Don Budge: The Greatest Player of All Time

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by chaognosis, Feb 7, 2007.

  1. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

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    PLEASE NOTE: I've since published a revised version of this post to my tennis history blog.

    Since there was some interest in my earlier thread on the classic 1937 Davis Cup semifinal match, I thought I would share some general observations on Budge. I try to read at least one new book on the history of tennis every month, often finding that the best material was written several decades ago and is no longer in print. Two of my favorite sources, which I have commended on this forum before, are Paul Metzler’s Tennis Styles and Stylists and Will Grimsley’s Tennis: Its History, People and Events, the latter of which also includes a piece by Julius Heldman called Styles of the Greats. By comparing current perceptions to the accounts of their contemporaries (or near-contemporaries), one finds that the memory of past greats has indeed dimmed considerably. Tilden is now remembered as much for his sexual transgressions as for his many years of superb tennis, and how many fans today can recount the achievements of H.L. Doherty, Norman Brookes, or the "Four Musketeers"? Many know Budge’s name as that of the winner of tennis’s first Grand Slam, a feat that was in a sense bettered by Laver in ’62 and ’69, though this only scratches the surface of Budge’s incredible career. If Budge’s memory has dimmed, I say it is time we turn the light back up and remember.

    Imagine a player possessing all of Roger Federer’s qualities but with a more consistent backhand (similar to Richard Gasquet’s) and a heavier serve (similar to Marat Safin’s), who could beat any opponent on any surface with relative ease, and you would have Don Budge—by all accounts one of the greatest players of all time, and arguably the very greatest.* Budge won six straight majors in 1937-38, completing the first Grand Slam in ’38, and he achieved a 92-match winning streak along the way. He won perhaps the greatest match of all time against Baron Gottfried Von Cramm in the ’37 Davis Cup semifinal, handing his opponent a loss that may have played a part in the German’s eventual imprisonment by the Third Reich; Von Cramm, it is reported, had nervously received a telephone call from Adolf Hitler before the match, the dictator wishing him good luck on the court.

    It can be argued, of course, that two of the top players in the world, Ellsworth Vines and Fred Perry, were not in amateur competition during Budge’s great two-year run, being engaged in the early professional tours. Budge, however, himself turned pro in 1939 and defeated both Vines and Perry in series of matches, leaving no doubts as to who was the greatest player of their time. Budge’s peak years were sadly cut short by World War II. Budge himself sustained a shoulder injury while in service that would hamper his tennis game for the rest of his career. Nevertheless, after the war Budge continued to compete at the highest levels, losing narrowly to Bobby Riggs in their ’46 tour. The aged Budge also reached the finals of the U.S. Pro Championships in ’49 and ’53, losing first to Riggs, then to Pancho Gonzales, who would go on to dominate the ‘50s.

    Budge’s predecessors and successors alike stood in awe of his unbreakable all-court game. Bill Tilden, tennis’s first great star of the 1920s, called him "the finest player 365 days a year that ever lived." Jack Kramer, the foremost player of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, has routinely stated that Budge was the best player of all time (followed by Vines and Tilden). Budge’s backhand is universally admired, often regarded as the single greatest shot in the history of tennis, and Julius Heldman, in his piece Styles of the Greats (1971), argued that Budge’s forehand was nearly as good. The great sportswriter Will Grimsley wrote in Tennis: Its History, People and Events (also 1971) that Budge was “considered by many to be foremost among the all-time greats.” E. Digby Baltzell echoed this sentiment in Sporting Gentlemen: Men’s Tennis from the Age of Honor to the Cult of the Superstar (1994), where he wrote that Budge and Rod Laver, the only two male players to have won the Grand Slam, “have usually been rated at the top of any all-time World Champions list, Budge having a slight edge.” Panels of experts, when polled, have routinely listed Budge among the top five or six players in the history of tennis, though knowledge about him has declined in recent decades.

    For me, Budge remains among the top few players who ever lived. Along with Laurie Doherty, Tilden, Ken Rosewall, and Laver, he is one of tennis’s greatest all-court, all-surface champions, and like them he was nearly as good a doubles player as he was a singles player. In fact, to this day Budge holds one of the most impressive records in tennis history, having won the so-called “Wimbledon Slam” (consisting of the singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles) in back-to-back years. He had every shot, and there was no part of his game that could be considered a weakness. He could pound the ball hard like Vines, and he could take the ball on the rise like Cochet or Perry. Even though he did not have the fast cannonball of Tilden, Vines, or Gonzales, his serve was considered one of the heaviest ever seen. Though Budge was most comfortable at the baseline, he was also adept at net, and he even had an excellent stroke volley—which many of today’s fans mistakenly believe was a recent invention!

    Budge was dominant both as an amateur and as a pro, and he accomplished what no man or woman had ever accomplished before: the Grand Slam, surely the greatest achievement in tennis. That he conquered such first-class rivals during his years at the top—Tilden, Vines, Perry, Von Cramm, and Riggs (before World War II)—solidifies his claim to tennis greatness. His heroic comeback victory in the epic 1937 Davis Cup match against Von Cramm lifts his name into the realm of sporting legend. I doubt we will ever see his like again.

    *I have provided my updated all-time rankings later in this thread.
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2008
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  2. Nick Irons

    Nick Irons Semi-Pro

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    Any player Pre-Open Era is not on the G.O.A.T. List.
     
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  3. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

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    Similar to how any baseball player pre-steroids is not on the G.O.A.T. list?
     
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  4. Sagittar

    Sagittar Hall of Fame

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    but you know it's kinda strange that we rate a player who we never saw playing in the first place , i mean the records are trully very impressive but still we don't have a full vision about the image and kind of competition way back then ..
     
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  5. Mountain Ghost

    Mountain Ghost Semi-Pro

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    Historical “Evidence”

    One of the reasons historical details are so boring for everyone but historians is because most of them don’t relate to anything physical . . . or visual. If there’s no way to see it, it’s all just words. At least we have video (and even memories) of more recent old-timers.

    Picking the best tennis player of all time based on historical “evidence” is about as ridiculous as buying yourself a first-place trophy for being right. But at least then you’d have something you could touch . . . and see.

    MG
     
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  6. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

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    I don't think it's so strange, and people do it all the time in all sorts of fields. Does Pavlova not deserve consideration as the greatest dancer, because one has not seen her dance? The achievements of great athletes and other performers must live on in memory. It is why I get irritated with comments from those who believe that players of the past could not hold a candle to today's stars, or that their accomplishments should be dismissed because of "inferior" competition, etc. Great players are simply great players, and they would be great in any context. Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams deserve continued recognition, as do Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, or Byron Nelson. Tennis fans, I'm embarrassed to say, have chronically short-term memories, even when compared with fans of other sports.
     
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  7. Nick Irons

    Nick Irons Semi-Pro

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    It's pretty apparent who is and who is not on the juice in MLB; what that has to do with the PRE Open Era is a mystery
     
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  8. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

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    I have argued this point before, interestingly, with respect to Kant's Third Critique. One of humanity's great powers is that of imagination, which allows us to construct (or reconstruct) images, and other sense-perceptions, even when the images themselves are absent. I hope that when someone is presented with verbal and written accounts of a player's game, along with statistics, photographs, and in some cases film or video evidence, that one is capable of imagining that player on the court. Imagination, of course, is never perfect, but it's what keeps any human achievement from being rendered irrelevant as soon as it is completed. And, actually, there is film footage available of Tilden, Budge, etc., on the court, most famously a tape called Kings of the Court: The Ten Greatest Tennis Players of All Time, which was released by the Hall of Fame in 1998. You can still find copies online, though they've become rather expensive, I think in the $30-40 range.
     
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  9. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

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    I'm sorry. It was not a particularly serious response, but then I didn't see your argument as particularly serious either. My point was that no one would argue that Barry Bonds is a greater hitter than Babe Ruth, despite the fact that he is stronger, benefits from modern training and fitness techniques (not to mention the juice), and plays against a deeper field of opponents. Such a claim would show a lack of perspective and imagination. Why tennis players would magically have become exponentially better in 1968 is beyond me. It seems ridiculous that changes in tournament rules, or advances in technology, should make players "greater." I feel that these arguments just reveal ignorance, or at least laziness, being unwilling to actually learn about the past or consider the possibility that the "old timers" could in fact play a pretty mean game of tennis.
     
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  10. Jet Rink

    Jet Rink Semi-Pro

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    One can only be judged by how he/she performed at their peak - and that means competition against one's peers (no time machines here boys).

    So when Chaognosis says he believes Budge was the greatest, first, he gets to say that because he's entitled to his opinion. Second, he's done the leg work to make the statement, bring the facts and take the time to do so. Third - Budge was a helluva player WHO DOMINATED IN HIS TIME - the only standard we have in such hopeless "comparisons."

    As far as "no video = no cred." I'd say that a limited media input (radio and print only back then) only adds to mystique.

    Jet
     
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  11. stormholloway

    stormholloway Legend

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    I sure would like a full match of his though, but it's hard enough finding Laver-era matches, let alone pre-War matches.
     
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  12. Trinity TC

    Trinity TC Semi-Pro

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    Yep, it's a great tape. Too bad it's not on DVD. Good footage of Fred Perry and a young Jack Kramer. Budge and Riggs were impressive.

    I'm a Rod Laver/Lew Hoad/Pancho Gonzales fan but trying to look at the cold, hard facts as much as possible...Federer, Budge and maybe Sampras are at the top of my GOAT list.

    Maybe more old skool footage will show up on YouTube.
     
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  13. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

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    Nice curriculum vitae of Budge, Chaognosis. There are - as always - some or in fact many older contemporary critics, who rank Tilden over Budge, including Danzig, Tingay, Hopman, Joubert et al. In an AP poll of 1950 for best of each sport, Tilden had the widest leading margin of all athletes overall. I think, or it was my reading, that even Baltzell regards Tilden higher than Budge. Maybe the legend and myth of Tilden has a strong influence here. One of the few exceptions was Dan Maskell, who played both, who ranks Budge second and Tilden third. Eliot Berry wrote a good book 'Topspin', in which he discusses the Budge-Perry-Vines -Riggs field (with an interview with the old Perry). He points to the fact, that Budge was constantly frustrated by the cunning of good old Bobby Riggs. Maybe some subtle change of pace could disturb his sweet swinging rhythm.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2007
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  14. AndrewD

    AndrewD Legend

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    chaognosis,

    It is an interesting discussion although I do disagree completely. As far as I'm concerned, GOAT can only be done by comparing and debating accomplishments, not via some fantasy game of 'who would win if...'.
    In that regard, Laver won 2 Grand Slams, Budge won 1 and I rate them 1 and 2 in that order.

    Tilden I think is a worthy #3 but I would never accept him as being on level footing with Budge and Laver. As far as I'm concerned, there's Laver then, at a distance, there's Budge and then there's daylight. Tilden, in my opinion, belongs on the next step down, along with Rosewall - who didn't make your list (I consider that a travesty, especially when you have Perry, McEnroe and Kramer, 3 players who achieved nowhere near as much as Rosewall) but above Borg, Federer (for the moment) and Sampras.

    If you're looking for accurate and reliable accounts of the players, I would recommend UK publications above anything else. They really are, in general, far more historically accurate as well as being relatively free of the parochialism and self-interest which plagues most other publications.
     
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  15. FiveO

    FiveO Hall of Fame

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    Until the 1970's there is not alot of "video evidence" to support those who opine about the greats in tennis or any other sport for that matter. There are some, though, who's level of expertise cannot be questioned, though their subjectivity can be, who witnessed everyone from Tilden to Federer play, i.e. Jack Kramer and Pancho Segura, and their opininions having been players and being associated with the game at the most elite level are hard to discount. But even among these "experts" a consensus is hard to find.

    Here's a pretty good spread of opinions compiled from multiple source in Wikipedia:


     
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  16. Mick

    Mick Legend

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    While the top tennis players from the past were superb players, I don't think they were as good athletes as today's top tennis players. Nowadays most of the top guys would have a fitness trainer in addition to a coach, and the same goes for most of the top women tennis players as well. For this reason, it is difficult for me to consider as Don Budge the greatest player of all time because conditioning and fitness would have to be counted in addition to tennis skills and professional achievements. But that's just my take on this. He's not my GOAT but he could be your GOAT.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2007
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  17. AndrewD

    AndrewD Legend

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    Five O,

    Gonzales said, about Lew Hoad, that "He was the only guy who, if I was playing my best tennis, could still beat me. I think his game was the best game ever. Better than mine."

    Considering the size of Pancho's ego and the jumbo sized chips he carried on each shoulder for him to say something like that speaks volumes for just how good Hoad really was.
     
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  18. atatu

    atatu Hall of Fame

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    Hoad was great, no doubt, but his career was cut short so I don't think you can put him up there with the rest. I'm amazed no one has put in a vote for Jack Kramer, who is often overlooked as the man who really perfected the big game.
     
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  19. retrowagen

    retrowagen Hall of Fame

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    Yeah, Lew Hoad was sort of the Boris Becker of his day - ironically, in appearance as well. A powerful red-headed player, but not as versatile across the board so as to be a dominating threat on any surface or any day... as was Budge.

    I take the entire Modern versus Classic tennis pros debate with the same grains of salt I employ when considering the art and sport of high altitude mountaineering. What some of the more modern alpinists have achieved in the Himalayas on the 8,000 meter-plus peaks - Reinhold Messner's exploits spring to mind as standard setting, as do Jean-Christophe Lafille's - is amazing, but what their forebears did on early ascents and ascent attempts fifty-five or seventy-odd years prior is positively AMAZING. Think of the first British expeditions to climb Everest - Mallory and Irvine probably did, back in 1924, with no fixed ropes and no modern gear. Likewise, the most modern gear at the disposal of the triumphant 1953 Everest expedition (where Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made it to the peak) was nylon cloth. Equipment was still quite primative, and there were still no fixed ropes all the way up as there are today. Indeed, fast-forward to today, and hundreds of pros and ameteurs have made it to the top of Everest, which, ropes and modern climbing gear aside, is still exceptionally difficult work. But you can be sure that Joe Stockbroker's 2005 summit was much easier to achieve than Norgay and Hillary's 1953, weather notwithstanding. Nowadays, equipment can be (and usually is) a great substitute for pure skill, physical ability, and experience: a great equalizer, as it were.

    I believe this was and is absolutely true in the game of tennis, as well.

    Larger, lighter, and stiffer racket technology has allowed beginners to learn poorer technique, and maintain bad habits all the way to the top echelon of the sport. Production of sheer power has replaced shotmaking strategy as a prime tennis tactic. Other modern equipment (i.e., shoes as well as rackets) allow poor technique and footwork to take less of a toll on a player, further reinforcing poor technique and bad habits.

    On the whole, I have always felt (as a former college player and satellite player in the late 80's/early 90's) that the best examples of professional tennis players to emulate were those of the 1920's through 1960's. Budge and Laver stand head and shoulders above most of their peers; there are dozens of others who were not only tremendous athletes who understood how to hit the ball, but were also passionate and humble ambassadors for the sport, unspoilt by the prospect of lucrative contracts, TV face time, and record chasing. Read about the Aussies of the 50's and 60's, living hand-to-mouth yet very vivaciously travelling the globe to play--I'd rather travel and hang out with those down-to-earth blokes than with a modern Top 10 pro, anyday.
     
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  20. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

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    The problem with the strict comparison of achievements, of course, is that the relative importance (and even possibility) of achievements changes over time. For example, saying "two Grand Slams are greater than one, therefore Laver over Budge" sounds an awful lot like "14 major titles are greater than 11, therefore Sampras over Laver." It's also like the fans who try to use Agassi's Olympic Gold Medal as evidence that he was greater than earlier "Career Slam" winners, Perry and Emerson, despite the fact tennis was not an Olympic sport in Perry or Emerson's day! Achievements simply have to be weighed in context, which is why these arguments are always going to be subjective rather than objective. Laver was fortunate that the Open Era rolled around when he was still good enough to complete a second Grand Slam. Budge's record against all opponents, amateur and pro, in the late 1930s and early '40s indicates that he would probably have been just as capable of pulling off this feat, if only he would have had the opportunity (of course, luck plays a role as well). I do, however, unequivocally rank Budge's '38 Grand Slam over Laver's '62 Grand Slam, for the simple reason that Budge was almost certainly the greatest player in the world in '38, whereas Laver was almost certainly not the greatest player in the world in '62. Both players, as you know, turned pro one year later, and while Budge proved himself better than either Vines or Perry, Laver lost badly to Rosewall and did not become the World No. 1 until at least '64, perhaps even '65.

    I am glad to see Budge at No. 2 on your list, for too often he is forgotten altogether these days, even while players like Gonzales and Rosewall have enjoyed a sort of renaissance in critical circles. And speaking of Rosewall, I am sorry, and I know he has a very good case for inclusion, but I hardly think his absence from the top ten is a "travesty." Certainly, both McEnroe and Kramer are fairly routinely ranked ahead of Rosewall by most experts. Perry, I agree, is a more debatable choice, but he does have the benefit of three Wimbledons to Rosewall's zero (both were banned from Wimbledon as pros, so while Rosewall could well have won a few in the early 1960s, Perry could have won more in the late '30s or early '40s too). Rosewall, admittedly, has the longevity, equalled only by Tilden and Gonzales, and he won far more titles. However, it should be remembered that Rosewall's prime years coincided exactly with the time when the pro circuit shifted from a primarily tour-based format to a more tournament-based format. Kramer, for example, was in my opinion more successful as a pro than Rosewall, despite the fact that he won far fewer pro tournaments, because during his time these things were considered far less important; the tours against Riggs, Gonzales, Segura, Sedgman were paramount, and Kramer excelled in this series format more than any other player in history, even Gonzales.

    So yes, while I see your points and respect your opinion, I think my choices are highly defensible as well. As for publications, I have read UK sources, as well as those from the US and Australia, as well as some French sources, and have struggled through a few German sources as well (my German is not as good). There is always a degree of self-interest, regardless who's writing, which is why I think it's important to read as much as possible, to gain as much perspective as possible. I hope we all keep reading, so that knowledge of our great sport and its history never ceases to grow.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2007
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  21. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

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    FiveO, I am familiar with the excerpt from Wikipedia, but find it too biased toward Gonzales, for obvious reasons. There were observers around 1970 who felt Budge and Kramer were as good or better than Tilden and Gonzales, in fact I have found quite a few more sources in support of Budge than Gonzales (there has been a revisionist campaign in favor of Gonzales on the Internet for some time, including the guy who wrote that Wikipedia article--he has a great deal of knowledge, no doubt, but is far from impartial). Gonzales and Rosewall seem to be the favorites of a newer generation of critics, who favor number of titles (which is not an "objective" criterion by any means, for reasons I explain above) over the more openly subjective appraisals of players and writers that were in vogue decades ago. I think we need to continue to listen, however, to the voices from the past, who were closer to the players themselves, and often had well-founded opinions that run contrary to more recent critical views.
     
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  22. retrowagen

    retrowagen Hall of Fame

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    It's normal human nature for every new generation to automatically think their dramatis personae and achievements are the best of all time.

    Best in their time, yes; best in all time, perhaps not. Very hard to consider rationally and admit.
     
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  23. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

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    Some good points there, retrowagon, especially the part about Mallory and the early 'Everesters'. The thing is, that Mallory always remained the greatest legend of mountaineering, and that even today Hollywood is planning a picture about him. It hurts Messner quite a bit, the man of the biggest ego imaginable. In the same way the Grand Slam is in tennis something mythical, like the Holy Graal, and it will be remembered in 100 years from now.
     
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  24. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

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    Very true, but there is never an objective way to solve this debate, be it one year or ten years or fifty years after a player's time. I forgot to comment on your last post, by the way, but thought it was well reasoned and beautifully written, and I agree with you 100% about the impact of modern technology. I have in the past echoed Sampras's belief that all players should train with wood rackets, for the very reason you have stated. The problem, I guess, is that young players would grow too frustrated with the slow pace of their development, relative to their peers who are able to apparently play "better" with their modern rackets. Impatience so often gets in the way of real progress.
     
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  25. retrowagen

    retrowagen Hall of Fame

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    Thank you - kind words.

    Well, I'm a nobody, but that's how I trained when I began playing in the early 80's. My mom (my sponsor in those earliest days!) was equally pragmatic, realistic, and spendthrifty: when I got good enough to consistently beat my peers (who had the fancier equipment), then I would be rewarded in due time with fancier equipment. So my groundstrokes (the basis of my game) were honed and grooved on standard-sized frames, which was difficult, but absolutely worthwhile: when I made a switch to a midsize graphite frame, I shot ahead of my local peers with whom I had reached parity. And my mum kept her sheckels in the bank as long as she could!

    Technology so often gets in the way of real progress! I find this true in so many arenas in life, where technology makes humans more and more obsolete, where skills are lost for the Generations to come, and where an overall laziness is fostered. I was taught by my grandfather that "anything worth doing requires hard work," and by and large, it's a sad commentary on our society that we tend to want the highest results for the least serious investment of effort.

    I love it when I hear stories of Kenyan distance runners and South American soccer stars and the like having developed and perfected their skills in the dirtiest of places, away from NASA-like training centres or academies. It gives me hope that money and technology still can't buy pure skill and dedication!

    Sorry for the tangent, friends - now back to Budge!
     
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  26. FiveO

    FiveO Hall of Fame

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    I'm was aware of that and Laver's assessment of Hoad's skills as well, and as such give that alot of weight. Lew Hoad is way up there on my list.
     
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  27. Rabbit

    Rabbit G.O.A.T.

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    It certainly does. I would describe Gonzalez differently than you though. I think he was probably more competitive and hungrier than even Jimmy Connors. He was certainly more of an outsider to the game and its establishment and probably saw himself like that.
     
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  28. NoBadMojo

    NoBadMojo G.O.A.T.

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    I think the only fair comparisons to be made in tennis are comparisons amongst contemporaries. unless folks dont believe that things and people evolve and that the game changes, then the latest of the greatest truly is the greatest i think.

    To me, the two golden eras of tennis as far as having depth of field were the Laver era and the Sampras era

    As a sidenote, an old doubles partner had the priveledge of teaching at the Budge Tennis Academy back in the 80's i guess it was and got to play, teach, and spend time with Mr Budge who played until he was very old..and still had the hands I am told...and was a really good guy. racquet handle with no grip..16 oz club in his heyday.
     
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  29. Nick Irons

    Nick Irons Semi-Pro

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    In fact, that reply just revealed your own ignorance, or denial.

    Using Baseball as an example just doest not jive.

    Consider this. The sport of baseball, 100 years ago till today hasn't changed a bit. Batting .350 100 years ago is batting .350 today.

    No quantam developments in bat technology; still made of wood. Compare these bats in order:

    Babe Ruth 1927 bat
    Roger Maris 1961
    Mark McGwire 1998
    Sammy Sosa 1998

    THe only thing we can be sure of, is that Sosa and Mark were loaded :p

    [​IMG]

    Unlike tennis racquet technology.

    My biggest argument for the GOAT existing after the Post Open Era, is more or less the same guys playing each other at the same events, over and over

    it could it be compared to todays Champions Tour, right ?

    Now, unfortunately I'm off to the courts to teach the kiddies. But Ill return this evening to humor you in this debate.
     
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  30. FiveO

    FiveO Hall of Fame

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    What I took from it was that there are as nearly as many single GOAT's as their are those stating a preference and all of those choices bring with them subjectivity.

    I am more of the mind to give each their own era and personally attempt to restrict myself to the Open era. I go back far enough to have seen Gonzalez playing in his late 30's to early 40's, Laver, Rosewall etc.

    I rely on the expertise and opinions of those who witnessed earlier players while trying to factor out biases in those opinions.

    I personally don't try to rank the best from era to era just give each player dominating their era their due.
     
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  31. Trinity TC

    Trinity TC Semi-Pro

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    Budge and Gonzales are amongst the few tennis players from the past who would compare favourably with today's athletes in terms of size, speed and athletic ability. Interestingly. Laver and Hoad would probably be considered on the small side.
     
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  32. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

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    I'm sorry if the debate seems trivial to you, but I really think you are making important oversights. There have been developments in baseball, balls and gloves for example, which have changed the game; likewise, one could argue that players today are more "athletic" and benefit from all the modern fitness/training crap people argue about in tennis. If what makes a player "great" is simply being born in a later era, then your argument makes sense, but that really isn't greatness at all, just historical circumstance. (Actually, I agree with retrowagen that if anything, modern rackets have made players worse. They are more forgiving and thus allow players to get away with poorer technique, which stays with them throughout their careers.) I think you have to admit that if such a thing as greatness exists, it is something that transcends time, and so forces us to respect the achievements of past greats.

    Contrary to your statement, statistics today in baseball do not by any means correlate to those of the past. If you just look at the list of record single-season batting averages, you'll find that every one of the top fifty averages was achieved before World War II. You can look at this one of two ways. On the one hand, perhaps hitters have just gotten worse over time. On the other, perhaps it is much harder now to reach the same numbers, so that a .350 in 2007 is not truly the same as a .350 in 1907. I think the latter is indisputably true, but to make a leap and say the game is harder today, therefore today's best players are better than any that came before, would be a huge fallacy. Consider it mathematically. The average level of play in tennis may be increasing over time, but at every point along the way there are going to be extreme, outlying data points, which don't adhere to the simplistic linear model. These points are the players that stand above their contemporaries, and no equation can account for them, meaning they are not dependent on any other factors. In other words, just because the average pro in 2007 is better than the average pro in 1957, doesn't mean the best player in 2007 is better than the best pro in 1957. I hope this makes sense, as I'm writing it in a hurry. My apologies if I came across too harshly in my earlier post; I know your opinion is one that many share, though I hope to change it, because I think it is wrong.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2007
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  33. Jet Rink

    Jet Rink Semi-Pro

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    Bingo. All bow at this man's feet.

    Jet
     
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  34. Trinity TC

    Trinity TC Semi-Pro

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    Hey, this is getting good.:D
     
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  35. Nick Irons

    Nick Irons Semi-Pro

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    I think I lean more towards my remark about the today's Champions Tour; it's the same group of guys, playing the same tournaments all the time. Just like the pro's of yesteryear, was it not ? (I am asking for clarification on this?)

    Also, I have not done a boatload of research on baseball stats, but in slugging % alone, out of the TOP 20 Best ever, 11 are active players ..

    So, I don't know ... your point seems a bit skewed. Ted Williams hitting over .400 is as hard and impressive then as TODAY; it's why no one has done it since. The game hasn't changed really at all. There have been alterations in the ball itself (Dead Ball and Juiced Balls for example)

    No worries on you being harsh; thanks for the apology. I'd rather discuss than flame.


    I forgot who it was; but an old pro stated that todays RACQUET technology is more advanced than what we are even capable of.

    I gotta think that is true
     
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  36. FiveO

    FiveO Hall of Fame

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    As for the baseball analogies there were major changes:

    1) 1969 the pitching mound was lowered 5"
    2) The strike zone became condensed, moving the top from "the letters" down to about the belt.
    3) Juiced baseballs
    4) Juiced athletes going from mere amphetamine abuse to amphetamine abuse, combined with steroids and human growth hormone.
    5) The move toward lighter and lighter bats with wider barrels and ever thinner handles.
    6) The more recent shift to maple bats from the heretofor white ash bats
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2007
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  37. retrowagen

    retrowagen Hall of Fame

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    Baseball as being technologically static really isn't an apt comparison. Bat and ball and shoe and glove technology (not to mention drug technology!) has marched on, bringing that game with it.
    ...

    Another small detail which might need to be borne in mind is that many modern professional tournaments no longer play the best-of-five-sets format, or have compromised by adding the van Allen tiebreaker to the scoring in the later 1960's... In Budge's epoch, best-of-five with no tiebreakers was the order of the day.

    I wonder how well the average pro today would cope with that.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2007
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  38. NoBadMojo

    NoBadMojo G.O.A.T.

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    you may wish to consider that the game of baseball HAS changed.

    the baseball is hotter now than then. the bats are lighter now...the swing is way more about batspeed now than mass. i bet the bats have bigger sweetspots as well, and that the Babes' bat swings nothing at all like Sosa's..juicing is rampant. etc
    A big % of a minour league team was caught buying a steroid alternative from Pete Roses' kid. Some wierd chemical they used to clean the hulls of boats or something like that..hard to imagine what they are taking in MLB

    But at least MLB did what pro tennis should have done...that being have more gear restrictions for the pros. Could you see it if they allowed non wood bats in MLB?

    personally, i like the idea of a racquet for the pros with a max length plus width of 36".....any weight..any materials. that would change the game enough to encourage all court play and more serve volley, and you could use your racquet to check the net height just like in the good ole' days ;O
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2007
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  39. Frank Silbermann

    Frank Silbermann Professional

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    Looking at the "Kings of the Court" video it seems to me that Gonzales was not so much a tennis phenomenon as a general athletic phenomenon. Compared to most other top players he was _both_ bigger _and_ quicker. Watching him play is like watching a mediocre 21 year-old beat a much more highly skilled ten-year old. He could boom his serve in because with his height and long arms he didn't need much spin to bring it down. His volleys didn't look like much, but because he was both big and quick he could crowd the net to the point that good volleying technique was no longer necessary. And so on. So, yes, he was extremely good at beating top opponents, but that doesn't mean you could have learned much about how to play tennis from watching him. You cannot imitate "being both big and quick."

    I would say that Don Budge was the greatest of all time because he achieved greatness through strokes that had perfect form and style. I could see no wasteful idiosynchracies unworthy of imitation in his groundstrokes.

    Incidently, Budge had used "New School" techniques as a junior. Yeah, he had a western forehand until he was eighteen, but once he reached his full height he had to change it to compete against the top players of his day.

    Today's slower courts, more intense physical training, sports medicine to let players recover from over-training, and tie-breakers have all helped ease the physical burden of the western style, and lightweight large-headed racquets have allowed players to achieve an unnatural swing speed that turns an incorrect technique into an advantage. It's not really the same game anymore
     
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  40. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

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    Nick, while the early pro circuit was relatively small, I think you need to consider that it nevertheless included most of the best players in the world. It would be similar to a mini-tour consisting of Federer, Nadal, Roddick, Gonzalez, Blake, Ancic, and perhaps Murray and Gasquet, with occasionally appearances by Agassi and Sampras as well. I'm not sure how Federer would like the prospect of having to face Nadal not just five times in a year, but as many as twenty times in a single season. When the best constantly play the best, they are forced to continually improve their game by adapting their strategies, and sometimes even their technique. Gonzales, for example, was forced to completely revamp his backhand during his famous 1958 tour against Hoad. Laver has likewise remarked that he had to improve his game dramatically after turning pro in 1963. This was no Champions Tour, by any means. I hope urban will chime in on this topic, because I feel he would have more to say than I do. I believe he has argued before that the pro tour of the 1950s and '60s was the most grueling environment in the history of tennis, and its champions were the toughest (and perhaps best) players ever seen.
     
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  41. Jet Rink

    Jet Rink Semi-Pro

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    And don't forget - those guys, as part of the early barnstorming tours, would play on some pretty weird surfaces. In Collins' book with Laver, they talk about laying canvas over ice rinks and playing!

    I do believe though, that if Fed had faced Nadal MORE often, he'd have long ago unlocked the puzzle that is Nadal.

    Jet
     
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  42. Nick Irons

    Nick Irons Semi-Pro

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    I can see that and nice post

    I admit; I may have to revise my way of thinking about the old dogs that ruled the sport. Let me think on this and do some alternate research and get back to this thread

    Today; I'd say Laver is the G.O.A.T.
     
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  43. AndrewD

    AndrewD Legend

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    chaognosis,

    I do believe that accomplishments are the best guide we have but, there are always exceptions that need to be made and explanations that need to be given. That’s why I said “ comparing and debating accomplishments”.

    No, that isn’t a valid comparison and really the two don't sound anything alike. The Grand Slam is acknowledged as the supreme achievement in our sport and it can’t be compared to the total number of majors won, no-matter how many there are of the latter. All you can do is compare Grand Slam(s) to Grand Slam(s) and total number of majors won to total number of majors won. Then, when you do that you can wheel out the exceptions and make your case for one player over another, one set of circumstances over another. So, you make your case for Budge and his one Grand Slam over Laver and his two Grand Slams. Then, I’ll make my case for Rosewall and his 8 majors over Sampras and his 14. As you said, achievements/accomplishments have to be weighed in context BUT that really isn’t very hard to do and it helps us to eliminate the pointless ‘my player would beat your player’ back and forth that dominates almost all of these discussions.

    In all honesty, I’m not 100% sure that Budge would have won another Grand Slam. Of course he was capable of doing it but, in my opinion, he would have to have done it almost two years on the trot. Personally, I don’t believe that he had the versatility of Laver and, rather than be an earlier rendition of Federer, was more along the lines of a Boris Becker (another redhead) – tremendous power but not a lot of flexibility.

    No, I reject the notion that one Grand Slam is of higher quality than the next. While you might be able to say that Laver’s 69 win was more validating than his 62 effort, you’re asking for trouble if you attempt to rank any of them. I could very easily say that in 38 Budge managed to win the Slam because, unlike Perry and Crawford, he didn’t have any genuinely significant opposition (those two players having left the scene). I could also say, with quite some justification that Roy Emerson in 62 was significantly tougher opposition than Gene Mako, Bunny Austin (32 at the time), Roderik Menzel (31) or a 20 year old John Bromwich. However, that would do a disservice to Budge’s achievement.

    I don’t think that Laver’s struggles against Rosewall and Budge’s success against Perry and Vines are an indication of Budge’s superiority. On the contrary, they’re a direct indication of Rosewall’s greatness compared to Perry and Vines, as well as a reflection on Perry’s age (30) and Vines fall from his best (very well documented). Regardless, in the 39 season Budge beat Vines 21 times to 18 and Perry 18 to 11. Neither one constitutes a genuine superiority.

    McEnroe was a super talent, no doubt about that. However, I believe his record is inferior to Rosewall’s, although I consider it far better than Kramer’s. I can accept McEnroe rated so highly if you’re basing your judgement on pure skill but, if that is the case, then I don’t see how you could omit Lew Hoad.


    Speaking as someone who, working within academia, has to deal on a daily basis with the revisionist approach to history, I’m very wary of most ‘experts’. Certainly there are a few who command respect but most are merely intent on giving the public what they think they want and, unfortunately, that usually means an unhealthy bias towards players from one country.


    Fred Perry did not lose his prime years due to the ban on professionals playing the major tournaments. Ken Rosewall, did (Fred Perry turned pro at age 29, Ken Rosewall at age 22). For that matter, McEnroe, Connors, Sampras, Agassi, Tilden

    If you mean, when you say, “ Rosewall could well have won a few in the early 1960s” that had he not turned pro he would have won a few Wimbledons then I would agree but, ‘a few’ is an understatement. Give him back those 12 years and I’m certain he would have won at least 4 Wimbledons on top of the numerous wins he would have had in French, Australian and US Opens. Wimbledon grass was his weakest surface but he still managed to make 2 finals before and one considerably past his prime. How much does it say about any player that they are able to excel on their weakest surface?

    I do believe the tournament format is of use and would happily tender Rosewall’s 6 Wembley wins and 3 RU (Wembley being the ‘unofficial’ World Championship), 2 US Pro and 1 RU (not sure how often he played that event) and 8 French Pro Championships (2 over Hoad, 1 over Gonzales). That, combined with his record at the majors, displays a mastery of all surfaces – grass, clay (he and Borg would have to be the most impressive clay-courters of all time), indoors, hard courts, you name it- that exceeds any player in the game’s history. You mentioned Tilden but, unfortunately, his clay-court record is diminished due to the French not becoming an ‘open’ event until 1925. Of your top 10, the only players who come remotely close to, but are still behind, Rosewall’s record on all surfaces would be Budge, Rod Laver, Bill Tilden, Bjorn Borg and Fred Perry. Certainly, Sampras and Kramer aren’t in the same league, McEnroe and Gonzales are a long way off and Federer is making ground but will need to win the French before his career is through.
     
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  44. jackcrawford

    jackcrawford Professional

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    Ellsworth Vines, who Allison Danzig thought at peak form the best player ever, wrote a great book in 1978, Tennis: Myth and Method. In it, he states that without Budge's shoulder injury during WW II he would have been acclaimed without doubt as the best up to that point; he ranked him #1, Laver #4 and Rosewall #7. Vines played against them all and was a great all-around athlete, (a pro golfer after tennis and a champion swimmer and basketball player before) and he is in the book quite happy to see the emergence of Connors and Borg because he thought it was the weak groundstroking of players post-war that enabled Kramer's serve and volley game to go to the top; he considered Budge's all-court approach superior to that or the pure baseliners like my screen name, the great Aussie of the '30's. It's true sometimes experts aren't right, but Metzler and Vines are not a couple of clueless sportswriters to be easily dismiised. BTW, I saw Pancho Gonzalez play - I can't imagine Sampras beating him with a wood racquet. Sports stars more than a few years back are not quaint museum pieces; Bob Veale was much faster than Randy Johnson, I saw both pitch and can vouch for that.
     
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  45. NoBadMojo

    NoBadMojo G.O.A.T.

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    And nobody has ever had an outfielders arm approaching that of Roberto Clemente. There is always the occassional anomoly <freak if you will>. If you are going to go by that, you could build a case that Connie Hawkins was better than Michael Jordan, or why not just declare Eric the Goat Manigault as the best hoopster of all time...The GOAT was even his nickname :) If you're going to talk GOAT you really should clarify the guidelines, and the most accepted barometer is Majours won (it's that way in golf too)..and since we're talking singles, it should be limited to singles majours won..otherwise people put all these qualifiers and disqualifiers and what ifs, and they still do if you limit it to Majours won. But it is fun, in the sense that we can all learn something about the history of our sport
     
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  46. AndrewD

    AndrewD Legend

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    Ed,

    The problems that come from using majors won as any type of guideline are:
    1) the pre-1968 ban on professional players competing in those events. If that hadn't been in place the record for majors won would absolutely not be 14, it'd be 20 something.
    2) WWI and WWII
    3) Prior to 1925 there were only 3 majors

    The only way you can use majors won as any type of guideline is when you're talking about players whose careers weren't interrupted (not counting injury). Then you can debate whether it's more impressive to have won 14 majors with no French Open or 11 with 6 French and 5 Wimbledon (I'm not including Emmo's 12).
     
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  47. NoBadMojo

    NoBadMojo G.O.A.T.

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    Hey Andrew,
    I understand that, but it's the closest to a real qualifier we have I think, and I said before, i dont think you can really compare players of different eras anyway....too many outside influences and changes in the game. In my opinion, (3)I dont think anyone from pre 1925 could be considered as worthy of GOAT status anyway unless people dont believe the players and game have evolved (1) duly noted and understood, but this would put everything into 'what if' mode.
    I'm happy going with Sampras as GOAT. he played in an era with plenty of great competiton, no interruptions by wars or anything, everyone who was good enough could play, and Sampos plays the game as it is played now amongst the better trained, more fit, most evolved,etc. Barring lack of interest and injury, Fed will surely surpass Samps, but I dont think the competiton has been nearly as awesome for Fed as it was for Samps
     
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  48. jackcrawford

    jackcrawford Professional

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    Agreed - it's even difficult to predict matches between contemporaries who have played before recently let alone different eras with different equipment and playing conditions to factor in. Very few would have taken the under in an over/under number of seven games for Roddick in their recent AO match.
    As far as comparing accomplishments, I do think Sampras's lacking the French precludes him from GOAT consideration.
     
    #48
  49. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

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    The rankings made by players tend to rate the contemporaries very high. Kramers best list of Budge, Perry, Riggs, Vines and Gonzales implies (more or less)secretly, that he - Kramer - was the best, because he had positive records against all (except Vines, who was his close mentor). Segura ranks Gonzales the best, because he played and beat him in his own prime. One could find many other examples. I am inclined, to give longtime followers, experts and journalists like Collins,Maskell (o.k. he was a player himself, but an astute observer), Danzig, Bellamy, Trengove, Tingay more weight. The playing conditions on the old pro tour were awful, the had to play on ice rinks, damp grass, wood, linol, in town halls and school halls, sometimes on real streets. But the standard remained very high, i have recently seen clips of Laver and Rosewall of the mid 60s, which look excellent: Great court coverage, angled shots from both sides, superb net play (wrong footing the defender with a volley - something you don't see today), deadly passing shots in full sprint. I saw a clip of the old Laver vs young Borg, where Laver with stoic calmness on the backhand transformed Borg's heayy topspin into biting slices.
     
    #49
  50. snapple

    snapple Rookie

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    WOW, now there's a video that I would LOVE to see, any chance of finding that on youtube?
     
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