Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - New Again
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New Again 04/19/2010 - 2:26 PM

Ss Are we ready to believe in Sam Stosur? I did once, very briefly, years ago, when I first saw her play somewhere in her native Australia. She had a game that might have been described as half-Heninesque. She had the inside-out forehand and the aggressive, jocky, all-court style, but she didn’t whirl around that court quite like the Belgian. And while Stosur’s backhand was strong, it was a workmanlike two-hander, one that would never make it into tennis’ Hall of Great Shots alongside Justine’s Olympian one-hander. Still, Stosur appeared to have Top 10 athleticism, her kick serve had the virtue of simplicity, and she was more capable of dictating a point from the middle of the court with her forehand than most of her opponents.

For years, it seemed that those gifts would be wasted. Stosur bounced around the rankings—No. 65 to 46 to 29 to 47 to 52—but never landed anywhere near the Top 10. The relatively few times she popped up on my radar screen, I could see that the shots and the talent were still intact, but she seemed to have no idea how to use them or to modify them for the moment. Like, say, Ernests Gulbis or Svetlana Kuznetsova on a bad day, Stosur could hit the ball as hard and as well as anyone, but her game lacked texture and adaptability. Like Kim Clijsters, if she got tight and things didn’t go well, she could rush herself into a trip to the showers.

But you don’t need to adapt when you can just hit a blatant winner off any ball you like. That’s what Stosur did for two very quick sets against Vera Zvonareva on Sunday in Charleston. The Aussie, who, even as she improved in 2009, had a habit of folding in finals, won her second and most prestigious title at the Family Circle Cup. At 26, she’s in the Top 10 for the first time, with a 17-5 record on the year. More impressive is the way she won this title. While Stosur hasn’t lost to Zvonareva since 2004, she made the sometime Top Tenner look like a barely coordinated amateur. Along the way, she inspired Vera to commit one of her most YouTube-worthy meltdowns—after double-faulting at 0-3 in the second, she broke her racquet, chucked it into the sideline sofa, and then, after it landed on the court, gave it a kick for good measure. It was the highlight of her afternoon.

Otherwise, it was all Stosur. Every time I looked away for a second—at a newspaper, out the window, at the floor—I looked back up to see her sending another viciously angled winner past a staggering Zvonareva, who had trouble even getting within five feet of some of these balls. Stosur’s uncluttered service motion and the powerful kick it produces is a thing of athletic beauty, one of the finest shots on the women’s tour. She can backpedal and hit her forehand for winners equally well to either corner. And she was using her slide-and-slice backhand when appropriate yesterday—that’s the texture and adaptability I was talking about. Better than all these, though, was Stosur’s return. She took it early, used a truncated backswing, hit it crisply, but never went for an outright winner with it.

So, back to my original question. Are you ready to believe in Sam Stosur? Can she rise higher than No. 10? Can she avoid the dismal early losses that have plagued her at the majors (before 2009, she was a collective 17-22 in the Slams)? Is she a match for the even more physically gifted Williams sisters, Henin, and Clijsters? Can she overpower someone as steady as Wozniacki, who will make her hit an extra ball to finish a rally? For the moment, as we head to Roland Garros, I'll say yes. Stosur made the semis in Paris last year, and she has the point-ending power for clay. Maybe now she’s learned to use all of her gifts. I hope so. Normally a blowout final is dull stuff, but not this one. After the Henin-Clijsters trainwreck in Key Biscayne, it was satisfying to see a player grab a match from the first game and win it decisively, with outstanding play from start to finish.

***

The same could very nearly be said for the men’s final that had been played earlier in the day, in Monte Carlo. Rafael Nadal grabbed his match with Fernando Verdasco from the start, winning the first six points and ending the second game with a vintage crosscourt backhand pass from off his shoe tops and outside the doubles alley. It's probably a shot that only a right-handed left-hander could hit. In other words, it's probably a shot that only Nadal could hit.

That’s the shot we’ll remember from his 2010 Monte Carlo win, his sixth in a row. What was most memorable the rest of the time was how routine this title was and how self-assured Nadal was winning it. He didn’t drop a set and, as he has in years past, the anxieties that seemed to plague him through the early part of the year all blew away in the red Monaco dust. There wasn’t a moment all week where Nadal seemed in any kind of doubt about who the tournament’s winner would be. There was more confidence in every part of his game. He had no issues going up the line with his forehand or taking an aggressive cut at his crosscourt topspin backhand, two shots that he gets cautious with when he’s not confident. What I noticed most, though, was how seldom he was forced to hit his slice backhand, which is a shot that can float on him. On hard courts, when he’s pushed back, he’ll resort to this stroke. On clay, with a little more time and his ability to slide, he seems to have no trouble taking the extra step needed to get in position to drive the ball. Nadal has mastered the surface, the subtleties of footwork and court positioning needed to get around on it efficiently, to the point where he appears to believe he can hit any shot from any spot, and that he’s never out of a rally. Must be a nice feeling. A confidence-boosting feeling.

Rn

Nadal didn’t beat Federer or Djokovic or Murray or del Potro or Davydenko or Soderling or a bunch of other very good players. It doesn’t matter—do you really believe that he can’t beat those guys on clay? What matters is that he’s found his best form, and that, after the “accidents” in Indian Wells and Key Biscayne, he knows that it’s still good enough to put him on the winner’s stand. But let’s set aside what this means for his future for the moment. The win was Nadal’s 16th Masters title, tying him with Federer and putting him one behind the record-holder, Andre Agassi. It’s extremely unlikely that Nadal will challenge Federer’s Slam record, but he’ll probably retire as the all-time Masters winner, a record indicative of consistent excellence and persistence. His record in Monte Carlo itself is even better; at 23, Nadal has already won six straight titles there. What will he end up with, 10? Whatever it is, it won’t be surpassed any time soon.

I talked recently with Nadal’s former Davis Cup captain, Emilio Sanchez, for an article for Tennis Magazine. He said that he hoped Nadal would find success again soon, because “he’s so emotional, and he suffers so much when he’s not winning.” You could see the truth in those words after match point yesterday, when Nadal fell straight to the ground as if he’d been shot, and ended up crying into his towel on the sideline. You might say that a guy who has won a tournament the previous five years should act like he’s been there before. I say the opposite. Would you rather that Federer, when he won his fifth straight U.S. Open in 2008 after having a tough season, had just flashed a smile of satisfaction, shaken Andy Murray’s hand, and sat down, instead of rolling on the court in berserk joy the way he did? Which would have been the more memorable reaction? Which would have revealed more of the man? Which would have moved us more? The same goes for Nadal’s tears in Monte Carlo. They came after a year of ups and downs for him, of physical and emotional disappointment and pain, and they showed that it isn’t just the majors that need to matter. After every match he wins, wherever it is, Nadal takes the time to celebrate as if the experience is brand new. It’s one reason why he continues to win, and why he can stay motivated at Monte Carlo. Keep acting like you’ve never been there before, Rafa. It's why tennis players keep playing, and it's why tennis watchers keep watching. We want to feel that way, too.


 
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Comments
 
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Posted by jabeau 04/20/2010 at 06:24 AM

Great writing again, Steve. Thanks. I enjoy your pieces and always check them out as well as reading the comments.

I am very very happy for Rafael. All is said already so there's nothing to add.

As for Sammy Stosur I am very happy for her too. I like her game and demeanor... and her lovely dress. The thing people seem to forget when talking about her being a late developer that she has been a number 1 doubles player. This quote is from Tennis Australia's website:

"An accomplished doubles player, she reached the No.1 ranking in doubles in February 2006 having claimed a series of titles with Lisa Raymond. In July 2007, Sam contracted Lyme disease and, having spent 61-consecutive weeks ranked as the No.1 doubles player in the world, was forced to withdraw from her remaining tournaments for the season. She rejoined the WTA Tour in June 2008, and in singles she marked her return to top-level tennis with a stirring run to the French Open semifinals. "

Posted by susan 04/20/2010 at 07:05 AM

stosur is one of those players i find hypnotic. the glasses, the shoulders, the serve. and her demeanor as well. also love that she never looks the glamourpuss at the players' parties. looks like she stepped right off bondi beach (ok i don't what that means,i've never been to bondi beach) but the point is clear.

Posted by Steve 04/20/2010 at 07:24 AM

This is fantastic. Just when I thought there was no new way to stir the Federer vs. Nadal pot, I've accidentally hit on the 16 majors vs. 16 masters comparison!

Really, when you think about it, the slams are just kind of a sideshow, not part of the normal run of the tour. Two weeks, five sets, days off in between matches—should they really count? Or are they just relics of another age, glorified exos, while the masters are the true test of greatness?

let's throw out the slams and start the race over. it's 16-all in masters between fed and rafa. Think about how much more exciting that would be, for them and for us.

Posted by Master Ace 04/20/2010 at 08:00 AM

"Just when I thought there was no new way to stir the Federer vs. Nadal pot, I've accidentally hit on the 16 majors vs. 16 masters comparison!"

Steve,
You should know better about Fedal wars as it can start from any debate. I can see Rafael with 30 Masters when he gets to Roger's age in 2012 provided if he remains healthy. On Roger and Slams, if he can get to 20 after 2011 United States Open, the new mark to be talked about will be Graf 22 and Court 24.

Posted by Rafanatic (marguritaspecial ) 04/20/2010 at 08:08 AM

I so glad that my RAFA found his form . I have never doubted for a moment that RAFA is one of the greatest tennis players of all time . I will stick with my RAFA till the end . I am very happy he is taking a rest , funny how when Federer or any on else takes a rest it is not a big issue but if RAFA does all the haters come out in full force , but RAFA haters will always be haters . So RAFA stay as sweet as you are ,as humble as you are and as lovable as you are it is truly a testament to your upbringing , don't change a thing except maybe let you hair grow out like it used to be and really I loved the capris time to bring them back . Last but not least you have so many LOVERS who cares about the haters.

Posted by Geellis 04/20/2010 at 08:49 AM

Steve, since I've sort of led the charge on this, I'll respond to your comment above. I think the biggest point favoring the superior importance of the slams is not one of their empirical attributes (i.e., how many sets, number of hours on court, days of rest in between, seeding, etc.) but their intangible component, namely, how the players treat them. Put differently, I mean the emphasis or "pressure" that the players put on themselves to win at the Majors. That said, other than a couple of serious standouts (Fed, Serena, and now perhaps Nole and Murray) I'm not sure players today "try" any less to win a match at the Masters events than they do at the Majors. That said, I cannot disagree that the players consider the Majors to be a bigger deal than the Masters events.

In some senses, however, I would argue that this makes the Masters more not less difficult to win. And why? Because most players play their best tennis when there's less pressure not more. Thus commentators are so fond of saying player x can "swing freely" or player x is "playing with house money" etc. Why has Lleyton not won AO or Emelie not won RG? Because they were not good enough? Of course not. Because they could not handle the pressure (more on their cases later) and, therefore, could not produce their best tennis. Now I understand that some people will say it's exactly this quality of nerves that makes the Majors more difficult. I'd say, the factor of nerves is one that doesn't fall so neatly in the favor of the the Majors as more difficult. Or, rather, not a factor we should consider so highly. This is true because nervousness is not simply a result of a player's own predisposition, but rather also a result of the conditions around the player. Therefore, it's simply not fair to compare the pressure on Hewitt, Mauresmo, or now Murray at their respective Majors to the pressure on Rafa or the Fed. FedAl only experienced a tiny fraction of the pressure at any Major that the other three experience at their "home" majors. And remember, this entire discussion between Majors and Masters is to ascertain who the best players are/is. And the truth of the difficulty of winning a major under enormous pressure can also be seen in the Fed's performance at RG prior to '09. So long as Rafa was in the draw and so long as the absence of this major was looming, the Fed simply could not play his best tennis. Thus, the '08 drubbing where he won a total of just 4 games.

Therefore, the ability to "handle" pressure is not necessarily a fair component to add to the analysis of the quality of a player because, resulting from circumstances often wholly out of their control, different players experience VASTLY differing amounts of pressure. No matter how good Rafa is on clay, Federer is much closer to him on that surface than just 4 games in the '08 final would suggest. Pressure is a mother. And players who come from countries where they are the beginning and end of sports figures in that country have vastly more pressure on them than players that hail from nations that are either tennis or sports behemoths. And we do not know how Roger would have fared at Wimbledon if he had been born (with all the same training and skill) on that little island. All that to say, the pressure of the Majors is a somewhat capricious (dare I say unfair) factor in their difficulty and not necessarily a fair one to consider when considering their importance. If we remove the consideration of pressure from the equation (or @ least mitigate it somewhat), it becomes much more difficult to assert that the Majors are empirically, at least, more difficult to win that Masters events. That said, we cannot simply eliminate "pressure" from the consideration. So it is we must live with the fact that the majors are capriciously unfair to different players because the players, hailing from various countries with various amounts/extent of attention/focus on the slams, undergo completely random amounts of pressure. The slams don't just tell us about the players. They tell us as well about the countries and press corps from which the players hail.

Posted by streams 04/20/2010 at 08:56 AM

yay Rafa, I love this quote: “my body is asking for rest.”
Rafa's body is talking and I'm glad he's listening!

Fantastic win over the weekend ....

Posted by fazioli 04/20/2010 at 09:08 AM

Steve at 7:24 - hysterical. I was getting a bit frustrated reading the comments. A wonderful post as usual.


It's good to see that Rafa's back to playing his best. When he does, it's terrifying. Hopefully he can maintain the intensity.

As a fed fan, most of the fun is watching Roger raise his level. The most tantalizing thought for me is "what the hail would Roger have to muster to beat rafa at his best in the RG final?" That I'd want to see.

For that reason, here's one fed fan hoping Rafa stays healthy.

Posted by Jai 04/20/2010 at 09:08 AM

"Really, when you think about it, the slams are just kind of a sideshow, not part of the normal run of the tour. Two weeks, five sets, days off in between matches—should they really count? Or are they just relics of another age, glorified exos..."

Steve: LOL!! I can't wait to read the responses you'll get to this :)

Seriously speaking though, Rafa really is a very consistent Masters player. He holds the ongoing record for consecutive quarter-final appearances at Masters events, since losing to JCF and blisters at Rome 2008 - the streak is 17 and counting now, and 14 of those have been semi-final appearances or better.

I know this is a paltry record compared to Federer's astonishing GS semi-final streak, but then Fed's standards are not the ones by which to judge the other, mortal players.

Posted by Mike 04/20/2010 at 09:16 AM

I look forward to a day when we can praise Rafa for an entire thread without dissing or berating Roger, his accomplishments, and his chances against Rafa now that the latter is at 99 and 44/100ths % healthy ... and vice versa, when Roger is riding high and Rafa is unhealthy.

Silly thought, I know.

Posted by Jay 04/20/2010 at 09:17 AM

Last night, I watched a rerun of Rafa v. Coria in the Rome finals. Rafa had just won his first Series 1000 (Monte Carlo, beating Coria) and eventually won this tourney in a 5th set tiebreak. It was very interesting to see and hear some things that have changed, and some that have remained the same with respect to Nadal:

1. Coria was referred to as the "king of clay", then.
2. The commentators were already (6 years ago) speculating on whether or not Rafa's body would hold up, based on his style of play.
3. Rafa played essentially with the same style that he did on Sunday, except that he makes far fewer errors now, and is more consistent with his serve.
4. Rafa was on a 17-match winning streak, three tournaments in a row, and the commentators were convinced that it was inevitable that he should lose in Rome, that year.

Posted by marron 04/20/2010 at 09:30 AM


@Mike, re: 9:16 post: 'Silly thought, I know.'

Yep. It was. Nice to think about, though. :)

Great article, Steve - I really enjoyed the part about Rafa, and the great Rafa-loving comments posted here.

Posted by Geellis 04/20/2010 at 09:34 AM

@Jai
I think Fed's records are amazing and the GS semi streak is certainly one of them. But there is substance to my argument about the relative merit of Majors and Masters events to which your, albeit funny, post simply does not respond. In other words, we're trying to have a serious debate here
:)

Posted by TeamNadal 04/20/2010 at 09:37 AM

*PAGING TIM, PAGING TIM!!!!!!!!!!!!*

Posted by Nam1 04/20/2010 at 10:03 AM

"I look forward to a day when we can praise Rafa for an entire thread without dissing or berating Roger, his accomplishments, and his chances against Rafa now that the latter is at 99 and 44/100ths % healthy ... "

Umm....I hadn't noticed anyone berating or dissing Roger here, however, try the previous thread and you will find plenty of comments dissing Rafa (by the Usual Suspects.)

Discussing how Roger's records hold up in comparison to the only player to have challenged him, during his hey day, is not dissing and berating, is it? Or am I missing something?

Posted by Jai 04/20/2010 at 10:16 AM

Geellis: I wasn't responding to your posts at all - I appreciate what you're saying about the Slams and the Masters. And I wasn't trying to be funny either - just mentioning Rafa's Masters QF streak (which, as I mentioned, isn't anywhere near as important as Roger's GS semi streak - but it's still worth noting).

Not sure where the misunderstanding is.

Posted by Jai 04/20/2010 at 10:25 AM

Geellis: just read your 8.49 AM post properly. Don't want to get into the Slams-vs-Masters debate (as you've pointed out, the comparison has to be a very nuanced one) - but I do agree that many people tend to overlook how difficult it can be to win a Masters, what with a smaller, more concentrated field and the last five rounds being held (usually) on consecutive days.

Posted by susan 04/20/2010 at 10:32 AM

rafa admits barcelona pullout due to fitness
doesn't say anything about his KNEES. sounds precautionary

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_sports/view/1051450/1/.html

Posted by Mike 04/20/2010 at 10:33 AM

Notice I said vice versa ... Kads on either side are quick to jump in defense, no? ;)

Guess we're simply lucky to have 2 so very dominant players on the scene now that we can't resist putting them up against each other on a constant basis. Love Live Fedal! LOL

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 04/20/2010 at 10:42 AM

I haven't read one negative post here "dissing" Fed and his accomplishments. We are discussing Rafa's MS record and the relative merits of masters shields compared to slams. It's amazing how sensitive some Fed fans get when rafa is doing well or has just achieved something mementous. Your insecurities start to show and it's really ridiculous. Your guy is undeniably the best to have ever picked up a racket. But rafa fans are very passionate about him and want to celebrate this moment so try to be gracious and not get all tetchy.

Steve, I love your proposal at 7:24. Of course Fed fans think it's ridiculous and that you are being facetious but I think you are being completely serious. Your description of the slams as being glorified exos and relics of the past is sure to anger every Fed fan. And I think you were being a little facetious there (can you be a little facetious?). But your idea of making a race between Federer and Nadal for the overall masters series champ is a great one! The field is level right now for the first time. Why not? Well, for one thiing, I don't think Fed has his designs on masters titles any more. For him it's all about majors. And I can hear the Fed fans saying Fed is 5 years older than rafa etc etc. So when presented with an opportunity to race these two thoroughbreds head to head, you know they'll take a pass on it. Even with rafa's banged up knees. Still, I think it's an idea worth talking about and seeing if it gains any traction. It would be interesting to see Fed's reaction to your comment. The next time you have a chance to talk to him why not ask him about it? Now that he sees Rafa about to pass him in number of Masters titles, he might start competing seriously at these tournaments again. It will be interesting to see.

Again, thanks for providing a place for some sane discussion of these issues.

Posted by Statician 04/20/2010 at 10:42 AM

There's a reason why there are more Nadal-bashers than there are Federer-bashers. It's these stats: 13-7, 6-2.

How can you be the best when you can't beat the best?

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 04/20/2010 at 10:50 AM

Master Ace and Steve,

You've both read my mind! And it wasn';t too long ago that I wrote on this very blog that Federer is actually training his sights on Steffi Graf and Margaret Court.

- Slice

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 04/20/2010 at 10:58 AM

But let me add that while I'm sure Steve was being seious, as Annie suggests above, I'm almost 100% certain that if you asked Rafa which he'd rather own... 16 Masters shields or 16 Grand Slam titles... he'd quickly answer the latter.

Especially now that the Masters/ATP 1000 events are no longer best-of-five sets, they do not carry the same weight as the majors/Grand Slams. To assert that the Slams are actually relics, and NOT part of the regular ATP tour, but rather sort of like exos, is ludicrous, of course. In fact, most people who want to see real scheduling change on the ATP and WTA tours, think the way to go is to structure the entire season around the Slams, creating four mini-seasons, a la the U.S. Open Series.

So, one could easily argue, and it has been argued by people such as Peter Bodo, that the Slams have risen in stature and importance over the past 30 to 40 years. Essentialy, ever since the Open Era, and peaking during the Sampras years.

Posted by Jai 04/20/2010 at 10:58 AM

"There's a reason why there are more Nadal-bashers than there are Federer-bashers. It's these stats: 13-7, 6-2.
How can you be the best when you can't beat the best?"

Oh dear. I sense something is about to erupt. As a Rafa fan, may I make a preemptive placatory move by saying, for the record, that those stats have no bearing on the overall legacy of the two players? There isn't the slightest doubt about which of them has achieved more overall.

Posted by Jai 04/20/2010 at 11:01 AM

Wait...do people here really think Steve was being dead serious in his 7.24 pm comment? Or am I missing something? Does humour not register if it isn't accompanied by a smiley sign?

Posted by susan 04/20/2010 at 11:01 AM

jai wins poster of the year award.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 04/20/2010 at 11:02 AM

Jai,

I agree with your sentiment, and will say that while I greatly admire both athletes, and am awed by their respective accomplishments and games, it is very clear which of the two men has been the most consistent performer. That being said, if Rafa can remain healthy for another six or eight years, he could conceivably rewrite the history books.

I just don't see it happening, with his knees. But I'm not going to put money against him, because I've never seen a more determined individual.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 04/20/2010 at 11:03 AM

I may be wrong. Steve may have been being completely facetious. And mischievous.

Posted by Mike 04/20/2010 at 11:04 AM

I apologize for jumping to conclusions regarding the use of the term 'dissing' ... I guess mentions of Fed playing Monte Carlo or not being a non issue now that Rafa is finally on clay and healthy (would Steve have said that 2 months ago?), and trying to compare masters to slams to raise the former to comparable status though they are entirely different animals simply because Rafa has especially excelled in the Masters (and he deserves all the accolades in the world for having 16 shields in just 6 years of FT professional play) kind of cheapens what Fed has shown he is capable of and what he has achieved in my mind. I'm not putting Rafa down ... I'm a big fan. Just don't know why Fed has to be dropped a rung to acknowledge Rafa and vice versa ... there are other players out there.

Posted by Jai 04/20/2010 at 11:06 AM

"The field is level right now for the first time."

Annie: actually the Masters field has been level between them before this. Rafa slipped ahead early last year, then Federer equalled him at Madrid (15 shields each) and then surpassed him at Cincinnati. And now they are even again. I agree that this mini-rivalry within the larger rivalry could make things interesting!

Posted by Mike 04/20/2010 at 11:09 AM

Wow, Statician ... thank you! I didn't realize it was all so simple. Sorry for being so one sided in my comparisons ... I do have a lot to learn.

Posted by Steve 04/20/2010 at 11:13 AM

throwing out the slams—definitely facetious.

starting a masters race to get federer more involved in them (maybe putting some money into it): great idea, would make tennis so much better for the next five years. or it would kill both fed and rafa. or both.

geelis: that is interesting stuff. goes to the heart of what we consider the criteria for "greatness" in athletes. the slams, as slice says, have increased in stature since lendl/sampras said they were basically all that counts—proof is not only that borg skipped the aussie almost every year, but he even skipped the french in 77 to play wtt! you know things have changed, when you think about that. but they've always been the gold standard at some level, going back to the beginning of the sport.

to win the events that everyone who has ever hit a tennis ball dreams of winning: that seems to me to be the ultimate measure of a player, after all the subtleties of pressure and nationality are accounted for.

that said, i love the fact that the atp has created a masters level series with the prestige that it now has. it may be the one true success story in the tour's history. and they're great to watch, maybe even more fun to watch than the slams, because they aren't as exhausting, and have a high percentage of quality match-ups.

Posted by Jai 04/20/2010 at 11:20 AM

"That being said, if Rafa can remain healthy for another six or eight years, he could conceivably rewrite the history books. I just don't see it happening, with his knees."

Slice-n-Dice: neither do I. Personally I'd be more than happy if he finished with 10 Slams. Even nine would be good.

Posted by Statician 04/20/2010 at 11:22 AM

All Statitician is saying is Nadal lovers don't detract nearly as much as Federer lovers. 4got2 add my smiley after that last statement.

Posted by Geellis 04/20/2010 at 11:31 AM

@Steve et. al.
I hear you about the slams. It occurs to me however that the statement "after all the subtleties of pressure and nationality are accounted for" amounts to a pretty big "but" (or "if" or whatever). That said, obviously I concede that the players value the Majors more. I'm just not sure this fact makes a Major, empirically, more difficult to win. Put differently, I'm not sure this valuation of the Majors by players means that we should think of the slams as making such a bigger statement about the "ability" of a player, either generally or in the historical sense, as we do.

Posted by Mike 04/20/2010 at 11:39 AM

Didn't see the smiley ... detract all my responses. Trying to follow and respond while getting behind in my work is taking it's toll. I'm a big fan of Fed and Rafa ... and their rivalry. It honestly broke my heart the same to see Rafa lose to lesser opponents during his down time as Fed in his. Love seeing them both healthy and 100% ... they won't be at the top of the game forever, enjoy them while we can.

Glad Rafa took Barcelona off ... and I hope Fed is back to 100% so we can all be in for a treat if they go H2H once more in Rome.

I'll come back when I have a clear head ... sorry for over reacting. ;)

Posted by Anna 04/20/2010 at 11:44 AM

I just started reading, and I do not believe that people are comparing Masters to grand slams!!!
Don't get me wrong, I am a Rafa fan, but one cannot compare apples to oranges. Even the ranking system, gives half the points to masters series.

Rafa has been beating Federer relatively consistently. But in terms of history and big picture, Federer is the GOAT ( at this point), and Nadal is a great, not yet a legend other than on clay.
I had read somewhere that 8 is the magic number that distinguishes greats from legends in terms of grand slams. I think Rafa will get there, and I would guess that he could end his career with 10-12 slams. That would put him in a very exclusive category, but I doubt that he can ever surpass Federer in the most important number in tennis.
If he is able to ever win the US open, he could though make the other category, the Golden grand slam winners, now only comprising Agassi and Graf (the same could be said for Federer, if he wins a singles olympic gold)

Posted by Steve 04/20/2010 at 11:45 AM

it's a good point, geelis. the slams measure a player's historical place in the game mainly because we've all agreed, players and fans and writers and historians alike, that the slams are going to be the measure—it's an anti-empirical yardstick, for sure.

Posted by susan 04/20/2010 at 11:49 AM

i vowed that i would never hope for another fedal final after the AO (and it will be a FINAL, won't it... at least for now?).
But it's difficult to suppress the wish.

"they won't be at the top of the game forever (what?!?!), enjoy them while we can (good reminder)"

Posted by GB 04/20/2010 at 12:09 PM

It seems to me though that, at the core, one of the critical things that makes slams a worthy measure is that very designation: the fact that 'we've all agreed' that they will be the measure. As a result of them being the yardstick of choice (however that choice was made and whether or not it was arbitrary) they call into play a player's belief to deal with the pressure of realising their ultimate ambition. For example: if a retroactive decision was made that such and such tourneys were actually more important, I don't think you could just transplant past results in assessing a player's legacy. Analogous to some players playing unbelievable tennis on the practice court but not being able to replicate it on the match court, if they didn't know they were playing for history, they couldn't be written into it.

Posted by GB 04/20/2010 at 12:13 PM

Susan: It's pretty likely that at the FO it could be a semi (obviously depending on the draw). Nole has about 900 points more than Rafa (once Barca's removed) and Rafa's defending more, so I think Nole would have to have a pretty poor clay season to drop to 3. Seems like the draw gods have kept them apart lately, but you never know.

Fedal finals are both terrifying and awesome. Right now, this Rafa fan would just flove for Rafa to be in a final!

Posted by Steve 04/20/2010 at 12:14 PM

Yes, GB, the 'we've all agreed' reason for their importance doesn't make them any less important. what we agree on is what becomes the reality (deep thought for the day)

Posted by bmars250 04/20/2010 at 12:15 PM

Hey I didnt say that to attack someone but I was just trying to point out that since nadal is better than everyone else on clay he is guaranteed at least 3 masters a year.I am a fan of both nadal and fed but sometimes pple make ridiculas comparisons or comments. We all know that hardcourt is the neutral surface for every1 and thats why there are many tournaments on hardcourts and there is never a gaurantee that fed will win all of them. All I was trying to say is if we had the same number of masters on grass as on clay were obviously fed is better than every1 he would have been guaranteed at least 3 masters a year like nadal. imagine if there were 3 masters on each surface that is 3 grass, 3 clay and 3 hardcourt, who would you think this balance would favour. The GSs are equally and i must say fairly distributed becoz we have 1 on each surface, hc indoor & outdoor, clay and grass so they dont really favour or suit any1 particularly but its all about who on average is the better player on all surfaces, and the answer to that is simmple

Posted by JohnP 04/20/2010 at 12:22 PM

I'm glad to see a revival of the Federer-Nadal debate if for no reason other than this: it must mean that the rivarly is about to resume where it left off in early '09. Let's get ready to rumble in Paris! A Fed-Nadal final would be awesome. Good to see Nadal and his camp are wise enough to pace themselves heading into the French. Yet another indication that there are way too many tournaments anyways!

Posted by Anna 04/20/2010 at 12:24 PM

bmars,
while I agree with most of your points, there are a couple of errors: the most impotant, that the grand slams are not equally distributed, right now (and thhis does nto stand for 25 years ago), there are two hard court slams, and no indoor one.
Another issue is that hard courts are not a neutral surface, it is Nadal's worst surface. And thrird, regarding the better one on grass, even though obviously Federer has more Wimbledon titles than Nadal, Nadal has been in the last three finals he played and lost two but won the last one

Posted by susan 04/20/2010 at 12:25 PM

thx for info GB

Posted by Jai 04/20/2010 at 12:26 PM

"I was just trying to point out that since nadal is better than everyone else on clay he is guaranteed at least 3 masters a year."

bmars250: actually, Rafa has never won all three clay Masters in any year, even when he was at his most dominant. It would be a hugely difficult achievement, given how compressed the clay season is. He did win two every year from 2005 to 2009 though.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 04/20/2010 at 12:28 PM

This is a great thread, people. No one jumping to FEDAL wars, here. No "My GOAT is better than YOUR GOIAT" fights. I love it.

Steve, I see where you're coming from clearly now. And I agree that the Masters events are special. As much for fans as for the players. I've seen two live (I know, that's sad... only two) -- Coincinnati in 2006, the one event where Federer did not reach the final that year (just my luck), and Montreal 1997 (won by Chris Woodruff, of all people... again, my luck). They are lively events with great access to the players and plenty of tennis to see, not to mention the nearness to the practice court action. I meaqn, where else can one find himself bumped into by Rafa on his way to the practice court (yours truly did, in Cincy!)? And where else can one sit down on a bench under a shade tree with a beer and a Philly cheesesteak and wave to Rafa as he scurries undetected past the waiting throng of women and girls after a loss and a hot shower (again, yours truly did, in Cincy!)?

I'd rather attend a Masters event in an intimate setting thsan a Grand Slam, to be honest. I'll take my Grand Slams from my couch, with replay and slo-mo. Of course, itf anyone's simply dying to get rid of a couple of tickets to the French or Wimbledon, let me know.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 04/20/2010 at 12:35 PM

The clay court season is only compressed because of the "North American spring hardcourt season" at IW and Miami. Between the last ball struck at the AO and the first at the French there are 17 weeks. 17 weeks!!!! That's more than 1/3 of the entire season! For those who do not get into IW and Miami, they are playing so much European clay court tennis their irises are turning red.

The tour really needs to think about creating a 5 to 6 week grass-court "season" leading uyp to Wiombledon, and a 5 to 6 week indoor hardcourt "season" leading up to the Australian. Give the European clay court season about 7 to 8 weeks. That's plenty.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 04/20/2010 at 12:39 PM

federer_legend, at 7:10, on 4/19, writes that he prefers that Rafa and Federer not be compared.

It is great to hear the voice of reason occasionally breaking through.

Head-to-head in all their meetings, Rafa leads Federer 13-7.

No comparison.

Head-to-head in their meeting in majors (the most important tournaments), Rafa leads Federer 6-2.

Again, no comparison.

I agree with federer_legend. It is best not to compare Rafa and Federer.

Posted by Anna 04/20/2010 at 12:41 PM

Slice and Dice,
I agree that all seasons need a good 5-8 weeks. Clearly clay is compressed, and most of all, grass is ridiculously short. But I do not see how they can eliminate/ move IW and Miami, as these are big tournaments with lots of income for the tours

Posted by lightforce 04/20/2010 at 12:41 PM

bmars,
"if there are masters in grass", don't be too sure that Nadal will not have a very good share of those tournaments. At this point, his propensity for this type of court has vastly improve . So unless you have divine eyes, you can not be assured that "Roger will have 3 masters a year" (in grass). So stop those "if" propositions. And mind you, hard court is not a neutral surface for Nadal.

Posted by JohnP 04/20/2010 at 12:42 PM

It seems as though people are hung up on the fact that Federer has a losing record against Nadal and that this somehow negates his status as the GOAT. McEnroe had a losing record against Lendl (21-15, including 7-3 in majors), but I don't often, if ever, see Lendl listed ahead of Mac on any GOAT list. Borg had a 7-7 head-to-head against McEnroe, with a 3-1 edge to McEnroe at majors. Yet, more often than not Borg would be listed ahead of McEnroe on the GOAT list. So, why the hang up on the Fed-Nadal head-to-head? Is it perhaps because their "duopoly" has dominated the game for years, and thus any angle/statistic is magnified? Do some look for any dent in the Federer armour to attack?

Thoughts, anyone?

Posted by Anna 04/20/2010 at 12:49 PM

JohnP,
While I agree that the h2h is a completely skewed number, I do not agree with you at allregarding McEnroe and Lendl.
OF COURSE Lendl is ahead of McEnroe in the GOAT list, as he has 8 grand slams and 19 finals, compared to 7/11 for McEnroe- McEnroe gains points for doubles play, but clearly he is behind Lendl. The reason why more people talk about McEnroe than Lendl, was his attitude, his longevity, and the fact that Lendl was from an "obscure" (to Americans) country.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 04/20/2010 at 12:57 PM

Discussing Rafa and Federer, Slice-n-Dice writes at 11:02, today:

"I agree with your sentiment, and will say that while I greatly admire both athletes, and am awed by their respective accomplishments and games, it is very clear which of the two men has been the most consistent performer."

Slice, I have a few question for you, in light of the fact that: (a) Rafa hasn't turned 24; (b) Rafa has won over 400 matches on the ATP tour; and (c) Rafa has a winning percentage on the ATP tour of over 80 percent; (d) Rafa has won 16 Masters shields; and (e) Rafa has won six majors.

My questions are these, when Federer was Rafa's current age (23 years and however many days): (a) had Federer won over 400 matches on the ATP tour?; (b) was Federer's winning percentage on the ATP tour over 80 percent?; (c) had Federer matched Rafa's 16 Masters shields wins?; and (d) how many majors had Federer won?

The answers to these questions should clarify who has been the "most consistent performer."

Posted by manuelsantanafan 04/20/2010 at 12:57 PM

Discussing Rafa and Federer, Slice-n-Dice writes at 11:02, today:

"I agree with your sentiment, and will say that while I greatly admire both athletes, and am awed by their respective accomplishments and games, it is very clear which of the two men has been the most consistent performer."

Slice, I have a few question for you, in light of the fact that: (a) Rafa hasn't turned 24; (b) Rafa has won over 400 matches on the ATP tour; and (c) Rafa has a winning percentage on the ATP tour of over 80 percent; (d) Rafa has won 16 Masters shields; and (e) Rafa has won six majors.

My questions are these, when Federer was Rafa's current age (23 years and however many days): (a) had Federer won over 400 matches on the ATP tour?; (b) was Federer's winning percentage on the ATP tour over 80 percent?; (c) had Federer matched Rafa's 16 Masters shields wins?; and (d) how many majors had Federer won?

The answers to these questions should clarify who has been the "most consistent performer."

Posted by JohnP 04/20/2010 at 12:58 PM

Anna,
While there are certainly others, one example is Tennis Magazine's issue (produced in 2000) of the Greatest Players of the 20th centure. Mac was there; Lendl was not. While number of majors won deservedly gets serious weight in the determination, you can't simply list Lendl ahead of McEnroe solely on 8-7 in majors won. The McEnroe-had-the-natural-ability, Lendl-was-more-professional-and-committed aspect enters in. On the whole I would bet that the majority of lists would have Mac ahead of Lendl.

Posted by Anna 04/20/2010 at 01:04 PM

JohnP-
what about the 19 finals compared to 11? what about 270 weeks at number 1(the 3d longest behing Sampras and Federer) compared to 170? or 157 consecutive weeks at number 1 (again 3d in record)?
Lendl was low profile, and possibly less talented than McEnroe. But we cannot compare raw talent- it has no objective measure. We cannot compare let's say Safin with Federer, just because his talent was likely comparable

Posted by Anna 04/20/2010 at 01:08 PM

And BTW, tennis magazine in 2005 published the "40 Greatest Players of the Tennis Era" (female and male) and Lendl is #10, McEnroe is # 11

Posted by manuelsantanafan 04/20/2010 at 01:09 PM

Rafa has made three Wimbledon finals and won a Wimbledon, beating you-know-who.

Roddick has shown he is a very good player on grass.

And some would have us believe that, had Masters tournaments been played on grass the past few years, Federer would have won them all.

Delusiveness reigns supreme.

Posted by freddy 04/20/2010 at 01:11 PM

@Geelis - just read through all your posts, as also Christopher, Steve et al. Fascinating subject, and I would like to add a couple points here

1. While the additional rest may compensate for the 5 set format length in Slams, winning a Slam also requires that a player maintain an exceptional level over a longer period (2 weeks), or using the gradual build up in competitive level, work your way up to an exceptional level towards the finish. I think this is one of the most difficult things to do, which contributes hugely to the difficulty of winning a Slam. At numerous Slams, we've seen a player play brilliantly over say 10 days, only to have a dip in level in say the SFs and flare out. The Masters, while it imposes the need to sustain performance each day against an overall higher level of competition, has a lower elapsed time.

2. Your point on prestige is spot on. Apart from everything else, its the Slams that a young player first hears about and dreams of winning. Bottomline - you can take it as a given that every player in the field will do his utmost in a Slam. Appreciate the point you make about free-swinging at the Masters, but I would counter that in a Slam while the pressure may get to your competition, it first and foremost gets to you. And maintaining your level, under the pressure you face, with the stakes (prestige, ranking points, money) being the highest cannot be seen to be less demanding than in a free swinging environment.

3. Players like Verdasco, Ferrer having reached Slam SFs but not reaching Masters SFs / Fs...not a very strong point, I'm afraid to support the Masters being tougher argument. For every such player, there would be multiple players who go the other way - winning multiple Masters with no Slams / solitary Slams (see Nalbandian, Roddick, Ferrero, Djokovic, Murray), winning Masters without reaching a Slam Final (see Ljubicic most recently, or Berdych)...if anything the evidence points the other way

4. Regarding the impact of Masters vs Slams on future GOAT debates (which is where I can see this heading), the ironic part is that the players themselves have no way of knowing what future generations are going to consider important. It is a post-facto application of certain values. Take Federer today - clearly, he's not cared two whits about Masters for at least a couple of years now. When he did consider it important, he was winning them by the truckload. If 30 years out, the values changed and Masters were considered more important, Federer would be nowhere. Given that the relative prestige of tournaments changes over time, and fields become stronger or weaker accordingly, formats change and so on...doing a Masters count over even a short time period can quickly become meaningless. How is one to compare a 3 set final win today over a 5 set final win just a few years back? How about the indoor Masters (Paris / Shanghai / Madrid) vs, the rest? What about WTC wins - do they count as equal or more or less? Bottomline - with the exception of a period when the AO was not reckoned at par with the others (at least in the eyes of the players), the only tournaments in the last 80 yrs of tennis where you could safely say the best players would have played and competed fiercely to win, are the Slams. Their formats, associated ranking points and prestige have remain largely unchanged, thank heavens.

Posted by JohnP 04/20/2010 at 01:15 PM

I consider the 19 finals a dubious stat for Lendl - he lost more major finals than he won. Depending on how you interpret it, it could work against him. The Buffalo Bills are 0-4 in Super Bowls - do they get any credit for "getting there"? Maybe harsh, but it's the society we live in. You mention some other indicators, which prompts me to say I agree with you in that we have to look at many factors. One of the indicators is "concentrated brilliance." I think you can somewheat measure raw talent objectively. McEnroe's 1984 is still, Federer notwithstanding, the greatest tennis year ever - 82-3 match record, won two majors in dominant/unbeatable form in what was essentially then a three-major season.

Posted by Ruth 04/20/2010 at 01:16 PM

I was alerted, at our next door blog, to the discussion over here of the Slam vs Masters topic -- one of my favorite tennis topics. We just touched on it in reference to the way a players might opt out of a Masters (or other) event when he wants to be sure to be 100% ready for the BIG ONES, the Slams. As I said then, I have never belonged to the "Slams are everything" or even the "Slams are almost everything" school, for many of the reasons that Steve has mentioned seriously or facetiously.

And I felt this way long before Roger and Rafa became the kings of tennis! :) So, there's no Fedalist influence going on with me. Interestingly, one of a couple players who have said/admitted in interviews that they often find the Masters events more challenging or harder to win than the Slams is none other than the #1 player and holder of the highest number of Slam titles -- Roger Federer!

Posted by Geellis 04/20/2010 at 01:17 PM

@freddy
Though I can quibble with certain of your points, on balance I agree with your conclusion. Especially your par 4, with which I agree in its entirety. I also agree with your par 3. I think you didn't really respond to my point about the differential pressure that players experience based upon whether the slam is their home slam and whether their countries have boat loads of other sports heroes and, thus, their performance at the home slam is not as nationally relevant (i.e., for the U.S. players). Other than that, I'm ok with your points.

Posted by freddy 04/20/2010 at 01:20 PM

JohnP -

Lendl >Mac, on any GOAT list that looks at the matter logically / scientifically. Some months back, I had posted links to an entire series this point, which I'd written. Unfortunately, Lendl is the forgotten great in much of the mainstream media, though thankfully not amongst serious tennis fans. I'd also made a strong case for Lendl = Sampras, if you look at aggregate performance in Slams over a Career, not just Slam wins, which takes into account Lendl's Finals / SFs to Slams played ratio vs. Sampras, as also performance on weakest surface, where Lendl with his 2 Fs and 5 SFs at Wimbledon far exceeds Sampras' performances at RG. Even if you look beyond the Slams - at Weeks #1, no of year ending Finals wins, and so on...Lendl, Sampras and Connors are dead even - all are way > MAc.

MSF - every time you bring up Rafa's 'performance at his age' stats, I'll say the same thing - there are career curves and there are career curves. Rafa is not yet half done - and we have no way of knowing if he'll go the Federer way, the Sampras way, the Borg way or the Mac way...It ain't over till its over. And, your numbers were a lot better a year back than now (At age 24, Fed starts closing up with Rafa on Slams - 4 to 6 - it was 1 to 6 at age 23 - and then Fed's off to the races the next 4 years...so Rafa better buck up if you want to keep using that argument :-))

Posted by manuelsantanafan 04/20/2010 at 01:21 PM

freddy writes at 1:11:

"the only tournaments in the last 80 yrs of tennis where you could safely say the best players would have played and competed fiercely to win, are the Slams."

Absolutely, NOT TRUE.

freddy, are you familiar with pre-Open era tennis, during which top-tier players (often the best of their generations) turned pro, and were not allowed to compete in the "Slams"?

Do us a favor and research the careers of, for example:

Bill Tilden

Fred Perry

Bobby Riggs

Jack Kramer

Pancho Gonzalez

Lew Hoad

Ken Rosewall

Rod Laver

Posted by JohnP 04/20/2010 at 01:24 PM

True, MSF, Laver won the Slam in '62, turned pro, and then won it again in '69.

Posted by iksius 04/20/2010 at 01:25 PM

manualsantanafan

as to age of the players. Does it mean a lot? When somebody wins his/her first tournament/ Slam?

If we are looking this way, let's take Murray. He has 0 Slams by age 22/or 23? and everybody is saying - he is still young, he has time... But if we compare him and Rafa - let's forget about Mandy / he is done, because Rafa has 6 Slams and Mandy 0. Is that's right?

Posted by freddy 04/20/2010 at 01:27 PM

JohnP -

Lendl's Slam finals losses were to McEnroe, Connors, Borg, Becker, Wilander - no shame in losing to any of these players in a Final. Unless you belong to the "You don't win Silver, you lose Gold" mode of thought, you have to credit Finals appearances.

I have covered this and other arguments extensively in the series I was referring to (mind you the series was written 18 months back, so the nos may have to be updated)..here's the link for those interested..am posting the first of the 9 part series...you'll find the rest on the panel to the left

http://www.mindmatters.co.in/blog/index.php?content=detail&id=19

Posted by freddy 04/20/2010 at 01:35 PM

Yes MSF...except for the period b/w WWI and 1968. Please see my link in the post above - I am extremely familiar with all these legends, and I had actually 'done you a favour and researched all these legends'...you may have forgotten me, but I haven't :-)

It didn't come out well in my post, but what I meant was that the only basis you could use was looking at the Slams over the 80 yr periods, and make sure you had those caveats re 1945-68, and not do blind Slam count comparisons. This itself is close to impossible, but if you go down to the Masters level you have even less basis for comparison.

Posted by freddy 04/20/2010 at 01:35 PM

Oops - that should be WWII

Posted by Frances 04/20/2010 at 01:37 PM

Ruth at 1:16PM

I wanted to add my once cent on your comment about Fed having more trouble winning the Master Shields.. I could be really really wrong - but I think when it comes to each player, for sure they have preference and weigh importance on some other tournaments than others..it is the reality. Just as much of the public viewers (non tennis lovers) that only watch the 4 slams, some if not most of the tennis players in the circuit would value the slams more and use these master tourneys as a preparation for the SLAMS. As for Fed (im not a fed fan BUT definitely in awe of his accomplishments), I certainly wont say that he doesn't put as much importance on the master tourneys because I always see him fight, BUT there has to be something MENTAL that really allows FED to overcome slip ups and challenges during the SLAMS.. he, just like more viewes and players value the slams more, AND what separates him from other players is that his game ELIVATES especially during the slams-- like he has some extra wing of something... when was the last time Fed ever lost to an early round in SLAMS since he became #1 ... i dont know but i dont think he EVER DID... and that to me is AMAZING!!-- he has he's downs and poor plays in masters but NEVER in SLAMS.. so kodus to him.. that is really something that I am so in awe of!!!

Posted by manuelsantanafan 04/20/2010 at 01:38 PM

Regarding the tennis GOAT debates . . .

First, Rafa hasn't won nearly enough majors to be considered a GOAT contender.

Second, I'm puzzled regarding these confident assertions that Federer is the GOAT, when:

(1) Federer has never won a Calendar Slam, which Budge did once, and Laver accomplished twice;

(2) Federer has a losing record in his prime against his main rival (in head-to-heads that are not even close) and the same cannot be said of GOAT candidates such as Tilden, Laver and Gonzalez;

(3) GOAT candidates, such as Laver, Tilden, Gonzalez, and Borg, have led their countries to Davis Cup championships. Federer hasn't even led his country to the Davis Cup finals.

As far as majors counts are concerned, when people who proclaim Federer the GOAT are willing to come up with believable calculations concerning how many majors Tilden would have won had he been allowed to play Roland Garros in his prime and been willing to take the boat ride to Australia on a regular basis, the majors counts don't count.

Once these tennis geniuses have adequately addressed the Tilden situation, they can come up with believable calculations regarding the majors that Rosewall, Laver, Gonzalez, and Kramer would have won had they not been barred from entering the majors during their professional years (and, in Kramer's case, how many majors Kramer did not win because of World War II, in which he served).

Posted by manuelsantanafan 04/20/2010 at 01:42 PM

freddy:

My apologies.

I had forgotten that series which you compiled and to which you refer.

I probably have the pertinent webpages bookmarked somewhere.

Again, my apologies

Posted by iksius 04/20/2010 at 01:42 PM

As Slice said

"This is a great thread, people. No one jumping to FEDAL wars, here. No "My GOAT is better than YOUR GOIAT" fights. I love it."


It's a pity it can't be so :-(

Posted by freddy 04/20/2010 at 01:48 PM

No probs MSF..my fault - I tend to lurk for long periods and only surface when a topic of interest comes up - in this case Masters vs. Slams...now off to see Geelis' post on home country slams - missed it the first time

Posted by Anna 04/20/2010 at 01:49 PM

Freddy,
I just read your posts. Amazing- great reasoning- I do not agree with your not putting Sampras in the final list, but overall excellent review/ analysis

Posted by JohnP 04/20/2010 at 01:58 PM

Frances, Fed has lost once early in a Slam since #1 - the '04 French in 3R to Guga. An amazing streak.

Freddy, in looking at Lendl's 11 major finals losses - two were five-setters; four were straight sets; and five were four-setters. Many commentators questioned his heart in the lacklustre losses to Connors (US Open '82 and '83). He was schooled by Mac in the '84 US Open final and by Becker and Cash in WImbledon finals. Three of Mac's four major final losses were tough five-setters that could have gone either way. Mac very well could have had 10 majors titles. Mac was a great big-match player from the beginning; Lendl, not so.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 04/20/2010 at 02:03 PM

freddy:

I seem to recall that you had incorporated your ruminations on Facebook pages and/or a website.

If you haven't done so already on this thread, please provide the pertinent links. I suspect, some readers of this thread would enjoy your Facebook/website postings. I certainly did, finding them very informative.

And, now, I'm out.

Posted by Alexis 04/20/2010 at 02:06 PM

Who cares whether Fed is the definitive GOAT or not? It is a never-ending argument and will never be proved. It's all opinion. So despite all the stats that msf throws to discount Fed when compared to Laver, Tilden and whoever else he mentions. There are just as many stats where Fed is way above any of these guys. No one player is going to own every stat so it will always be subjective.

As far as majors versus TMS... no comparison. Majors matter more. And if you are going to make a big deal about TMS... why not include the biggest of them all - TMC (now the World Tour Final). Sampras may have only won...what 11 TMS... but he won 5 TMC. Rafa may have 16 TMS, but he's never even made the final of the TMC. And the TMS is a fairly new deal... so the older players like Laver, etc can't even be included. So, no... TMS count is hardly any kind of a stat to base greatness on.

Posted by Steve 04/20/2010 at 02:07 PM

well, we've found our way to the goat debate at last. i'll have to take up slams vs. masters again, with a thought toward looking at them empirically, as geelis and freddy have done here, and what it means for the legacies of, say, federer and nadal that there aren't any grass-court masters events.

as far as a grass season, i'd love it, particularly since the surface has become so much more playable over the years, but wimbledon won't move because the bbc wants it where it is, as part of its summer sports lineup.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 04/20/2010 at 02:10 PM

except for,

JohnP, I'm staying out of the McEnroe-Lendl debates; but, if I were paid to make a case for McEnroe, I would certainly emphasize the fact that, in addition to McEnroe's accomplishments in singles, his doubles records were outstanding.

Posted by Anna 04/20/2010 at 02:13 PM

A couple of years ago they downgraded Hamburg from a masters series. The German federation had complained about it, and if I remember correctly sued the ATP. Even though this does nothing about lengthening the grass season, I would suggest that they upgrade the courts/ facilities and then make Halle a grass Masters event

Posted by JohnP 04/20/2010 at 02:16 PM

MSF, absolutely. I think historians/experts can agree on this: McEnroe was the greatest doubles player ever. When you take into account singles, doubles, and Davis Cup, does anyone compare to McEnroe? Certainly not in my era: since late '70s

Posted by freddy 04/20/2010 at 02:19 PM

@Anna - Thanks!! Which is why, was a bit hurt initially at msf asking me to go look at the legends (!), considering I knew he had read them earlier, but that's all sorted out now :-)

@Geelis - apologies for skimming through your earlier post. Quite clearly you make excellent points and my first response was grossly inadequate. Here's hopefully a better one:

I think I'll start in a Euclidean / Spinozist fashion with a bunch of propositions, which we could all agree on, and see where reasoning then takes us.

1. Performance under pressure > performance under no pressure (Match performance > practice court for ex.)
2. The higher the pressure, the more the performance is to be valued (therefore performance in tournaments with higher stakes > others)
3. Stakes in Slams > Stakes in Masters (by common consensus, prestige, ranking points, prize money, position in game's history etc.)
4. What we are seeking to compare is the relative performance (looking at results) of players, and not their intrinsic talent / skill levels (otherwise we could all agree on Johnny Mac and go home)

Now coming to your points regarding pressures being different for different players, totally agree. I think we could separate out the higher pressure in the Slams into 2 parts

a) The higher pressure that comes from the Slams being, well the Slams - this is equal for all players
b) The higher pressure on specific players that comes from localised factors such as home country Slams, pressure of expectations given a player's desires / record (Fed at RG, Lendl at Wimbly and so on)...

Now point b has no end to it. You could throw in pressures that come from being a parent (twins or otherwise), pressures that come because you are in a bad relationship, pressures because your country has no other sporting success, all kinds of pressures...

In this context, my proposition 4 becomes very important. Sure you don't have a level playing field in terms of pressures. But you don't have a level playing field anyway - its the same as players having diff levels of talent, economic circumstances, access to coaching methods etc. to begin with. So in the end all you can do is to look at results, and assume a ceteris paribus, even if it isn't. All sport is like that. When Brazil wins the football world cup, you say - they are the best team. Clearly, all teams will not play as equals. Ditto for club level football - where the relative amounts of money / spends are clearly different.

Bottomline - based on this, one cannot separate out the pressure and say the Slams are the same as the Masters in terms of measuring skill / ability. The fact is that we are comparing results, and the first part (a) of the higher pressure in Slams that is equal to all players alone is enough to ensure that performance in the Slams counts more..


Posted by Game Lover 04/20/2010 at 02:21 PM

"Mr. Tiriac doesn´t exactly have the players´ best interests at heart, does he? "

He's just a bussinesman now and has probably forgotten that he's been a tennis player:

Part of the best doubles in the world (alongside Ilie Nastase, they've won RG) and 3 times runners up in DC.

As for Rafa-Roger comparition: while Rafa is much more acomplished at his age, then Roger was, chances are that he may not achieve as much on all surfaces, by the end of his career, as Roger did.
Having said all of that, I'm still a fan of both and glad to have them!!!

Posted by Alexis 04/20/2010 at 02:25 PM

Yeah, the fact that there are no grass TMS really is sad. Man, how many TMS would Sampras have if grass had even one? Totally unfair and really skews the numbers.

Posted by JohnP 04/20/2010 at 02:26 PM

The majors clearly matter more than the lower-tier events. Experts/commentators constantly use majors won as a measuring stick. Much less frequently will you hear how many total titles a player has won (unless they're citing Connors' 109 total titles and the likelihood of it ever being surprassed). I would have to look up how many total titles, say, Federer has won (50? 60?). As for majors, the number "16" is burned into our memories. As for the other greats, I could tell you how many majors each of them has won since the mid-70s - because they matter most.

Posted by JohnP 04/20/2010 at 02:29 PM

"No one remembers who won Philly" - who said that....Sampras?

Posted by 1963USCtennis 04/20/2010 at 02:30 PM

there is no way Lendl can be considered a better player than McEnroe.
McEnroe NEVER got blown out of a major (except his last one w Lendl, but he blew Lendl out of the water the year before), Lendl on the other hand was blown out in 82 and 83 by an aging Connors who was past 30 yrs; specially in 83 when I believe the last set was a bagel.
To furhter put perspective on that, in both matches it was Lendl who was the favorite and this was HIS best surface by far and he was at the time in his early 20s.

Can anyone imagine a 22 yr old Rafael Nadal geting blown out by a 32 yr old guy on RG in the finals?

McEnroe's run from 78-85 as #1 or #2 rivals that of anyone, cosidering the stiff competiton.

As for the goat criteria; if number of majors is suddenly the only thing that matters then why is Roy Emerson not considered #3 all time?

Using that logic Emerson > Laver, McEnroe, Connors, Lendl, Budge, Rosewall, Nadal

Posted by freddy 04/20/2010 at 02:30 PM

msf - had posted link upthread. Am posting again for your ref

http://www.mindmatters.co.in/blog/index.php?content=detail&id=19

JohnP - don' want to get into a detailed analysis here - would just direct you to the link above..

Lendl's final losses - he lost his first 4 finals, got schooled by Borg / Mac / Connors - then went 8-7 in Finals. Losses to Becker / Cash in Wimbly- the wonder was not the loss, but the fact that he got to the finals in the first place, given his game and his initial hatred of the surface. A triumph of sheer determination over other factors. Lendl in his prime, skipped the FO twice to prepare for grass under Tony Roche - at a time when he would have been a strong favorite to pocket the FO (considering he'd won it 3 times already).

Mac - career in 2 parts - 1st part unbelievable; 2nd part - average. Pity one has to look at an entire career, not just parts. Agree re his doubles / Davis Cup - again, too bad we can't normalise across singles / doubles - even the ATP maintains sep. ranking points for both!!

Posted by Alexis 04/20/2010 at 02:34 PM

Exactly JohnP. I don't see how anyone can even compare a TMS to a major. Not even in the same league. And like I said, I find it amusing that some make a big deal about the 17 or 16 total and never mention the TMC. So Sampras "only" won 11 TMS but he won the TMC 5 times. His 5 TMC titles is way more impressive than any TMS he won. Agassi won 17 TMS but how many TMC did he win? I don't even know.

Posted by kym 04/20/2010 at 02:35 PM

Rafael Nadal is my champion! No? He is the people's champion!!! Take
back your Roland-Garros's crown this year Rafa. We are waiting for it.

Posted by chegu 04/20/2010 at 02:36 PM

many of roger fans say he is an open era GOAT. if he has to be the only GOAT of tennis, he still have to achieve few things mostly a career grandslam.

for my dear poster who acts with selective amnesia, here is the list of records roger accomplished which none of the players he constantly uses for reference have not achieved.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_career_achievements_by_Roger_Federer

another thing i constantly see is nadal is the MAIN rival? who decided that? Are roddick, hewitt, safin, nalbandian who are of the same age and played almost as same matches as nadal played with federer not main rivals?

you just can't use the selective stats to show your favs as the one's dropped from heaven. take the overall stats and make a reasonable comparsion. enough with the template already.

Posted by Alexis 04/20/2010 at 02:38 PM

"As for the goat criteria; if number of majors is suddenly the only thing that matters then why is Roy Emerson not considered #3 all time?"

No one is saying that the major total is the only thing that does or should count.

Posted by freddy 04/20/2010 at 02:38 PM

Ok - this discussion is rapidly degenerating. Am outta here...Catch you later Geelis, Steve, Anna, MSF et al.

Oh and 1963USCtennis - Federer got blown out at RG09...does that make Mac better than Federer? Finally this bit about ages and stuff - once and for all, different players have different stages of maturing. At 22 Lendl was far from a finished product - he hit his straps past 26. Connors in his early 30s was far from done - he reached the QF of USO at 39...Rafa at 23 / 24 and Borg at the same age are much more veterans than their age indicates...In both those matches, Lendl was NOT the favorite for one simple reason - he had never won a Slam before, and Connors and Mac were multi-slam winners.

Lastly one piece of trivia re Lendl - one of the years he reached the Wimbly Finals, he beat Stefan Edberg in the semis. And in 1988, he was on his way to beating Becker in the SF (was up 2 sets to 1 and up a break in the fourth) when a rain delay intervened. This, on his WORST surface, by far.

Posted by JohnP 04/20/2010 at 02:42 PM

1963USCtennis, exactly the theme I was getting at re. Lendl-McEnroe. Lendl was a choker in big finals until he finally won one (ironically at Mac's expense, which if not for his stupid temper, Mac might have won that '84 French and very well could have won the Grand Slam that year. IF so, today's debate would have a different flavour, for sure!) Mac lost brutal five-setters in major finals - one each to Borg, Connors, and to Lendl.

There is a whole host of factors to consider when trying to determine the GOAT. Ultimately, it's impossible to conclusively determine, as Alexis said. It's trying to make finite conclusion amid an infinite context ("all time" is always changing.) Nonetheless, it's an interesting process.

Posted by freddy 04/20/2010 at 02:44 PM

Couple minor points more

Lendl's career is something that the likes of Murray would do well to study. Losing your first few finals to an accomplished great is no obstacle to turning it around later, esp. if you are 23.

Also, when I say he hit his straps past 26, referring primarily to the Slams. In 1981-83, Lendl was already achieving unbelievable results on the smaller tournaments. All the Tour records that Fed broke b/w 2004-06 (# of titles won, win loss % > 90% in consecutive years etc.) belonged to Lendl in this period. He took time to find his Slam (Finals) feet.

Now really outta here..

Posted by byeByeLove 04/20/2010 at 02:47 PM

Let us see if Nadal shots will work with someone like Robin Soderling?

Ahem... I don't think so.

Posted by chegu 04/20/2010 at 02:47 PM

just to show how stupid the selective stats work, i can pose these questions.

1) how many US open's did nadal win before 24?
2) how many wimbledon's did nadal win before 24?
3) how many TMC's did nadal win before 24?
4) how many humanitrian award's did nadal win before 24?
5) how many times did nadal win 3 GS's in a year before 24?
6) how many laureal sportsman of the year awards did nadal win before 24?

Doesn't it look stupid??

<<      1 2 3 4      >>

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