Some GOAT questions for chaog and others

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by John123, Sep 27, 2007.

  1. John123

    John123 Rookie

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    I’m new to these forums and am trying to educate myself enough to have an informed opinion about the GOAT issue. So far, I’ve had trouble finding statistics about the professional tours and tournaments — in particular, the ones that Laver, Rosewall, and Gonzales played in, because those seem particularly relevant regarding GOAT. I gather that Gonzales was the best player during most of the 1950s, that Rosewall was the best in the early 1960s, and that Laver was the best in the mid-late 1960s. But I don’t know the margin by which they were the best, what their win-loss records were, and how important they considered the tours in relation to the tournaments. Any suggestions on where I could find such information? The Wikipedia articles on the professional era are extremely helpful, but even they don’t tell me everything I feel is necessary to know.

    I’ve appreciated very much the comments of chaog and others who seem enormously knowledgeable about this issue. In order to learn more from you, I wonder if you’d be willing to address any or all of the following few questions that have been on my mind:

    1. How, if at all, should we factor in the point that a sport tends to be more difficult to dominate as time goes on? Bill James has incorporated that idea into his rankings of baseball players, and it would seem to make sense for tennis as well. If a handful of players between 1920 and 1970 dominated tennis to a degree greater than any player has since 1970, then that seems far less likely to be a coincidence than to be attributable to an increase in the difficulty of dominating.

    2. Why did (certain) players of the past play so many more matches in a year than anyone plays today, even though each match could be longer due to the absence of tiebreaks? Is it that the game was less physically demanding then (perhaps because the rackets didn’t allow players to hit as hard)?

    3. Why is the record of “total or consecutive Wimbledon titles” so important? If pros couldn’t compete at Wimbledon until 1968, and if in the early days some top players like Tilden occasionally eschewed it due to travel difficulties, then doesn’t that detract from the importance of the record in comparing pre-1968 players with Open Era players?

    4. I’m sure that it was always hard to win on all surfaces, which makes the achievements of Laver, Tilden, Budge, and perhaps a few others so amazingly impressive. But is it possible that in the last 15 years, the feat has become even harder than it was before? Before 1993, the players who dominated the French Open won other majors as well (Borg, Wilander, Lendl, even Courier — and also Rosewall and Laver who won the French Pro during the 1960s); whereas after 1993, no French Open champion has ever won any other major, except for Agassi (who won the French once) and Kafelnikov (who won the French and the Australian once). If this represents a meaningful change from the past, does it render less damning Federer’s failure to win all four majors?

    5. How important are annual win-loss match records? Laver’s Wikipedia entry says that in his Grand Slam year of 1969, he went 106-16. That’s a fantastic record, but not as good in terms of percentage as those compiled by Borg, Connors, McEnroe, Lendl, or Federer in their prime years. Cliff Drysdale seems to weigh this pretty heavily when he discusses relative greatness in his telecasts, but others evidently don’t agree because Laver is widely regarded as superior to everyone who came after him. What’s the right answer?

    Sorry for the barrage of questions. Thanks so much to anyone who can help me out with answering them and/or point me to sources of results from the 1960s pro circuit or from the Tilden era.
     
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  2. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

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    I think it's best if I answer this in pieces, so I apologize in advance for the length of this post and the sort of disjointed format:

    The best source available is a book called The History of Professional Tennis by the late Joe McCauley, a tennis writer who used to be the official historian of the Australian Open. The book came out in 2000, and it's hard to find, but you can order a copy from this website:

    http://www.thetennisgallery.co.uk/books.asp?subcat=17&prodid=451

    Bud Collins, in his encyclopedia Total Tennis, is indebted to McCauley's work on the "lost" pro years. Collins reproduces the records of the three major professional tournaments--Wembley, the US Pro, and French Pro--from McCauley's book, though the McCauley text includes a far more thorough statistical appendix (about 80 pages!) with year-by-year results for many of the most important professional events. Even McCauley's information is not complete, of course... I've yet to find any source that is. But this book is nevertheless vital and has become the backbone of much of the research you will find these days on the Internet (Wikipedia, discussion forums like this one) as well as in publications like TennisWeek.

    There is a historian named Ray Bowers who has done the best work on professional tennis in the prewar years. You'll find links to the chapters of his text on the bottom of this Wikipedia article:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_No._1_Tennis_Player

    First of all, thank you for your kind words! I will do my best. A lot of what I know about the game comes from other posters on this forum, especially Urban and SgtJohn. If you look through the archives of their posts you will find a lot of helpful information, insights, and good references.
    This is a very tricky issue that I've been thinking a lot about lately--SgtJohn has proposed adjusting a player's accomplishments based on changing "standards" of accomplishment in order to make fairer cross-generational comparisons. I myself wouldn't even know where to begin in terms of doing this systematically. My gut reaction, though, is that even if the standard of competition increases over time (and the standard of dominance correspondingly decreases), that does not necessarily mean that the champions of previous eras were anything less than the champions of today. If you think of it in terms of plotting a graph, as you move forward in time the average of the points may steadily increase, but in any era there will be one or two points way above the rest--statistical outliers--which aren't governed by any underlying trends. That's just my take on it though, and I'm sorry my thoughts aren't more organized on this topic.
    In large part this has to do with money. Top players today earn huge sums for every tournament they play, not to mention endorsements, so it isn't critical to be playing all the time. Federer, e.g., is already fabulously wealthy and only needs to play enough events each season to maintain his No. 1 ranking; otherwise he can structure his schedule however he likes, so that he has time to rest and is less likely to experience fatigue or sustain an injury. Forty years ago this was not the case, as players sometimes needed to endure grueling schedules just to make end's meet. Laver was the first tennis player in history to earn over $1 million in his entire career. It was Borg who really began the "boom" in terms of tennis endorsements, paving the way to the modern era of super-rich superstars.
    Because Wimbledon is quite simply the most prestigious tournament in the world, and always has been as far as I know (it may have been debatable at times before World War I, but I am really not qualified to say). The one true exception I know of is the Davis Cup, which as an event was regarded as being more important than any tournament, even Wimbledon, until at least 1939. This touches on a point that Al Laney makes in his great book Covering the Court: A Fifty-Year Love Affair with the Game of Tennis (1968 ), one of the best books written on amateur tennis. Laney noted that while arguably all the best players in the world were at times in the pro ranks, and thus not competing in the majors, these pros nevertheless weren't proving themselves on the biggest stages, before the eyes of the world. So yes, the Wimbledon fields were depleted by the absence of the best players. But so, too, were the best players in some sense "weakened" by the fact that they played precious few important matches. Urban has cautioned us, from time to time, not to completely forget about the amateurs when we discuss the great players of 1946-67, and he is absolutely right.

    But then, you are right as well. It becomes very difficult to compare records before the Open Era and after it, just as it is very difficult to compare records that straddle different epochs... take, for instance, Willie Renshaw's six straight Wimbledons (in the era of the Challenge Round) vs. Fred Perry's three straight Wimbledons (in the "modern" era). I do think that Wimbledon always needs to play an important part of any GOAT debate, though it is never so simple as comparing a few records or statistics from radically different time periods, as you have noted. And that methods of transportation do have an effect on this too--for Tilden it simply wasn't practical to make annual boat trips to Europe, especially since, from his perspective, he had nothing left to prove and would have won easily every time.
    I think there has definitely been a tendency for players to specialize on a particular surface, which may in turn present a challenge for a player attempting to win on all surfaces. It is more economical from a good, but not great, player's perspective to maximize his winning (and earnings) potential on the surface for which his game his best suited. Nevertheless, Federer may benefit from this specialization, as well, in another way: with some players being a factor only during the clay season, and others a factor only on hard courts, who is left to challenge him on grass?
     
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2007
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  3. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

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    (Part II - my full response was too long for a single post)

    I believe, quite simply, that if you play more matches you will lose more matches. This gets back to your earlier question. If a player must have a fuller, more grueling schedule, then he is bound to get tired, injured, sick, or just have a few bad days here and there. I think winning percentages are somewhat important in comparing players of roughly the same time period, but outside of that their usefulness deteriorates. Players of the Rosewall-Laver generation probably played more tournaments throughout the year than players of any other era. So yes, Laver had worse percentages than Federer or Borg. But Laurie Doherty had seasons in the early 1900s where he didn't lose a single match. Willie Renshaw, tennis's first big star, had undefeated seasons in the 1880s... but he only played one match during the year. Nevertheless he was unanimously considered the top player. As you can see, it becomes very complicated.
    No trouble at all. I hope this was helpful.
     
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  4. Moose Malloy

    Moose Malloy Legend

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    If the prize money of today was the same as it was circa 1969(and the top players' endorsements, or lack thereof, was the same) many players of today would be still playing 30 events a year, both singles & doubles.
    You do what you have to do in order to make a good living. Guys back then were pretty worn out by the schedule, but there was no guarantee tennis would continue to offer all that prize $, so they chased it while they could.

    Once it was apparent the prize money was here to stay(& that lucrative endorsements were now offered to some top players) some top guys started reducing their schedule. Borg was the first that I can recall that reduced his schedule in order to peak for the big events, he didn't just play every week there was a big paycheck available. But we still have players like that today(Davydenko), & not long ago had one that played both singles & doubles(Kafelnikov)

    Rod Laver made $124,000(which was considered a lot at the time) in '69 playing 32 events. Borg played 19 events in '79 & made 1 million(& god knows how much more in endorsements) I doubt Laver would have played as much in '69 if they had the same amount of prize money available as they did in '79.
    So win/loss % isn't an entirely fair way of comparing players.

    and as far as racquets, see my sig, it is/was a different game with wood.

    Could you tell me more? I'd like to know more about his baseball rankings.

    There aren't easy answers to these questions, tennis is a very young professional sport, and it wasn't very organized throughout much of its existence.

    Wimbledon was always a big deal, if you won it you were more likely to get an invitation to play on the pro tour & get a chance to make some real money.
    Gonzales was hurt initially by his lack of a W title(even though he only played it twice, he knew how important winning there was) in terms of being offered a good deal on the pro tour. In some ways tennis was like a team sport in the 50s/60s, Wimbledon was your 'college' career, & doing well there ensured you were a high 'draft pick' for the pros.
     
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  5. CyBorg

    CyBorg Legend

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    One small correction. Borg actually most likely played just as much in some years as Laver did. The problem is that the ATP website leaves out a lot of his tournaments, ignoring the invitational 4-man tourneys. Laver, I believe, has all of his counted in most of his player pages online. Borg, if I recall correctly, actually won 22 tournaments in 1979 if you count everything which means that he won way over 100 matches that year. It's somewhere in the 80s that tennis became more organized and exos became a thing of the past. Players started earning tons of money and high-paying exos (eg. Tokyo Suntori) went the way of the dinosaur. And then of course starting with 1990 we began to have the masters series and other reorganization.
     
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  6. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

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    I think, Chaognosis and Moose have answered most of the questions. In Laver's match percentage of 1969, one-night-stands and 3r place matches are also counted. Without that he may have a bit higher percentage. In his 18 tournament wins is one 4 man tournament: the BBC 2 at Wembley, which was quite important at that time, had very good prize money and had 4 top 5 players, Roche, Rosewall and Okker in its field. I think, if a top player plays more than 85-90 matches a year, he becomes prone to more defeats, simply because of physical and mental fatigue. Laver had a letdown after his Grand Slam.
    To the exhibitions. Its quite a difficult question, how to count these 4 man exos. I am personally reluctant here. The ATP counts the Pepsi Grand Slam, played in Florida for Borg. In wikipedia they have now rearranged the numbers for Lendl, Connors and Borg, including exos with 4 man events. The Pepsi event was a quite important event in those years, mostly with a 4 man field. Borg won over Connors there in 1977 for the first time after a long series of losses, setting up his later Wim win. Also the Antwerp 'Diamant Racket' tournament in the 80s was an important event, despite not being an official ATP tourney. I saw many matches on tv between Lendl, Mac and Becker, they were hotly disputed.
    To the time line factor. I think, in his recent analysis Raymond Lee on Tennis week, has given a points for the time line.
    To the pre open rankings. I still believe, that you have to evaluate a player in this period for both his amateur and pro careers (eventually his open career). If you only count pro results, you can get a false impression. Take Rosewall and Hoad. Both started out at the same time, 1953. Rosewall was in the long run the better player. But if you count only big pros events, you get something like 22-1 for Rosewall. This is a ridiculous gap. As amateur Hoad had the slightly better career, only as pro Rosewall overtook him gradually. But the overall career margin wasn't that big.
     
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  7. John123

    John123 Rookie

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    Moose, in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (2001), James outlines a method for evaluating players called the Win Shares System. His main goal is to surmount an obstacle that is fortunately inapplicable to tennis: sorting out how much a player contributes to his team's success. But on pages 343-344, he also explains the need to include a time-line adjustment that gives a boost to more recent players over less recent ones. He says that the quality of play has improved because (1) as time went on, general agreement emerged as to what the best leagues were, so all the best players were funneled to the same place; (2) the talent pool increased dramatically, as the sport opened its doors to everyone (in particular, blacks and international players); and (3) standards of performance in all athletic events naturally improve over the years because we build on the past. As a result, "the extent to which the best players dominate the game has steadily decreased because the quality of the average player has moved upward. If you don't make any time-line adjustments, then . . . you will wind up with a top 100 list which is dominated by players who played before 1950."
     
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  8. John123

    John123 Rookie

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    Many thanks to Chaognosis, Moose, Cyborg, and Urban for your extremely helpful replies. I will definitely buy the McCauley book.

    In trying to take the first steps toward answering the GOAT question, I've been thinking about comparisons between players of similar eras -- much easier comparisons than the intergenerational ones. First, I thought about Federer vs. Sampras and decided that my pick would be Federer because I value his dominance (far better match records, 3 Slams in each of 3 different years, better results on clay, mind-boggling 4 straight years winning both Wimbledon and the US Open) over Sampras's advantage in overall accomplishments (14-12 in Slams, 5-3 in year-end championships, 2 years longer at #1 ranking). But I could certainly understand someone making the argument the other way. I think it's just a question of what you consider most important.

    Second, I thought about Federer vs. Borg. This is harder for a variety of reasons, one being that Borg skipped many tournaments that would have been useful for comparison (every Australian Open except 1974, the Masters in 1976, 1978, and 1981, and the French in 1977). I gather that the Australian wasn't what it is now, so missing it made sense. And maybe the French is a wash because Borg's absence in 1977 is balanced by the benefit he gained from Connors' absence in 1974. But what about the Masters? I suppose Borg was sort of beginning his retirement when he skipped it in 1981, but what about in 1976 and 1978 -- does anyone know why he didn't compete?

    More generally, I can't decide whether Borg gets the nod because he leads Federer in Slams they both played (11-9 at the French, Wimbledon, and the US Open; and 4 finals to 2 in the Slams that each respectively failed to win), or whether Federer gets the nod because (a) it's unfair to exclude his Australian Open titles or to minimize his Masters titles just because Borg didn't play those tournaments, and (b) more importantly, Federer has been the absolutely clear and dominant #1 for four years whereas Borg did it only for two years (or maybe for three years, if you count his great 1978 season despite the fact that Connors ended that year #1 in the computer rankings). Who do you think comes out ahead? Am I at least weighing the appropriate factors?

    Because it's so hard to compare players from the Open Era to those who came before, a nice first step is to decide who's the best of the Open Era. So I'm wondering whether that's Federer or Borg.
     
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  9. CyBorg

    CyBorg Legend

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    I recall that there was some kind of boycott in 1978 on the part of a number of players. There was a depleted field at the Masters that time. Maybe someone can clarify. Not sure about 1976, but the Masters rose in prestige closer to the end of the decade, coinciding with the move to New York in 1977.

    There was a lot of Masters-type events at the time, anything that involved the top-eight seeds. Pepsi Grand Slam (4-man) usually took place early in the year and there was also The Challenge Cup (which employed the round robin format but with more players than Pepsi) which had deep fields. Borg was ousted in the semi of the Challenge Cup in 1978, but won it in 1979. Another important round robin-type event was in Salisbury in 1980, which Borg won. I'm not sure about this event in other years, but it had a strong field that year.

    Don't place too much weight into computer rankings. Objectively speaking, Borg and Vilas were the best in 1977 and after that Borg was clearly the best for three consecutive years (78-80). The computer rankings were messed up - most would agree with this on this board.

    Don't forget Laver. He had three great years at the start of the open era encompassing 1968-1970, with the grand slam mixed in.
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2007
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  10. CyBorg

    CyBorg Legend

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    By the way, I have the Bill James abstract and I am an avid reader. If he was a tennis enthusiast he would definitely be into the likes of Tilden and Budge. He speaks glowingly of players like Honus Wagner - a guy who played 100 years ago.

    Sadly, baseball is much more statistically richer, allowing James to build up an excellent argument... or should I say, criteria - the formula is based for the large part as to how much a player helps his team win.

    In tennis there are no teams. It's just individuals (unless you count The Davis Cup). Very different.

    One thing to add about James is that he is not terribly analytical about players (or selectively analytical, such as his thoughts on Hornsby). Most of his writings are anecdotal (Hal Chase) - fascinating in themselves, but they don't support the criteria. The rankings are based almost entirely on statistics. He also writes two pages for some players and a mere sentence for others. My favorite is his line for Don Mattingly: "100 percent ballplayer. 0 percent bullshlt." That's all.:)
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2007
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  11. John123

    John123 Rookie

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    Good point about Laver, CyBorg. I guess I refer loosely to the Open Era when I really mean the post-Laver era.

    I just looked up the entry for 1978 in Total Tennis, and it looks like Borg was the best player that year -- but not by a wide margin. Borg killed Connors in the Wimbledon final; Connors returned the favor in the U.S. Open final; and Borg won the French, which Connors didn't enter. Borg had a 39-match win streak that ended at the U.S. Open, and Connors had a 30-match streak that began after Wimbledon. According to the book, Borg's match record for the year was 88-8, and Connors' was 84-7. Borg won 12 tournaments and Connors won 14. In head-to-head meetings, Borg was 3-2.

    After the U.S. Open, a young McEnroe went on a tear, winning four significant tournaments including Stockholm, where he beat Borg 6-3, 6-4 in their first match ever and their only encounter in 1978. McEnroe won the Masters (Borg and Vilas boycotted due to a dispute about the prize fund, and Connors played but was hampered by a foot injury). Arthur Ashe called McEnroe "the best player in the world the last four months of 1978."

    It seems to me that Borg had the best year, and that most knowledgeable observers agree on that (though not all: Tennis magazine's ranking panel put Connors #1). But it doesn't seem like Borg was the same dominant, absolutely clear #1 in 1978 that he was in 1979 and 1980 -- or that Federer has been from 2004-2007.
     
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  12. CyBorg

    CyBorg Legend

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    The head-to-head between the two was actually 2-1, unless one counts certain exos... but I don't those results on me at this point. Borg beat Jimmy at Pepsi and Wimbledon and Jimmy struck back at the US Open.

    Let's take a close look at Jimmy's season:

    - loses in the final of the Pepsi Grand Slam to Borg
    - wins the prestigious Philadelphia WCT which Borg usually skipped, but here he lost to Tanner
    - wins Denver - where Borg did not play - usually a tourney with solid draws but not that year, beat the aging Stan Smith in the final
    - wins in Memphis, Rotterdam and Birmingham - fairly minor events but some good wins along the way over the likes of Gerulaitis, Ramirez and Tanner .. so good draws all around - no Vilas-type events.
    - ousted in the first round of Las Vegas - probably the equivalent of a masters series event at the time
    - interestingly enough, Jimmy skips the prestigious Dallas WCT
    - plays no red clay events whatsoever (something that would change beginning in 1979) and skips RG .. so Jimmy didn't even bother practicing on red, still bitter at Ashe no doubt.
    - final at Wimbledon - loses to Borg in straights
    - wins solid event in Washington, a very strong one in Indianapolis and a minor one in Stowe - Borg didn't play in any of those
    - wins US Open with impressive triumphs over McEnroe and Borg (straight sets each) .. Borg got hurt in the match, but no doubt was also affected by the atmosphere that Connors so ate up
    - very quiet fall - wins minor Sydney indoor; loses Tokyo, struggles at the masters ousted in the round robin (looks like I was wrong about Jimmy skipping this Masters, but I recall that it was a weak field).
    - tournament wins unaccounted in the ATP website: Beckenham (over Stan Smith), Tokyo-Gunze (over Nastase)
    - combined record (ATP accounted results only): 67-6

    Let's take a close look at Bjorn's season:

    - won the deep but not terribly prestigious event in Birmingham to start a fairly inconsistent tenure in America where he also won Pepsi and Las Vegas
    - bad loss to Newcombe in Richmond .. I wonder what happened - Borg retired after losing badly (it is common knowledge that Borg never beat Newcombe (0-3), although they had actually played a number of other times in events not listed by the ATP, in which Borg beat him at least twice)
    - wins Milan, and in typical fashion withdraws in the middle of two events - Dallas and Rotterdam
    - almost withdraws in the Rome final, where a rowdy, drunken crowd throws coins onto the field .. beats Panatta in five sets to win the RG tune up
    - wins RG without losing a set (perhaps the most dominant performance in a grand slam event ever; lost five games to Vilas in the final)
    - difficult first week at Wimbledon as usual; toughest match being the first round five-setter against Amaya .. dominant in the second week with wins over Mayer, Okker and Conors to complete his first RG-Wimbledon sweep
    - a very lax summer with only one tournament mixed in - Bastad, unless you count whatever exos he played at this time .. in the meantime Connors busied himself playing events in the US
    - played hurt and lost badly to Connors in the final of the US Open
    - fairly relaxed play in the fall, but won a biggie in Tokyo
    - tournament wins unaccounted in the ATP website: Goteborg (4-man), Copenhagen (4-man), Tokyo-Suntory (4-man), Essen (40-man), Manila (4-man), Anvers (4-man); these prestige of these is hard to nail down .. Suntory brought in a lot of money .. don't know who participated, Connors probably played Suntori.
    - combined record (ATP account results only): 68-6

    Let's compare:

    - Connors won one major - the US Open and biggies like Philadelphia and probably Indianapolis; with solid secondaries in Denver, Birmingham and Washington
    - Borg one two majors - RG and Wimbledon and biggies like Las Vegas, Rome and Tokyo; with solid secondaries in Milan and Birmingham WCT USA (not to be confused with Birmingham, Great Britain which Connors won)
    - Connors played almost exclusively in the United States: the breakdown is like so: 11 of 16 events (as recognized by ATP) were played in his home country .. played six events on carpet, three on clay (apparently only green, not on red), five on hard, two on grass.
    - Borg played eight events in Europe, eight in the US, one in Tokyo .. wins eight events on carpet, five on clay, three on hard, one on grass
    - the level of competition these two faced appears to be very close, so I won't bother overanalyzing that .. Jimmy played surprisingly fewer events than in past years and seemed to focus more on the important ones, although the fact that he played more in the US than anywhere made it impossible for him to face Borg very often outside two grand slams and one four-man invitational
    - What can we conclude .. it is indeed closer than I originally remembered it to be, however Borg's two majors do still overwhelm Jimmy's one (the fact that Jimmy didn't play at the French by no means suggest that he would have a shot at beating Borg there .. very likely not) .. what was strongly on Borg's side was the fact that he won his two majors handily .. his performance at the French brought back memories of Cochet and may be unprecedented in its dominance (although he may have done as well two years later) .. his triumph at Wimbledon was even more convincing than in 1976, whereas the event in 76 played slow and in the heat, this one was very fast and removed all doubts as to Borg's abilities on lawns.
    - Borg was recognized near unanimously as the top player that year: ITF World Champion, ATP Player of the year and tennis magazine all granted him that honour .. the near-unanimous praise is probably backed primarily by Borg's winning record against Connors that year, his larger amount of majors, the fact that he won by far the most prestigious major and slightly more high profile non-major event victories (3 to 2 .. Borg's Last Vegas, Rome, Tokyo to Connors' Philadelphia and Indianapolis) .. closer than it seems but still enough to state conclusively that Borg was better .. I don't think that these bodies had much sympathy for Connors' decision to skip the clay season in Europe, most likely prompting Jimmy to commit to it in 1979, where he proved that he was not in Borg's league in that department.
     
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  13. CyBorg

    CyBorg Legend

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    This is a little controversial. McEnroe, of course, was a fantastic indoor player and still holds a number of records in that respect. However he first established himself that fall, but not without limitations. Both Borg and Connors took quite a bit of time off after a busy year and McEnroe faced them only twice (Connors, whom he beat at the Masters .. he played and beat Borg in Stockholm - not a terribly deep event). It was actually quite typical of Borg to take a lot of time off in the fall - one time in his 20s he did not do it was in 1977 where he won almost everything). So, no, I wouldn't put too much stock in McEnroe's dominating that fall.

    There are a few things worthy to note here:

    - Federer also tended to skip a variety of events in the fall
    - in Borg's time there were no assigned masters series events, so the idea of what is 'important' was ambiguous
    - did Federer have a rival as strong as Connors in 2004?
    - Federer was mediocre on clay in 2004, while Borg was strong across the board
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2007
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  14. John123

    John123 Rookie

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    That was an absolutely fantastic post. No one could have shed more light on the question. Thank you so much!

    As for the upshot regarding a comparison between Borg and Federer, I'm not sure what to make of it. Maybe it was harder to establish dominance in 1978 because the top players just didn't play the same events too often.

    Do you have an opinion on the Borg/Federer question?
     
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  15. CyBorg

    CyBorg Legend

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    Looking at Federer's three peak years (2004-06), he was more dominant than Borg with a better (though not vastly better) combined record. Where I am not sold altogether on him is the clay - I think that his results on the red flatter him, partly the result of a weak clay court era. But this does not change the fact that Federer's results on hard and grass are breathtaking.

    Some other things to consider: if we count in the Masters as the hypothetical fourth major, considering the weakness of the Aussie (we don't have to, but just for kicks) Borg winds up with eight major victories in three years, as many as Federer. Also, for a good 30 months of his three peak years Borg had two outstanding rivals in Connors and McEnroe (I wouldn't count Vilas), while Federer has had only one (Nadal) for a duration of about 24 months.

    My conclusion: a wash. Picking one over the other I think depends on how you rate the all-around play of these guys, across all surfaces. I think that Borg was a better hard courter than Federer was clay courter.
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2007
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  16. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

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    You are right that most authorities rated Borg as the top player; however, let's just be clear about the sources. It was a French 'Tennis Magazine' that had Borg over Connors, while the U.S. 'Tennis Magazine' actually ranked Connors No. 1. (The American publication, though, has always been overly kind to Connors, most recently in its top 40 players countdown.) The magazine 'World Tennis' also rated Borg first in 1978. The ITF World Champion title, awarded for the very first time that year, was probably the most significant, with a selection panel consisting of three great former champions representing three countries: Fred Perry, Lew Hoad, and Don Budge.
     
    #16
  17. CyBorg

    CyBorg Legend

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    Although I think that Borg was not far and away best player in 1978 the selection of Connors by the US "Tennis Magazine" is pure bullshlt. I'd like to read that argument.
     
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  18. John123

    John123 Rookie

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    Good point. But Federer continued his dominant run in major tournaments for a fourth year, 2007. He has 11 majors in four years, whereas Borg's four-year total would be 9 -- eight from 1978-1980, plus one from either 1977 (Wimbledon) or from 1981 (the French).

    The question is which matters more, an extra year of dominance or more total career accomplishment in the 3 Slams they both played? You're probably right that Borg was better on hard courts than Federer on clay, but Federer's clay results are still impressive in context. Since Sergi Bruguera ushered in the era of the specialist in 1993, none of the best fast-court players have had much success on clay -- Sampras, Hewitt, Safin, Rafter, Roddick. Agassi won the French in 1999, but his other two finals appearances there were pre-specialist-era, and only 1 of his 22 Masters series finals was on clay (Rome 2002). Federer, by contrast, has reached 8 Masters series finals on clay, winning 4 (all Hamburg), and he's been kept from winning Roland Garros the past three years only by Nadal. Without the serious misfortune of having to play Rafa in his prime, he might well have won more than one French Open. His clay career still falls short of Borg's career on hard courts, I'm sure, but I'm not convinced that the difference is decisive in light of the difficulty of winning on clay in Federer's era.

    In any event, I agree that it's very close and perhaps a wash. Chaog, do you have an opinion on Federer vs. Borg?
     
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  19. CyBorg

    CyBorg Legend

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    2007 has been a bit of a mixed bag for Federer. I think that his level has dropped, but you can't argue too much about the three majors. That's still pretty special. Borg, however, was better in 1977 than Roger in 2003 and has had more years as a top-3 player than Federer (it remains to be seen how well Roger ages). '77 was actually one of Borg's better years - he was the top player on grass and red clay, but entered only two majors, winning one and getting hurt in the fourth round of the other.

    If anything, I think that Roger is lucky that he only has Nadal to contend with on clay. Nadal is one of the best ever, but there is virtually no one else out there. Without Nadal it would have been a complete laughingstock.
     
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  20. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

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    Borg's level of dominance for several years and his ability to win on all surfaces make him undoubtedly one of the top five or six players of all time IMO--as is the case with Budge, the only thing separating him from Tilden and Laver, my top two, is longevity. For Federer to surpass Borg, as well as Rosewall and Gonzales, he will have to win at Roland Garros at least once. (For perspective, Gonzales was the No. 1 player in the world far longer than Federer, longer even than Sampras, and he was at least as successful on clay as Federer, reaching two French Pro finals and later the semis at Roland Garros while much past his prime... so how could we rate Federer above him?) Until and unless that happens, I do believe that Bjorn Borg is the greatest player since Laver, ahead of both Federer and Sampras. That said, in fairness, most authorities have rated Sampras, and now Federer, ahead of the Swede. An important 1999 poll put Sampras second behind Laver, while Borg was fourth (with Tilden at #3 and Budge at #5). More recently, in 2006 a panel assembled by Tennis Week voted Laver and Federer in a tie at #1, ahead of Sampras by a single point. Borg followed in fourth place, with Tilden fifth and Budge sixth. Bruce Jenkins, Joel Drucker and Steve Flink all rated Sampras ahead of Borg in 2006. I believe Paul Fein also has Sampras ahead of Borg; indeed, if my memory is right he considers Sampras the all-time great. A prominent dissenting voice comes from Bud Collins, who in 2006 placed Borg at #5 and Sampras at #6. I do not know where Collins stands on the matter of Borg vs. Federer.

    As a caveat: in my own mind Tilden and Laver are clearly the top two. After that, it becomes difficult and the lines between players are very thin. So while I have put Borg ahead of Federer and Sampras here, I am the first to admit that such placement is fragile and there are compelling arguments to the contrary. You will hear many strong opinions on these boards and elsewhere, and your views will probably (even hopefully!) change over time, as mine have. The important thing, I believe, is that your opinion be thoughtful, sensitive and well informed--not dogmatic--and that you can make your case without being boorish, purposefully distorting facts, or taking personal swipes against those who disagree with you. If these boards are any indication, then such opinions, and such people, are quite rare.
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2007
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  21. SgtJohn

    SgtJohn Rookie

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    Hi John, and welcome to the forum!

    Maybe you're not fully accustomed to all these topics, but your questions are excellent, and show that you really understand the factors at stake in the GOAT debate!

    Actually, I do not have that much to add to chaog's long answer, I perfectly agree with almost everything he said.

    It's quite funny that chaog stressed the significance of McCauley's book. Last week I moved to London, where I will be this whole year...Of course, the first thing I did was taking a ride to Wimbledon Park, making it to the Tennis Gallery, and buying this precious book! I fully confirm it's a must-have, especially for the complete records of every pro tournament ever played, that it provides...

    I'll just add some remarks about your 5 questions:

    1. The arguments you evoke are not to be dismissed, but I feel it's not an actual fact that there were more eras of dominance in the past.

    I just tried this little experiment of a chronological list of eras, be they dominated by a player or "shared" by some lesser ones. By "eras of dominance", I mean a period of time when a player was able to be a clear-cut n°1, with no true rival, for at least 4 years. I know this list is probably biased or highly debatable in many ways, but consider it as just a sketch, to try and support my argument.

    1881-1886: Dominance (W Renshaw)
    1887-1896: No dominance (Lawford-Baddeley-Pim)
    1897-1906: Dominance (Dohertys)
    1906-1919: No dominance (Gore-Brookes-Wilding)
    1920-1926: Dominance (Tilden)
    1925-1937: No dominance (Lacoste-Cochet-Vines-Perry)
    1938-1942: Dominance (Budge) [though the dominance era was shortened by WW2]
    1943-1953: No dominance (Riggs-Parker-Kramer)
    1954-1959: Dominance (Gonzales)
    1960-1964: No dominance (Gonzales-Rosewall-Laver)
    1965-1979: Dominance (Laver)
    1970-1976: No dominance (Newcombe-Smith-Nastase-Connors-Ashe)
    1977-1980: Dominance (Borg)
    1981-1992: No dominance (McEnroe-Lendl-Becker-Edberg)
    1993-1997: Dominance (Sampras)
    1998-2003: No dominance (Agassi-Hewitt)
    2004-....: Dominance (Federer)


    As you can see, History does repeat itself!
    My point is that we remember great players (Doherty,Tilden...), but of course we remember less of the "other ones". With all due respect, I think in 100 years nobody except tennis fanatics will know anything about Hewitt or Roddick.
    The fact is that the eras when players really dominated the field were not more numerous at the beginning of the 20th century than today...we just forgot the "holes" between them.

    2.
    The money factor is of course very important about this issue, but there are physical reasons as well: with modern rackets, the ball is quicker, then movements of the players have to be quicker, which cannot be good for the player's body. Nadal, a 21-year-old, played around 70 matches this year and is already plagued with a fatigue injury. In the 60s, 30-year olds could play 150 matches a year without injury, so there definitely was an evolution, objectively speaking.

    5.
    I totally agree with Chaog, this is a truly time-dependent stat. The 60s pros wanted to play lots of matches, because of prize money, but they also contractually had to play them. For instance, in 1967, when Laver had arguably the best pro season ever, he suffered nearly 20 losses, including some to players that were clearly not "in his league" such as Stolle.
    Neither Gonzales, nor Rosewall or Laver ever had a win-loss record comparable to McEnroe's 1984 or Federer's 2006.


    Jonathan
     
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  22. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

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    The late Joe McCauley's book has many records for the pre-open pro years, but it is still incomplete. Robert Geist from Vienna, who helped him on the stats, is still counting results. Going by Raymond Lee, who seemingly has access to Geist's unpublished results, the last count of Laver's overall wins stands on 188 tournament wins (including ca. 15 smaller 4 man tournaments). The old pros had to play under all circumstances, they weren't allowed to cite fatigue and to step out of a tournament, to which they were booked. They often played with small injuries, it was simply a matter to make a living. Only Gonzales had a habit to make retirements and comebacks. In between his comebacks he worked as a tennis teacher or went to the car-race-track.
     
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  23. CyBorg

    CyBorg Legend

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    What if he wins Monte Carlo and Rome in spectacular fashion but comes up short at RG?

    Or, here's a better question: what if he wins RG like Agassi did? You know, amazingly easy draw - avoiding all big names and on the receiving end of a big time choke?
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2007
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  24. John123

    John123 Rookie

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    I couldn't agree more, and I'm very grateful that the people who seem to fit that description have joined this thread. As disappointing as it is that there are so many others, it's heartening that these boards enable the informed and non-dogmatic to share their knowledge. I've already learned a lot.

    It surprises me that you think Federer needs to win RG to surpass Borg, because I would have thought that Borg's failure to win the US Open roughly parallels this flaw in Federer's resume. I understand that your point is that Borg's success on hard courts outside the slams exceeds Federer's success on clay outside the slams, and that this all-surface excellence is decisive when comparing the two. But I would think that if, say, Federer dominated for another year or two, then that sustained dominance would matter more than Borg's non-slam superiority on their respective worst surfaces, especially because Federer's results on clay are arguably very good in the context of his era.

    Regarding this context, you mentioned before that this era helps Federer on grass as much as it hurts him on clay, and CyBorg has said that it's a very weak time now on clay except for Nadal. Both of these points are probably right, but I still think failing to win a particular slam is different in an era when that slam seems especially difficult for the best overall players to win. Does that not make sense? It's possible that I'm just underestimating how hard it was to win on clay in earlier times.
     
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  25. John123

    John123 Rookie

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    I take this as a big compliment. Thank you!

    And I think that your timeline is extremely helpful and revealing. Even before you posted it, I started to wonder whether it was accurate for me to suggest that players dominated less after 1970. One thing that does seem to have changed is that players since 1970 haven't been able to win all of the most important tournaments (Borg at US Open, Sampras and Federer at RG), whereas several players in the fifty years before 1970 managed the feat. Maybe this is just a historical accident, though; I don't know how much to read into it.

    One question: Was the early 1960s really an era of no dominance? I thought that Rosewall dominated circa 1960-1963. Maybe you left him out because he was the clear #1 for only 3 years, 1961-1963?
     
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  26. Steve132

    Steve132 Professional

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    I'm curious. Why does Federer have to win at Roland Garros in order to surpass Borg or Rosewall?

    Let's take Borg first. He never won the U.S Open, nor did he win the Australian (playing there only once at a teenager). Federer has won as many Slams in the past 4 years (11) as Borg did in his entire career. He has been at least as consistent as Borg, reaching the finals of the last 10 Slams and the semi-finals of the last fourteen. Both of these are all time records. He has also been more dominant than Borg, being the clear number one for four straight years. He has been at least as versatile as Borg, posting Open era record winning streaks on grass and hard courts, while his record on clay over the past three years against players not named Nadal is 45-2. I'm a great admirer of Borg, but I think that Federer's achievements are even more remarkable.

    Rosewall never won Wimbledon. Admittedly most of his career was spent in the professional ranks, and he would have won more Slams if he had been eligible to compete. I think, however, that it would be a stretch to equate his professional championships with those that Federer has won in the Open era. Federer is competing in EVERY event against the best 100 players in the world. He has to win seven matches against the best, because there is no pro-amateur distinction and every player who is fit plays in every Slam. The pro tours were certainly strong at the top but did not have the same depth.

    I also believe that most of those who saw Rosewall at his best consider Federer the greater player of the two. Players and coaches such as Jack Kramer, Nick Bolletieri and Cliff Drysdale cannot be accused of ignorance with respect to Rosewall's achievements, and they all give the nod to Federer. When people identify GOAT candidates from the 1950's and 1960's they almost always mention Gonzalez and Laver rather than Rosewall.

    Laver is another matter. There are no gaps in his resume at all, and for this reason he remains, for me, the best player of the Open era. Although Federer is still in mid-career, however, his accomplishments compare favorably with those of anyone else.
     
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  27. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

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    At some level, a win is a win is a win. History won't remember whether Federer won at Monte Carlo or Rome in the same way as it will record his fortunes (or misfortunes) in Paris. Federer himself acknowledges how big Roland Garros is for his career right now - the fact that he is so focused on this goal makes it all the more important, like Lendl's hunger for Wimbledon. As far as the manner of victory goes, I don't think it matters so much which players Federer faces en route to a potential title. He has proven over the past three years that he's a talented clay-court player... now he needs to become a clay-court champion. Regardless whom he faces in the draw, if Federer finally wins the French it won't be dismissed or disregarded as a fluke. It will simply complete his resume.
     
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  28. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

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    Borg was the best player in the world for about four years, comparable to Federer's current streak. He did not bother to play the weak Australian Open in those days, otherwise he would probably have a higher major count. He still won many more tournaments than Federer, and was considerably more versatile, being the most dominant player of his time on grass and on clay. I may take back my words if Federer continues his reign at No. 1 for another three years, or wins an eighth consecutive Wimbledon title, but for the time being I still maintain that Borg was the stronger all-around player and had the more successful career, and that winning the French is Federer's ticket to surpassing the Swede. You are free to disagree, of course, as many authorities do.

    Kramer always underrated Rosewall, just as he underrated Laver... he thought Vines, Perry and Riggs were all better than Laver. And I don't think Bolletieri or Drysdale are as well informed as you seem to. Perhaps the most rigorous tennis historian in the world today, Robert Geist, considers Rosewall the greatest player of all time. Along with Gonzales, he is the player whose career was most affected by the pro/amateur split. Rosewall was as accomplished as Cochet or Borg on clay, and his underspin backhand was beautifully suited for grass as well. That he never won Wimbledon in four final attempts is a bit tragic, I think, and if he had won it just once it would have put him on par with Tilden and Laver. As it stands, Rosewall is still one of the great marvels of the sport, an all-surface champion of tremendous longevity. His dominant streak (about three years) was shorter than Laver's (about five) or Gonzales's (6-8 years), but he had the best pro tournament record of them all.
     
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  29. CyBorg

    CyBorg Legend

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    History is ignorant. History also becomes less and less ignorant with the advents of new technology. We will be able to watch these matches 100 years from now. Scouting will be of much greater complexity - we will actually be able to scrutinize the quality of matches and victories - one against the other. Well, not 'we', but our children. Lucky they.

    Well, he says all the right things, but whenever he's on clay he often does all the wrong things. I do expect the utmost effort out of him the next spring, but we certainly didn't get it this year. He clearly came unprepared, a bit overweight and with a lot of mechanics out of sorts. I suspect that he and Roche came apart because Roche had serious misgivings about Roger's strategies.

    I think that in general you are probably right. Few question Agassi's French Open. Only occasionally a number of clay purists will raise their brow and proclaim soundly that when it happened it was the worst day of their lives.
     
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  30. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

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    A note on the match percentage-stats. The old pro circuit certainly had its own conditions, with many one-night-stands in between. But lets not forget, that Laver and Rosewall were still able, to win a lot of big draw tournaments after 1968. Laver won 54 open titles after 1968, not counting his pro title wins. Laver's winning percentage on the ATP and ITF webside from 1968 until 1978 is 80% (ca. 600 matches counting). These were all regular tournaments even under modern conditions. This is as high as Federer in his whole career, higher than Sampras and Agassi. And Laver was 30-40 years old in this period.
     
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  31. SgtJohn

    SgtJohn Rookie

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    Yes, this early 60s segment is a weakness in my list, I'm aware of it. Still, as you correctly guessed, I don't think that Rosewall was as clear-cut a n°1 as Gonzales or later Laver in all the years you evoke. 1962-1963 were perfect years, Grand-Slam-like years, easily comparable to Laver's 1969 or Tilden's 1921. But 1960-1961 were not. I, personally, give a slight nod to Rosewall in the #1 debate for 1960 and 1961, but I think Gonzales was really almost equal to him...
    So Rosewall was arguably a top 3 player for maybe 15 years, which is remarkable of course, but he never could have his own long era of dominance, as the undisputed #1. That's probably the one and only thing that could prevent me from calling him the GOAT right now, as he would probably be the title leader in any 'True Majors' list we could make...

    Jonathan
     
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  32. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

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    Didn't Gonzales come out in front with 26 according to your last count? Or have you revised the list to include at least one clay tournament each year (something that I agree should probably be done)? I agree that the absence of an extended dominant period may preclude Rosewall from GOAT status, and I also would like to have seen him win just one of those four Wimbledon finals he contested...
     
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  33. John123

    John123 Rookie

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    I think I'm finally starting to get a handle on the careers of Rosewall and Laver, although I still have a long way to go. It sounds like Rosewall had equal dominance in his best two years (1962-1963, as compared with Laver's 1967 and 1969) and substantially more longevity near the top, plus an ability to win on both grass and clay that rivaled Borg's, and a longer run than perhaps anyone else in history as the best clay-courter. I couldn't fault anyone (e.g., Robert Geist) for calling him the GOAT. But I agree with you and Chaog that Laver probably has the better case because outside of their respective absolute primes, they went head-to-head for three years (1964-1966), and Laver was better for most of that time.

    Even though Wimbledon was so important to Rosewall and he lost those four finals, I don't think it's fair to count that against him much because he was ineligible for *11* years of his best tennis. Being a decisive #1 for only two years, on the other hand, might keep him from being the best ever. And it also can't be ignored that virtually everyone seems to think Laver was better.

    What I don't have a handle on yet is the careers of Tilden and Gonzales. It sounds like Tilden was the best from 1920-1925, won the US championship all of those years and Wimbledon the only two times he played it during that period, never lost a match in Davis Cup during that run, and won the US Clay Court Championships many times. What I don't know are these things: (1) How many matches per year did Tilden play in his six years of dominance, and how many did he lose? (2) To what extent did he prove himself on clay? How meaningful were those clay-court wins in the US; was he competing against the world's best on clay? (3) Were there top players outside the US during that period whom Tilden didn't play on any surface because he wasn't traveling overseas?

    Regarding Gonzales, it seems that he was the best for at least six straight years (1954-1959), won the US Pro all of those years (like Tilden), and won all of the major tours. Here are my questions: (1) What were his results on clay? (2) Did he play the French Pro in 1958 or 1959, or Wembley in 1957-1959? If he did play those tournaments, is it important that he didn't reach the finals; and if he didn't play those tournaments, then why did he skip them? (3) How did his dominance in the tours compare with the dominance of others who played the tours in other time periods?
     
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  34. SgtJohn

    SgtJohn Rookie

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    Yes, exactly! I have been downgrading Gonzales a tad in my last counts, by replacing some fast-court event by slow-court ones. I had also been counting both his Forest Hills titles in the past as Majors, and the new pro events for 1948-1949 that I found out about in McCauley's book, had led me to downgrading them... Anyway, Gonzales is still almost a lock for having bagged 20+ majors. Rosewall, on the other hand, is still around 22 or 23 in any case, as adding claycourt or slowcourt events does not hurt him, on the contrary.
     
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  35. SgtJohn

    SgtJohn Rookie

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    Regarding Tilden:
    -I don't have complete records for the amateur circuit in these years. All I can say is Tilden won an average of 8 or 9 events per year in his years of dominance (1920-1925). As we know from various accounts that he was nearly unbeatable, we can guess that he played around 50 matches per year only, and lost *some* of them.

    -Tilden's main clay title was the World Hardcourt Championships in Paris in 1921, which was really a pre-Roland Garros. He reached the finals of Roland Garros once in 1927. He won the first Rome tournament in 1930.
    All his US Claycourt titles are not on the same level at all, as the 'true' clay circuit was in Europe, with Monte-Carlo, Nice, Cannes, etc., and the best players on this surface were actually European, who then did not play in these US Championships.
    All in all, Tilden proved himself on clay, but I think he couldn't be named a clay #1 for any year.

    -I think that Tilden played all of the top players of this time. Of course he could not play them really often, due to the distances you evoke...

    Regarding Gonzales:
    He did play the French in 1958 and Wembley in 1957-1958, and lost in the semis of these tournaments. He did not play them in 1959.

    I'm a bit busy, so I will have to come back to you later with more details about the Gonzales part, sorry...
    Good evening everybody!

    Jonathan
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2007
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  36. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

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    Regarding Tilden, it is often suggested that his greatest feat was winning those 13 consecutive singles matches in the Davis Cup Challenge Round (1920-1926). In 1924 he did not lose a single match--the only undefeated season I know of after World War I--and at one point in 1925 he won 57 straight games. Tilden actually reached the final at Roland Garros twice, the first in 1927, where he lost very narrowly to Lacoste, 11-9 in the fifth. In 1930 Tilden was finalist again, this time losing to Cochet in four, after having won the first set. Both of these matches were played when Tilden had noticeably passed his peak; as Al Laney observed, his backhand drive was no longer indomitable, and he had slowed just a fraction of a step. It should also be noted that Tilden won the French Pro Championships, held at Roland Garros, in 1934, over Martin Plaa. Tilden also defeated both Cochet and Plaa at Roland Garros the previous year in a Davis Cup-like professional confrontation. Tilden's 1921 WHCC (St. Cloud) title does stand as his most important victory on clay. Nevertheless, his seven US Clay Court Championships count for something. There is no way to prove whether Tilden was the "best"--albeit not necessarily most accomplished--player on clay during any particular year, but I think it is highly probable that he was, given his success at St. Cloud in 1921, his impressive performances on clay later in his career (1927, '30, '33-34), and his overall standard of dominance during the mid-1920s. A remarkable career by any standard, maybe the best of all, or at least on par with Laver's.
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2007
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  37. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Hi SgtJohn. My apologies in advance if you're covered this somewhere in your work; it's just that I haven't yet had a close look at your ratings.

    One thing I sometimes hear is how Laver would have won more than 11 majors if he'd been allowed to play the Slams in his 5 seasons as a pro before the Open Era. There's no doubt that this is true. But this question of adding hypothetical Slam wins to a player's resume is interesting, because it can't be just a matter of assuming that Laver would have won the 11 events that he did win while giving him more Slams from 1963-67. What I mean is that when Laver won 6 Slams in 1960-62, he was not the world's best player, as he showed when he faced the pros for the first time in 1963. So would he really have won his first six if pros had been allowed to contest the Slams throughout his career?

    The same with Rosewall. He won half of his Slams (four of eight) before the Open Era, in 1953-56; but Gonzales was a superior player in those years. Would Rosewall have won his first four?

    Of course, four is not a large number to be concerned about. With Gonzales the uncertainty becomes almost negligible, since he won only 2 Slams. If we can assume that Jack Kramer was the world's best player while Gonzales was winning his two U.S. Championships in 1948-49, it does not make much of a difference in a hypothetical total for Gonzales, which must be a huge number.

    Just wondering what your thoughts were on this.
     
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  38. SgtJohn

    SgtJohn Rookie

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    Hi krosero,

    You are right: the amateur Slams from the 50s and 60s usually don't count in my list of 'True Majors'. In this list, Rosewall's first major is his Wembley title in 1957. Laver's first are in 1964.
    Only for some years from the mid 40s to the mid 50s, do I sometimes count one amateur slam per year as a major, as there didn't even exist 4 good pro events featuring the top players. Plus, the difference in terms of level of play between the pro and the amateurs was not as big at this time as in the 1958-1968 period...That's why I referred to the 48-49 Forrest Hills as possible 'Majors'.

    Jonathan
     
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  39. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    That's great, thanks.
     
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  40. SgtJohn

    SgtJohn Rookie

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    1) That's a hard question to answer, as I, among others, am still struggling to guess the surfaces of some pro events, the sure thing being that very few of them were on clay.
    During his great amateur year in 1949, he reached the semis of RG, losing to Patty. In 1953 he lost on clay in France against Sedgman. He lost another French Pro final in 1956 to Trabert, and reached the semis in 1958, when Hoad beat him. In 1961 he was again beaten in the final by Rosewall. That year he won the Milan Pro tournament. I am not certain at all it was played on clay...the place suggests it was, but the time (october) does not. In 1968, he famously reached the semis of RG, crushing twice-champion Emerson, only to lose his next match against the #1 Laver.

    2) As I said earlier, he reached the semis of the tournaments you evoke in 1957-1958, and did not play in 1959. The fact he lost is of course important, it shows that his domination was not as absolute from 1957 on, as it was before... He did not play in 1959 due to one of his numerous retirements from the tour, retirements that were not actually very long...It's an important fact to know, as it makes his career even more impressive: he voluntarily deprived himself of many opportunities to win "majors", and still won many (21-26).
     
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  41. John123

    John123 Rookie

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    How dominant was he from 1954-1956? It appears that in those years, he won the US Pro every time, and that Wembley and the French Pro were held only in 1956, when he won the former and lost in the final of the latter. It also seems that during these three years he won a couple of tours over Sedgman and Segura (convincingly but not overwhelmingly), and another tour overwhelmingly over Trabert (who was not as good as Sedgman or Segura). Are there important other details to know?

    Thanks so much! I'm finally starting to get a picture of the careers of Laver, Rosewall, Tilden, and Gonzales, perhaps the four most important pre-Open Era players.
     
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  42. SgtJohn

    SgtJohn Rookie

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    Very dominant, I think everybody will agree...
    In 1954 he won a tour with Sedgman and Segura, that is the 2 other top players. He lost only one match in tournaments in the whole year (at the Pacific Coast Pro), winning the US Pro, the US Pro Hardcourts, etc. Only in october he lost some matches in a Far East tour with Kramer and Segura...
    In 1955 he won all of the (few) tournaments he entered (there were very few pro events that year), including US Pro, US Pro HC and Scarborough Pro. He lost 2 matches in a small Australian tour with Sedgman and Segura.
    In 1956 he lost 3 matches in tournaments, one in a small Argentina Round Robin, one in the final of the French Pro, one in the semis of Wembley...He won the US Pro again, Forest Hills Round Robin (with a perfect 5-0 record againt the top players of the world), the Milan Pro (probably on clay), etc. He also comfortably won the big tour against Trabert 74-27.

    These are the mere facts. Concerning his level of dominance compared to these of Laver or Federer in other times, it's a very subjective matter, as the pro format was very different from the tour we know today...

    Jonathan
     
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  43. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

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    For these pro tours, it is to be said, that the reigning pro champ had a big advantage over the amateur and new pro, who was neither accostumed to the head to head format nor to the surface, indoor wood or carpet. Trabert was at his best on clay and hard courts, but only the few last matches of the series weren't played indoors. Gonzales best surface was indoor carpet, there he had his biggest pro wins. The US pro was played until 1962 at Cleveland indoors. At Wembley, Gonzales had always problems with Sedgman, and he never won the French pro, played aweek before Wembley at RG, later at Coubertin stadium indoors. After Kramer, all pro champs had problems to adjust to the pro format, and lost heavily in the first 6 months of their pro career. Even Gonzales had problems in his first half year against Kramer. He was 6-50 in his first matches vs. Kramer, before he could make an impact an the reigning champ. Therefore these head to head series were not certainly a parameter for the true abilities of the pro champs. In the late 50s, when almost all good amateurs had turned pro, Gonzales was accepted by his peers as champion for his head to head wins, but he wasn't really dominating the tournament circuit. Sedgman, Hoad and Rosewall challenged him quite fiercely, especially on the European and Australian parts ot the tour.
     
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  44. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    A TYPO
    I think it should say: 1965-1969: Dominance (Laver)
     
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  45. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    I find this to be a plausible parallel, and intriguing to ponder. I do wonder if those persons who believe that "Federer needs to win RG to surpass Borg" also believe that to win on clay then grass is more impressive than to win on grass then hard court. In other words the differences between clay and grass are greater and thus more difficult to surmount than the differences between grass and hard court.

    Mmmmmm? Interesting.

    (I might be one of those persons.)
     
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  46. John123

    John123 Rookie

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    Are you referring to 1957? Wikipedia says that he won Wembley in 1956 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Professional_Tennis_Championships).

    Urban, you know far, far more than I do, but are you sure you're not selling Gonzales a bit short? Your explanation about the trouble that amateurs had when they turned pro explains Gonzales' massive tour victory over Trabert, but I don't think it applies to his tour wins over Sedgman and Segura. And although Gonzales lost to Sedgman at Wembley in 1953 and 1958, he beat him in the final there in 1956 and suffered from the fact that Wembley wasn't held in his absolute prime years of 1954 and 1955. Similarly, the French Pro wasn't held in 1954, 1955, or 1957, and Gonzales reached the final in 1956. Maybe he never would have won it anyway, but its nonexistence during his best years didn't do him any favors.

    I'm starting to think that it might be impossible to decide meaningfully who was better among the very best players of all time:

    A. Laver won everything on every surface and was thoroughly dominant for 3 years and the clear #1 for 5 years.

    B. Rosewall won everything on every surface and was thoroughly dominant for 2-plus years, and he maintained the ability to win majors and stay close to the top for an eternity.

    C. Gonzales didn't win everything on every surface (due in part to his not playing many tournaments on clay during his prime, possibly because of circumstances outside his control). But he was thoroughly dominant for 3 years and the clear #1 for 6 years, and like Rosewall he maintained the ability to win majors and stay close to the top for an eternity.

    D. Tilden won everything on every surface and was thoroughly dominant for 6 years, and he maintained the ability to win majors and stay close to the top for a very long time. But throughout his six-year run he didn't play the best players often and almost never played them on clay.

    E. Borg was thoroughly dominant for 2 years and the clear #1 for 3 years, but he never won the US Open.

    F. Federer has been thoroughly dominant for 4 years but hasn't won the French.


    If you like longevity, then maybe you pick Gonzales or Rosewall. As between those two, you might pick Gonzales if you care about length of dominance or length of time as #1, and you might pick Rosewall if you care about demonstrated mastery of all surfaces.

    If you don't care as much about longevity, then it seems virtually impossible to decide. Tilden and Gonzales simply wouldn't or couldn't prove themselves to the extent that the later players did, but their accomplishments are so impressive for so long that they might well have been able to prove themselves on clay if they'd gotten (taken?) more of a chance. So where does that leave them in comparison to, say, Laver or even Federer?

    An easier comparison, Laver vs. Federer, still isn't a slam dunk. Yes, Laver won the Grand Slam in 1969 and something like it in 1967, but I don't think he dominated as thoroughly for a full four straight years as Federer has from 2004-2007, and it's not clear whether or how much to discount Federer's failures at Roland Garros in light of the era in which he plays.

    Even if the Laver/Federer answer is clear, the Laver/Tilden/Gonzales answer isn't, and I'm not sure how an informed opinion can ever be reached in light of the different opportunities presented to each player to prove himself.
     
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  47. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

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    I think, John your analysis makes itself a bit too easy. Rosewall didn't win everything, maybe due to his long absence, but anyway. There are valid arguments, that Gonzales wasn't the Nr. 1 player on the pro tournament series in 1958 and 1959, when Segdman and Hoad respectively had probably the edge, with betetter head to head and more important title wins. And as i said, for the pre open era, you have to evalute all parts of a career, both the amateur and pro stages. By completely dismissing all amateur results, you cannot get a clear picture. And Federer still has to win a French, to be thoroughly dominant. His 3 majors a year is nice and good, but on the other side, he did miss a Grand Slam in every year.
     
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  48. SgtJohn

    SgtJohn Rookie

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    Oops, you're right, I mixed the years up, Pancho did win in Wembley in 1956.

    About Gonzales, I think urban is right on the whole, even if sometimes his comments seem a bit harsh to me towards Pancho... But it can't be denied that the first months of a pro career cannot be used to judge a player: imagine if Federer and Nadal played separate tours, the former on grass and hardcourts all year, the latter on clay. Then suddenly you tell Federer he'll be on a big world tour against Nadal on clay, a surface he practically doesn't know...what do you think would happen? The analogy is maybe a bit exaggerated, but it shows what the rookie pros had to face. The world series against Gonzales were played on indoors only, a surface that was almost non-existent on the amateur circuit. Plus, the atmosphere was very different (same thing as Borg at Flushing Meadows I think, with the noisy enthusiastic crowds disturbing him).

    I'm not saying that Gonzales was not a clear n°1 for 1954-1959, just that one must be careful not to underestimate the amateurs too much (as I sometimes did, I admit). It does not apply to every one of them of course. Cooper, Olmedo, never did anything on the pro circuit, and then we can't think too much of their amateur years. Sedgman, Hoad, Rosewall are the ones.
    Sedgman started beating the great pros from his rookie year in 1953, so it's pretty clear that his great year in 1952 was no fluke.

    The same could be said about Hoad in 1956. Clearly he was badly beaten during his pro debut in 1957, but consider that: In 1956, up to Forest Hills, he was supreme, winning 14 tournaments, including a Little Slam. From Forest Hills 1956 to the end of his amateur career, apart from his 1957 Wimbledon victory, he wasn't dominating at all, he won only a few tournaments in 1957. Then we could extrapolate (it's a fragile assumption, I admit) that Hoad 1956>>Hoad 1957, and then his lackluster pro debut cannot be taken into account to judge of his 1956 level.
    This idea is supported by the fact that he dominated Rosewall during almost all the 1956 season. Immediately after that in early 1957, Rosewall had a great pro rookie year, becoming a solid #2 with a win at Wembley and a 2-2 record in tournament play against Gonzales and 3-2 against Segura. This performance of Rosewall shows that the amateur careers of Hoad and himself in 1955-1956 shouldn't be overlooked...

    Jonathan
     
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2007
    #48
  49. John123

    John123 Rookie

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    I assume you're referring to Wimbledon. I understand how important amateur results were at the time, and that Wimbledon was the most important tournament. But even so, I just don't see how you can count it against him significantly when he was ineligible for *11* years of his best playing days. If he had won it, he wouldn't have been beating the very best player(s) in the world; and if he had been allowed to compete when he was the best in the world, then he probably would have won it (after all, he won Wembley four straight times). I know how much he and others cared about it, and I know that some of the best amateurs were perhaps almost as good as the best pros -- but still, 11 years is 11 years.

    That's why I distinguished the years in which he was thoroughly dominant (1954-1956) from those in which he was merely the clear #1 (1957-1959). As SgtJohn has noted, both the players of that time and the consensus among tennis historians placed Gonzales as #1 throughout the late 1950s on the ground that his tour results trumped whatever tournament deficiencies he might have had. Maybe you're right that it wasn't entirely clear in 1959, but I think that's the most that could be said.

    Maybe this way of looking at it is right, but even if it is, it highlights my point that comparisons are extremely difficult. Surely you'd call Tilden thoroughly dominant in the early 1920s (and presumably also Gonzales from 1954-1956). Would Federer deserve that same label if he had chosen not to play the French the last four years, as Tilden chose not to compete against the best Europeans on clay during most of his prime? Is it fair to penalize Federer for trying to win on his worst surface against the world's best? Maybe it's not Tilden's fault that he didn't go to Europe regularly to play the best clay-courters. Either way, we just don't know whether he and Gonzales could have accomplished what you're faulting Federer for failing to accomplish.
     
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  50. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

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    Maybe Tilden wasn't thoroughly dominant for all the years 1920-25. In 1921 he won all important events (although his Wimbledon win was rather lucky). But in 1922 Johnston did somewhat outshine him, if we take a closer look. Tilden beat im for the US crown in a close match, but overall Johnston was 3-1 over Tilden, was more dominant in the Davis Cup campaign, and was indeed ranked Nr. 1 for the year by some experts. Gonzales was certainly one of the all time greats. But he wasn't that dominant on all surfaces, going by the factual results. He was more a king in his own castle .Even in 1954-56 i would rank Trabert as a clay court player over him. Trabert won RG twice 1954-55 and later twice the Pro French at RG. On clay, i would give even Segura an even chance against Gonzales in those years, not to speak of the good amateur clay courters like Drobny or Patty. Of course, that is speculating. I don't want to penalize Federer for anything. But one thing is certain: he is 1-6 or 1-7 on clay vs. Nadal (0-3 at RG) and lost all their important meetings on this surface bar one. That's certainly not thorough domination.
     
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