I found this an intersting article:
What if matches
While the tennis season runs from January 1st through the end of November, some weeks are more exciting than others. On slower weeks, I will give my views on "what if" matches between players from different eras. I do this first because they are interesting questions to consider and second because almost everyone seems to be focused on Federer vs. Sampras when many interesting hypothetical matches are out there. I begin the series with two fiery left handers: Jimmy Connors vs. Rafael Nadal.
Methodology: This is admittedly highly speculative for many reasons. Sports medicine has rendered some injuries minor that used to end careers. Racket and strong technology along with training techniques have changed the sport. Also, tennis is played far less frequently on grass, green clay and carpet than it was in previous eras. All of that means this is far from an exact science. I will try to update all players that need updating (i.e. Borg playing with a wooden racket would struggle vs. Nadal, but if you update Borg's equipment and training he would at least hold his own).
I think when comparing players two related, but separate questions must be asked. First, who had more career accomplishments? Second, who would win more often than not if the two players faced off on a variety of surfaces? It is possible that in the case of Mats Wilander and Boris Becker that Wilander would be considered the more accomplished player and still be the underdog on surfaces other than clay. In our first case, Connors is obviously the more accomplished of the two, but Nadal is 21 and still has a lot of tennis in front of him. My series of "what if" matches will focus on the second question and analyze how a series of matches might turn out between two players. This series will focus on a hypothetical series of 10 three out of five set matches on each of these surfaces: slow hard court, red clay, grass, fast hard court and a fast indoor court. This series of matches will mirror Wimbledon, the Master's Cup, the Australian, French and U.S. Opens.
Connors vs. Nadal: The Tale of the Tape
Mind: Mentally both players competed about as hard as any player in history. Each player's competitiveness served to intimidate opponents. This alone makes for a compelling match up. Each man would give and expect no quarter from the other.
Tactics/Stroke Production: This is a fascinating contrast. Nadal hits with massive topspin that gives him a large margin for error, but also hits with great depth and power. Connors hit the ball flat and at times used slice/underspin on his forehand and backhand. Nadal tends to stay behind the baseline allowing his foot speed and fitness to make up for any court positioning he surrenders. Connors took the ball on the rise and tried to command points by moving his opposition from side to side waiting on a short ball to attack. Connors attack was often predicated on establishing superior court positioning. Both men served in a way that was hard to pick on, but did not produce a ton of winners. Nadal plays a lot of doubles and has surprisingly soft hands. Connors was very effective at ending points at the net due to the high quality of the approach shots he hit after getting a short ball.
The Surface Splits
Slow Hard Court: Jimmy Connors never played on the slower hard courts of Melbourne Australia, but the surface would not have bothered him. His keen eye sight and return of serve would have benefited from a court that slowed down serves. Nadal has produced reasonable but not excellent results on this surface. Both men would likely take it to each other on this surface and have their successes. If Connors could produce enough short balls from Nadal he'd have the advantage, but the slower surface would allow Nadal to line up passing shots. Both guys would break serve often.
Red Clay Court: This is Nadal's best surface, but Connors missed the French Open during his best clay court years. Anyone expecting Jimmy to go down 0-10 probably only saw Connors late in his career when he tried to end points quickly. Connors liked to attack, but he could bide his time as well. Jimmy beat Bjorn Borg in 4 sets on green clay at the 1976 U.S. Open and was runner-up at two other U.S. Opens on green clay. Still, Connors did not volley well when the passing shot dipped below the net. Nadal on clay would have time to force Connors to volley up more often than not.
Prediction Nadal 8 Connors 2
Grass Court: Nadal's two Wimbledon runner-up finishes prove that the Spaniard can play on grass. Connors won 4 grand slam titles on grass and finished as a runner-up at 5 grass court grand slam events. Connors ability to take the ball on the rise along with his flat and under spin ground strokes would frustrate Nadal. Connors would attack Nadal's serve and keep the ball low. Nadal bends well for low shots, but over three out of five sets the advantage goes to the player keeping the ball low. Nadal would retrieve well enough to have some success, but Connors would dictate play.
Prediction Connors 7 Nadal 3
Fast Hard Court: Nadal would not be plagued by the low bounces of grass court tennis, but Connors was a master of this surface. He invented the hard court tactics that served Agassi well over the years. Jimmy would attack Nadal's serve more than he liked. Even if Nadal had the goods to ward off Connors' attacks, he'd be faced with constant pressure. Once again, the aggressor would have the advantage on a faster surface. If the match was played in New York, Connors would thrive in an environment that has perplexed many European players including Nadal. My expectation is that any short ball Jimmy could attack would result in a put away volley and a raucous reaction from the crowd.
Prediction Connors 7 – Nadal 3
Fast Indoor Court: Similar to the previous two surface, Connors would likely dictate play by attacking second serves, keeping the ball low and moving Nadal from side to side. Nadal's superior height and upper body strength might serve him well on a surface that rewards raw power more than any other, but Connors flat ground strokes, foot speed and return of serve would still be very effective.
Prediction Connors 6 - Nadal 4
Final tally: Connors 27 – Nadal 23 In some ways, tennis strategies are cyclical. Nadal is playing a souped up version of the heavy topspin tennis that ruled the 1970's and early 1980's. Connors flat ground strokes are not the norm and have not been for a long time. However, flat ground strokes and taking the ball on the rise match up well with Nadal's style of play. A key to beating Nadal is not getting pushed behind the baseline. A player like Connors who launched his body into every ground stroke was hard to push backwards. If a player has Connors or Agassi type eye sight and can take the ball early, he may bother Nadal a great deal. The good news for Nadal is that no player has demonstrated that sort of timing other than Agassi and Connors.