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Old 07-12-2011, 11:44 AM   #1
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 157
Default Please stop equating 1960s tournaments with Open Era majors

When people want to argue for the greatness of present players like Federer or Sampras, they sometimes point to total victories of major tournaments (Wimbledon, FO, USO, AO), where Federer (16) and Sampras (14) top the list. This is an absurd argument, because those specific four tournaments didn’t always mean what they do today, for reasons that vary by era. To whatever degree that list matters, it matters only from the mid-1980s onward and can’t be used to compare recent players to those of earlier eras.

Similarly, when people want to argue for the greatness of past players like Laver or Rosewall, they sometimes point to total victories of the top tournaments from the professional tour of the 1960s. With all due respect, I believe that this too is completely wrong. Pro majors were different from Open majors, and they should not be treated the same way.

The three big differences between pro and Open majors are these:

1. From 1963-1967, all pro majors were played on fast surfaces.

2. Pro majors had fields of anywhere from 8 to 14 players, as opposed to 128 players.

3. Amateurs, who were among the world’s best players, could not compete in pro majors.

These things made it easier to win pro majors in bunches, which aided Laver and Rosewall in winning so many of them.

To be clear: You can only play who’s in front of you, and you can only play on the surfaces that are being used. It’s not Laver’s fault that things were like this in the mid-1960s. Also, Point #3 shouldn’t be overstated. The pro majors of the mid-1960s typically included 4 out of the 5 best players in the world, with only Roy Emerson missing. Emerson certainly wasn’t as good as Laver or Rosewall, though his absence did matter, as did the absence of other amateurs who were among the top 10 or top 15 players in the world.

To illustrate what pro majors were like, here’s an accounting of Laver’s major wins in 1967. I've supplied rough, theoretical 2011 equivalents of the opponents if Djokovic (the current #1) were substituted for Laver:

1. US Pro (field of 14): Laver beat Olmedo, Ayala, Stolle, and Gimeno
2011 equivalent: if Djokovic beat Seppi, Chela, Monfils, and Murray

2. Wimbledon Pro (field of eight): Laver beat Stolle, Gimeno, and Rosewall
2011 equivalent: if Djokovic beat Monfils, Murray, and Nadal

3. French Pro (field of 12): Laver beat MacKay, Stolle, and Gimeno
2011 equivalent: if Djokovic beat Malisse, Monfils, and Murray

4. Wembley Pro (field of 12): Laver beat MacKay, Davidson, and Rosewall
2011 equivalent: if Djokovic beat Malisse, Almagro, and Nadal

Bottom Line

Laver’s achievement in sweeping those four tournaments in 1967 was very impressive and significant, just as it would be very impressive and significant if Djokovic were to beat the equivalent players from 2011 in four important tournaments (two on grass and two on a fast indoor surface, with fields of 8 to 14 players) in a calendar year.

But that achievement was not nearly as impressive or significant as Laver’s achievement in 1969 of winning the Grand Slam.

The pro tour of the 1960s was terrific, and its best players were as great as those of any other era. But the right way to assess those players is not to count up majors from that era as if they were the same as majors of other eras. The 1960s majors were less difficult to sweep than Open majors from the mid-1980s to the present.

Pro majors ≠ Open majors

Last edited by John123; 07-12-2011 at 01:04 PM.
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