Join Date: Jan 2013
The biggest myth in the ongoing Sampras-Federer debate....
is that PS faced considerably better opposition during his reign than RF faced during his. The standard tactic of the PS advocate is to exaggerate the quality of PS's opponents and to minimize that of RF's, and to someone who hasn't done much research on the subject, it can be fairly convincing. I know that in my own case, it did raise enough doubt to cause me to dig deeply into what actually took place and to come up with the facts.
As I see it, strong opposition comes mostly from players who are having good years, with good match W-L records, several tournament wins, few 1st and 2nd round losses, and good results in the majors, preferably, but not necessarily, three or four. And a player's resume surely makes no differerence whatsoever. If, for example, Player A has won some majors in the past, and Player B hasn't, how is Player A's performance superior to Player B's if both he and Player B have similar results in a particular year?
In addition to players having good all-around years, there'll be clay-court and grass-court specialists (although there don't appear to be any of the latter anymore), and there'll be players making unexpected runs to finals despite having otherwise mediocre years. PS himself is an excellent example of this in his US 2002 win. The more power there is at the top of the rankings,as there is now, the less likely it is that there'll be a surprise finalist.
PS's peak period was from 1993 to 1997, when he won two majors per year, with the exception of 1996, and RF's was from 2004 to 2007, when he won three majors per year, with the exception of 2005. Let's begin with PS's opponents. Were they the tennis giants that PS supporters claim they were?
Courier: Contrary to popular belief, Andre Agassi wasn't PS's chief rival during his best period--JC was. Fron 1993 to 1997, PS was 5-1 vs JC in majors, but only 2-1 vs AA. JC did have a great year (in the majors) in 1993, winning the Australian and reaching the finals of both the French and Wimbledon, but it was to be his last great year. Here are his results in the majors from 1993 to 1997:
1993 W F F 4
1994 SF SF 2 2
1995 QF 4 2 SF
1996 QF QF 1 --
1997 4 1 1 1
Edberg: PS was 0-2 against SE in majors.
Stich: They played only once in majors, PS winning in 1992 at Wimbledon.
Ivanisevic: GI was surely the most one-dimensional Top 10 player in the Open era of tennis. He did well at Wimbledon when his serve was on, but was exposed for what he really was at the hard-court majors, reaching the SFs just once, in 24 tries. He beat no Top 10 players in a major between Wim. 1995 and Wim. 2001. Only once did he lose fewer than 21 matches in a year. He did actually go 77-26 in 1996, winning five titles, but played 29 events to do it. On grass, he had a winning percentage of 72. Andy Roddick, usually the favorite target of the PS advocates, had one of 79.6.
1991 W SF F 3 3 of 15
1992 3 -- QF 4 6 of 20
1993 1 2 SF 4 12 of 23
1994 -- 1 SF 1 10 of 21
1995 1 3 F SF 5 of 19
1996 W -- 3 -- 9 of 19
As you can see, BB's results dropped off sharply in 1992, so that, with the exception of a three-majors recovery from Wim. 1995 to Aus. 1996, he achieved some success only at Wimbledon, and even that was less impressive than it had been, when, with the exception of 1987, he was either a winner or a finalist. The final column of the table shows the number of early defeats in tournaments. It speaks for itself.
PS was 3-0 vs BB in majors, but one of those came at Wim. 1997, when BB was clearly near the end of the line.
Chang: MC won French 1989, but then made only one SF or QF run per year until 1995, when he did well in three majors. In fact, in 1996 and 1997, he was probably PS's biggest rival, finishing at #2 in 1996 and #3 in 1997. PS won three majors in those two years. How many do you think RF would likely have won had MC been his biggest worry?
MC was a very good player, but never a great one. I believe he's comparable to the Andy Murray of 2008 to 2010, at least in terms of results.
Krajicek: RK beat PS in the Wim. 1996 QFs and went on to win the title, the only time in his career that he reached the finals of a major, and the only tournament of any kind he won in 1996. At the end of the year, with a W-L record of 46-28, he was ranked #7, the only time he finished higher than #10.
Despite the less-than-stellar career, RK was PS's nemesis. After losing their first match, he won six of the next seven, from 1993 to 1999, which includes all of PS's years at #1. PS won the final two, including US 2000.
Martin: TM had a big year in majors in 1994, with a Final and two SFs, but his record in the 2nd tier of tournaments, the Masters, was a pathetic 3-5. This is probably why he was ranked only #10 at the end of the year. He didn't have another big year in the majors till 1999.
Rafter: PS didn't score a majors win over PR until 2000, so he doesn't really fit into this part of the presentation.
Agassi: I'll save most of my AA comments for the RF section of this presentation, if I do one.
PS played AA (in majors) only three times between 1993 and 1995, and not at all from 1996 to 1998. AA did have his greatest year in 1995, going 73-9, with seven Ws in 16 events, and only one early knockout. He and PS split Ws at the Australian and the US. Inexplicably (yes, I have read his book), he fell to 38-14 next year.
That's more than enough for now. I believe that I've shown (and I have a hell of a lot more data) that PS's road to tennis glory wasn't quite as challenging as his advocates say it was. If there's enough interest in this thread, I'll continue with the RF part.