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View Full Version : Who's Master Of the Grass? By TOM PERROTTA July 17, 2006


TennisProPaul
07-18-2006, 10:57 AM
Who's Master Of the Grass?

By TOM PERROTTA
July 17, 2006

So who was better, Sampras or Federer? Before you lash out, we'll make it clear that we are not, at the moment, comparing careers. Pistol Pete wins that contest by a knockout - 14 Grand Slam titles beats eight, no matter one's loyalties.

But Roger Federer's fourth consecutive title at Wimbledon does present a fine opportunity to dabble in data. Sampras won four straight at the All England Club not too long ago, from 1997 to 2000, and now Federer has matched him (only Bjorn Borg and Willie Renshaw, in the late 1800s, won more consecutive titles). The staff at IBM in London have offered us match-by-match stats for Sampras and Federer's 28-match streaks, and it's clear that Federer has been the more dominant champion.

Consider the big picture (and the table, below). In his four years, Federer won 549 games and lost 312, a winning percentage of 63.8%. Sampras won 559 and lost 367, good for 60.4%. Federer outdid his opponents in sets 84-5 (94.4%), while Sampras put up a record of 81-12 (he played three fewer sets because Mark Philippoussis retired in the 1999 quarterfinal after winning the first set). And unlike the then 28-year-old Sampras, the 24-year-old Federer finished off his fourth consecutive title with a flourish - his most dominating performance yet. Federer won 58.5% of points at Wimbledon this year, his best percentage and better than any year Sampras had in his string of four.

No statistic more reveals Federer's advantage than service returns. Federer has won 41.6% of return points these past four years, compared to 37.8% for Sampras. He broke his opponent's serve 28 more times (132 to 104), an average of one more break per match. Federer has won an astonishing 49.6% of break points, compared to 39.8% percent for Sampras (not too shabby, it must be said).

On his serve, Federer nearly kept pace with Sampras, winning 72.6% of his serve points and losing his serve 25 times, compared to 75.3% and 18 breaks for Sampras. When it came time to save break points, Sampras carried the day, staving off defeat 80.9% of the time (76 of 94). Federer saved 72.8% (67 of 92). Sampras' serve, as one might expect, proved the more explosive of the two, producing 465 aces to Federer's 308. But it also proved more erratic. Sampras served 146 double faults, and average of 5.2 a match, compared to 50 for Federer. The defending champion served only five double faults at Wimbledon this year.

The numbers also illustrate the sharp differences in the tactics between these two men. Sampras won Wimbledon in the traditional attacking style: serving and volleying and playing more chips and slices as he pressed for an advantage at the net. Federer has killed with variety, though he has increasingly relied on his forehand rather than venturing forward.

How much of a decline has there been in Federer's forays to the net? In 2003, he finished 20% of his points at the net, winning 64.7% of them (176 of 272). The following year, he ended 16.3% of points at net, winning 70.6% of them; these figures dropped to 15.8% (65.6% winning percentage) in 2005 and 13.4% (71% winning percentage) this year. It's hard to argue with his results, though one gets the sense that the lack of a true rival on grass - before Rafael Nadal's emergence this year - has made Federer feeling quite secure in playing less than risky tennis.

Perhaps surprising to some, Sampras experienced the same trend during his four-year run. In 1997 and 1998, Sampras finished 40.8% and 38.5% of points at the net. In the next two years, those percentages decreased to 25.8% and 23.1%.

Even though these two men came to the court with insurmountable tennis every single match, there were a few tests along the way.

Sampras's most challenging opponent is no surprise. In the 1998 final, Goran Ivanisevic served 32 aces and took Sampras to five sets, 6-7(2) 7-6(11) 6-4 3-6 6-2. Sampras went five sets one other time, in a 1997 fourth round match against Petr Korda, 6-4 6-3 6-7(10) 6-7(1) 6-4. And who knows what might have happened in the 1999 quarterfinal had Philippoussis not retired? (Philippoussis continued his latest comeback yesterday with a 6-3, 7-5 victory over Justin Gimelstob in the final of Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, R.I.)

Federer has never needed more than four sets for a victory. Andy Roddick pushed him in the 2004 final, when rain interrupted play. Nicolas Kiefer, a regular troublemaker for Federer, unsettled him several times during the third round last year, taking the only set off the defending champion for the entire tournament.

Much to everyone's surprise, Federer's most difficult match the last four years came from Nadal, who seemed a likely candidate for a second-round loss against a qualifier before he found his game and reached the final. If Nadal had won that second set - well, never mind. Against Federer and Sampras on grass, "if" is usually as good as anyone can do.

http://www.nysun.com/article/36112

superman1
07-18-2006, 11:12 AM
This is all BS. Sampras and Federer play the game differently. Sampras wasn't out to dominate opponents on every single point, all he cared about was the win. He knew he could hold serve so he didn't have to bust his *** trying to break serve every time. You can't look at the stats to decide who is better, you have to watch the matches and look at the records. Plus, Federer doesn't even play on the same grass that Sampras did and he doesn't face serve and volley opponents very much, so it's uneven. Of course he's going to break more often when his opponent stays back.

ACE of Hearts
07-18-2006, 11:14 AM
I will say that they are 50-50 on grass, i do like Fed's return game better.I agree its hard to compare when they have slowed the grass down but both guys are natural grasscourters.

MTChong
07-18-2006, 11:21 AM
This is all BS. Sampras and Federer play the game differently. Sampras wasn't out to dominate opponents on every single point, all he cared about was the win. He knew he could hold serve so he didn't have to bust his *** trying to break serve every time. You can't look at the stats to decide who is better, you have to watch the matches and look at the records. Plus, Federer doesn't even play on the same grass that Sampras did and he doesn't face serve and volley opponents very much, so it's uneven. Of course he's going to break more often when his opponent stays back.

This is definitely true; you can tell when Sampras turned on his return game, he didn't feel the pressing need to win it because he was hardly ever broken.

Big Fed
07-18-2006, 11:24 AM
I say its kinda equal because they are both extremly good playas

AAAA
07-18-2006, 11:27 AM
This is all BS. Sampras and Federer play the game differently. Sampras wasn't out to dominate opponents on every single point, all he cared about was the win. He knew he could hold serve so he didn't have to bust his *** trying to break serve every time. You can't look at the stats to decide who is better, you have to watch the matches and look at the records. Plus, Federer doesn't even play on the same grass that Sampras did and he doesn't face serve and volley opponents very much, so it's uneven. Of course he's going to break more often when his opponent stays back.

That is as ridiculous as a Federer fan saying Federer can serve as well as Sampras if he wanted to but he doesn't need to because the courts are slower and Federer knows he is very good at breaking serve.

Moose Malloy
07-18-2006, 11:27 AM
nice article. what is the ny sun? never heard of it, impressed that such an in depth article on tennis would appear in an american paper.

I think trying to break Ivanisevic's serve is a bit more difficult than breaking Nadal's.

AAAA
07-18-2006, 11:37 AM
Ivanisevic was often like a chocolate flake under pressure, he'd melt down or crumble. In that respect he was like Greg Rusedski. They both were capable of serving brilliantly but often when they played a battle hardened warrior in a big event/match both players would inexplicably miss easy volleys/shots and/or double fault.

Moose Malloy
07-18-2006, 11:44 AM
Ivanisevic was often like a chocolate flake under pressure, he'd melt down or crumble. In that respect he was like Greg Rusedski. They both were capable of serving brilliantly but often when they played a battle hardened warrior in a big event/match both players would inexplicably miss easy volleys/shots and/or double fault.

I think Ivanisevic was quite a bit better than Rusedski. Rusedski never even made the semis at W. Goran's career numbers are far better. And his serving stats are unreal, multiple seasons with 1,000 + aces, % of first serve points won, etc. Statistically he probably has the best serve in the history of tennis. Yes, he choked a bit against Sampras(but still beat him more than a few times) But so did Ashe vs Laver. Many players get nervous against all time greats.

And the guy used his lefty advantage far more than that "weird spanish lefty" that so many think possess some unfair edge today.

Moose Malloy
07-18-2006, 11:57 AM
Here are the lists of players Sampras beat '97-'00:
2000
R128 Vanek, Jiri (CZE)
R64 Kucera, Karol (SVK)
R32 Gimelstob, Justin (USA)
R16 Bjorkman, Jonas (SWE)
Q Gambill, Jan-Michael (USA)
S Voltchkov, Vladimir (BLR)
W Rafter, Patrick (AUS)
1999
R128 Draper, Scott (AUS)
R64 Lareau, Sebastien (CAN)
R32 Sapsford, Danny (GBR)
R16 Nestor, Daniel (CAN)
Q Philippoussis, Mark (AUS)
S Henman, Tim (GBR)
W Agassi, Andre (USA)
1998
R128 Hrbaty, Dominik (SVK)
R64 Tillstrom, Mikael (SWE)
R32 Enqvist, Thomas (SWE)
R16 Grosjean, Sebastien (FRA)
Q Philippoussis, Mark (AUS)
S Henman, Tim (GBR)
W Ivanisevic, Goran (CRO)
1997
R128 Tillstrom, Mikael (SWE)
R64 Dreekmann, Hendrik (GER)
R32 Black, Byron (ZIM)
R16 Korda, Petr (CZE)
Q Becker, Boris (GER)
S Woodbridge, Todd (AUS)
W Pioline, Cedric (FRA)

and Federer:
2006
R128 Gasquet, Richard
R64 Henman, Tim (GBR)
R32 Mahut, Nicolas (FRA)
R16 Berdych, Tomas (CZE)
Q Ancic, Mario (CRO)
S Bjorkman, Jonas (SWE)
W Nadal, Rafael (ESP)
2005
R128 Mathieu, Paul-Henri (FRA)
R64 Minar, Ivo (CZE)
R32 Kiefer, Nicolas (GER)
R16 Ferrero, Juan Carlos (ESP)
Q Gonzalez, Fernando (CHI)
S Hewitt, Lleyton (AUS)
W Roddick, Andy (USA)
2004
R128 Bogdanovic, Alex (GBR)
R64 Falla, Alejandro (COL)
R32 Johansson, Thomas (SWE)
R16 Karlovic, Ivo (CRO)
Q Hewitt, Lleyton (AUS)
S Grosjean, Sebastien (FRA)
W Roddick, Andy (USA)
2003
R128 Lee, Hyung-Taik (KOR)
R64 Koubek, Stefan (AUT)
R32 Fish, Mardy (USA)
R16 Lopez, Feliciano (ESP)
Q Schalken, Sjeng (NED)
S Roddick, Andy (USA)
W Philippoussis, Mark (AUS)

Philippoussis, Grosjean, Bjorkman, Henman are common opponents.

AAAA
07-18-2006, 12:14 PM
I think Ivanisevic was quite a bit better than Rusedski. Rusedski never even made the semis at W. Goran's career numbers are far better. And his serving stats are unreal, multiple seasons with 1,000 + aces, % of first serve points won, etc. Statistically he probably has the best serve in the history of tennis. Yes, he choked a bit against Sampras(but still beat him more than a few times) But so did Ashe vs Laver. Many players get nervous against all time greats.

And the guy used his lefty advantage far more than that "weird spanish lefty" that so many think possess some unfair edge today.

Your counter-arguments against me are often based on points I didn't actually make. I said

Ivanisevic and Rusedski UNDER PRESSURE were flakey. Period.

Your weak and totally off the mark counter was to say Ivanisevic has better numbers that Resedski. Numbers....schnumbers...so what...they are both still in my opinion flakey under pressure.

Moose Malloy
07-18-2006, 12:27 PM
Your counter-arguments against me are often based on points I didn't actually make. I said

Ivanisevic and Rusedski UNDER PRESSURE were flakey. Period.

Your weak and totally off the mark counter was to say Ivanisevic has better numbers that Resedski. Numbers....schnumbers...so what...they are both still in my opinion flakey under pressure.

Fair enough. But can we agree that Rusedski was more flaky than Ivanisevic? Its like comparing the choking of Nalbandian to the choking of James Blake. or a team that loses in the nba finals to a team that loses 1st round. At least Goran held his nerves together long enough to get a chance to choke in W finals vs Sampras, while Rusedski chokes in the 4th round vs guys like Malisse.

AAAA
07-18-2006, 12:45 PM
Fair enough. But can we agree that Rusedski was more flaky than Ivanisevic? Its like comparing the choking of Nalbandian to the choking of James Blake. or a team that loses in the nba finals to a team that loses 1st round. At least Goran held his nerves together long enough to get a chance to choke in W finals vs Sampras, while Rusedski chokes in the 4th round vs guys like Malisse.

If you stopped writing after 'Fair enough.' then fair enough. However like before your comeback is to talk about a point that was never made. This time you have made a more subtle but still obvious side step.

When I say Goran is flakey like Greg there is no way to determine if I think greg is more or less flakely than Goran. So there is no reason for you to seek my agreement or disagreement about Greg being more flakely than Goran.

35ft6
07-18-2006, 04:08 PM
This is all BS. Sampras and Federer play the game differently. Sampras wasn't out to dominate opponents on every single point, all he cared about was the win. He knew he could hold serve so he didn't have to bust his *** trying to break serve every time. You can't look at the stats to decide who is better, you have to watch the matches and look at the records. Records are a stat. And "watching the matches" leaves a lot more room for preconceived biases.

arosen
07-18-2006, 08:38 PM
And the guy used his lefty advantage far more than that "weird spanish lefty" that so many think possess some unfair edge today.

Goran's slice wide out serve on ad court was insanely hard to return. How does one handle that? I have no idea. That serve was just mean.

armand
07-18-2006, 09:05 PM
What a narrow minded article. 'Who's the Master of Grass' my ***. Guy got access to some statistics and decided to make an article around it. But it solves nothing, enlightens no one. Irrelevant towards those who are knowledgeable about tennis and confuses people who aren't.

Swissv2
07-18-2006, 09:12 PM
sorry to play the devil's advocate but what then, do you guys think is the best way to determine who is better?

Saito
07-18-2006, 09:18 PM
Nadal is master of grass, because he's a Mexican (duh....)

ok ok ok Sorry if that offends anyone (I really wanted to plug that joke in, but haven't really found a time to until this post..... and yes I DO REALIZE NADAL IS SPANISH AND NOT MEXICAN... it's a joke ok? :D)

In all honesty, I'm having trouble with this article because it compares two players with two different types of play. IMO, I think Sampras was more of a true S&V player while Fed seems like a true all-courter. I don't know if the argument of the surface being different can hold too much, because Fed played the same grass Sampras did when he beat him in 2001. The range of opponents however can be brought up(I honestly think Sampras had more variety of opponents than Fed does) but I still don't see how that can be used in the argument of "master of grass" because who's to say that had Sampras been playing at this time and age, he'd still be winning the way he was and vice versa.

Interesting article though. I'm not downplaying it or anything. I do alot of off the wall thinking about tennis stuff all the time. Maybe I need to contemplate on this one a little more. It is late. :-|

armand
07-18-2006, 09:52 PM
sorry to play the devil's advocate but what then, do you guys think is the best way to determine who is better?How about an old fashioned gun fight? A quick draw type dealie, you know, from the old Western days? Ya.

Or another way would be an honest, unbiased examination done through a 6 volume hard cover book. "Don't skip to the last page!"

superman1
07-18-2006, 09:57 PM
Blah blah blah. This site is just a lot of talk and no substance. People quote others and spin their comments around to derive a meaning that isn't even there, but they don't add their own opinion because they have none.

I'll limit my posts to the Match Results forum and only discuss recent matches rather than argue over something that is ultimately meaningless. Who was better on grass, Federer or Sampras? Doesn't mean sh*t. Federer has 4 Wimbledons and counting, Sampras has 7, they are/were both pretty damn good. There is no GOAT, get that through your skulls. There's only the GOAG, Greatest of a Generation.

helloworld
07-18-2006, 10:17 PM
Grass farmers.

Brettolius
07-19-2006, 04:53 AM
This is definitely true; you can tell when Sampras turned on his return game, he didn't feel the pressing need to win it because he was hardly ever broken.

On his serve, Federer nearly kept pace with Sampras, winning 72.6% of his serve points and losing his serve 25 times, compared to 75.3% and 18 breaks for Sampras. When it came time to save break points, Sampras carried the day, staving off defeat 80.9% of the time (76 of 94). Federer saved 72.8% (67 of 92). Sampras' serve, as one might expect, proved the more explosive of the two, producing 465 aces to Federer's 308. But it also proved more erratic. Sampras served 146 double faults, and average of 5.2 a match, compared to 50 for Federer. The defending champion served only five double faults at Wimbledon this year.

Well this stat makes me believe that Federer holds serve nearly as well as Sampras..at least on the grass.