***Greatest Players by Decade: 1920's - 2000's***

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by Dean, May 31, 2007.

  1. Dean

    Dean Rookie

    Joined:
    May 31, 2007
    Messages:
    105
    As a long time follower of professional tennis the question that has often been repeated is, "Who's the best ever?"

    IMHO you cant really compare say a Sampras to Laver or Federer to Gonzales etc etc because they never played each other. The best way is to see who was best during the decade/s or eras they played in.

    so starting with the 20's and working through to the present day... here goes.

    1920's
    Bill Tilden - 7 US and 3 Wimbledon titles

    1930's
    Don Budge - 1938 Grand Slam and winner of record 6 consecutive GS's

    1940's
    Jack Kramer - The best professional for most of the decade

    1950's
    Pancho Gonzales - 7 or 8 years as World No.1 (7 straight US Pro & 4 Wembly Pro)

    1960's
    Rod Laver - World No.1 1964-70. Double Grand Slam 1962(am) & 1969(open era), and Pro Grand Slam in 1967 (US Pro, French Pro, Wimbledon Pro, Wembly Pro)

    1970's
    Jimmy Connors & Bjorn Borg
    (Connors: 5 straight years as YE No.1 and consecutive weeks as No.1 record holder) (Borg: 5 straight Wimbledon's and 6 French Open's. 1978-80 French/Wimbledon double)

    1980's
    John McEnroe & Ivan Lendl
    (McEnroe: World No.1 1980-84) (Lendl: World No.1 1985-88 & 8 straight US open finals)

    1990's
    Pete Sampras - 6 straight years as YE World No.1 & Grand Slam record holder in singles. Record 7 Wimbledon's

    2000's
    Roger Federer - 10 Grand Slams. 4 straight Wimbledon's. World No.1 for record 173 straight weeks and counting

    I'd love to know what people think of the list and if it holds any water.

    Cheers
    Dean.
     
    #1
  2. Jonny S&V

    Jonny S&V Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Apr 28, 2006
    Messages:
    4,892
    Location:
    Northern MO
    In order:
    Tilden
    Perry
    Kramer
    Gonzalez
    Laver
    Connors
    Lendl
    Sampras
    Federer
     
    Last edited: May 31, 2007
    #2
  3. logansc

    logansc Professional

    Joined:
    Dec 15, 2006
    Messages:
    968
    Location:
    U.S.
    This is a fine list. I agree 100%. Kudos for not picking 2 people...there can only be one! :p
     
    #3
  4. Jonny S&V

    Jonny S&V Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Apr 28, 2006
    Messages:
    4,892
    Location:
    Northern MO
    Thanks. (Ten Characters).
     
    #4
  5. Moose Malloy

    Moose Malloy Legend

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2005
    Messages:
    7,924
    Wel if you picked 2 players for the 70s, I think it is only fair to pick 2 for the 60s(Rosewall)

    Rosewall arguably won more major titles than Laver, the gap between them isn't as big as say the gap between Sampras & Agassi.

    http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/showthread.php?t=135592

    and Jonny S&V please don't misspell Connors again, it drives me crazy to see that on a tennis board!;)
     
    #5
  6. Dean

    Dean Rookie

    Joined:
    May 31, 2007
    Messages:
    105
    that's fair enough. however I do think for the 70's and 80's it is hard to split.

    Borg's run at Wimbledon and RG is hard to overlook, while Connors did the 3/4 slam in 1974 and had the long run as No.1.

    McEnroe was easily the best in 1980-84 while lendl had a diabolical 1-6 record in GS finals in that period but then won 3 straight US Opens and was No1 from 1985-88.
     
    #6
  7. Jonny S&V

    Jonny S&V Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Apr 28, 2006
    Messages:
    4,892
    Location:
    Northern MO
    SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY!!!!!
    I hate it when people do that too! Argh! I can't believe I fell into the trap!

    Edit: There, I fixed it.
     
    #7
  8. drakulie

    drakulie Talk Tennis Guru

    Joined:
    May 3, 2004
    Messages:
    24,466
    Location:
    FT. Lauderdale, Florida
    Tilden
    Perry
    Kramer
    Gonzalez
    Laver
    Borg
    Mcenroe
    Sampras
    Federer
     
    #8
  9. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2005
    Messages:
    694
    Location:
    Chicago
    The most obvious choice of all is Tilden for the 1920s - the most dominant player of all time, bar none. Lacoste and Cochet were Tilden's toughest rivals, and they would be more-or-less tied at No. 2 for the '20s. Almost everyone ranks Budge above Perry for the 1930s, by virtue of the Grand Slam and Budge's own dominance over Perry as a pro (interestingly though, Budge himself considered Vines the true champion of the decade). The 1940s were obviously interrupted but the honor goes to Kramer over Riggs; of course, Kramer has argued that Budge would probably have dominated this decade too were it not for the war. The 1950s are easy: Gonzales. Hard to choose a No. 2 though, with many fine contenders - Kramer, Segura, Sedgman, and Hoad. The 1960s belong to Laver, with Rosewall a formidable No. 2. The 1970s go to Borg over Connors. Despite Lendl's greater consistency, I (along with most other critics) have to give the 1980s to McEnroe. Sampras obviously dominated the 1990s like a Tilden or Gonzales, and someone would be hard pressed to unseat Federer for the present decade.
     
    #9
  10. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2006
    Messages:
    5,645
    Tilden
    Budge
    Kramer
    Gonzales
    Laver
    Borg
    Lendl
    Sampras
    Federer

    Borg and Connors were each in contention for Slams from 1974-79, except that Connors didn't reach any finals in '79. Borg won 8 titles to Connors' 5. He won four Wimbledons in a row. Connors was indeed consistent but his long run at #1 was marred by a flawed computer system; he was not #1 in 1975. Where Connors has the lead is in tournament titles, with 75 (Borg won 50, Vilas 46). Borg had an edge on Connors in their head-to-head, though their Slam meetings were tied at 3-3. [Finally, Borg was on the winning Davis Cup team in 1975, while Connors hardly participated in Davis Cup].

    McEnroe was not in contention for Slam titles after 1985. Lendl was in finals from the '81 FO to the '89 USO (his 17 finals tied Laver's alltime record). He made 8 consecutive USO finals, tying Tilden's alltime record, from 1982-89. He reached nine consecutive Masters finals from 1981-88 and won five titles there. He has the longest Slam streak of the '80s (three USO's) and the longest run at #1 (three years). He won more Slams than McEnroe, 7 to 6, and had a 4-3 edge on him in Slam meetings even in 1980-85. He won more tour titles, 83, than the 75 that Connors won in the '70s or the 61 that Sampras won in the '90s (these decade cutoffs are inevitably unfair to players like Rosewall or Connors whose greatness was so much about longevity). McEnroe was on the winning Davis Cup team in 1981 and 1982 and was a constant presence in that competition, but even there Lendl was on the winning team for Czechoslovakia in 1980. In doubles there is no comparison, but I don't think it makes up the edge, IMO, that Lendl had in singles. Doubles would make it a very close call, though.

    Edited to add: MooseMalloy had pointed out something I didn't know, that the ATP site, which I used to cull the stats above, is missing some titles that the ITF site does list. So my numbers would change slightly. See his post here:

    http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/showpost.php?p=1481663&postcount=36
     
    Last edited: May 31, 2007
    #10
  11. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2005
    Messages:
    694
    Location:
    Chicago
    Re: the 1980s. The most important tournament, Wimbledon, was won by McEnroe three times, by Lendl zero. Greatness involves many intangible factors, and it ultimately depends on how a player is perceived by the world -- a great player must be someone in whom the emotions of spectators are invested, who triumphs in the biggest matches on the biggest stages. McEnroe was in this regard by far the dominant figure of the decade. Everyone remembers the Borg-McEnroe confrontations at Wimbledon, perhaps more so than any other matches of the past 70 years, but where is Lendl in our collective memory? It is telling, I think, that no major poll has ever rated Lendl ahead of McEnroe. (That is a fact you can quote me on.) The statistics here don't tell the whole story. To quote my favorite tennis writer: "But figures, after all, can be untrustworthy, and figures that upset our fondest beliefs are the most untrustworthy of all" (Al Laney).
     
    #11
  12. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2006
    Messages:
    5,645
    I see what you're saying; you're pointing to something intangible but important. On the question of where Lendl stands in our collective memory, well, let me start with myself. I didn't root for the guy at all. I would much rather have seen McEnroe beat him in their matches. But Lendl was involved in two great contests that I remember vividly: his losses to Wilander at the USO in '88 and to Becker at the Masters a few months later. Those may be my two favorite matches -- admittedly, one of the reasons being that Lendl was toppled. But even then if you had asked me, I would have clearly acknowledged that Lendl put up an amazing fight in both contests, and that his doing so was a huge part of what made those matches memorable for me. He had my respect, too, even if not my enjoyment.

    And there is one match, which I just finished seeing for the first time, where the spectators were invested in Lendl and chanting his name: the 84 FO, against none other than McEnroe. That was by any definition an important struggle on a big stage.

    Of course McEnroe still held my emotions, but on that point I want to say how many negative emotions McEnroe engendered. Of course he probably had more fans than critics, but he had no shortage of the latter, for his oncourt behavior. What he did for the image of the sport is, on balance, very much in the positive column; but the negative part of it is something that I think would detract from McEnroe's greatness -- unless the standard we're using is "for better or for worse", who had the greater impact? In that sense, McEnroe was easily the figure who caught the imagination of the man in the street, to whom Lendl was probably close to a nobody.

    Another thing that comes to mind is that the judgment of history sometimes is different from contemporary judgment. It's not right to ignore either one, but let's say there's a player who worked extremely hard and under an unfair contemporary judgment; then the judgment of history corrects for the imbalance.

    I agree with you 110% about the Borg-McEnroe contests. On that stage, McEnroe was at his greatest, and he earned his accolades against Borg always with his courage and his tennis skills, rather than acting up.
     
    #12
  13. CEvertFan

    CEvertFan Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Mar 5, 2007
    Messages:
    2,060
    Location:
    NJ, USA

    The only change I would make to your list is I would put Budge over Perry.
     
    #13
  14. Gizo

    Gizo Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    May 15, 2007
    Messages:
    1,699
    1920's - Bill Tilden
    1930's - Don Budge (his domination over Perry in pro tour gives him the edge for me)
    1940's - Jack Kramer
    1950's - Pancho Gonzales
    1960's - Rod Laver (although Ken Rosewall is not too far behind)
    1970's - Bjorn Borg (Within the decade, Borg won at least one grand slam a year from 1974-1979, with French Open-Wimbledon doubles in 1978-1979, meaning that he won grand slam titles in 6 different years that decade, compared to 3 for Connors. Borg won 8grand slams in 70s, compared to 5 for Connors. Connors was a very soft world no. 1 in 1975, 1977 and 1978 )
    1980's - Ivan Lendl (Lendl was consistently reaching grand slam finals throughout the course of the decade, while McEnroe was a spent force after reaching the 1985 US Open final)
    1990's - Pete Sampras
    2000's - Roger Federer
     
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2007
    #14
  15. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2006
    Messages:
    5,645
    Pancho Gonzales is unique on these lists because he's the only one who wins his decade without winning any Grand Slam titles.

    I think he was the greatest of the 1950s, but if we consider only Grand Slams, who was the greatest?
     
    #15
  16. FiveO

    FiveO Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Feb 18, 2005
    Messages:
    3,260
    This is my list.
     
    #16
  17. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2006
    Messages:
    5,645
    But who do you think was the greatest amateur of the 1950s?
     
    #17
  18. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2005
    Messages:
    4,380
    Best amateur of the 50s is debatable between Sedgman, Trabert and Hoad. Sedge had great DC victories against the US teams, won two clear Forest Hills titles 51/52, the last without losing a set i think. In 52 he won DC, Wim and US, in Wim all 3 titles (singles, doubles, mixed). Trabert was great at RG and US, won RG 54/55, the last American before Chang. After his loss to Rosewall in sf Australia, he won the last 3 of the Grand Slam. Then he turned pro, losing a bitter hth series clearly to Gonzales, however on indoor wood and carpet, not on hard and clay, where he had grown up. Had to deal with Hoad and Rosewall.Won DC 54 in Sydney among the biggest crowds ever. Hoad wasn't that successful until 56, had his best matches at DC, at the majors, he lost some tight and some clear big matches to Patty and Drobny. Had his best year in 56, winning big in all surfaces. Did the Paris-Rome-Hamburg clay triple, which was emulated only by Laver. Dominated Rosewall, but lost the very last match of the Grand Slam, under heavy wind at Forest Hills to Rosewall in four sets. In 57 he played inconsistenly, but had his best performace in his demolition of Cooper at Wimbledon.
     
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2007
    #18
  19. FiveO

    FiveO Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Feb 18, 2005
    Messages:
    3,260

    Not a cop-out but urban's above post sums up the amateur ranks in the '50's very well. But if the question was whether that would effect my overall ranking for that decade the answer would be no, not over Gonzalez.
     
    #19
  20. Jonny S&V

    Jonny S&V Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Apr 28, 2006
    Messages:
    4,892
    Location:
    Northern MO
    The only reason I put Perry over Budge is that they were slightly different eras, and the only reason Budge beat Perry as many times as he did was Perry was nearing the end of his career. Also, while Budge did win the grand slam in 1938, it was after Perry had retired, so (although I am going on a slight limb with this statement) there was a slight vacuum at the top of men's tennis at that time. If Perry were still an amateur in 1938, that would have thrown a slight monkey wrench into Budge's bid. I also find the fact that Perry picked up tennis at 18 an amazing feat in its own right. Granted that he was a table tennis champion, that is still an amazing thing to pull off.
     
    #20
  21. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2006
    Messages:
    5,645
    Thanks for that summary. After some very basic research I've put together my own mini-summary for each player; and I've added Rosewall.

    All these players are very much neck-and-neck.


    SEDGMAN
    4 Slams in the 1950s (and 5 altogether)
    Never won the French (but made one final there)
    15 doubles Slam titles in the 1950s (and 17 altogether)
    Helped Australia win 3 Davis Cups


    TRABERT
    5 Slams
    Never lost a Slam final
    Won 3 Slams in one year
    Won the French twice with a SV game
    Never won the Australian
    5 doubles titles in Slams
    Helped the U.S. win 1 Davis Cup (at a time when the Aussies were dominant)


    HOAD
    4 Slams
    Won 3 Slams in one year
    Never won the U.S.
    6 doubles titles in Slams
    Helped Australia win 3 Davis Cups
    Defeated Trabert in a classic Cup match in 1953
    Often tipped as the best ever on his best day


    ROSEWALL
    4 Slams
    Youngest ever to win the Australian or French
    Prevented a Grand Slam by Trabert in 1955 and stopped Hoad’s in 1956
    Did not win Wimbledon (but made two finals there in the 1950s)
    6 doubles titles in Slams
    Helped Australia win 3 Davis Cups


    The one stat that leaps out at me is how many doubles titles Sedgman won.
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2007
    #21
  22. Q&M son

    Q&M son Professional

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2008
    Messages:
    925
    Location:
    Trenque Lauquen, BA, Argentina.
    My choices, before that I can't said nothing valid.
     
    #22
  23. Wuornos

    Wuornos Professional

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2007
    Messages:
    931
    Location:
    England
    Great list but I would probably go for Borg in the 70's over Connors.
     
    #23
  24. Wuornos

    Wuornos Professional

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2007
    Messages:
    931
    Location:
    England

    Interesting definition of greatness and it is with the definition of greatness that all such lists should begin before any players are chosen.

    I especially like your quote on Statistics by Al Laney. I'd not heard that before.

    Regards

    Tim
     
    #24
  25. Wuornos

    Wuornos Professional

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2007
    Messages:
    931
    Location:
    England
    If we had to pick the greatest player of the 1950s based only on perfomances in the Slam events, I would have to go for Frank Sedgman ahead of both Tony Trabert and Ashley Cooper by a narrow margin. I feel Ken Roswall's greater achievements lie outside of this time frame and events and consequently I would have to rank him 4th given the limitations of the exercise. You'd probably also need to consider Lew Hoad as one of the best players of this period in 5th place. After these five you are probably starting to drop away to players like Jaroslav Drobný and Vic Seixas, who while outstanding players in their own right probably fall short of the standard set by the previously mentioned five players performances during this period.

    But this is just my opinion.

    Regards

    Tim
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2008
    #25
  26. Benhur

    Benhur Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2007
    Messages:
    2,562
     
    #26
  27. llgc8080

    llgc8080 Rookie

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2007
    Messages:
    134
    Location:
    Paris.
    #27
  28. Tennis old man

    Tennis old man New User

    Joined:
    Mar 4, 2008
    Messages:
    96
    Location:
    CA, USA
    1950: Pancho G
    1960: Rocket and Muscles
    1970: Iceman and Jimbo
    1980: Ivan and Crazy Mac
    1990: Pistol
    2000: Fed

    All time: Pancho.
     
    #28
  29. Lendl and Federer Fan

    Lendl and Federer Fan Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2008
    Messages:
    2,325
    Location:
    Los Angeles

    I concur! You can not seriously consider a guy who was not in contention for a GS in half of the decade. BigMac is the man of the decade if the decade spins 78 to 84, and I would only consider BigMac if and only if there was no Lendl.
     
    #29
  30. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2005
    Messages:
    694
    Location:
    Chicago
    Professional tennis, like any professional sport, is fundamentally a form of entertainment. Fans don't pay money simply to see who wins or loses--if that were the case, everyone could just stay home and read the scoreline after the match and there would be no difference--but rather, they pay for the chance to see something dramatic, tense, exciting, inspiring. Tilden certainly understood this, as did the great players of the 1930s; more recently Connors, Borg, McEnroe, Agassi; and now Federer. McEnroe's loss to Borg in the famous 1980 Wimbledon final probably did more to establish his "greatness" in the minds of fans than any of his victories, and I think that's wholly warranted. There's a lot more to greatness than raw ability. These guys are performers, and the ones who fare best understand that.

    Now, I would be the first to admit that the media sometimes has a deleterious influence on fans' perceptions (mostly I think because most writers today don't know a damn thing about the game or its history, but then again neither do most fans). However, you describe it as though the media were out to distort the truth with a willfully diabolical intent... By and large, they report on what they know their audience will want to read about (and thus pay for), so the fans are as much to blame here as any "vast media conspiracy."

    Seems to me your example works in my favor. McEnroe was ranked number one by a computer-based, statistical formula. It was a deeply flawed formula. Everyone who actually watched tennis that year came to the conclusion that Connors was the best player of 1982. This is why statistics are untrustworthy. They should be an important part of the conversation, of course, but not the be-all, end-all... they need to be judged sensitively, wisely, and with reference to a wider historical (and yes, emotional) context.

    I realize I should have provided some context for Laney's quote, as I think you may have found it less objectionable if you knew he was writing about the career of Pancho Gonzales--who turned pro at a very young age and therefore lacked "statistical" success on the then more popular amateur circuit. Though Gonzales is, of course, the extreme example, I do believe that no career can be completely summarized by some predetermined statistical matrix. Beyond the numbers, what do we have to go by except our own eyes, the impressions of other fans and players, and the opinions of the writers, journalists, experts, historians, etc.?

    That said, you, like anyone, are entitled to your own opinion! I know of someone else who considers Lendl the greatest player of the entire Open Era--a minority sentiment, no doubt, but he's entitled to it. Nevertheless, if we're being fair, I do think it needs to be admitted that history, so far, has judged McEnroe to be the "greater" player.
     
    #30
  31. CyBorg

    CyBorg Legend

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2007
    Messages:
    5,544
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    I think that 'history' - if we're talking about popular opinion at its most generic - considers these two guys as fairly even.

    However 'history' - a word you overuse to an extreme - is meaningless because it measures the pros past by the standards of today. This is why Pancho Gonzalez is a relative unknown (two grand slam titles).

    If we're talking about more grounded methods, I believe that most would rate Lendl ahead of McEnroe and that includes ELO.

    One argument in favour of McEnroe is that he had the best year of the open era (1984), but all things considered Lendl in 1986 was probably every bit as good, if we look at it closely.
     
    #31
  32. CyBorg

    CyBorg Legend

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2007
    Messages:
    5,544
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    I agree with this. Chaognosis is a bit of a tennis theologian. Nothing wrong with this, but I can see how some of his comments can rub one the wrong way.

    History is full of nostalgia and gaps in memory. Some guys are loved and remembered to be better than they were. Some guys are hated and forgotten when they shouldn't be.

    I think that we can all agree if we admit that there are two sides to this - the value of a tennis player as an entertainer and the value of a tennis player as an accomplished professional. The latter matters more to me, even though I admit to being a fan of Bjorn Borg more due to the aura of his on-court persona and the aesthetics of his game rather than the sheer facts of his domination relative to his field. It's important to realize that one is unlike the other.
     
    #32
  33. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2005
    Messages:
    694
    Location:
    Chicago
    By history I only mean the textual evidence. I collect tennis books and have something of an unholy obsession with top ten lists and other silly things like that, and so all I'm saying is that the majority of people who write about this game hold, and have always held, McEnroe in somewhat higher esteem. This could all change in time, of course--change is just about the only constant in history! I do think that Lendl's stock has risen in retrospect, relative to McEnroe's, and that could very well continue over time. (Federer for example, when asked to name the greatest players of all time, listed Sampras, Lendl, Borg, Laver, and Rosewall... perhaps evidence that opinion is shifting, though Lendl always was more popular outside of the U.S., and vice versa for McEnroe.) At this point though, I do think that the documentary evidence supports my claim.
     
    #33
  34. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2005
    Messages:
    694
    Location:
    Chicago
    A "tennis theologian"... interesting. I'd never though of it that way, but I suppose it makes sense. (BTW, I think that Urban would agree with me, among others, that there is a certain "mythic" component to greatness that should not be overlooked.)

    This is certainly true.

    I would agree with this peace-making attempt. ;) In my own evaluations I try to strike some balance between the two, giving due weight to statistical accomplishments while also highlighting the more intangible (but no less important) elements of a player's story. However, it is true that the two cannot always (or easily) be reconciled.
     
    #34
  35. Benhur

    Benhur Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2007
    Messages:
    2,562
     
    #35
  36. CyBorg

    CyBorg Legend

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2007
    Messages:
    5,544
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    Yes, many share the same kind of view and I'm not against this even if I don't buy the mythic stuff. I do believe in stadium and country/climate-specific effects. So not everything has to be on paper.

    I think that the simplest way to extrapolate McEnroe's fame and Lendl's relative lack of it is to point to Mac's dominance on grass rather than clay - which always seems to get more points from traditionalists. You know, Wimbledon being the most prestigious tournament stuff. I posit that the grass/clay debate should be rooted within debates of colonialism, grass being the preferred surface of the Westerner/European and clay being the preferred surface of many South American players and, by this extension, enthusiasts/writers - very few of whom actually write this history you speak of. The monopoly on history is by and large Western/European.

    The other factor is Mac's huge year of 1984, which seemed to occur just at the most perfect time, when guys have Connors were on the way out while youngsters like Becker, Lendl, Edberg, etc were still ugly ducklings. But nonetheless people look at the record and it's a doozy.

    The third factor is the sexiness of his game. So much more memorable in terms of the way he combined finesse with competitive fire and energy. Lendl is widely dismissed as a non-genius, like by the Jeff Daniels character in The Squid and the Whale. I forget the word he used to describe Lendl - lumberjack may have been it.
     
    #36
  37. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2005
    Messages:
    694
    Location:
    Chicago
    Let's not pretend that going "by the results" yields some absolute ranking. Which results do we consider important, and how do we weigh them? Lendl's failure to win Wimbledon, by all accounts the most important tournament in the world, at least once, is really a huge knock against him in many critics' eyes. Hell, in some parts of the world (primarily the UK) Lendl remains better known for his losses at Wimbledon than for any of his actual victories! Making a "dispassionate" appeal to "results" doesn't make one's opinion any more or less subjective--too often I think statistics are piled on to create the illusion of objectivity, masking all the personal decisions that go into the process of picking and choosing those statistics.

    I really don't want to argue with you about the merits of Lendl's career... I've said it before and I'll say it again, he was one of the greatest ever to play the game, and I can see that a valid case could be made that he was in fact greater than either Connors or McEnroe. But I also think that a good case could be made for either one of these two being greater than Lendl, and I would acknowledge that, up to this point, the majority (though not all) of critics have favored McEnroe over Lendl. Again, that's only worth so much--and it's not to the exclusion of minority views (otherwise we wouldn't even be having this conversation), but it is the case.
     
    #37
  38. CyBorg

    CyBorg Legend

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2007
    Messages:
    5,544
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    Western/European critics. See above.
     
    #38
  39. CyBorg

    CyBorg Legend

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2007
    Messages:
    5,544
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    As you know, I value peak stretches. I am particularly interested in a prolonged peak stretch of about 2-4 years. I believe that a player's entire career is important, but there is a pattern from most of the true greats (Laver, Gonzales, Borg, Federer, whatever) which encompasses a stretch of 3 or more great years (either concurrent or close) and a few excellent (but not great) years sprinkled throughout (before and after the great years).

    Lendl had a peak that most accurately spanned about 30 months. Starting with around summer of '85 until the end of '87. During this span he was dominant on clay, carpet and hardcourts and was probably second-best on grass after Becker.

    Neither McEnroe nor Connors share this kind of history. Connors had his most accomplished year in 1974 which is overrated because of the Australian Open accomplishment which looks better now than it did then. He won many minor events that year and beat a 39-year old Rosewall in two major finals in what was a transitional era. Aside from this he never truly dominated - he had very good years in 1978 and 1982 though.

    McEnroe had an overrated year in 1984 - also transitional. He also had a very good year in 1981 (two majors) and also did very well in 1979, 1980 and 1983. But he had a rather poor year in between in 1982, which means that he never remained truly dominant for more than a year or perhaps a year and a half.

    Here's something else that I like to do. I like to look at how good guys are on surfaces. This means that we don't just look at majors, but also at other results.

    Lendl at his peak dominated three of the four surfaces and was second best on the other. McEnroe, at his finest, dominated three of the four as well with a runner-up finish at Roland Garros (this is 1984). But few would argue that McEnroe was truly second best on clay that year and even if he was he didn't maintain this level across these surfaces for more than a year.

    Connors was probably only dominant on hardcourts - the US ones. There is nothing to suggest that he was ever truly great on grass. He was good on carpet but McEnroe and Lendl were way better. He wasn't excellent on clay. What he has in his favour is his longevity, but dominance beats longevity. If Connors had a life outside of tennis maybe he would have retired earlier.
     
    #39
  40. msunderland71

    msunderland71 New User

    Joined:
    Apr 19, 2006
    Messages:
    87
    #40
  41. msunderland71

    msunderland71 New User

    Joined:
    Apr 19, 2006
    Messages:
    87
    I often hear about how good Mac's 1984 was. But the time-frame is 1980-89.
    If you want to concentrate on single years I prefer Mats Wilander's 1988 to McEnroe's 1984. Three slams vs. two.
     
    #41
  42. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2006
    Messages:
    5,645
    You'd have to put him below Cash, who beat him at the 87 AO and W. Edberg is arguable, but only because he and Lendl split grass-court meetings at the 85 AO and 87 W. In terms of accomplishment, Edberg won two AO's in that span, Lendl of course none.
     
    #42
  43. Benhur

    Benhur Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2007
    Messages:
    2,562
    I do claim precisely that in this case. And I don't mind telling you exactly why.

    1. Weaker surface comparison (grass/clay)

    Both Lendl and McEnroe failed to win the biggest tournament on their weakest surface. In the case of Lendl, that also happens to be the most prestigious tournament in tennis, but for purposes of surface weighing, Wimbledon and Roland Garros represent their respective surfaces with equal weight and authority. On inspection, the weaker surface handicap is clearly more pronounced in the case of McEnroe than in the case of Lendl. In other words, Lendl on grass was demonstrably more dominant than McEnroe on clay. After all, Lendl reached the Wimbledon semifinal (or better) 7 times; and the final twice. He also reached the grass-AO semifinals (or better) 3 times and the final once. And he also won Queen’s twice, once beating Becker in the final.

    Having taken care of the weaker surface comparison, we will examine the overall record.

    2. Overall record

    Here things move overwhelmingly in Lendl’s favor. There is any number of significant stats you can present as evidence. As far as I can tell, Lendl comes ahead on all of them except one: McEnroe had the single-year best winning percentage in 1984 with a 96% winning record that remains unequaled. Lendl's best year is at about 93.

    As for the rest:

    * Lendl won 8 slams to McEnroe's 7. He also won 3 of the 4 slams, to McEnroe's 2

    * Lendl reached 19 slam finals to McEnroe’s 11

    * Lendl reached 28 slam semifinals to McEnroe’s 19

    * Lendl won 5 Masters to McEnroe's 3

    * Lendl reached 9 Masters finals (consecutive) to McEnroe’s 4 (in all)

    * Lendl reached 9 US Open finals (consecutive) to McEnroe’s 5 (in all)

    * Lendl was ranked number one for a total of 270 weeks (second after Sampras to date). That is the equivalent of 5.2 years. I don’t have McEnroe’s numbers for this but it is certainly much lower, by at least 50 weeks.

    * Lendl was ranked number one for 157 consecutive weeks. Again, I don’t have McEnroe’s figure, but it would be considerably lower.

    * Lendl was ranked year-end number one on 4 different years. So was McEnroe, except that McEnroe’s 1982 number one ranking does not make any sense whatsoever. He was not even number 2 that year.

    * Lendl reached at least one GS final for 11 consecutive years, to McEnroe’s 7

    * Lendl has the 2nd highest peak ELO rating in the history of tennis after Federer. McEnroe has the 7th highest.

    * Lendl won 94 singles titles (by ATP count) to McEnroe’s 77

    * Lendl won 144 singles titles (including titles not counted by the ATP) to McEnroe’s 90

    * Lendl has a 81.8% winning percentage to McEnroe’s 81.7% according to ATP match statistics (this is so close it can be considered a tie; but Lendl won over 200 matches more than McEnroe.)

    * Lendl had a better than 90% winning percentage on 5 different years (82, 85, 86, 87, 89) to McEnroe’s one year (84)

    To sum, I really think the numbers speak clearly for themselves. And I can't think of anything you can bring up to dismiss them or even counter them. If they contradict one’s “fondest beliefs”, we will just have to let the beliefs take a breather for a while and think things over. This does not mean one should be expected to like Lendl (or his game) more than McEnroe's. Emotional and aesthetic preferences are not what this is about. Nobody would ever convince me to stop *liking* Goran Ivanisevic’s game more than the game of many better players than him. Why should I? But I would not from this conclude that he was a better player than those many others whose game I like less. I happen to like Lendl's best tennis (aesthetically) as much as McEnroe’s. But I can see how someone might find it uninteresting.

    You really cannot dismiss the results I just privided by presenting no factual counterarguments other than: "my heart tells me that McEnroe was greater." Ye, I believe you. I believe your heart is telling you just that. But you must understand that most people would not consider *your* heart as the best available measuring tool for tennis accomplishment.
     
    #43
  44. Benhur

    Benhur Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2007
    Messages:
    2,562
    Correction: 8 USO finals, not 9.
     
    #44
  45. Benhur

    Benhur Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2007
    Messages:
    2,562

    With all those results statistics I forgot to mention another very significant one.

    Lendl's head to head with McEnroe is 21-15.

    This is a significant number because they were clearly in the same generation, Lendl being just 10 months younger. (McEnroe played from 77 to 92 and Lendl from 78 to 94; all their meetings ocurred between 1980 and 1992)

    One often hears the argument that McEnroe "retired" after 85, but this cannot be taken seriously. He left the game for 6 months. Then he came back and remained in the top 10 for most of the next 3.5 years, making it as high as number 4 in 1989. This does not look like retirement.

    Not so often mentionned is the fact that the competition became much, much stronger in the second half of the 80s, with the rise of Wilander, Edberg, Becker (and even Agassi at the end). Considering the extraordinary strength of the field in 1989, the fact that McEnroe ended the year at number 4 is a very remarkable accomplishment (he would have been number 2 if those other guys weren't there) but it also attests to the fact that he did not "retire" after 85. It also puts into perspective the kind of competition he had had in 1984, when he was at his peak and his only real challenge was a pre-peak Lendl.

    Out of the 12-year period during which McEnroe and Lendl played one another, the only period where McEnroe dominated their head to head was 83-84. That's 2 years out of 12. Lendl dominated the other 10 years.

    Just one more fact to add to an already overwhelming mountain of facts.
     
    #45
  46. CyBorg

    CyBorg Legend

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2007
    Messages:
    5,544
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    The Aussie complicates things quite a bit. The grass there was so much different than in England because of the climate.
     
    #46
  47. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2005
    Messages:
    694
    Location:
    Chicago
    McEnroe won three Wimbledons to Lendl's zero. (For most of tennis history it would have been impossible for anyone to claim the mantle of "greatness" without winning the biggest championship in the world at least once--and unlike Gonzales or Rosewall, Lendl didn't have the excuse of being ineligible to compete as a professional.) This comparison is a lot like QBs Marino vs. Montana in American pro football. Marino put up the bigger personal statistics but never won a Super Bowl; Montana had more modest numbers but played best when it really counted. The vast majority of observers rank Montana over Marino, just as the majority of observers rank McEnroe over Lendl.

    Numbers never "speak for themselves"--you have to interpret them. Lendl won more majors than McEnroe (barely), yes, but McEnroe won more often at the more prestigious events, and the Australian was a lower-tier tournament that most of the best players routinely skipped in the late 1970s and early '80s; Lendl was blessed in many ways that his peak coincided with the rise of the Australian as a significant title. Lendl was ranked No. 1 longer than McEnroe, but as you and I have already agreed, the computer rankings in those days were dismal and untrustworthy... just as McEnroe was not the "true" No. 1 in 1982, Lendl was clearly not the best player in 1989, despite his ranking. Arguments about the relative strength of competition are specious; how can you prove, definitively, that Lendl's peers were stronger than McEnroe's? (Many would, and have, argued that the Connors-Borg-McEnroe years constituted the most competitive era, at the top, in modern times.) And so on and so forth...

    Again, not dismissing your case--and my "heart" certainly has nothing to do with this--but I would caution you against confusing your own subjective conclusions with objective truth. In my own mind, I think the Wimbledon issue is the most damning strike against Lendl's resume (I'm sure he would gladly have traded most of those statistical achievements you rattled off for even a single Wimbledon title, much less three), and I think that remains the biggest reason why a sizable majority of "experts" would agree with me here.
     
    #47
  48. CyBorg

    CyBorg Legend

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2007
    Messages:
    5,544
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    You're sticking to your guns, Chaog. Kind of like Chuck Heston - 'from your cold dead hands'.

    :)
     
    #48
  49. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2005
    Messages:
    694
    Location:
    Chicago
    Well, geez, I sure hope it doesn't come to that... I think I might just have to relent on McEnroe vs. Lendl in that case!
     
    #49
  50. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2006
    Messages:
    5,645
    Numbers do not speak for themselves. People speak, and sometimes they use numbers to do it -- picking out certain ones, which is inevitable.

    I'm surprised that you couldn't think of Davis Cup. Lendl was on one winning team in 1980, but McEnroe participated in four winning years.

    Davis Cup is arguably where McEnroe put forward his finest tennis, including his most heroic losses, eg, his marathon loss to Becker.

    The latter, a heroic loss, is one of the many things that Chaognosis is talking about -- he mentioned McEnroe's loss to Borg at W -- but it's not going to appear in a statistical tabulation restricted to wins.

    A heroic loss MIGHT be partially illustrated in statistics, for instance by showing the scoreline, the marathon length of the match, his quality of play during the match, etc. It's not like what Chaognosis is talking about is merely restricted to feelings. He'd dead-on when he says that statistics are hand-picked; they need to be picked carefully or else they can lie just as much as the "heart" can.

    To be clear, if you look back in this thread I picked Lendl as greater than McEnroe for the 1980s. (As far as emotions, I actually like Lendl better). I think he had the greater career, and I have only a few specific problems with your list of stats. I'm not saying that your list is deceptive or that it lies. What I'm affirming is Chaognosis' point about stats. Your forgetting about Davis Cup proves, I think, his point that stats are picked out by people and do not offer themselves up objectively; they need to be picked out carefully. Merely piling on the numbers that favor one player is precisely an exercise that needs to be looked at skeptically.

    McEnroe also won their H2H in 1980 (with two meetings). You were too quick with this.

    And listing 10 years next to 2 makes it sound overwhelming -- more overwhelming than the actual H2H of 21-15, which you listed -- but you do not say that they did not even meet in 1986. Or that they met only once in 1987, 1988, 1991 and 1992. (Their meeting on French Open clay in 1988 was very close and to McEnroe's credit, being his weakest surface; that's hardly a year of "domination.")

    Again, in this sort of comparison you cannot go without mentioning that Lendl's last year at #1 was 1989, a year that not many people would give him at #1. If you do, that's one thing, and you can say why. But you don't even mention it, but you do mention 1982.

    Finally, there's more that could be said for McEnroe. The Dallas WCT Finals was a huge event in its time, and McEnroe won it five times. He was 2-1 with Lendl at that event, including a win in 1989.

    What I'd like to see is someone making their case, but making the best case possible for both players, rather than simply piling up the stats for one player and then challenging others to come up with countering stats. I don't mean that we shouldn't have an opinion for make a case. I just mean, include stats that are easy enough to include. Davis Cup, WCT Finals, 1989, the true H2H in 1980, those should not be hard to remember and there's no reason to leave them out.
     
    #50

Share This Page