'll quote one of the most interesting posts I've come across on a message board. And no, I'm not quoting the whole thing. This guy is a living tennis encyclopedia and a typewriter rolled into one:

The 90s was a funny era. It is as Moose Malloy once described it PERFECTLY. It was the era of HALF-time champions.

Meaning, guys who like Bruguera, Korda, Krajicek, and Stich who were symptomatic of the era. Guys who had top tier talent, but who were in and out players, "ALWAYS half-azzed, sometimes motivated, sometimes not" type players, or guys who were too frequently injured to ever put it together, etc.

These days, there's fewer top tier talents but I would say more consistent talent. [Huh?]

In the 90s, there were guys who came and went but when they were at their best arguably played as good a tennis as anyone, period, and that includes the "big two" of Sampras and Agassi.

Becker is a guy who would put together a run in spots, Edberg did that, Courier, Bruguera on clay, Muster on clay, Korda on hard and at the Grand Slam Cup championships, Krajicek that one time on grass, Stich at that Wimbledon and the year ending championships, etc. A LOT of in and out and transitioning and injury timeouts and burnout respites in the 90s, it was one of the most exciting eras of tennis ever imo. Even Agassi was in and out.

These days, the top two are ALWAYS bringing it, but you don't really get the feeling that anyone else can beat them if Nadal and Federer are TRULY playing their best.

It wasn't that way back then.

Berdych COULD be considered in the same light as the 90s "half-time champion" types, but imo, he's not.

Why? Because as Federer said about him, I was kind of dissapointed in him, after he beat me at the Olympics, I expected more out of him, better results.

Berdych has NEVER put it all together the way the half-time champions managed to do.

Berdych has the so-called top gear like the true greats in the game, he just hasn't proven he is a TRUE champion DEEP DOWN...*inside*. To do that, you have to prove that you can come trhough even when your dog tired as Bruguera did in the fifth set at the French against peak Courier. That means you have to ACTUALLY *step through the hoop*. Not, get 9/10th of the way and then COWER out.

Safin is another CLASSIC example of a half-time champion type player. Flaky? Inconsistent? You betcha. Able to beat Federer and Agassi at the Australian Open, able to up the ante, and COME THROUGH? You betcha. Able to TAKE IT TO AND FROM Sampras in the Open final as a young pup? You betcha.

Philipoussis is NOT a half-type champion type, however, because he's NEVER proven he can come through when it matters most, to COMPLETE the deed.

That to me just means you don't have it DEEP DOWN, what it takes like another half-time champion type like Rafter.

In the Grand Slam Cup of 93, back then a prestige tournament because of the obscene prize money for its day, Korda played THREE harrowing matches in row, three epic matches in a row over Bruguera, then Sampras, then Stich before winning it.

He wasn't a consistent player sure, but EVEN THEN, he showed that he had it IN him to go all the way. That capacity, that heart, that resolve when he WAS fully activated and all "there" was well...there!

I miss the era of half-time champions. It's funny, because virtually ALL of my favorite players fit that mold. I've never really gotten into the always there all the time, tennis is my life, types. Too boring. The stock market is fun to watch when it's chaotic and unpredictable to me.

I think that's why I take so little joy in watching anyone from this generation. I just don't see anyone whose "got it", but only shows it once in a blue moon. All I see are pretender half-time champion types like Gonzales, Berdych, Soderling, Bhagdatis, Tsonga, Monofils, and the like. They're just teases, nothing more to me.

Posted by mcakron 07/16/2009 at 12:02 AM

NP -- Understood. I was just saying Roddick had Fed standing in his way at every Slam, or would have at the French as well if Roddick were better on clay. (And of course I'm not even bringing up the task of solving Nadal on that surface.)

Sampras denied Courier, of course, but never on clay. Hence, little tougher task for Roddick, all things considered. You know, had his nemisis potentially standing in his way at four Slams instead of three.

Anyway, happy debating folks.

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 12:23 AM

mcakron, let's not forget Pete's win over Jim in the '96 FO QF. And they played exactly 20 matches, just one less than Fed and Roddick. The Pete-Jim H2H? 16-4. Sure, not as one-sided as 19-2, but pretty close. And Pete actually leads the H2H on clay @ 2-1, though those 2 wins did occur when Jim was past his prime.

Here are the snippets from the 1st set of the '96 FO QF, including the TB:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXfmcbDSetU
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awOMCYgIyZY

Amazing Sampras came back to win this match. He already looked out of gas even in the 1st set. I thought Pete was just adding some spice when he suggested in his book that he miraculously found the right game and will to win after the 2nd set, but now I don't think he was embellishing much. I find it hard to believe he would've knocked out a player of Courier's caliber moving and shanking like this.

Pete seems to have played better in the previous round:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L31ElwF4fTU

Posted by JohnC 07/16/2009 at 12:33 AM

Great snippets. Why is Sampras wearing what look like a pair of pyjama shorts?

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 12:35 AM

Well, JohnC, fashion was never Sampras' forte. To paraphrase Chang when he was asked about Pete's weaknesses: He doesn't dress well.

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 12:46 AM

A few more observations on the match:

- On a 2nd viewing I think I was a tad harsh about Pete's performance. He actually made only a few spectacular shanks, and hit some fine DTL BHs.
- Courier's service motion was indeed ugly as hell. But he served well, arguably better than even Sampras.
- '90s tennis: Jim knew when and how to approach and attack the net. And volley. Unlike Roddick.
- That jumping 2HBH DTL winner by Jim in the TB (around 7:30 in the 2nd clip) is almost Murray-like.
- Still think Pete should've included Courier's FH as one of the best of his era.
- Neither one wins in the style category. Trying to pick one as the winner in this case is like choosing "Girl You Know It's True" over any of Enya's gooey confections as the less guilty pleasure.

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 12:55 AM

'93 Bruguera-Sampras QF:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2WvQM6GH0I
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxaRrSKZInk

Pete looked pissed giving Sergi that curt handshake. One of the rare times I've seen Pete acknowledging his victors not so respectfully at the net. At least he cared about the FO back then.

Posted by VC 07/16/2009 at 01:13 AM

"Neither one wins in the style category."

Do you mean style of play, or attire? If it's the former, Sampras is the clear winner, IMO. Courier's strokes definitely weren't pretty. In the clothing stakes, I'd give Courier the nod. After all, he pioneered the baseball cap, and Sampras's striped/checked shorts were a nightmare.

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 01:31 AM

VC, the latter. Sampras' unteachable service motion alone is enough to give him the edge.

Posted by jewell - Campaign for Fedal Disarmament 07/16/2009 at 01:51 AM

"Anyone who watches Federer--independent of any subjective feelings--knows that he is the best there ever was."

Well, I must say that makes it clearer. :)

Hi everyone. :)

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 01:53 AM

Yah, jewell, that's the most objective pronouncement on Federer ever made, independent of any subjective feelings. Are there any feelings that are not subjective?

Posted by imjimmy 07/16/2009 at 01:58 AM

"Anyone who watches Federer--independent of any subjective feelings--knows that he is the best there ever was."

Huh? Since when was watching tennis matches an objective exercise?
Ever heard of ' different strokes (pun unintended) for different folks' :)

Posted by VC 07/16/2009 at 02:04 AM

I must admit that aesthetic appreciation plays a big part in my rooting interests, but I put it aside when analysing results or evaluating players. Aesthetically, he's definitely the best I've watched, at his peak.

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 02:08 AM

imjimmy, I've been sticking up for Pete single-handedly all evening. 'Twas a romp.

Start of the '96 Sampras-Bruguera FO R2 match. For Sampras KADs only--the video quality is pretty bad:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUfJupStORE

Sampras-Courier QF highlights:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVJzJ5xavRY

Jim looks mighty pissed at the end of the match. Don't blame him.

Posted by jewell - Campaign for Fedal Disarmament 07/16/2009 at 02:13 AM

I like tup23's comment back on about page 6 or 7. Word to that. The hate directed at anyone who dares to question one or another aspect of Federer is disturbing sometimes.

Aesthetic appreciation certainly factors into my rooting interests, bodies and games. ;-) But it's entirely subjective in itself, no? And that did seem a very sweeping statement. I didn't appreciate Sampras enough when he was playing, but now I have been brainwashed by NP's videos - the sharpness of his play is beautiful to watch.

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 02:20 AM

"I didn't appreciate Sampras enough when he was playing, but now I have been brainwashed by NP's videos - the sharpness of his play is beautiful to watch."

Given that this came from some1 who admittedly has no taste, I dunno whether to feel proud or ashamed.

Posted by imjimmy 07/16/2009 at 02:20 AM

NP: Thanks for answering Blue Dog's Q on my post. I didn't read his comment at that time. Is he still around?

I don't see why peeps have such trouble with the weak competition argument . I mean are Emerson's 12 slams > Lendl's 8 slams won playing contemporarily with Borg, McEnroe, Connors, Wilander and Becker. And Edberg. Actually Pat Cash, too. And oh BTW..throw in Pete Sampras and Agassi, at the tail-end!

Thanks a bunch for the clips too. Your post @ 12:00 is very interesting. Glad there're some open minded people out there.

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 02:27 AM

NP, imjimmy. I actually don't blame 'em for getting defensive at the suggestion that their fave might have had it easy. The real problem lies with the KADs that even refuse to consider the suggestion seriously. Of course the KADs on the other side calling the likes of Hewitt, Safin and Roddick "clowns" or "second rate" doesn't help the discussion, either.

Posted by jewell - Campaign for Fedal Disarmament 07/16/2009 at 02:33 AM

Oh, be ashamed, NP. :)

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 02:36 AM

jewell, that was purely rhetorical. Of course I'm ashamed.

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 02:46 AM

imjimmy, the same guy who wrote that interesting rant also had this to say about Gonzo's FH and how it compares to that of the old-timers. Like I said, the guy's a tennis encyclopedia and a typewriter rolled into one. Proceed at your peril:

Magnus Larsson, Thomas Enqvist, and Magnas Gustaffson come from the OLD SCHOOL...of great Swedish philosophers: garr, me man, me CLUB ball!

Seriously those three guys were all about just absolutely CLUBBING their forehands. They were heck of a lot of fun to watch, especially Gustaffson whose forehand "technique" is about as effective...yet cavemanish...as I've ever seen.

Gustaffson had the best forehand actually of all three of those guys, but he was like the Swedish version of Berasategui, all forehand, all the time, and if it's on you better watch out, but if it's not it's like taking candy from a baby.

Larsson and Enqvist had more balanced attacks off both the forehand and backhand, and yet neither were the best or most fluid of movers, and perhaps, probably, just as importantly, both were as injury mined as a lady bug amongst a bunch of school kids.

Gonzo's big style forehand is more the modern style built for today's overall much slower surface conditions, in other words it's kind of a hybrid between a hard court agressive style forehand and a heavy topspin clay court style forehand. Basically, it's like how Muster and Bruguera could both hit HUGE groundies when they wanted to, or as Mal put it while commenting on one of Bruguera's matches on the senior tour, "the funny thing is he's always had the capability to do that (meaning end points outright with power), he's a big guy, but he just chooses not to; it's just not his style."

Meaning in other words, that these guys their primary strategy was to force errors with heavy topspin groundies that had work on them (NOT like Chang's forehands), yet if the opportunity arose or they just wanted to keep you honest, they'd occasionally decide to just try and end the point with literally, well, a "big bang".

These shots still had a lot of top on them, it's just that they tilted their motion a little bit more in a forward arc then up resulting in a slightly flatter ball, i.e. the difference between heavy topspin shot that *consistently* induces and/or forces errors vs. the about 30-40% chance of either going in and being a screaming winner or 60-70% chance it hits the back fence without bouncing first type shot.

That's the secret to Gonzo's "big bang" forehand right there. There's nothing really that unusual about his technique or even his racket speed, which while impressive, there have been others who could generate similar racket head speed. The only difference I see is that he takes the once every few points to keep you honest big forehands of Muster and Bruguera, and decides to use that as his go to play, standard rally shot, ALL the time.

Previously, this was only about good for a match or two here or there; but as Courier said about him back then, this is the kind of guy Chang in his prime would have eaten up. That he might win a match here or there, but he'll NEVER win a slam playing that way and everyone knows it.

It wasn't until Stefanki tried to make him realize and buy into the notion, "always in moderation buddy" that he pieced together is finest *sustained* performance ever at the Australian Open.

I haven't followed tennis closely enough to say why he slumped after what many thought was his proverbial "breakthrough" moment where "the big lug finally gets it, he gets it..." trails off into echoes; yet perhaps it's a sign that he just naturally doesn't have it in his temperment to execute a more patient, percentage style of play reliably over the long haul; i.e. similar to Stefanki/fans hoping/expecting that he could keep Rios on his best school boy behavior forever...not gonna happen. Why? Because that's just not the kind of person Rios is; you must accept the genius with the faults sometimes.

Btw, this is NOT to say that I'm saying Gonzo's forehand isn't HUGEMONGOUS! The whole point is that the elite claycourts of the past could hit huge, showstopping forehands like that too; they just weren't stupid enough to think that you could win grand slams swinging that big ALL the time.

The reason a flat-style big hitter like Korda could win a slam and Gonzo not is not because one forehand style being bigger than the other; they're not. They're both big, just in different ways. One is a skids through the court kind of big, the other is a SKIPS through the court kind of big. If someone skips a big, *jagged*, rock HARD off concrete at you, wouldn't it be hard to return? Exactly, that's a Gonzo topspin style forehand kind of big. If someone aims directly at your eyeballs with a small, tiny but smooth, pebble with mal intent like Ivan Lendl, that's an equally frightening type of forehand.

The difference between these two styles of big groundies is not which one is more effective in any given match, it's that the Gonzo style forehand just takes WAAAAAY more out of you PHYSICALLY. Think about how incredibly draining and taxing it would be to have to windup a CUCKOO clock ALLLLLL day long just to win a FULL two-week grand slam tournament. In my opinion, it's going to be MUCH easier to remain RAZOR SHARP with your timing (and make no mistake it requires GREAT timing to execute either of these styles effectively) if you don't have wind up and coil to the extreme degree that Gonzo does on EVERY single one of his forehands. Bruguera and Muster were taxed enough by their big swings as is, but can you imagine having to do it on EVERY point? No, of course, not that's why they DIDN'T go for hail mary shot ALL the time despite having it in their arsenal. You have to be smarter about these things.

...but what about Guga you say? Yes, it's true Guga swang out consistently like had fleas in his pants too, just like Gonzo; but what I say is LOOK AT THEIR RESPECTIVE FRAMES! No, I'm not talking about Head vs. Babolat here, but rather their actual body types. Guga was light as a feather on his feet and almost tensionless in his swing, because well he really was light as a feather. The guy was gangly like Stretch Armstrong, and to me longer levers is more efficient than brutish strength when it comes to generating big power in tennis. Gonzo's body type to me just requires more effort to motor around all day, whereas Guga at his finest was like a little worker bee happily buzzing and humming along all day out there it seemed during his prime. The man had NATURALLY amazing stamina.

Just prior to Guga winning the French, Courier actually beat Guga in four very tight sets in Davis Cup in Brazil on clay...in SCORCHING heat. Courier commented that he *couldn't believe* how fresh Guga was in the fourt set, that the guy was skipping around in between points like it was the first set while he was literally dying from heat exhaustion and dehyrdration (I believe he had to get IV's in him after the match) he was so dead, the match so grueling, and he so hot.

Posted by jewell - Campaign for Fedal Disarmament 07/16/2009 at 02:50 AM

And quite right too, NP.

Seriously though, what I was trying to get at is that probably every player has something worth appreciating about them, style-wise.

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 02:54 AM

Yah, jewell. Me sure want Petey's pajama shorts!

Posted by imjimmy 07/16/2009 at 02:55 AM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tt-vdBYeU3A

Pete Sampras : King of swing :)

Last yr during Wimb, they showed this very nice documentary on Pete's career focussing on Wimbledon.

Pete did have a pretty tough road in his first 2 slams. IIRC for his first Wimb. in '93 he had to beat def champ Agassi in QF, 6 Time Finalist and 3 times Winner Becker in the SF, and then 4 slam winner and 3 times finalist Courier in the Final. Similar opposition for the first UsOpen.

Interestingly Roger won his first Wimbledon 10 years after Pete did. And Pete's also 10 yrs older than Roger! Fed beat Roddick in the SF and Phillippoussis in the final. And by next yr's AO, Roger had stamped his authority over the field, and the press embraced him over a insipid, charmless Hewitt. Personally I have been most disappointed with Safin. Always thought he would be a great player, instead of a willing accomplice to Federer.

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 02:57 AM

BTW that last point about Guga's naturally superhuman stamina may be the deciding factor in the imaginary matchup between Borg and Rafa, should it go to 5 sets. I know, I know, I'm in a GOAT mood again.

Posted by mcakron 07/16/2009 at 02:59 AM

NP -- you're nuts. Dude, in all seriousness, you and IMJimmy need to get your picture taken with the Pistol. I'm serious. Pete B I would suspect could pull strings. I'd love it. I'm guessing about everyone else would too. Heck, if I had pull I'd arrange it. Even if I think you guys are choosing the wrong GOAT. But hey, ulitmately, FOATs matter more than GOATs, for all of us. Sampras is all right in my book, even if I think his Agassi/Nadal comparison was a bit off. ;)

Posted by jewell - Campaign for Fedal Disarmament 07/16/2009 at 03:00 AM

I can see charmless applied to Hewitt, but not insipid. Too intense for that. :)

God, I would like to see Borg and Rafa play an exhibition.

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 03:02 AM

imjimmy, I must've watched that particular vid a million times. Love that diving volley against Courier.

Word on Safin. Some fly-by poster said a few days ago that if not for the injuries and headcaseness Marat would've snatched a few HC Slams from Roger. I agree with him/her.

Posted by imjimmy 07/16/2009 at 03:05 AM

NP: That's an extremely interesting post @ 2:46 AM. Huge Props to the author. Thanks for sharing.
Pity about Guga - one of the most versatile players I've seen. I've never liked Gonzo's game for some reason.

mcakron: Thanks! BTW Pete's said that Fed is the unconditional GOAT. Brooklyn NY posted an interview link, and based on that Pete never put a conditional h2h improvement over Nadal as a criteria in Fed's GOATness. They put Pete in a spot to comment on the h2h. I mean you wouldn't expect him to say that Nadal is a jerk, and the h2h means nothing ..right?

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 03:06 AM

In all seriousness, mcakron, I don't wanna get my pic taken with Pete. There are very few celebs I wouldn't mind meeting in person, and Sampras ain't one of 'em. Just dig the guy's tennis and much-misunderstood personality.

Posted by VC 07/16/2009 at 03:08 AM

mcakron : What's FOAT?

NP : I just don't see Kuerten in the same league as Nadal and Borg on clay. Great shotmaker, and my favourite claycourt "specialist", but I think clay rewards players whose game is built on solid defensive attributes. I don't think that was the case with Kuerten, his game was more about flair and shotmaking.

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 03:13 AM

NP, imjimmy. The guy puts TW's best analysts to shame. He looks like a true tennis fan: passionate about the game itself, and not wedded to any single player. Wish he could be more sparing with words, though. He makes even my most long-winded self look like Eubulides.

As for Guga, the BH alone was enough to earn my lurve. And the perpetual grin.

Posted by mcakron 07/16/2009 at 03:13 AM

Favorite of All-Time.

Btw, just read NP's long post on Gonzo and Guga. Didn't know Stefanki coached the latter, but hell, I'd forgotten Roach used to be Lendl's coach. Thinking about Guga in terms of all-time clay courters. Ok, I have him just behind Borg, Nadal, Wilander/Lendl. Muster's breathing down the door too, but it seemed such a short stretch, though dominant and intense.

Posted by mcakron 07/16/2009 at 03:14 AM

Ooops, meant former.

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 03:24 AM

VC, think you underrate Guga's defensive skills. And I actually think his "flair" would've helped him against Borg and Rafa. You ain't gonna last very long against these two dirt titans in defensive battles. But when you attack with purpose, like Panatta and and Soderling, then you've got a shot, a very good one if you're a shotmaker in the class of Kuerten.

Posted by imjimmy 07/16/2009 at 03:28 AM

Talking about Records --

-Federer has won a major for 7 straight years
-Nadal has won a major for 5 straight years.
-The record is 8 yrs in a row, held by Borg and Sampras.

Most likely Federer will equal the record next year and then break it in 2011. Chris Evert, though, holds the record for a major 13 years in a row!! Who would ever beat that?

On that note: Time to crash. Thanks for the discussion folks. ( NP - thanks for the posts and the clips.)

Posted by mcakron 07/16/2009 at 03:32 AM

Guga's defense? Hmmmm ... about average in terms of the great dirtballers. Certainly, nothing near Borg, Nadal or Wilander. Probably on par with Lendl's, though. Actually, Bruguera was a better defender than Guga. But Guga, like Lendl, had more shots.

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 03:34 AM

Later, imjimmy.

mcakron, agreed. Think Muster was the best defender of the '90s dirtballers, but Bruguera was the best retriever.

And I'm outtie, 2. Later, folks.

Posted by jewell - Campaign for Fedal Disarmament 07/16/2009 at 03:35 AM

I agree with NP, sadly, particularly about Panatta, a little less so about Soderling.

Work time - bye all. :)

Posted by VC 07/16/2009 at 03:37 AM

I honestly can't think of an effective gameplan against a 100% Nadal on clay. I think Soderling's win was a combination of some of Nadal's hardcourt weaknesses transferring onto clay, and him being subpar on the day (the extent of the impact of his injury is debatable). I guess you can only beat him on clay by specifically targetting a weakness, say pouncing on second serves, or hitting dropshots repeatedly. Basically, come up with some surprise tactic, take him out of his comfort zone, and hope it takes him too long to figure out a solution. Easier said than done, of course.

Posted by mcakron 07/16/2009 at 03:43 AM

IMJimmy -- it was fine. My FOAT's Wilander. Believe me, I'm betting I've already had to live down more of my guy's post-retirement words than the Pistol's will ever demand of you. It happens. It's why I try to give Fed some space to say some of the things he does. Heck, Roddick and the Djoker, too.

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 03:54 AM

Guess I should say one more thing about Guga. Most of the '90s dirtballers, Muster and Bruguera included, were defensive baseliners playing with lots of topspin. But Guga was different, grinding closer to the baseline and hitting the ball on the rise a la Agassi, unafraid to attack. And he showed what kind of damage top-notch drop shots could do on clay, something Fed has "learned" (quotes 'cause he should've incorporated it a long time ago) only recently. That's why he's a cut above the rest, perhaps even Muster.

Off.

Posted by VC 07/16/2009 at 04:04 AM

Federer's scepticism about the "elegance" of the forehand dropshot is well-documented. :-) It did help him wear down Del Potro eventually.

For the record, I'm not sure it would make a big difference against Nadal. I think one of Federer's disadvantages over the years has been the fact that he has played him twice in clay-court finals before RG and laid himself bare, usually coming closest to defeating him, or even managing to do it. The problem is there's no surprise factor left in the RG encounter, and Nadal comes out firing and waxes him. It happened in 2006, when Federer came within a point of beating him in Rome, but after Nadal got over the initial nerves, he won easily in Paris. It was a similar story in 2007 and '08 also, except for that win in Hamburg '07.

Posted by Matt Zemek 07/16/2009 at 10:52 AM

NP:

What's the source for those two extended posts? Have a name of the author so some Googling can commence?

Posted by mcakron 07/16/2009 at 10:56 AM

NP@3:06 -- Understood. I'll back off that as I suggested it before. Was meant in good spirit but I know exactly what you mean.

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 11:28 AM

Matt, the author goes by the name of !Tym on this forum:

http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/search.php?searchid=5900276

Like I said, some of his posts are looooooooooooooooooong, but very insightful. Proceed at your peril.

mcakron, I know that was in jest. No sweat.

Posted by mcakron 07/16/2009 at 12:00 PM

The exerpts are interesting, NP. Only thing that stuck out like a sore thumb was his brief Korda-has-the-stuff-of-champions line, considering -- ahem -- what we later found out about Korda.

Liked his take on the Bruguera/Courier final. Felt the same way. Bruguera stole/gutted that one out.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 07/16/2009 at 12:07 PM

NP:

and peril it is.

One of his posts led me to some Marcelos Rios highlights at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29jx9Pz-pU0

4:13 in, Rios hits, perhaps, the most obnoxious returns of serve I've ever seen.

Probably one reason somebody on the pro tour didn't punch this guy out was that, deep down, tour members had to marvel at the one-of shots only Rios could execute.

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 12:08 PM

Well, mcakron, as he said in the post I quoted above, Korda did win the '93 Grand Slam Cup beating the likes of Bruguera, Sampras and Stich. He really was the Nalbandian of the '90s: brilliant shotmaker, but too inconsistent to make it to the elite level.

According to the same poster Korda also said, sometime in the '80s, that Laver was the most talented player he'd ever played with. Quite a statement.

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 12:14 PM

MSF, thx for the clip. Yeah, Rios was quite a character. Wiki should have a nice assortment of the reasons why he was so close to being punched in the gut.

Posted by Matt Zemek 07/16/2009 at 01:14 PM

NP,

Thanks. Just off the top, he dives into just about everything. I can't imagine devoting endless threads to a Krajicek-Stich serving comparison.

(For my money, Krajicek, but I couldn't give an extraordinarily in-depth answer. I'd cite a certain 1996 Wimbledon quarterfinal, and a 1998 Wimbledon semifinal. That's about it.)

Posted by NP 07/16/2009 at 01:25 PM

NP, Matt. I 2nd Krajicek myself, but like you I couldn't write a dissertation on the serving comparison even if I tried. This guy is somethin'.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 07/16/2009 at 02:14 PM

I looked at that rios youtube clip a few times. If I'm not seriously mistaken, Rios piroutted into that return of serve. I've never seen that done at any level, let alone the pros.

I agree that the energy !Tym's devotes to his posts is impressive.

Regarding Laver, I'm going to try to procure a full video of the 1975 WCT semis five-set match he played against Borg.

Laver was 36 at the time, Borg, 18, and already a French Open champion.

Admittedly, the indoor carpet on which they played favored Laver much more than Borg. And most of Borg's approaches were of the topspin variety--which Laver was probably better able to handle than good slice approaches.

But Laver's balls-out tennis was amazing. To some extent, I believe that Borg departed somewhat from his usually conservative approach--partly due to the potential embarrassment of being outhit from the ground by someone twice his age.

I'm also curious about what racket Laver used in this match seeing as how he went through a Chemold period where he was disguising other rackets to look like Chemolds--produced by the company that was paying him endorsement money to use their rackets. My guess is that the match occurred during the post-Chemold period.

Now, back to work.

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