Let’s end the discussion with this…

I wrote an entry discussing who could be the greatest of all time, when the topic was hot. I don’t like the main points anymore, but there is still one point that I want to continue to say again and again: we have to stop comparing different eras in tennis! 70s was one, 80s was a completely different, only to be kicked by the 90s and then the high-tech 2000s.

Also, I think I know why Federer should be ranked over Sampras.

First of all… we have to make it a discussion about the Open Era. I still think that tennis was more like a hobby sport even in the 70s than the incredible high level pro sport it has turned out today. Therefore, if you want to find GOATs, then find one in the Open Era and one before. I’m gonna stick to the players who took part of the official ATP ranking system that started in 1973. Why? Because that was the time when tennis actually started to go pro. Players where travelling all over the world to play as many events as possible (with exceptions of course) and they were making a decent living, even when losing.

So from 1973, which unfortunately excludes Rod Laver, there are only 6 players I want to even consider when talking about the best of Open Era time. Borg, McEnroe, Federer, Connors, Lendl, Sampras. All of them have dominated the sport in a longer period of time. In fact the player with least amount of weeks at #1 was Borg with 109. The next would be Agassi at 101, but he never dominated the sport. If Sampras was the reason for that, then so be it. Bad luck. Or.. why didn’t you beat him more often? Because he was better most of the time.

Okay. Borg will never be the greatest because he quit early. Who knows what achievements he could’ve had if he had gone into the mid 80s. What makes Borg so big, is the Grand Slam record. And I don’t mean only winning RG and Wimby a total of 11 times, but also reaching the final in USO 4 times. This gives him 141-16 in GS matches! He didn’t play Aussie Open, which was the case for many players at the time. But because he had tough competition in Connors, McEnroe and a few others, he actually never dominated the sport enough to make him bigger than the ones I mentioned above. In addition, his achievements where big, but few.

John McEnroe is a different story. He actually played an entire lifetime and therefore has gone through more ups and downs than Borg. One thing they do have in common, is the number of weeks at #1 and even consecutive weeks at #1. Borg had 109 at #1, Johnny had 170. Taking the longer career into consideration I would make it a tie. Borg had 46 consecutive weeks, McEnroe had 58 AND 53. McEnroe lost more matches than Borg on a week-to-week basis, but McEnroe played more and kept the top spot as late as September 1985. In my opinion, McEnroe and Borg are close in a relative comparison. Only BIG difference is that Borg won 11 slams in short time and McEnroe 7 in a longer.

All right. There are 4 player who completely stand out in terms of dominating, slam wins, weeks at #1, consecutive weeks at #1, tournament wins ++++++

Jimmy Connors dominated tennis, almost the way Roger Federer has done until now. Difference is just those two sneaky enemies in Borg and McEnroe. Borg’s phenomenal summer form, EVERY YEAR, contributed to a lot of swapping between the three. However, of the three, Connors was by far the most consistent, and would generally NOT lose to lower ranked players. A fighter of another dimension and the only time he would lose was when his opponent played a fair and better game. I don’t know if Connors was crowned the King of semifinals or not, but reaching like 20 major SFs isn’t THAT easy. Just look at the graphics at wikipedia, a little down the page there to see all the yellow colors, which indicate SF. In fact, take this for a record… from 1973, it would take him 10!!!!!! years to not achieve a QF or better at a slam. He lost in 1st round in French in 73 and then reached QF or better in all slams until Wimbledon 1983! Federer will never get there, I’m sure. Although win is much more important, it is also a sign of consistency and domination. Connors was IMO the best of the 70s. One last record, which shows what player Connors was is the 1241-277 W-L. It gives 81.75%!! When Lendl emerged, Connors was NOT a top player anymore and played almost another decade without too good results. What does that mean? Well… that %age would have been even higher had he retired in the mid-80s. Good candidate for Greatest of Open Era time!

Then there’s Ivan Lendl. I feel sorry for this bastard. He would have, without a doubt, become the Greatest of all time if he would have been more efficient in the GS finals. 270 weeks at #1, 157 consecutive is 3rd best after Connors and Federer. He has a sick 1071-239 (81.8%) which is close to Connors. And like Connors in the 70s, he actually dominated much of the mid and late 80s. I still cannot believe that Lendl was in the USO final every year from 82 till 89. That’s 8 consecutive USO finals. He only won 3! A total of 8 slams and 11!!! runner’s up! He could have had 19 slams! Another impressive record is the Year-End Champ. where he made the final 9 times in a row from 1980 to 1988. Sick, sick, sick! Why not the best of all time? He did not dominate the sport enough! Connors is still better IMO.

Then there were two. Roger Federer and Pistol Pete. I’m gonne make this one short. Sampras dominated the 90s, Federer has dominated the mid 2000s. Sampras was less dominant, Federer (at least thus far) more dominant in a shorter period. I’ve said it before. Sampras did not have more competition than Federer. If that was true, he would lose mostly to his competition. That was not the case. In fact, if you look at his best years, he would lose to low ranked players. Most of Federer’s losses came to Nadal. Yes, Sampras has more weeks at #1 and more slams, but Federer has several years more to play. Sampras was not even close to the Federer achievements when turning 27. 

We can go on and on about this, but I think that I’ve summed up what I mean about the biggest names in tennis. When determining the best players of the Open Era, I would give priority to weeks at #1 and consecutive weeks, + slams and masters + winning %. Winning % is probably the most important stat.

Sampras is at 77%, Connors 82%, Lendl 82%, Borg 82.5%, McEnroe 81.5%, Federer 80.4%

My list as of today is:
1. Connors
2. Federer
3. Sampras
4. Lendl
5. Borg
6. McEnroe

So there you have it… no more opinions from me until Federer retires.

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8 Responses to “Let’s end the discussion with this…”

  1. Tim Says:

    The problem with Connors is that he didn’t win the slams. 20 semifinals doesn’t get him the slams. Federer and Sampras are capable of winning the Semis and most finals. That’s why they should be ranked above Connors.

  2. Retib Says:

    Laver should be included. He dominated the sport as well.

  3. Spielking Says:

    I completely agree with the reasoning, but I don’t understand how Connors managed to top the list. If Sampras’ 77% is so poor, why is he 3rd then? I was also impressed to see Johnny Mac and Jimbo playing even with the younger guns like Sampras and Agassi. That shows how talented they really are. Lendl really went down after dominating. The two Americans didn’t.

  4. Mehen Says:

    I’m tempted to start a blog, just to have room to argue against your points.
    First of all, Sampras DID have more competition than the rest of this group. Federer is by far the most talented and filled with potential. McEnroe? Not in this group, thanks!

    Connors. Douche. Like a Davydenko, but with Grand Slams.

    Borg is the man and Lendl is a loser. Agassi and Laver deserve just as much credit as the ones you mentioned.

  5. Nadal Says:

    No one beats ME?E

  6. Philcoa Says:

    They key ingredient for me in Sampras vs Federer comparisons is quality of opposition. This is where Federer loses big time. Most of Federer’s GS final opponents are not a stellar bunch (Baghdatis, Philippousis, Roddick(3), Gonzalez, Hewitt). Only Nadal among his opponents could be described as an A playyer, the rest are definitely Bs. By contrast, Sampras’ GS finalists include Courier, Becker, Agassi (3), Rafter, Chang, mostly A players.

    I believe that, statistics apart the list reads:

    Pancho Gonzalez
    Rod Laver
    Pete Sampras
    Bjorn Borg
    Roger Federer
    Ken Rosewall
    Lew Hoad
    Jimmy Connors
    John McEnroe
    Frank Sedgeman

    I suspect that Nadal will wind up somewhere in that list

  7. backhand Says:

    Philcoa:

    Why would you say Courier, Becker, Rafter and Chang are better than the ones you mentioned from the Fed era? First of all you forgot Safin, who Federer had trouble against. World no.1 with Aussie Open and US Open. What does Chang have? Hewitt seemed to start dominating the sport in 02, but wasn’t able to hold it together after over one year on top. Roddick was a big potential if you remember, being in a QF at age 19 (just turned).

    If you look at who Sampras used to lose to, you will find a lot of different players. A typical Sampras year would actually look a lot like Federer’s 2008. Difference being that Sampras would not perform as good in all GS. Show me when Sampras had 3 finals or more a year.

    And yes, Nadal is good enough reason to rate Federer over Sampras. Federer would have had 3 (if not 4) RGs, and 1 more Wimbledon. That’s at least 4 more GS titles. I have always said that winning % is a very good indicator due to it’s objective nature. Sampras lost a lot more matches than Federer during their dominating periods.

    BTW… I listed all from the Open era. I don’t even know who Frank and Lew are…

  8. Daimyou Says:

    Brilliant reasoning, Id buy it. Just one point to add: you play to win.

    So i have to reshape it.
    I loved Pete´s serve+volley, Federer balance+straight. They are the true winners. You must accept that. You need to win +10 GS just to start a discussion. Laver, Emerson, Pete, Borg & Roger.

    Just two quickies:
    1- What would have become of BORN BORG should he had been as half professional in his career as the other four ones.

    2- COMPETITION to be faced: Roger-Nadal, Pete-Agassi, but with the others ones, there was a bunch of top level players at a time. Could we rate this anyhow?

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