Very much agree with this. Just want to reply to the part I bolded.
Match stats are definitely tricky, but other stats can be just as problematic. Seasonal win/loss records, or number of titles won, can give the wrong impression about a match -- and even at their best, those stats remain indirect ways of inferring how a match was played. They can never be more than that -- so if there's some indication that there's a problem with them (if for example you have someone like Sampras who does not, or cannot, put his best tennis into a year-round effort, but is still capable of raising his level of play for the occasion), then match stats cannot be any worse, and may in fact be much better.
I think you largely agree with that, but I'm just saying: if all types of stats are potentially problematic, then why not wade through match statistics like winners and errors and first-serve percentages despite how tricky they can be?
Just making my push for that.
You mention the UE's. Good point: but the SV-fest at Wimbledon was not excessively different from the Sampras-Lendl match. Sampras came in 127 times against Lendl; he stayed back some, but not a whole lot. At Wimbledon, against Federer, he came in behind all his serves. Federer, meanwhile, was largely staying back on second serve. Lendl came in 34 times in the '90 match. So yes, definitely less net play in the '90 match, compared to the '01 meeting; definitely longer rallies; but the difference in amount of net play is less than you might expect.
Also, even though both matches went five sets, the Federer match was a good deal longer (60 games compared to 50). Which makes Sampras' low UE count against Federer even more impressive than it already is.
I still think the stats look comparable: I'm just saying, the stats for the '01 match look very good and are arguably better.
Also, Sampras served at 70% against Federer, an impressive number esp. on grass. I'm not aware of any comparably special stat in the Sampras/Lendl match.
Yes I agree with you that Sampras' level in '01 was not as high as in previous years. His speed was diminished and some of his bread-and-butter shots were failing.
Yet as you know all that was true of Lendl in the '90 match, too.
Two AP stories below, to give some sense of Lendl's performance.
Lendl was not at the top of his game, frequently hitting wide balls hit high to his backhand. And his usually constant forehand produced 17 forehand errors, most coming in the first two sets.
“I wasn’t hitting the ball well enough to take full advantage,” Lendl said. “I knew he was going to play better in the fifth (set) than he did in the third and fourth. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to put pressure on him from the beginning."
Lendl didn’t dump this match at all. He played well but suffered a few critical lapses, such as a wide backhand at set point in the first set.
Lendl had broken to 5-4 and was serving for the set in the second, but Sampras wouldn’t fold. Sampras won the first three points and broke back at 15 by driving a forehand approach smack on the baseline. Lendl could barely get his racket on it and looped it long with a forehand.
Lendl had four break points and had four deuces in the 11th game before Sampras held. In the tiebreak, Sampras opened with an ace, broke Lendl’s serve with a running backhand pass and hit two service winners to go up 4-1. Two more service winners later made it 6-3, and Sampras won it with a running forehand that kissed the lines in the corner.
Lendl found a chink in Sampras’ game -- the backhand -- and exploited it repeatedly to tie the match at 2-2. Lendl also began serving better, rapping many of his 13 aces and 12 service winners in those two sets.
But Sampras asserted himself when he won the opening game of the final set with a service winner. Lendl began to unravel -- a crying baby bothered him so much that Lendl yelled, “Take the kid out” in the second game. Sampras pushed him to three deuces in the fourth game, and on his second break point drove a forehand down the line that Lendl chased but couldn’t touch.
Lendl acknowledged that he was still held hostage by his preparation for Wimbledon, in which he spent three months training on grass. The effort was in vain, since Lendl lost in the semifinals to eventual winner Stefan Edberg.
“I haven’t played that well the whole summer, and I still felt today that lack of match play was the problem,” Lendl said. “I paid for the preparation for Wimbledon. I haven’t had enough play and I haven’t felt as comfortable on my ground strokes.”