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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 Jenn 07/14/2009 at 05:12 PM

Hi Pete! Thanks for posting. I have never been the world's biggest Sampras fan, but his observations are always fascinating because, as you point out, he is very honest and does not feel compelled to edit or filter his thoughts in such a way to fit expectations or make a particular impression. I got that sense strongly from your book. I appreciated that he was able and willing to criticize himself when he saw a need.

The question of not dominating Rafa seems to be one if the few open ones left for Federer. How great that today Rafa announced that he plans to return soon so we can look forward to a renewal of the rivalry.

Posted by Master Ace 07/14/2009 at 05:13 PM

" I don't think anyone really scares him. I think my game would make Roger a little bit more uncomfortable"

Pistol Pete showed us this in the exo he played against Roger.

For all the talk that Pistol Pete said that Roger is the greatest(think word he used was stud), his comments about him needing to beat Rafael consistently were a surprise. However, if Roger gets to 18-20 Slams(with one of them being another French Open title) in 2-3 years without defeating Rafael, what do you think he would say then?

Posted by kudz 07/14/2009 at 05:13 PM

so to conclude, if roger had been a slightly worse claycourter from 2004-2008, and lost in semis instead of finals on clay, then he'd be the best of his generation??

Posted by Rudy 07/14/2009 at 05:14 PM

Great point by Sampras about Roddick not serving and volleying once to change things up when Federer kept chipping the return. If my memory serves, Nadal ventured to the net on a couple of serve and volley points to finish off Wimbledon the year prior. Maybe if Roddick did likewise he would not have been broken and.....

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

"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."

I think Roger does have a few things to prove here...does Rafa live in his head or not? It dosen't matter if the score is 5-1 up for Roger, he ultimately loses the 2008, Wimby final, he was 3-0 up in the second set.

Unfortunately, I feel it will go the Roddick way in the can be 10 all in the fifth set between Roger and Rafa, and you know Roger will fold.

Posted by VC 07/14/2009 at 05:16 PM

Ok. I'll just say my piece and be done with it. If Nadal comes within one or two Majors of Federer's tally with a Career Slam, I'll personally rank him above Federer in the GOAT debate for a.) owning him in the H2H and b.) Winning a large percentage of his Slams over a great player like Federer on a variety of surfaces.

Posted by Mr. X 07/14/2009 at 05:20 PM

So, Sampras thinks Fed has to improve his H2H against Nadal at the majors. Obviously, for that to happen they would first have to reach the point to face each other. It wasnt Rog's fault that Rafa wasnt there in the last 2 majors.
However, i dont know if it would be all that easy for Rog to improve that H2H with the actual ranking postions, because they would only meet in the finals, and if Nadal gets there, he's already on a roll and is very difficult to stop. I dont think that is always the case for Fed, who is much less vulnerable against other players.
I think some players tried to serve&volley against Fed at Wimbledon. Haas, in my opinion, started with that idea, that he had applied for most of the tournament. But he had to stop after being passed time after time in the 1st set. Maybe it's not that easy to play s&v against Fed. Or maybe the players who try to do it arent good enough, but i think some of them try.

Posted by Mr. X 07/14/2009 at 05:22 PM

Oh, and Marat was brutal in the USO F 2000. One of the best single performances by a player i have ever seen.

Posted by Geoff 07/14/2009 at 05:25 PM

Good comments from Pete Sampras, but one *huge* difference between Pete-Andre and Rog-Rafa is that Pete and Andre were closer in age and overlapped more. This is very relevant in the H2H comparison.

I think that Nadal's record against Federer is substantially (not entirely) due to the way seeding works in tournaments, along with Fed's strength on clay. For many years, when Nadal was tearing it up on clay but not so successful on hardcourts, his strong showings on clay and grass ensured him the #2 seeing in almost every tournament that also contained Fed. This guaranteed that he could only meet Fed in the finals. However, Rafa rarely made it to the finals during this period, so Fed didn't get many chances to improve his h2h on a surface that favored him. However, Fed *was* strong enough to get to the finals of clay tournaments - Rafa's favorite surface. It's only because Rafa has the unusual ability to play well on both clay and grass that Fed's numbers don't look even worse!

Rafa's game took off in the past year, and he has started to dominate on all surfaces. However, Fed is now 27 - not at all old, but beginning the long, slow slide.

In essence, I think Fed's H2H against Rafa is more a reflection of Fed's relative strength on clay than anything else. This distinguishes it from the Sampras-Agassi matchups as well as against other old rivals... after all, Pete never got far enough to lose in the FO final.

Posted by GVGirl 07/14/2009 at 05:25 PM

It will be interesting to see how Sampras does against Safin.

Posted by kingphil 07/14/2009 at 05:28 PM

Nice article Pete, but I thought Sampras sounded awfully egotistical. He may be one of the best but Federer is unquestionably better than Sampras. That being said, I'd be willing to bet quite a sum of money that Nadal chases Fed's slam number very closely, and perhaps even beats it. For all you skeptics consider this: Nadal has 6 majors but he's only just turned 23. I love Federer but now that hes gotten magic #15 I am done rooting for him. VAMOS RAFA!

Posted by Pspace 07/14/2009 at 05:28 PM

Thanks Pete. I really enjoy the way Sampras talks about the game, himself, and other players.

I guess this is going to descend into another GOAT debate. Or, how many ways can we break down the Fed-Nadal H2H. The next year or two should be fun. In the meantime, one word:


Posted by Aussiemarg Madame President finally comes out of rehab and rejoices in Vamos Forever 07/14/2009 at 05:28 PM

Well Pete after Wimbledon did declare Roger The Best Ever or words to that effect.Now says he has to beat Nadal in GS finals to be considered A Goat? well the current lead is 13-7 Rafa's way of course.

Interesting times for the No 1 player.

Posted by TripleF-FedFanForever(Fed's Second Reich - We are in it!) 07/14/2009 at 05:28 PM

Gosh the H2Hs again!


Did you clarify about the number of Clay tourneys vs. NO Grass tourneys (except Wimby where Roger has 2:1) around? Look around...I could spot a dozen or two of Dirt for a handful of Grass.
Did you clarify about how Fed made it to as many clay finals to meet Rafa? (that Pete never could do in his time ever)?
Did you clarify about how Rafa hasn't (yet) made as many hard court finals to meet Roger?

This is actually tiresome.
Everyone is hoarding this GOAT hood to their personal agenda. Pete S is the one who started it. Now he is 'conditionally' giving it back to Roger? Oh well...nothing we can do but wait a few years...

Posted by TripleF-FedFanForever(Fed's Second Reich - We are in it!) 07/14/2009 at 05:33 PM

Yes, Pspace: Fifteen. 15.

If someone cares to collect all the GOAT posts (from all the cc's and overflows and red-meats all these months...) from sure it will be bigger than War and Peace (just that it is only a raging War so far)

Posted by Or 07/14/2009 at 05:35 PM

I think that the major difference between Agassi/Sampras and Roger-Rafa, is that Agassi and Sampras did not constantly meet on clay.

Had someone taken both of these guys, and put them to play the final of the french each time, Agassi would have most likely won

(And Agassi wasn't on of the greatest ever on clay)

Roger's situation is pretty unique, in that he's by far number 2 on clay in the past 5 years, Pete was never that, and never needed that to best of his generation, because his strongest rival did best on HC.

Posted by Aussiemarg Madame President finally comes out of rehab and rejoices in Vamos Forever 07/14/2009 at 05:35 PM

KingPhil Welcome to the other side lol!

Posted by Aussiemarg Madame President finally comes out of rehab and rejoices in Vamos Forever 07/14/2009 at 05:36 PM

Gee I miss Marats curls

Posted by TripleF-FedFanForever(Fed's Second Reich - We are in it!) 07/14/2009 at 05:37 PM

Kudz at 5:13
so to conclude, if roger had been a slightly worse claycourter from 2004-2008, and lost in semis instead of finals on clay, then he'd be the best of his generation??


I THINK IF SOMEONE (both of you Pete, one of you Pete) ANSWERS THIS...IF ONLY SOMEONE CARES TO ANSWER THIS...honestly, legibly and logically...if ONLY !

I am officially done with the GOAT krap!

Posted by joe_can_bike 07/14/2009 at 05:40 PM

Why no mention of the one piece of evidence on Sampras v. Federer? Does it get set aside because Sampras was not at his prime? OK, well then let's set aside the Fed v. Nadal clay match-up too, since it doesn't fit the narrative.

Posted by Aussiemarg Madame President finally comes out of rehab and rejoices in Vamos Forever 07/14/2009 at 05:41 PM

Pete Bodo is a New Age Guy just giving some thought into a most lets say delicate situation some might say.

In any era there has always been a player that another player finds it difficult to play or win against.Nothing new.

Posted by nora 07/14/2009 at 05:42 PM

I don't know what is going to happen, but I think the progression of the head-to-head numbers is interesting.

Nadal won first, and went 6-1 up. (very impressive)

Then, in 2006-7, Fed brought it back to 8-6. (also very impressive)

In 2008-9, Rafa took over again, and when to 13-6. (um, very impressive again)

Now Federer has taken the last 2, and it is 13-8.

The great thing is, I really don't think you can predict the split over the next 6 matches. They are both so tough.

Posted by nora 07/14/2009 at 05:44 PM

And if Federer had added any 3 of those matches he lost to his win column, he'd be ahead. They're not that far apart in the rivalry.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/14/2009 at 05:45 PM

As the Great Rod Laver put it and I also agree here with Rod

Lets give out titles when the player has retired

Who knows what Roger might aspire to?

Posted by VC 07/14/2009 at 05:45 PM

The debate is not Sampras vs. Federer. I think Sampras is logical and self-aware enough to accept that most neutral bystanders will put Federer above himself. But it is a very real possibility that Nadal might outstrip the achievements of both Federer and Sampras, or equal them, in which case, the superior H2H swings it in his favour.

Overall, Laver still takes it because of the Calendar Slams.

Posted by tommy 07/14/2009 at 05:47 PM

15 only matters when you compare players from Lendl's era on.
Borg, Connors and McEnroe weren't trying to compile majors. And certainly Gonzales, Kramer and Budge weren't.
Sampras never reaching a French final is enough to eliminate him, no matter how you separate great players.

Nadal was clearly better than Federer when they've met in slam finals.
That's how you judge players. Dinara Safina is almost unbeatable, except for slam finals.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/14/2009 at 05:47 PM

VC Yes Laver is the Greatest with that factor alone.

Posted by Mr. X 07/14/2009 at 05:51 PM

Actually, it's 13-7. Fed has won the last one, in Madrid, bit they havent met since, and their previous meeting was the AO final.
Dinara is clearly beatable away from the Slam finals, in my opinion. I think he was very clearly beaten in the Wimbledon SF.

Posted by sally 07/14/2009 at 05:55 PM

when nadal consistently gets to all four slam finals like roger has then we can talk. right now he hasn't been able to do that.

Posted by Mike 07/14/2009 at 05:58 PM

Geez ... bad enough the posters have to throw gas on the Fedal Wars. :P
Darn you, Rog ... for being so effing consistent.

If you would have simply sucked on clay, you'd be the GOAT! LOL

Posted by mcakron 07/14/2009 at 05:59 PM

Fed compared Dinara Safina. That's certainly new.

My two cents is we won't truly be able to assess Fed until he's retired. It seems like the GOAT criteria has constantly been in flux in the last few years. First, he had to surpass 14. Then he had to win the French. Now he needs to shore up his H2H with Rafa (which I don't think he'll have time to do). And if he were somehow to do that, I'm thinking we will hear how he never won two calendar slams like Laver.

Not Pistol Pete's best moment here. But then again, my FOAT came up with the infamous "no balls" comment, so I probably can't jump on Sampras too much for changing his mind. Bit odd, though.

Anyway, should be a fascinating HC season. A myriad of storylines in the mix.

Posted by tommy 07/14/2009 at 06:03 PM

On clay the last 2 years Safina is something like 35-1 before the FO final, but 0-2 in FO finals. That's how great players show themselves.

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 07/14/2009 at 06:04 PM

Is Pistol Pete a little unsure about who is the goat? That is how it appears to me.

Posted by highways1 07/14/2009 at 06:07 PM

Love the worldwide leader (ESPN), just said on SportsCenter 'world number 1' Rafael Nadal.

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

Pete: Thanks for the post. I hope that Sampras v. Safin exo is going to be available to watch. That will be fun! As for the GOAT debate, if it turns on the h2h, Rafa certainly put a damper on things by winning the AO, giving him Grand Slam titles against Roger on all 3 surfaces. That said, there are more ways to slice this debate than a Thanksgiving Day turkey so I will gladly bow out and congratulate Roger fans again on their guy getting to 15. It is remarkable. I am just glad my numero uno is going to be playing again in the near future.

Posted by NP 07/14/2009 at 06:08 PM

This thread is top-notch entertainment. Keep it comin'.

Posted by VC 07/14/2009 at 06:08 PM

Well, I have to disagree with the posters who say that Federer's legacy would be somehow enhanced if he sucked on clay. This is what I posted about Federer's clay record on another thread. IMO, it definitely adds a lot of value to Federer's career.


I'll contribute my thoughts on what I feel is a rather underappreciated aspect of Federer's "core period", which is his clay-court record.

Despite winning only one RG title in that period (which required the stars to align), Federer has made 13 important clay finals (9 MS + 4 RG), winning 4 MS titles and the one elusive French Open. I haven't crunched the numbers, but I suspect Federer holds a positive H2H vs. pretty much every other player on tour on clay. This is not a great revelation, but it's worth remembering in light of the fact that a few players (Murray, Djokovic, Canas) have managed to steal a march over him on hard courts lately (which should be a stronger surface for him on paper). But on clay, he still posts consistent results against everybody but Nadal.

One conclusion that can be drawn from this is that we might be in a "weak clay era". Where are the clay monsters of the '90s (Muster, Bruguera, Medvedev, Corretja, Moya etc.) in the current generation of players? Why aren't they upsetting Federer more often? Let's look at the players produced by the traditional clay-court powers (Spain and Argentina). Notable ones are Gaudio, Coria, Nalbandian, del Potro, Chela, Acasuso, Monaco from Argentina and Nadal, Verdasco, Lopez, Ferrero, Ferrer, Almagro, Robredo and Montanes from Spain. Other players who post decent clay-court results are Gonzalez, Davydenko, Monfils and Andreev. OTOH, Federer has faced, and beaten most of these players on clay at some point or the other.

Maybe they're just not as good as the '90s clay-courters. There's no way to say for sure. But I'm a bit deluded, so I'll go ahead and give my opinion on how Federer might have fared against the clay-court specialists of the '90s. I rate Federer quite highly as a clay-court player, so I'd take his chances against any of the RG winners since '90, apart from Kuerten, and probably Muster. One reason for this is his consistency against the field as I've mentioned above. The second is that, despite the lopsided H2H against Nadal, Federer has come as close as anyone to beating him on clay, taking sets off him in 3 of their 4 RG encounters, came within a hair's breadth of beating him in that epic in Rome, had his chances in 2008 in Monte Carlo and Hamburg, and of course, snapped his winning streaks in Hamburg 2007 and Madrid 2009. Nadal is by far the superior clay-courter, but those achievements are not to be sniffed at.

Posted by Ruth 07/14/2009 at 06:08 PM

j_c_b: I hope that you're not suggesting that roger was not or was never "in his prime" when he played any of his 20? matches with Rafa. If so, we'd have to think that he's way on the downhill side now, and that is definitely not so.

Triple F: You ask a very good question, but you'd also have to ask if it would make any difference (the significance of the H2H record, that is) in the grand scheme of things if Rafa beat Roger all or most of the time in the semis or quarters instead of the finals.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/14/2009 at 06:08 PM

sphia No I am not bored also I dont post 24hrs a day

I train every day,also practice my tennis and have starting playing again due to having CFS,also I am a mid wife who has worked night shift all my life but having a break at the moment

See theres my life story in a nut schell

Also I am past school age lol!

Posted by nora 07/14/2009 at 06:08 PM

Mr. X -

Of course!

The power of suggestion had me putting Nadal in -- well, I don't even know which of the recent finals -- The French I suppose!

Posted by rafadoc 07/14/2009 at 06:11 PM

highways1: I am just impressed Sportcenter is actually covering the latest tennis news! lol.

Posted by sophia 07/14/2009 at 06:11 PM

oh dear-Here I thought you were a teenager. My apologies.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/14/2009 at 06:12 PM

If Rafa manages to get through 3 GS a year playing at high level with no injuries, we can argue that he would win atleast 2 a year, or minimum 1 (FO ofcourse), if he plays for another 5 years, till the age of 28...he wins 10 majors or at least 5. So, theoretically, he has it in him to win 16 or more...or atleast 11 majors.

Also, he could change his game and play beyond the age of 28...that is hard to predict.

So, the question is how many more will Roger win...he says his aim is to win one major per year...till that should be 18 majors.

Either way, its up to Rafa to decide whether he wants to overtake, be close or be behind Roger's slam tally. After one point, Roger will retire and will have to watch will be out of his hands. And then it will all be in Rafa's hands.

Posted by joe_can_bike 07/14/2009 at 06:14 PM

While it's not a Sampras v. Federer debate, one theme of this piece is "Well, he's not the GOAT yet, not even the GOAT on grass, or of his generation, not to mention no GOAT in Davis Cup, or vs. Scottish players, or vs. peekaboo-shirt wearing Slovaks."

Hate to say it, but NIKE has the right idea. Let's just celebrate this historic achievement, market the beejezus out of it ("step right up to see the best evah!") and make the most out of this ridiculous golden age of men's tennis. To paraphrase Carillo, Tennis needs to get out of its own way sometimes.

Posted by Emma (insertwittymantrahere) 07/14/2009 at 06:15 PM

Thanks Pedro, I was never a big Sampras fan, in fairness, perhaps I'm too young to appreciate his greatness, but this was very interesting.

I already miss Maratski, and he hasn't even retired yet. :(

(Also, you didn't like The White Album Pedro? WTF? It's a classic!)

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/14/2009 at 06:16 PM

Sophia You have just become my new best friend thank you

Well one can be old at any age really

I am young at heart,well thats what I am led to believe anyway

Its all in the mind,pity about the body though lol!

Hang on mine is still great at age?..............................

Posted by CL 07/14/2009 at 06:16 PM

Why do I have the feeling this thread will not end well?

Oh, I know: because of the 487 somewhat similar previous Fed/Nadal H2H debate that have not ended well.

I think I will retreat back to the previous thread.

(The bit about Safin was nice though.)

Posted by Alexis 07/14/2009 at 06:17 PM

It would have been interesting to see what the H2H with Agassi would have been if Agassi was 5 years younger than Sampras; and if Agassi has been like he was in the second half of his career for his entire career.

Sampras never had a "Nadal" in his generation. And even if Sampras did have a "Nadal"...he wasn't good enough on clay to ever make a final to have Nadal continually beat him and get a great H2H on that surface.

Makes me just laugh at Sampras's comments at all.

Posted by highways1 07/14/2009 at 06:17 PM

rafadoc, I too am shocked lol. I gotta say even though I am a Fed fan, without Rafa things have gotten a bit boring.

Posted by rafadoc 07/14/2009 at 06:18 PM

Pete: Forgot to compliment you on your music taste. Stones over Beatles any day of the week. :)

CL: lol. I thought it was 488. ;-)

Posted by joe_can_bike 07/14/2009 at 06:19 PM

Ruth: I'm definitely not suggesting Federer was not at his prime (whoa...follow the bouncing double negatives.) I'm just wondering why we'd discard certain bits of evidence (like Sampras v Federer H2H), yet not others (overwhelming clay matches in Fed v Nad.) I think it's all fair game!

Posted by Mike 07/14/2009 at 06:19 PM

"Well, I have to disagree with the posters who say that Federer's legacy would be somehow enhanced if he sucked on clay."

Was being facetious, VC ... there are only so many times you can hear the same quotes before you get a little punchy. ;)

How about we focus on what lies ahead ... instead of the same tired arguments?

Posted by Emma (insertwittymantrahere) 07/14/2009 at 06:20 PM

Rafadoc @ 6:07, so much word. sooo much.
(also, I flove your mantra!!!)

Posted by Grant 07/14/2009 at 06:22 PM

"Oh, I know: because of the 487 somewhat similar previous Fed/Nadal H2H debate that have not ended well."

I think ending at all qualifies as ending well for Fedal debates.

Posted by rafadoc 07/14/2009 at 06:22 PM

Emma: Thanks! and-God bless Maymo, man.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/14/2009 at 06:22 PM


What lies a month away. I am sure there will be GOAT debates galore before that.

Can somebody predict when Roger's consecutive SF run is going to come to an end? I mean that ridiculous streak has to broken sometime no? And since he cannot face Rafa,Muzz and Djoker before the SF...who is going to do it?

Posted by VC 07/14/2009 at 06:24 PM

Mike : No problem. Thanks for giving me an excuse to repost that long essay. ;-)

Posted by NP 07/14/2009 at 06:24 PM

joe_can_bike, we the sane ones "discard" the Sampras-Federer H2H because a single match is too small a sample to draw sweeping conclusions from. Twenty matches ain't.

Posted by Cosi 07/14/2009 at 06:24 PM

Whatever, Pete Sampras is as entitled to his opinion as anybody else, but the fact is Roger HAS beaten Nadal seven times, that may be more than anybody else has beaten Nadal, and we all know the reason the head to head is lopsided is because of how many times they played on clay, what if several more of their encounters were on grass in stead of Nadal's genius surface? I think we would have a different head to head. We also have to figure in that Rafa is several years younger than Roger and started to peak when Roger had already just about done everything in tennis, the onus was on Roger to keep pounding the courts and maintain his momentum and motivation, Nadal didn't have to deal with that while tackling Roger, he was a hungry young wolf coming up, that is usually when a player is most dangerous. So in closing, I'm going to say alot of this so called head to head has been on an uneven playing field, both on surface, and in timing, and it's been unfavorable to Roger all the way. So I don't think Roger needs to even up that head to head to be GOAT, I think he already is, and the fact that he's still m anaged to beat the NEXT generation's top guy so many times, getting even a couple wins on clay, proves that to me.

Posted by Mike 07/14/2009 at 06:29 PM

Stones over Beatles? ... you MUST be kidding.

If the Stones closed up shop in 1974, you might have an argument ... ;)

Posted by Mr. X 07/14/2009 at 06:29 PM

That's a curious point, and i think it's true. Despite all the H2H talk, Roger is the player that has beaten Nadal more times. However, he's also the player who has faced Nadal more times. This is truly gonna be in history as a great rivalry.
I think the USO could be a good possibility for the streak to end, not because of his opponent, but if Rog is thinking about his precious baby a little too much. Roddick or Delpo could beat him in that condition.

Posted by Ruth 07/14/2009 at 06:30 PM

ladyjulia: It would probably take another mini-slump and another Canas to break that streak.

And, gosh, if it happens, I do hope Federer fans will weather any future mini-slump(s) as calmly as I did the last one and as calmly as I handled the Roger-Anna K. comparisons of 2002 and early 2003. :)

Posted by Emma (insertwittymantrahere) 07/14/2009 at 06:34 PM

Ok, as a disclaimer, I already think TMF is the GOAT, so no hateration please.

"what if several more of their encounters were on grass instead of Nadal's genius surface?"
Cosi, I understand the point you're trying to make, but in fairness, clay season makes for a sizeable part of the calendar. It's an important part of Tennis. If Rafa is superior to TMF on clay, (which in my opinion, he clearly is), than why shouldn't this figure fully into their h2h?
(I'm not being confrontational, I'm genuinely asking the above question, cos frankly, I don't get it)

Posted by ladyjulia 07/14/2009 at 06:36 PM

Mr. X,

The baby should be out by the time Cincinnati comes around. It will be interesting to see whether Mirka attends or not...otherwise, Roger will have nobody in his box from family. So, cincinnati should give a good idea about how he is going to do at US Open. Yeah, Roddick or Delpo seem a good possibility...but i doubt if they have the fitness...they both got tired in the fifth set.

Posted by Andrew 07/14/2009 at 06:38 PM

Yes, I can see the 20%-odd of the Sampras conversation that looks at the Federer/Nadal matchup becoming 80% of the comment thread in Fedal "yes it is/no it isn't" mode.

What else did we learn?

The relationship with Safin - "We practiced quite a bit together." Interesting that Federer and Safin practice together as well. You never can tell who will be friends with whom.

Roddick and S-and-V - a missed opportunity? It was interesting that Haas started, as expected, with S-and-V in his SF with Federer at Wimbledon, but backed off it after the first set TB. It may be that Roddick thought things were going well - why change a winning game plan?

Posted by Hart 07/14/2009 at 06:39 PM

*contemplates getting tickets to the Sampras/Safin exo*

Posted by NP 07/14/2009 at 06:39 PM

Emma, an easy way to assess some1's rationality in the Fedal wars is to see whether he/she's just considering the relative lack of grass events or dismissing the clay H2H altogether. If the former, you could strike up a decent conversation. If the latter, prolly not worth wasting your time.

Posted by Ade 07/14/2009 at 06:39 PM


The ONLY way players match up and win against Roger is bulking up, powering up, and running back and forth like jack rabbits.

That is the only reason Nadal has beat Roger, hence also Murray.

They WISH they could play as smooth and have the "natural ability" to float around the court as Roger has.

Yes,they may have winning records over him, but as I have posted before, at what expense? Tiring yourself out to the point where you have to withdrawl from major slams citing fatigue? It's almost laughable.

Of course a player can win by playing like there is no tomorrow. It's the pattern, get really fit, fitter, slimmer, faster,...the ONLY way to beat Fed. Roddick almost did it.

Nadal has the speed, and the grinding to have his bigger shares of the wins. Murray also. Roger has stated it in his interviews. Murray will eventually tire himself out playing that way too.

Pete Sampras is suffering from a little sour grapes now that his record is over. Eliminating all the semi's Roger has made it to. Including the clay court season which Pete couldn't handle at all.

Some nerve saying he sees the case being made with Nadal. Nadal will be back next month because he really didn't have a major injury, he has multiple injuries from the way he plays.

With all due respect for Nadal, his game is and always was about running down every ball at any expense. No longevity playing that way.

Absolutely no comparison in my book.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/14/2009 at 06:40 PM

I love the Rolling Stones

I have seen them live

What a band.They Rock indeed!

Posted by Alexis 07/14/2009 at 06:41 PM

Like I said, I don't think Sampras can even relate to Fed/Nadal because he never had a "Nadal". Let's say Sampras did have a "Nadal" but their H2H wouldn't reflect anything bad because Sampras would never get to a final to get beaten regularly by "Nadal". it better to lose early to a bunch of different guys on clay and therefore preserve the H2H? Or be pretty damn great on clay but have a worse H2H because you are playing someone supreme on clay?

Sampras is lucky he didn't have a "Nadal"...but like I said, Sampras wasn't good enough to beat him anyway.

Posted by L.Rubin 07/14/2009 at 06:42 PM

"We also have to figure in that Rafa is several years younger than Roger and started to peak when Roger had already just about done everything in tennis"

No, Cosi. TMF was 24 when Rafa started to peak. One would think, after reading your post, that Fed was applying for AARP membership in the spring of 2005. In addition, Roger, in said 2005, was at the beginning stages of a blitzkrieg that would last until 2008. The fact that the coltish Rafa managed to give him headaches during that three-year tear is to the Mallorcan's unending credit.


Posted by Mike 07/14/2009 at 06:45 PM

As a fan of both Fed and Rafa, I look at it this way ...

From the year Fed and Rafa were first 1 and 2, 2005 ... until the start of 2008, Fed and Rafa H2H was 6 and 8, respectively ... with 5 of Rafa's wins on clay, and his only GS win on the FO ... so for the bulk of their rivalry, they have been very close.

Since 2008, Rafa picked up Wimby and the AO ... bringing in the grass and HC, and their H2H has been 1 and 5. So ... yes, Rafa has owned Fed the last 18 months ... but not the whole 'Fed Era'.

We have no idea how well Rafa would have done against Fed during the bulk of their rivalry on HC because Rafa simply couldn't make it to the finals, and Fed did. Fed is more consistent by a long shot than Rafa on all surfaces the majority of the time, and that has to be considered.

I want to see if Fed has gained enough from this streak to compete against Murray, Nole, and Rafa (especially). That is what is driving me as a Fed KAD right now ... I think he still has it in him, though I have no idea how TMB will figure in.

Either way, I'm looking forward to good Tennis from all ... and more than anything, I want a 100% healthy Rafa ... now that we have a 100% healthy Fed (getting tired of asterisks .. ;)).

Posted by Grant 07/14/2009 at 06:45 PM

"Yes, I can see the 20%-odd of the Sampras conversation that looks at the Federer/Nadal matchup becoming 80% of the comment thread in Fedal "yes it is/no it isn't" mode.

What else did we learn?"

That Peter Bodo prefers music inspired by heroin to music inspired by LSD.

Posted by Mr. X 07/14/2009 at 06:46 PM

OK, so here we go. Nadal wasnt injured, and apparently he withdrew from Wimbledon because he was fatigued. Gee, and we spent a month talking about the knees.
Anyway, ladyjulia,
Delpo wont beat Fed if it gets to the 5th. Roddick could. After all, he only got tired in the final games of the Wimbledon final, around 12-12 or something like that.
I seem to remember Rog passing Haas time after time in their SF. Do you recall it in a different way? That's why i thought Tommy stopped playing s&v.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/14/2009 at 06:46 PM

Grant Thank God for you LOL!

Posted by ladyjulia 07/14/2009 at 06:47 PM

Grant, LOL!

Posted by Alexis 07/14/2009 at 06:49 PM

Fed and Nadal are not the same generation. I think it speaks very highly of both of them that Nadal was right up there with Fed in his generation and Fed is right up there in Nadal's generation.

I think their H2H says exactly what we know about them...that Nadal has the edge on clay. Nothing more.

Being GOAT is alot more than your H2H with one player (albeit your main rival) is about your H2H with ALL players. It is about being consistent and putting yourself in contention every time. You won't win every time...but you are there every time.

Nadal is great, no doubt. But no one has been as consistent or has put himself in contention as often as Fed does.

Posted by rudy3 (proud Rafaelite since 2005) 07/14/2009 at 06:50 PM

Unless the ATP Board, and or possibly Congress or Parliment, establishes the definitive criteria to determine the greatest tennis player of all time, the conversation will never define an answer, only an hypothosis, as it is a subjective judgement.

With that said, however, that H2H sure does bother the dickens out of the FedKAD's.

Somehow I wouldn't have figured Pete and Marat to be friends, so figure. Interesting though.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/14/2009 at 06:50 PM

Mr. X,

yup...I think it will be Roddick more than Delpo. Will be interesting to see which side of the draw Roddick ends up.

Also, it will be interesting to see if Roddick goes the Djoker way or not. Something tells me not.

Posted by Emma (insertwittymantrahere) 07/14/2009 at 06:50 PM

"Some nerve saying he sees the case being made with Nadal. Nadal will be back next month because he really didn't have a major injury"
Ade are you actually serious? Your post was entirely dismissive of Nadal and Murray, both of whom are very talented players.

I stopped coming to TW for almost a month due to Fedal wars, so I'm trying not to get drawn into this one. But seriously.

*Throws hands up in sheer despair*

Posted by Tim (2009 Year of Red Rogie ) 07/14/2009 at 06:51 PM

I thought the Federer Era was over?

hmmmm... does 2009 count as the Federer Era, being he got All TIme Record Slam No. 15, the Channel Slam, Career Slam, etc. all in the space of about 6 weeks?

or are we still in the Rafa Era, meaning all of the last 12 months or so?

Rafa has SO much work to do to even compete with Federer in historical terms its not even funny...

lets talk about about 2012, shall we?

to catch Fed, Rafa needs to have 3 consecutive 3 Slam years, enough said...

Posted by Grant 07/14/2009 at 06:52 PM

"After all, he only got tired in the final games of the Wimbledon final, around 12-12 or something like that."

oh man talk about suspect fitness

Posted by Pspace 07/14/2009 at 06:52 PM

Hmmm...I didn't find the Safin-Sampras "friendship" that surprising. I mean, who doesn't like Safin?

What? No hands?

On a marginally related topic, El Jon mentioned a couple of weeks ago that he didn't think Safin was Hall of Fame material. Not sure what their criterion is. I assume it's a reasonably big hall? 2 time GS champ should definitely go in there...more so if he went through Sampras and Federer on occasion.

Posted by Emma (insertwittymantrahere) 07/14/2009 at 06:52 PM

Grant, LOL. You own.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/14/2009 at 06:53 PM

Tim my friend your timing is always perfect

Posted by NP 07/14/2009 at 06:53 PM

Emma, you need to stop taking these Fedal wars so seriously. Then you'll find much to laugh about. :)

Posted by Mike 07/14/2009 at 06:53 PM

"With that said, however, that H2H sure does bother the dickens out of the FedKAD's."

Yeah ... sort of like someone telling NP that Safin and Hewitt were better than Pistol Pete because they had a better H2H. Numbers are numbers ... how and when they were arrived at tell the story.

Posted by NP 07/14/2009 at 06:54 PM

"Hmmm...I didn't find the Safin-Sampras 'friendship' that surprising."

Pains me to admit it, but I had the same reaction as Pspace.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/14/2009 at 06:55 PM

oh, Safin and Hewitt had a positive H2H against Sampras?????

I thought Sampras had a positive H2H against everybody?

Posted by NP 07/14/2009 at 06:55 PM

BTW, Pspace, Safin is already headed for the HoF. Hell, even Chang got himself inducted.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/14/2009 at 06:55 PM

Well the funny thing is Rafa cant be considered a Goat,Moat or even a Boat?

Thanks to the many posters who are drawing these conclusions.

This post is about Pete Sampras v Marat Safin in a expo

Also Petes comments about Roger with his record with Rafa.

Posted by Diane 07/14/2009 at 06:56 PM

Mike--TMB may be a big influence. I had my 6 week old grand daughter for the afternoon and feel like I coild go to bed now! Of course Fed and Mirka will have a large staff to help out.

Posted by Emma (insertwittymantrahere) 07/14/2009 at 06:57 PM

NP, I don't normally, but that post really pushed my buttons. I think I'll have to go back to Grant's scrollin' scrollin' scrollin' idea. Pure genius.

Posted by NP 07/14/2009 at 06:57 PM

Actually, Mike, the Hewitt and Safin H2Hs don't bother me much. It's not like they are as one-sided as you-know-what.

Posted by Grant is the Walrus 07/14/2009 at 06:58 PM

I read the post today oh boy
A head to head that didn't make the grade
Though the discussion thread was sad
I just had to laugh
At Safin's photograph

Posted by Tim (2009 Year of Red Rogie ) 07/14/2009 at 06:59 PM

ah, the silence of the mama lions, Im gonna miss it :)

Posted by Pspace 07/14/2009 at 06:59 PM

NP, yeah. That's what I thought as well until El Jon's opposition. There were also a _ton_ of objections raised when Chang got inducted. Not exactly sure what his accomplishments are...other than the one RG....I assume there was some off-court considerations?

Posted by Rosangel 07/14/2009 at 06:59 PM

Well, let's see about that H2H:

2:1 on grass isn't statistically significant - far too small a sample.

3:3 on hardcourts isn't statistically significant (1:1).

9:2 on clay is noticeable.

Clay is a perfectly valid surface to win on, as are the other two.

No-one actually knows what would have happened had the two players met more often on surfaces other than clay, but the fact is that they are not only several years apart in age, but their career progressions have been different.

Conclusion: any argument about the H2H is best left until both careers are over, and any argument worth listening to needs to be fair to both players. No-one knows their future H2H on any surface, nor does anyone know how many Slams each will end up with on each surface, who their opponents in finals might be, or what their career progressions will be in general.

As a fan I'll just hope to enjoy watching "my guy" play, and appreciate him for what he brings to tennis.

Posted by NP 07/14/2009 at 07:00 PM

Emma, better to roll than to scroll.

Posted by mcakron 07/14/2009 at 07:00 PM

Andrew -- the only thing, and in retrospect I'm sure Sampras was/is aware of this, is that the S&Ving Haas and Roddick had used coming into their matches against Fed were of a different order/magnitude. AndyR tossed it on occasion against Hewitt and Muzz, but Haas used it like a throwback to another era against Andreev and Djokovic. I want to say he served and volleyed something like sixty times against the latter. Plus, it would be hard to argue Roddick lost to Fed because of his service games.

Roddick's gameplan looked about spot perfect to me. I just think he missed one bad volley (which was probably tougher than it appeared) and had a little less fuel in the fifth.

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