Thoughts on Kafelnikov

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by James_M, Oct 10, 2009.

  1. James_M

    James_M New User

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    Kafelnikov won 2 majors. Critics like to say he had easy draws. I think there are no easy draws in a 90s major. To win, you have to defeat the top players or the players who defeated them. Sampras did not play the 1999 Australian Open. He had not won a hard-court major since the 1997 Australian Open and he would not win another until the 2002 US Open. To say Sampras would probably have won the 1999 Australian Open is unfair.

    Kafelnikov has a good record in majors compared to other players of his generation but his record against top 8 players in majors is poor (3-12). The 3 wins were against Agassi (FO95), Sampras (FO96) and Kuerten (US01). I think Agassi was injured and Sampras was tired from 5-set matches. After the Agassi and Kuerten matches he was thrashed by eventual champions Muster and Hewitt.

    He did not win a Masters Series tournament. His win/loss record against top 8players in these tournaments was 11-16. The worst thing is that only 16 losses against top 8 players means many more losses against lower ranked players.

    Why did he play so badly in the clay court events but manage to challenge at the French Open? After 1994 I can't recall him doing anything good at Monte Carlo, Rome, or Hamburg.

    He qualified for the ATP Finals 7 years in a row. He did beat some very good players at this tournament but never Sampras or Agassi.

    I think another problem is that it is hard to pick out victories over top players that were outstanding. Probably the best match I remember him playing was against Agassi in Montreal 1999 (and then he loses to Thomas Johansson).
     
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  2. DarthFederer

    DarthFederer New User

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    He just got hot
     
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  3. wyutani

    wyutani Hall of Fame

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    great backhand.
     
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  4. jrepac

    jrepac Professional

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    kafelnikov

    I liked watching him play; great groundstrokes, fantastic backhand. I often wondered if nerves got the best of him on the big stage....often thought he should have done much better against the top guys, on a much regular basis. Everyone likes to say he was over-rated, easy draws, etc., but really, go back and watch the guy. He had some excellent skills...just not a consistent winning record...but, 2 slams ain't hay....many would love to win one.
     
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  5. 35ft6

    35ft6 Legend

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    He was kind of an underachiever. Some thought he was going to be a semi-dominant number 1 for a while. Almost perfect backhand. So simple and efficient. Didn't really use his legs on the serve. Forehand was weird looking but very effective. Pretty solid volleys. He used to praise Sampras to no end. I don't think he really wanted to be number 1 that badly and in the end, he was just playing as many matches as he could for the money. Who knows. If he didn't praise the top guys so much and was gunning for them, and instead of entering every event he could in doubles and singles for the prize money he tried to peak for the really big tournaments, perhaps he could have won another Slam or two.

    I remember watching a match between him and Agassi where the camera was right behind them. The hitting going on was insane. We're talking too of the purest strikers of the ball ever. Just sick.
     
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  6. eric draven

    eric draven Rookie

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    I just got done watching some video of him playing both Sampras and Agassi. I'd forgotten how efficient and absolutely devastating his backhand could be. But his forehand was also very good and he had decent touch at the net when he went forward. I remember that the knock on him wasn't so much that he was an underachiever as he chased the money. Growing up in the Soviet Union before the breakdown of communism he basically played as much as he could in order to make as much money as he could. He didn't train as much because he would constantly play both singles and doubles at every tournament and he played a grueling schedule.
     
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  7. jms007

    jms007 Professional

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    He kind of had that keeping your nerves in check problem that many Russians seem to have. Like others said, he played way too many tournaments, and almost always singles and doubles to make as much cash as possible. Well it did get him 4 GS doubles trophies, and a pretty high place on the cash list, but he burned out too fast and didn't fully realize his potential in singles. Loved the ground strokes, killer backhand...forehand was a bit "weird", not exactly a crusher but with excellent directional control, and some very solid volleys (hence all of the double trophies). The serve was probably his weakest area. Almost all arm power, nothing too devastating, just functional.
     
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  8. jorel

    jorel Hall of Fame

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    i just like his racquet choice
     
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  9. mctennis

    mctennis Hall of Fame

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    In one interview he said stated he had a $5,000 cell phone bill every month. No wonder he played in so many tournaments. LOL
     
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  10. anointedone

    anointedone Banned

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    Probably the worst player to ever win 2 slams. Here are many of the reasons why:

    1. Wasnt even good enough to win a Masters title. What 2 time slam winner cant even win a Masters!?

    2. 0-9 head to head vs Sampras on non clay surfaces. Makes Roddick's performance vs Federer look outstanding.

    3. His biggest wins on his way to winning slams were Todd Martin on hard courts and Michael Stich on clay. Considering the surface has had absolutely no big wins in slams, other than maybe an injured Agassi at the 95 French an event he was trounced badly in the next round anyway. Yes his draws to his 2 slam wins were a joke.

    4. Not a single standout weapon. Even his backhand was excellent but still not spectacular. Looking at the rest of his game his serve was weak, his forehand for mens tennis standards was quite average, and his will to win was lackluster.

    5. An 8 match losing streak to someone like Tomas Johansson, a guy who some consider the worst 1 slam winner ever. What does that say about a guy who somehow managed through some divine intervenetion to win 2 slams.

    6. Was even being completely owned by a young pre-prime Hewitt when he was at his career peak. And there are some who even consider Hewitt a softer #1 and 2-time slam winner. Again what does this say about Kafelnikov who is clearly an inferior player to Hewitt.

    I actually think Davydenko who plays a similar style is even a better player than Kafelnikov and he hasnt even made a slam final. Kafelnikov winning 2 slams is one of the biggest flukes in tennis. Those times I hear anyone suggest he should have won more than 2 slams I have a hard time keeping myself in the chair from laughing so hard.
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2009
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  11. anointedone

    anointedone Banned

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    That just baffles me when I hear some people say something like that now since I followed tennis very closely in the 90s and I NEVER remember experts, analysts, writers, or anyone else forecasting that for him at any point in him. In fact I dont remember a single slam in his whole career that people thought going in he had a pretty good shot of winning, can you name one honestly (and it certainly wasnt either of the slams he did win neither which he was even on peoples radar to win coming in). Sometimes nostaligia does funny things to how people remember players. During his brief stint at #1 I do remember John McEnroe and others almost being too embarassed to even use those worlds on him, as they were found it too cringe worthy and freakish to even acknowledge that he was actually ranked #1 at that moment by the computer.
     
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  12. GS

    GS Professional

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    I liked the fact that, at one point, he played more tournament action than anyone, meaning singles AND doubles. But I didn't like it when he complained about low prize money from the ATP and the ITF.
    It was surprising to see how much weight he gained after retiring, when he got into professional poker and amateur golf. He lost some of it later, though.
    Think I'll watch a Kafelnikov match on tape today....
     
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  13. lambielspins

    lambielspins Banned

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    Well you seem to be asking why some people dont rate him that highly and that you think he is underrated, then go on to explain yourself very well with many great examples why he is not rated that highly, and why he in fact is not really underrated.
     
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  14. 35ft6

    35ft6 Legend

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    No, I clearly remember people describing him as the state of the art tennis player when he first emerged. They talked about his frame and strokes. People thought he would win multiple Grand Slams and be number 1, and they were right. But maybe he was TOO professional, he treated tennis like a job in the worst way. Punch in, punch out. He wasn't courting immortality, he was taking it week by week, pay check to pay check, not really taking the breaks or trying to peak for the Slams. Despite all that, he became number 1 and won 2 Slams. His backhand was a weapon, not sure why you don't remember that. Plus, he was very good at the net. He's the last player to win the doubles and singles at a Slam.
     
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  15. scootad.

    scootad. Semi-Pro

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    I disagree with some of the above sentiments.

    Kafelnikov had all the tools; he really had few if any structural weaknesses. But I do think he played mostly for the money. He entered tournaments almost every week of the year, singles and doubles. After a while it seemed he was more focused on quantity than quality. And clearly the money. He would be happy playing every week making the QFs and SFs and cashing in than cutting down on his schedule and maximizing his potential focusing on winning the biggies.

    He struck me as someone whose priorities were somewhat screwy. But coming from a poor country and background I guess I can't fault him too much.
     
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  16. travlerajm

    travlerajm Hall of Fame

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    The most memorable things about Kafelnikov were his quotes before and after the 99 Australian Open final. Before the final, he said Enquist was a choker, so he all but guaranteed a win. Then he went on to win.

    Then after he won, he thanked Sampras for not playing!
     
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  17. jrepac

    jrepac Professional

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    Kafelnikov...

    gee, he played only for the money...BAD, BAD! LOL! he should only be playing for fame and glory!

    to come from nowhere/no place to tennnis fame, and riches, has to affect you differently based on your background/upbringing. Certainly if you came from nothing.

    Perhaps he felt it would be fleeting and he wanted to earn as much as he possibly could? Cannot fault him for that on a certain level.

    Granted, not the best way to ensure that you are fresh for slams, but it is one way to go if you are trying to rack up the cash.
     
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  18. 35ft6

    35ft6 Legend

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    Not sure if anybody is really faulting him for playing for the money, but he kind of took the guaranteed money instead of going for the big money. If you really want money in tennis, it doesn't hurt to win huge titles. But he seemed comfortable with coasting for good tennis money instead of skipping a few smaller paychecks and trying to win the really huge paychecks and the bigger endorsement and appearance dollars that come with it. He treated it too much like a 9 to 5 job, and that's fine, but he probably would have made a lot more money if he thought more long term.
     
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  19. !Tym

    !Tym Hall of Fame

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    I think this is a popular sentiment, but a little part of me thinks that maybe for him, playing as he did singles and doubles didn't actually hurt him as much as people think.

    Kafelnikov's backhand was voted the BEST two-handed backhand on tour BY HIS ACTUAL PEERS (to that other poster). His forehand was menacing, not INSNAE or anything, but very, very menacing at its best. To me, he was a BIG version of David Nalbandian. It's perhaps not the flashiest style or game, but it's remarkably well put together and solid. Being unbelievably "solid like a rock" is a style of its own, and like any other style if played to its optimal capacity very much formidable.

    Tommy Haas is a very similar type player, and he's always been one of those guys who was JUST a hair below the very elite. In the Olympic finals, BOTH guys were laying it on the line, that was a fully motivated Kafelnikov there, the Olympic gold was something he definitely took seriously, and in that fifth set I thought it was clear that Kafelnikov's top gear was just a little bit more than Haas'.

    This said, I don't want to put TOO much importance into individual matchups either. Hewitt was a HORRIBLE style matchup for Kafelnikov, the absolute worst. He was hard but not rocket launcher hard hitter, who hit flat, and was good at the net, and had an average serve. You take these variables and they feed EXACTLY into Hewitt's game. I can think of no better stylistic matchup for Hewitt.

    The other players, however, knew that Kafelnikov was WITHOUT A DOUBT one of the most talented players on tour.

    To me, though Medvedev had the better potential, because he had more piercing power, meaning he had the punch to end the point of a dime at any time if he REALLY wanted to, and that's not what I felt Kafelnikov had. The only thing he lacked was the knockout punch, one-punch k.o. power. He was a BRUISING hitter, a HEAVY hitter, but a consistent, low to mid 90s fastball guy, he just didn't have that Troy Percival 98+ pop capabilities.

    The thing is, Medvedev's body broke down A LOT more than Kafelnikov's ever did. Kafelnikov for all his alleged lack of work ethic, his body actually held up waaaaaay, INFINITELY better than MANY of his fellow top ten caliber pros. WAaaaay better. He was a true iron man, so he must have been doing SOMETHING right me thinks.

    Perhaps not practicing his arse off off court saved his sea legs so to speak. There is just as much such a thing as over training as there is over playing.

    Also, Kafelnikov said one of the main reasons he played so many matches, both singles and doubles, was because he didn't like practicing, FOR HIM, just playing matches was an easier, better, way for him to stay in shape, and maintain/work on his game.

    I know people like that too. Who knows, I actually think someone with Kafelnikov's personality would "burn out" more easily if had taken the "typical" approach to so-called "peak performance." What holds from one, does NOT hold for another in endeavors such as this, where greatness is involved. To me this isn't even a debate, it's a reality. Everyone ticks differently, everyone knows what works best for them.

    When Kafelnikov wanted to play well, he could...that Olympics final. Kafelnikov could also have very serious mental blocks too, and was more susceptible than most players to "problem" matchups. This doesn't mean that his talent wasn't still upper echelon elite either. His hand-eye coordination, court sense, and ball-striking were second to none. His service motion was relaxed, but like the rest of his game VERY energy efficient. No one can deny how well Kafelnikov's body held-up, AND that he fought off burnout a LOT better than his fellow top ten caliber pros.

    The other thing is that Kafelnikov's greatest signature was to me that as a baseliner he was top shelf class caliber. His body-type, tall but naturally strong like an ox, could handle heav topspin shots as equally well and comfortably as it could flat, piercing type shots. He had a wide-ranging strike zone in other words.

    And most of all, what made him unique in his generation was that he was kind of like a modern-day Connors. He was a *net opportunist* at his best. A first-class, grade A baseliner who can also effectively and seamlessly seal off the net is a very rare find in the modern age. To this degree, and add his superlative court construction, point-building skills, I see not where NOT playing doubles would have helped him. To me, doubles made Kafelnikov a better player in that it honed his court senses and instincts in a way that off-court practice does not. Imo, not enough players play doubles and they don't reach their full potential as ALL-COURT players because of it. To me the one knock on Kafelnikov was that he wasn't a specialist player per say, he had a game truly for all surfaces and all court conditions like few of the modern generation, he was an all-season player in other words, dangerous and FORMIDABLE everywhere, but sometimes a little TOO well-rounded for his own good.

    I'm not saying you can't piece it all together this way, but rather that for someone with his CLEAR MENTAL DEFICIENCIES this is a TOUGH way to play consistently near your best. He could work prime Guga over at his best like few others of his generation, BUT mentally he could not sustain it over Guga for the duration as often as you wold think his style (well-suited to counteract Guga's) would allow.

    Kafelnikov like Rios was prone to mental lapses during matches. Guys like this, at their best, PIECE TOGETHER a masterpiece, it's the SUM OF THE PARTS, that make the whole with them. BUT, the problem is that this requires imminent SELF-CONTROL over yourself MENTALLY from a focus standpoint from start to finish to truly reach your full potential. Pioline was also like this. On any given day, masterpiece theatre was possible, but sustainable? No...NOT for guys who are PEEZ-POOR mentally.

    Goran was flighty upstairs too...but at least, he knew he could just sling-shot a serve into a corner a few times and still manage to "hang in there" when his head wasn't all there...until, well, it was there.

    Kafelnikov with a monster serve (what his body type SHOULD have dictated) would have been a legend caliber player imo.

    To me, Kafelnikov and Bruguera both had OK serves, underrated, they were SNEAKY-quick serves. They would frustrate tour observers, because with their build, people thought they should be able to get SO MUCH more out of their serves if they would just get A LITTLE of their body into it. Bruguera's serve was all wrist, and Kafelnikov's all arm. And yet, I would say their serves while they could have definitely been better, weren't actually as weak as remembered. Their economic motions had a way of feeling "sneaky quick" to their opponents on good serving days. They were spot servers, and it's hard to pick-up on that and direction with guys who economical motions like that. Cliff Drysdale was the one who described Bruguera's serve that way, "sneak quick," it's more effective than you think it should be and so in a way that is the secret to its effectiveness. The thing is, Chang had a MUCH better motion than either of these guys, but simply I felt just because of height and longer, luxurious limbs alone; they actually had more effective serves.

    Chang's serve was serviceable, and yet I thought it was eaiser to attack his serve in spite of all his endless tinkering to beef it up and maximize it.

    If Chang's serve was serviceable, that to made Kafelnikov's serve neither a weapon nor a weakness, but really not have bad, and SURPRISINGLY effective.

    Overall, I thought Kafelnikov was FOR SURE *not* a true #1, MUSTER was to me more of a true #1, because at least when he reached it, he felt truly DOMINANT at some point (even if on one surface primarily). Same with Rios. Even Korda, had he not choked away his chance at #1. But to me, the most undeserving #1's were Kafelnikov and Moya. They just NEVER felt DOMINANT at any one point, not to the point where they ever struck fear in everyone as being THE guy to beat at a tournament. Winning slams to me can be different from being #1. To me, being #1 is more about instilling fear in others as being "unbeatable" or "invincible" for a time. You never got that from these too.

    I look at Moya as VERY good and a very good but not VERY good competitior, but never *quite* AMAZING (other than his forehand...something always just felt "missing" for me with him, even if on paper it all seemed like the potential and capability was there, I can't quite put my finger on it, but he was missing the INTANGIBLES, the *fill in the blanks*, the *in between* SOMETHING extra that defines the capacity for greatness to me, which is why I NEVER bought into the hype about him being somehow "special" when he first burst onto the scene). I look at Kafelnikov, on the other hand, as a guy who COULD play amazing, but who MENTALLY failed himself by coming into matches either TOO cocky or TOO kissing-up and bowing down. There wasn't enough of a between with him. He lacked substance in the head to put it all together, but the reality is that the potential and capacity unlike Moya I always felt was there.
     
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  20. 35ft6

    35ft6 Legend

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    I think Kafelnikov himself said that he was better than Chesnekov, and Medvedev was better than himself, and Safin was better than Medvedev.
    Sure, doubles should help volleys, but I don't think playing doubles is good practice/preparation for singles. Even if he hated practicing so much he said doubles was his form of practice for singles, I don't really buy it. Two different approaches. It's fine. He will go down as the last player who was highly ranked in both singles and doubles perhaps, but I personally think he could have done better in singles if he just concentrated on singles. And not that this proves anybody wrong, but it seems as if the top singles players in the ATP feel the same way. It's not just a matter of mental and physical fatigue, I just think there's something to be said for concentrating on one single goal.
     
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  21. wyutani

    wyutani Hall of Fame

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    isnt kafelnikov no.1 in russia.?
     
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  22. scootad.

    scootad. Semi-Pro

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    I agree with this. I really got the feeling Kafelnikov was spreading himself too thin; but purposefully. I guess he figured this was the way he could collect the most cash. To get to the top of game you really have to devote 100% to tennis - both in terms of oncourt and off court training habits. He just didn't have that kind of dedication necessarily. He was talented enough to put in about 75% effort and get to the QFs of most tournaments. This satisfied him - collect the check and off to the next tournament. But this is not how to get to number 1 and stay there.
     
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  23. grafselesfan

    grafselesfan Banned

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    You mean all time? I would say no. Safin and Kafelnikov both have 2 slams. Safin has more slam finals and slam semis. Safin had MUCH bigger wins to win his slams than Kafelnikov who lucked out with dream draws both times. Kafelnikov didnt even win a Masters title, Safin won 5 of them. Safin is also by far the more talented player of the two, and both had problems mentally. In the main player thread there is a thread on Kafelnikov vs Davydenko and I picked Kafelnikov atleast unless Davydenko wins a slam. However Safin vs Kafelnikov it is clearly Safin.
    Greatest Russian players in recent memory I would rank:

    1. Safin
    2. Kafelnikov
    3. Davydenko
    4. Chesnokov
    5. No idea, maybe Youzhny, maybe Volkov
     
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