Match Stats/Report - Sampras vs McEnroe, Philadelphia semi-final, 1991

Waspsting

Hall of Fame
Pete Sampras beat John McEnroe 6-2, 6-4 in the Philadelphia semi-final, 1991 on carpet

Sampras was the defending champion and would go onto lose the final to Ivan Lendl in 5 sets. McEnroe was a former 4 time champion. The two had met not long ago at the previous years US Open semi, with Sampras winning

Sampras won 64 points, McEnroe 52

Both players serve-volleyed off all first serves. Off second serves, Sampras serve-volleyed twice, McEnroe most of the time

Serve Stats
Sampras...
- 1st serve percentage (32/57) 56%
- 1st serve points won (26/32) 81%
- 2nd serve points won (13/25) 52%
- Aces 11 (1 possibly not clean), Service Winners 2
- Double Faults 3
- Unreturned Serve Percentage (22/57) 39%

McEnroe...
- 1st serve percentage (29/59) 49%
- 1st serve points won (22/29) 79%
- 2nd serve points won (12/30) 40%
- Aces 1
- Double Faults 3
- Unreturned Serve Percentage (21/59) 36%

Serve Patterns
Sampras served...
- to FH 28%
- to BH 61%
- to Body 11%

McEnroe served...
- to FH 39%
- to BH 46%
- to Body 14%

Return Stats
Sampras made...
- 35 (21 FH, 14 BH), including 2 runaround FHs & 4 return-approaches
- 7 Winners (5 FH, 2 BH)
- 20 Errors, comprising...
- 1 Unforced (1 BH)
- 19 Forced (6 FH, 13 BH)
- Return Rate (35/56) 63%

McEnroe made...
- 32 (11 FH, 21 BH), including 1 runaround FH & 6 return-approaches
- 9 Errors, comprising...
- 1 Unforced (1 BH)
- 8 Forced (1 FH, 7 BH)
- Return Rate (32/54) 60%

Break Points
Sampras 3/7 (5 games)
McEnroe 0

Winners (including returns, excluding serves)
Sampras 22 (12 FH, 2 BH, 3 FHV, 4 BHV, 1 OH)
McEnroe 10 (1 FH, 3 BH, 3 FHV, 3 BHV)

Sampras had 7 returns (5 FH, 2 BH), all passes
- FHs - 1 cc and 4 dtl
- BHs - 1 dtl and 1 inside-in

- 6 FHs (all passes) - 2 cc, 2 dtl and 2 inside-in (1 turnaround)

- 6 from serve-volley points -
- 4 first 'volleys' (1 FHV, 2 BHV, 1 FH at net)
- 1 third volley (1 BHV)
- 1 re-approach volley (1 FHV)

McEnroe had 5 from serve-volley points
- 3 first 'volleys' (1 FHV, 1 BHV, 1 BH at net)... the BHV was a net chord dribbler
- 2 second volleys (1 FHV, 1 BHV)

- FH pass - 1 dtl
- BH passes - 1 cc and 1 dtl

Errors (excluding serves and returns)
Sampras 18
- 7 Unforced (2 FH, 1 BH, 1 FHV, 3 BHV)... with 1 BH at net
- 11 Forced (2 FH, 5 BH, 1 FH1/2V, 2 BHV, 1 Back-to-Net)
- Unforced Error Forcefulness Index 54.3

McEnroe 17
- 4 Unforced (1 BH, 3 FHV)
- 13 Forced (2 FH, 5 BH, 5 BHV, 1 BH1/2V)
- Unforced Error Forcefulness Index 50

(Note 1: All 1/2 volleys refer to such shots played at net. 1/2 volleys played from other parts of the court are included within relevant groundstroke numbers)

(Note 2: the Unforced Error Forcefulness Index is an indicator of how aggressive the average UE was. The numbers presented for these two matches are keyed on 4 categories - 20 defensive, 40 neutral, 50 attacking and 60 winner attempt)

Net Points & Serve-Volley
Sampras was 22/35 (63%) at net, including...
- 14/21 (67%) serve-volleying, comprising...
- 13/19 (68%) off 1st serve and...
- 1/2 off 2nd serve
---
- 1/4 (25%) return-approaching
- 1/2 forced back

McEnroe was 36/59 (61%) at net, including...
- 31/49 (63%) serve-volleying, comprising...
- 21/28 (75%) off 1st serve and...
- 10/21 (48%) off 2nd serve
---
- 4/6 (67%) return-approaching

Match Report
Good all around showing from Sampras, with the extent to which he seeks net standing out, while on the other side, McEnroe's slowness of court coverage takes the eye. Conditions aren't particularly quick for carpet

This is essentially a net match. Both players serve-volley off all first serves. Mac also does so 78% off second serves, while Sampras is quick to come in on his second serve points (he only serve-volleys twice behind it) or on Mac's when he stays back. Mac also chip-charges a bit (not easy against Sampras serve), as does Pete, knowing full well he'll find Mac there

Stats for the match are better from Mac's point of view then play appeared to my eye. Sampras serving at 56% (ok), winning 81% first serve points (very good) and 52% second serve points (ok) aren't necessarily match winning, let alone crushing numbers. In actuality though, Mac doesn't see a break point, while Sampras sees 7 in 5 separate games

Note also Mac winning virtually as much as Pete off first serves (he wins 79%). But Pete has 13 aces/service winners or serves one 41% of the time off first serves. Mac has 1 ace, which comes to delivering it 3% of the time

Unreturned serves near equal (Pete 39%, Mac 36%) is deceptive for two reasons. First, Mac's serve-volleying a lot more than Pete off second serves. And second - and this is key difference in prospects - Pete's unreturned serves are near unreturnable, while Mac's are anything but, including the first serves

Note Sampras with 7 return winners (Mac 0) and 3 volleying FEs (Mac 6)... fair indicators of disparity in serve-return complex. In words, Sampras returns comfortably - while missing a fair few - Mac struggles to get ball in play... Sampras' misses are the price of heavy returning, Mac doesn't have much say in his

On the serve - Sampras is naturally strong, but some slow movement or/and bad positioning from Mac also has a hand in its success. Some balls well in reach, Mac can't get back to net even. Some slightly wide balls, he looks like he's facing a wholly unreturnable line-kisser... he's standing too close to deal with this kind calibre a serve and there's no compensating plus for the obvious handicap it gives him

Even Pete's second serve is good. Would be safe to serve-volley behind - its about as strong as Mac's firsts. Mac's best returning is chip-charging it, and he wins 4/6 points when he does. Its strong enough that the play doesn't naturally suggest itself. Can't fault Mac for not doing it more (he has no errors trying)... he does well to do it at all

Mac's serving is above average at best. Isn't too powerful, doesn't hit lines... though not freely in Pete's swing zone, not hard for Pete to move into position to return comfortably

Pete's return is key to match, from his point of view. Its not overly strong. 'Firm' rather than 'powerful' is a good description (and 63% return rate doing that against a just above-average serve isn't too great). Mac typically gets balls around net high at above average power to volley first up

But... Mac's slow - in getting to net, in getting down and in reacting to balls. The 6 FEs are are moderately forced, low-ish or wide-ish or hard-ish hit balls - nothing overwhelming. The kind of thing a good volleyer might deal with effectively, only he doesn't - probably more due to not being able to get into proper position than anything else

Nor is he decisive in putting away regulation volleys. Doesn't miss much - just 3 UEs - but leaves Pete reasonable shots at the pass after the volley

Mac's not even at service line off his second serve-volleys as Pete makes returns.... it looks more like a guy trying to hit baseline-to-baseline winner into open court than a guy hitting pass. Again, discredit to Mac's movement as much as Pete's hitting

A note on Pete's groundstrokes, including the return in these early days. Commentary often talks about him having a better BH than FH. The shots are closer of quality than they'd come to be, but I don't think its true even then

The BHs are hit firmly, whereas in years to come, they'd be hit carefully and often loopily
The FHs are also hit firmly - about the same as the BH - whereas in years to come, they'd be blazed

Even so, its a rare player that hits better BHs than FHs and the reputation is usually a trap for opponents who haven't done their homework. Add Mac to that list, though he does learn on the fly. Initially, he serves more to FH, but goes to BH more as match wears on. Still, look at the return errors he's drawn - 6 FHs to 13 BHs while serving 39% to FH and 46% to BH. And look at Pete's return winners - 5 FHs, 2 BHs

Pete looks to come in to net from baseline rallies. He wins 7/10 points so doing, while Mac only approaches 4 times (winning just 1). He's in no undue hurry to get up there and trades a few groundies before finding the right ball to come in off. He's also a lot stronger off the ground than Mac... Pete hits firm to powerfully off both sides, Mac's BH in particular is typically soft and FH trails Pete's shots too

Adequate but not great on the volley from Pete. Neither Mac's returns or passes are challenging and he usually has comfortable balls above net to deal with, significantly easier than what he gives Mac. He has 5 UEs at net to Mac's 3 - and they're easy balls. Barely shades Mac at net (63% won to 61%), while facing easier passes and returns and even trails first serve-volley points (68% to 75%). If anything, he looks a better baseliner than a net player - and he looks quite good at both

Summing up, solid and varied showing from Pete Sampras - big serving is there, firm to strong returning, strong groundies and an eagerness to come to net to finish. One can readily imagine him developing into a high quality net player or baseliner, in a way one wouldn't with Mac or Stefan Edberg, who's groundies didn't seem up on that standard. As for Mac... serve is not too fast or well placed but still decent, he struggles to return and he's slow in getting into position
 
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Frankc

Professional
Again, great write up - as you say "Mac was slow getting into position..."
I am always curious trying to figure out when as Peter Fleming noted," Mac just lost a half step..."
Just revisited the 80 &81 US Opens with Borg. The best of stuff, no doubt. Mac's ease of court coverage, agility and speed are beyond comprehension for me.
He's still quick in 1984 (and effective, obviously), but with the 200G , his game is different - but his speed seems maybe more than a half step slow by 1990 or so...
But in 79-81, as I said... a blur and in control and singular in talent, imho...
 

WCT

Semi-Pro
If my memory is right it would have been February or early March maybe?

I don't remember this particular match, but mid/late 70s into the 80s? It was played in February and used the get a tremendous field most years.
 

Waspsting

Hall of Fame
What time of year was this, before or after Flushing?
February. About 5 months after '90 US Open

Again, great write up - as you say "Mac was slow getting into position..."
I am always curious trying to figure out when as Peter Fleming noted," Mac just lost a half step..."
Just revisited the 80 &81 US Opens with Borg. The best of stuff, no doubt. Mac's ease of court coverage, agility and speed are beyond comprehension for me.
He's still quick in 1984 (and effective, obviously), but with the 200G , his game is different - but his speed seems maybe more than a half step slow by 1990 or so...
But in 79-81, as I said... a blur and in control and singular in talent, imho...
One of the highest compliments is 'I haven't even noticed how he does it, but he never seems to be in trouble in that situation'

That's how Mac's movements in those early years strike me. Lendl too.

Borg, Vitas and Connors strike me as being exceptionally fast. Mac and Lendl don't... but they're always in the right spot at the right time without strain or even seeming effort

I looked at a few Mac matches after his first comeback in second half of '86 and he seems to be playing just as well as he'd done in '85 - movements, the volley, the serve, maybe not the return. Give people familiar with his game a blind test of action from those '86 matches and ask when they think the match was played, I doubt anyone could confidently identify it as when he wasn't top of the world

The matches I've looked at from '87 onward though, the movement is just a bit off. You only notice it when comparing it to what it used to be... if this were a new player you were looking at, no one would say, "oh, his movements are so bad"

Fast forwarding to '89, he's not the same player. Serve looks ordinary, doesn't seem to be difficult to read, groundies look feeble (this might be due to players hitting harder in this period. Mac's groundies were never strong by a general standard) and the movement has distinctly declined

Also, I think it has something to do with his style of play. Mac was a 'makes the game look so easy' type of player. Edberg and Federer are two others.

Small declines for players like that tend to result in disproportionately large change in how they're perceived, probably more than is warranted

With more power based players like Becker, Sampras, Agassi, decline in movement doesn't hit you in the face as much because you still notice the power and hard hitting. But guys like Mac and Edberg... half a step off seems to set them back considerably more

You might like this one, the '83 Philly final between Mac and Lendl - Match Stats/Report - McEnroe vs Lendl, Philadelphia Indoors final, 1983 | Talk Tennis (tennis-warehouse.com)
 

THUNDERVOLLEY

G.O.A.T.
Again, great write up - as you say "Mac was slow getting into position..."
I am always curious trying to figure out when as Peter Fleming noted," Mac just lost a half step..."
Just revisited the 80 &81 US Opens with Borg. The best of stuff, no doubt. Mac's ease of court coverage, agility and speed are beyond comprehension for me.
He's still quick in 1984 (and effective, obviously), but with the 200G , his game is different - but his speed seems maybe more than a half step slow by 1990 or so...
But in 79-81, as I said... a blur and in control and singular in talent, imho...
Indeed, McEnroe did lose a step by the time of this thread's match; despite his strategy being legendary, his loss of speed to execute said strategy compromised his game, where you witnessed him struggle to occasionally glaring degrees as in this and his 1990 USO match against Sampras. Players with the newer training methods, such as Becker and Sampras, were getting to be too much for a man who admittedly was not as intense about (or cared too much for) training beyond the court. Still, it was fascinating to see how McEnroe's mind as a S&Ver stacked up against the way Sampras and Becker employed that discipline--in short, early 90s McEnroe could still inspire audience members' jaws to drop, even against towering odds.
 
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