Americans in Paris - Generations

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by eldanger25, Aug 9, 2014.

  1. eldanger25

    eldanger25 Professional

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    If you define a generation of players to a cluster of a few years (say 3 or so), has there been a more impressive generation of Americans on French clay than the Courier/Agassi/Chang trio? All born between 1970-72, and 4 titles and 4 finalist appearances between the three of them from 1989-99.

    So far as I can tell, you've got the Budge/McNeil/Riggs/Parker foursome (all born b/w 1915-18 ) as their primary competition, with 5 titles (4 RG, one French Pro) and a finalist appearance between them (of course, WWII clipped their chances at more). And a Patty/Seixas/Larsen grouping (born b/w 1923-25) with a title and three finalist appearances as well.

    And, in terms of peak play, it sounds like the 1928-30 Trabert/Gonzales duo (with Flam in the sidecar) may've been the best of the best (even considering Pancho rarely showing up to Paris), and they've got some hardware as well (2 RGs, 2 French Pros, and 2 French Pro and 1 RG finalist appearances).

    But could an argument be made that the 90s generation of Americans had the best mix of hardware and quality play? I'll accept that the Trabert/Pancho duo is hard to top, though it sounds like there was a dropoff after those two w/r/t their generation of players.

    Relatedly, what's happened to the American clay court player? It's so odd to have such a solid recent trio in Chang/Agassi/Courier, and so little to show for it among the following generations. Maybe if Baker had been able to stay healthy...
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2014
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  2. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    It goes in cycles. The best clay players now are of course Nadal and Djokovic who are built to run and hit groundies all day.

    I think one of the problems is that Americans don't play as much on red clay here. The kids don't have much experience with the clay. Many of them don't know how to slide well for example.

    I'm sure eventually the people in the United States will start doing well on red clay again.
     
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  3. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    eldanger 25, I guess you confused a bit regarding Trabert and Gonzalez at Paris: Trabert won two French amateur championships and two French Pro, Gonzalez reached two French Pro finals.
     
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  4. eldanger25

    eldanger25 Professional

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    Gotcha, thanks - yeah, I missed one of the Trabert French Pros when adding up the hardware of Trabert/Pancho G./Flam.
     
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  5. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    in the middle there is the 50´s one.Vitas Gerulaitis,Harold Solomon and Brian Gottfried couldn´t win their RG finals because there were clearly better clay courters but those guys, along Dibbs ( and Connors) were among the best also on clay.

    As late as 1980, Brian Gottfried ousted Ivan Lendl at Roland Garros, while Vitas would concentrate more and more on faster surfaces as he aged on.

    To me, the most surprising " american" cc feat of that generation is what Dick Stockton achieved at the 1978 RG tournament, reaching the semis after beating Manuel Orantes, one of the best clay courters of the decade¡¡¡
     
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  6. Dan L

    Dan L Professional

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    Trabert won TWO French Pros at RG.
     
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  7. eldanger25

    eldanger25 Professional

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    Thanks - BobbyOne made the same correction, and I've edited the original post.

    Any thoughts on the topic of strongest generation of American CC players? Can the duo of Trabert/Gonzales overcome the trios and quartets from other eras based on peak play alone?
     
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  8. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    is this about clay courts?

    Gonzales is not a true clay courter; he is basically an older Vitas on clay; maybe top 4-5 but never a true challenger.

    Trabert is different
     
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  9. eldanger25

    eldanger25 Professional

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    That seems unfair, to say the least - clay may've been his least favorite surface, but he surely had his successes on the surface.

    Didn't Gonzales ring up 19-20 clay titles overall, including defeats over Rosewall/Laver during their mid-60s reigns (when he was in the second half of his thirties)? Does Vitas - who was out of the game by around 30 - even get a set in those mid-60s clay matchups with Laver or Rosewall at ages 37-38? How about bageling Rosewall on Swiss clay to clinch the Geneva Gold title in the middle of the latter's clay reign in 1961?

    Didn't Pancho G. appear at only 3 French Pros on clay ever - at ages 28, 30, and 33 respectfully - and make two finals appearances, one of which included avenging his 1956 5 set final round loss to Trabert with a straight-set drubbing at age 33 in the 1961 French Pro SF?

    Didn't Gonzales only play the French Open twice - once at around 20, once at around 40 - and made the final weekend both times, including a 5 set triumph against Emerson (who I understand has been the sacrificial lamb around these parts, but who was a great player even if not among the greatest) in 1968?

    At the very least, I think Gonzales is a worthy co-pilot to Trabert in this discussion of American generations on French clay, even if clay was his least famous surface.
     
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  10. eldanger25

    eldanger25 Professional

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    Yes, that generation was solid - but it would've been helped immeasurably if Connors and Vitas had bothered to play RG b/w 1974-78.
     
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  11. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    Didn´t Vitas play a F and a SF at RG?

    In his way, beating Lendl and Connors and other good clay courters such as Higueras and Fibak?

    didn´t he win the Forest Hills TOC baggeling Mc Enroe on clay?

    didn´t he win two Italians, beating the likes of Panatta,Dibbs and Vilas, this one in one of the greatest matches ever held on clay?

    didn´t he play the Montecarlo final and the Montecarlo semifinal?

    One more thing.Tony Trabert made a big mistake in the 1980 and 1983 Davis Cup choices when playing Argentina at Baires.He should have left aside Gottfried and Mayer and pick Vitas.He beat Vilas on clay and was more experienced than Mayer and a better clay court player than Gottfried.
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2014
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  12. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    eldanger, I agree totally.
     
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  13. eldanger25

    eldanger25 Professional

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    I like Vitas way too much to say any more unfriendly things about him. He was a wonderful clay court player, with multiple impressive wins. I think he would've been a title contender at RG had he played the event in 1976 and particularly 1977.

    I think Gonzales at his athletic peak was so overwhelming a tennis force that he'd have garnered more clay titles and big wins than Vitas had they played in the same era, even though I recognize that Vitas's game translated more naturally to clay and looked prettier on the surface.

    So we'll agree to disagree.
     
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  14. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    It could be.Now, it is hard to figure out how Vitas wins RG against Borg or even against 1977 Vilas, even if he beat Vilas in 1979 at Rome.I am sure he would not have been trounced into pieces as Brian Gottfried ( a nice player) was.

    Connors, well, it is almost the very same.Fact is he lost to Borg on US clay at the Boca Raton tournaments in 1977,1978 and 1979 and he lost to Vilas also on the US har tru.

    He may run into Orantes before playing any of them.Connors had two or three great wins against him on clay, but he was also beaten roundly twice on clay by Orantes.

    And he could suffer a lot against fellows such as Nastase and Ramirez, if we consider how tough both were on clay.However, I don´t see Dibbs ( whom he beat in the 79 tournament) or Solomon beating him.

    So, we will never know.
     
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  15. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    I basically agree.Pancho´s peak was quite better than Gerulaitis but it would be quite even on slow dirt.
     
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  16. eldanger25

    eldanger25 Professional

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    I think Connors had a real shot at the title in 1974 and 1976. 1974 for the levels he hit, plus Connors ran roughshod on clay - red and green - throughout 1976 (28-2 on the surface that year).

    As far as his rivals, I'd say he'd have had the element of surprise, game-wise, against Orantes in 1974 (Orantes got straight-setted by Jimmy on clay at Indianapolis post-RG in 1974, before he'd had a chance to suss out the kid's extra gear).

    Then there's Borg's mental block against Jimmy from 1974-76 (Connors 3-0 on the surface during that era). I acknowledge that Borg would've had a home court advantage at RG, though.

    As far as Panatta, Connors beat him the only time they played on clay, at RG 1980. Would've been a tough match in 1976 though, no doubt.

    As far as Vilas, Connors only lost once on clay to Vilas (at that psychological mess of a match at Forest Hills in the 1977 USO final). Beat him at their other encounters (not counting the Monte Carlo final they never finished due to weather).

    Jimmy beat Ramirez in red and green clay finals in 1976 (though lost to him in Boston, admittedly). Another tough match - we agree there.

    I'd say Nastase may've had that older brother mental hold over Connors - I rate him as the hardest opponent for Connors at RG during this era, assuming Ilie could make it to their encounter.

    Connors maybe had a shot in 1975 as well (won North Conway on red clay, and spring 1975 was his strongest part of the season overall). Maybe 1977, too, assuming Borg still skipped the event.
     
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  17. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    Fair enough.Don´t forget Raul beat Jimmy at a DC tie on clay.After that loss, Connors didn´t play DC for years.

    There is a consensus that, due to his off charts season and RG F in 84, mac is a better clay courter than Jimmy, but I never believed that theory for a single minute.

    Connors played the German and Montecarlo finals in 1981 and has a more consistent RG resumee, although both had unexpected losses at RG.Mac lost to Mc Namee in 1980 and Jimmy lost to Vasselyn three years afterwards.

    But Connors had big wins over Borg in 74,75 and 76 ( two of them on the clay courts of Forest Hills) and also had his share of wins against Orantes and Vilas on clay, winning Indianapolis and Boston as well as North Conways.

    In North Conway, he beat Ivan Lendl,Ken Rosewall and Eddie Dibbs to name a few.Jmac has never had those consistent excellent results on clay, except his almost unreal 84 ( it never mattered on which surface he played that season).

    AMOF, Connors may have the best of all record of those players that are not considered cc specialists and better than many of those considered specialists ( Clerc,Higueras,Solomon,Barazutti,Dibbs...).

    His two wins over Borg were really impressive and he was the only one ( other than Panatta,Nastase and Orantes) who could really make the swede mad on a slow court.
     
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  18. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    Remember all those RG matches in which the commentators would lament that no American had won since Trabert?
     
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  19. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    Yes it was impressive. I saw the first semi at the US Open in persona and the second on television. However I do believe that Connors was playing a Borg who was not at his peak yet. The 1979 Pepsi on Har Tru would be more representative if the US Open stayed on Har Tru. Borg was imo intimidated by Connors and his power in the 1975 US Open semi. Connors' penetrating approach shots really hurt Borg and set Jimmy up for easy volleys if I recall.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTMx--E0OhY

    I think Connors played pretty well but lost to peak Borg easily in that match.

    I do think Connors had it in him to win at least one French during his peak years. It would have been tough but he was capable.
     
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  20. Gizo

    Gizo Hall of Fame

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    I think that Connors would have had a better shot of winning RG in 1976 than in 1974.

    In 1974 I just don't think he was ready to win that title on his very worst surface yet, after a couple of false starts at RG in 1972 and 1973. It's not just Borg that he would have had to worry about there but also Orantes, Nastase (a very difficult match-up for him as he knew his game better than anyone else), Kodes, Ramirez etc. I think he would have needed a couple more shots at RG to become a genuine contender, and that he would have been more ready by 1976.

    Also had he played at RG in 1974 and gone deep there, there is a very strong chance that he wouldn't have won his first Wimbledon title a few weeks later. There was only 1 week in-between RG and Wimbledon that year, and during the second week of RG he played and won a grass-court tune-up at Manchester. He looked pretty rusty and unconvincing on his way to the Wimbledon final that year anyway.

    On a separate note, I agree that the achievements of Courier, Chang and Agassi on clay, despite growing up playing mainly on hard courts was very impressive. Nowadays it's pretty much inconceivable for a player to grow up on a surface other than clay but win RG.

    Chang in particular winning his RG title in 1989 at the age of 17, despite growing up playing pretty much exclusively on hard courts and having hardly ever played on clay before, was pretty amazing. Courier was also amazing in that he didn't play much on clay at all during his career (he only won 5 titles on the surface, 4 of them big ones), but at RG he could swat away clay court specialists playing hard court tennis on the surface. His form during his 1992 RG title defence was amazing.
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2014
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  21. Dan L

    Dan L Professional

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    Emerson was a two-time RG champion, beating tough clay opponents like Pietrangeli in 1963 semi, and Tony Roche in the 1967 final.

    Gonzales won the Berlin Pro on clay over Segura in 1952, and won at Toronto on clay over Trabert and Sedgman.
     
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  22. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    Agreed. Despite his great year in 1974 I think Connors was a superior player in 1976.
     
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  23. eldanger25

    eldanger25 Professional

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    Lots of good points - I agree that 1976 was maybe his best shot at it given how well he played on green and red clay across that summer.
     
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  24. eldanger25

    eldanger25 Professional

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    Thanks - interesting stuff.
     
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