Today’s players, best ever?

What happened at Aussie Open is historic. Not only did Isreal get themselves in the tennis spotlight, but much of Eastern Europe and Asia has started to enter this sport going from almost zit. 20 years ago we were still under a divided west-east iron curtain situation with several revolutions and reforms to come. For most of the tennis history, it was a sport practiced only in the west This was not the case in many other sports, but certainly tennis is one that has traditionally been more popular in Australia, UK, USA, France..etc

Now what countries behind the iron curtain could we see on the pro tour back in 1988? Only three! The ATP site seems to have separated Czechoslovakia already, but there were like 10 of these in the top 100. We can include #1 Lendl who at this point was playing for USA. Then there was one from Yougoslavia and ONE from Russia or Sovjet.

That’s it. One can wonder whether culture played a big role, or money, or access and freedom, or all of the above. The thing what is impressive is how today’s players from eastern Europe have gone from almost no tennis to becoming a big tennis nation. Yes, yes.. Serbia being the big explosion, but don’t forget the winners of Fed and Davis Cup Russia. If we add the ATP and WTA tours I am sure that Russia is the most represented country of them all. Then I ask you… is today’s players the best ever?

When there’s more competition, there is need to perform even better. Now that the tennis world has opened up big time, the players have more to content with. We know from Hockey, Track&Field and other sports that the East have been very competitive and spend a lot of time practising to become the best of the best.

Ilie Nastase is a good example of what I mean. This guy was not known for being the player who hit the court to practise non-stop. He was probably the most talented player at the time and was unique in that he was one of the few players who were even allowed to travel on the pro tour. But even then, the professional attitude with being the best and hitting the court daily to get any small advantage over their opponents, was not AS important as today. Today it’s vital. When you see 4 year olds pracitcing like pros, several hours a day with the goal being to become a pro player, well that says it all about today’s competition.

So there has been a lot of talk about Sampras vs. Federer and who is actually best. A decade separates them and Sampras is being rated as one of the best of all time, but as opposed to Federer, Sampras had to deal with more competition. Arguments say that there were more Nadals and Djokovices on the tour in the 90s, and so Sampras could not win as much. That, I believe, is not correct. Becker, Rafter, Kuerten, Agassi + many more where not as good as Sampras and play was quite slower even in the last half of the 9os as compared to today.

If we go 10 years back in time and look at the ranking, I see a much weaker field than today. Top 10 in the right order was Sampras, Rafter, Chang, Bjorkman, Kafelnikov, Rusedski, Korda, Rios, Moya, Muster. Someone would say that all of the 9 players below Sampras were far better than all below Federer today. I just don’t see it. Chang was a good player but never had the stability to become a dominant figure. Bjorkman! We know him from today and we know what he is able to do, but Sampras is 9-1 against him. Federer is 5-0 and haven’t lost a set against him. Not even in 2001 when Federer was a kiddo and Bjorkman was a profile.

Lets take 98 as a random year in Sampras’ career. He was #1 and we have mentioned his “tough” competition. Which players did he lose to? Kucera (who??), Agassi, Muster, Ferreira, Santoro, Chang, Delgado(who?), Woodforde, Agassi, Rafter, Paes(who???), Rafter, Ferreira, Haas, Kraijek, Rusedski, Stoltenberg, Corretja.

Total count is 18! That’s a lot for a world number one!

Like I’ve said before, comparing decades or eras in tennis is pointless. Game has changed so much in 20-30 years and will most likely still change, maybe not at the same pace, but still. The 2000s generation are not only better, but there are more of them today and spread over the whole world and more competitive on all levels. So from now on, stop comparing eras!

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3 Responses to “Today’s players, best ever?”

  1. Ollie Says:

    I agree. Federer is the greatest. Sampras was the greatest.
    BTW, Kucera was actually a good player. Don’t know too much about him though.

  2. Tim Says:

    I don’t know why you chose 98 as a “random” year, because that was not Sampras’ best season. But I do agree that today’s players are somewhat better, technically, as well as physically than what was the case in the 90s. I just think that the stars of the 90s were more interesting to watch. Watching Nadal, Ferrer, and other baseliners play is always too fun. Include the giants like Karlovic, Querrey and Isner who are booooring.

  3. Easter Bunny Says:

    nice analysis
    I think that you are right about the pro level today. Players from #200 and down are so good and competitive. They would certainly have been higher in the 80s and 90s.

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