Pete Sampras vs David Ferrer at RG

Winner?


  • Total voters
    42

Red Rick

Bionic Poster
Sampras at his peak on clay wasn't as bad as most people think. Especially considering how different clay was playing in his era. Only 1995 RG is a bad loss though.
How did clay play differently? It was more specialised yeah, but I'd guess there were less big hitters and more fast runners right? Also I assume there's was more dead weight in average fast courters back then.

Clay too, has seen an increase in the dominance of serving, which I blame on poly.
 

Hitman

Talk Tennis Guru
1995 was definitely the key year in Sampras-Agassi rivalry. The situation was very similar to Nadal - Djokovic in 2013, I think. Just that Sampras won that US final instead of Agassi, Pete seemed to hit Agassi hard at the perfect time.
Well, yes, 1995 was the peak of the Sampras v Agassi rivalry and the last time both would have a peak season together. Agassi won AO, Miami and Canada, Sampras won USO and IW.

Agassi was on a roll at that time, after losing to Becker in the semis at W, he won back to back masters titles in Canada and Cincinnati. He had taken his revenge on Kafelnikov from the RG quarter final loss and then took revenge for his Wimbledon loss to Becker in the USO semis.

I remember Agassi saying after he won the semi final - "Pete, if you're watching...I'm coming"

He knew this was the big one, since both him and Sampras had one slam each and this will decide who is the man of the 1995 season. After that loss, Agassi stopped playing, and pretty much gave his number one ranking to Sampras. His coach told him to play since he was defending so many points, but Agassi said that he did not feel like number one after that USO final loss and that Sampras deserved to end the year as the top guy. Agassi didn't recover from that for a very long time.
 

Noleberic123

G.O.A.T.
How did clay play differently? It was more specialised yeah, but I'd guess there were less big hitters and more fast runners right? Also I assume there's was more dead weight in average fast courters back then.

Clay too, has seen an increase in the dominance of serving, which I blame on poly.
Clay actually used to be slower.
 

Sabrina

Hall of Fame
How did clay play differently? It was more specialised yeah, but I'd guess there were less big hitters and more fast runners right? Also I assume there's was more dead weight in average fast courters back then.

Clay too, has seen an increase in the dominance of serving, which I blame on poly.
At that time you needs an unique technique to create topspin, which is of course very necessary to play on clay. Today I think the poly strings help you do this to some degree, combine with the surface homogenization which means you can play similar games across different surfaces.
 

King No1e

G.O.A.T.
Ferrer, but it's closer than most people think. Sampras beat several greats of clay tennis - Courier, Muster, Bruguera, Kafelnikov, Agassi (IIRC on Agassi, correct me if I'm wrong). He wasn't the no-hoper people make him out to be on clay.
I'd still pick David in 5, but it would be a struggle. One thing's for sure, whoever wins would have to earn it. Sampras and Ferrer are among the mentally strongest players in history, neither would choke away this hypothetical match.
 

NonP

Hall of Fame
Nothing left in the tank. I think his fans overdo his blood condition's impact on his legacy a little but this is one case where I think it did have an effect.
Not this one. I've argued that what prevented Pete from achieving more on clay was not his thalassemia or even his movement but rather his frame of mind (the broken link in that post here).

Endurance was indeed the biggest factor in that loss to Kafelnikov, though Pete's hardly the only player who would run out of gas following three grueling 5-setters on dirt.

Ran out of steam. I saw the whole run, he was clawing his way back into those matches on that run, especially against Courier where he was 0-2 down. Against Kafelnikov, he played him good for the first set, but after losing it in the tie break, you could see he didn't have the fight left in him to continue going.
Jim looked like he wanted to kill someone afterwards, LOL:


Must've been really demoralizing, to go down from 2-0 up twice in one year. That was probably his last serious shot at a Slam.

Sampras at his peak on clay wasn't as bad as most people think. Especially considering how different clay was playing in his era. Only 1995 RG is a bad loss though.
Pete sprained his ankle early in the '95 clay season and never recovered in time for RG:


Plus he was having trouble with his 1st-serve % all year. Usually hovered around 60% but he averaged only around 55% in '95.

I think Pete was 2 points away from beating Agassi at AO 2000 (Andre's pet slam) and had Set points to go up 2-1 at AO 1995 final too. He actually was very closed to Agassi on slow HC peak for peak though.
Not close, I'd actually argue higher. Even in that '00 AO SF Dre barely survived the climactic 4th-set TB (my all-time fave TB, BTW) with probably the biggest serving of his career, and the 5th set was a downer because Pete had torn his right hip flexor early in the match and it finally caught up with him:


(And while I don't have this other particular link I believe Pete also said in the post-match presser he probably would've been a no-show in the final anyway.)

Lol Ferrer.

PETE, even on clay. Atleast in his Gullikson phase, he stopped giving a damn about FO afterwards.
These are Pete's %s of service/return games won on clay from '92-'97, before he "gave up":

1992 - 82.4/27.7
1993 - 86.0/33.3
1994 - 84.2/32.2
1995 - 77.8/31.6 (include stats from all of his four DC rubbers except the dead one vs. Gaudenzi)
1996 - 83.8/18.1
1997 - 81.0/28.4

So except in '95 when he struggled with his 1st-serve % all year and in '96 when he likewise had trouble breaking throughout the guy actually posted respectable #s on clay. ('97 was another unlucky season where he caught a stomach bug before his RG 3rd-rounder vs. Norman following two dominant performances.) Most players would love to "suck" so much on their worst surface.

To put these in perspective let's look at Thiem, you know the guy who would've been another Kuerten if not for the Big 3. Here are his #s from '16-'19:

2016 - 82%/28%
2017 - 84%/33%
2018 - 84%/28%
2019 - 83%/29%

Now I dunno about you but to fail to clear even 30% on return except once while barely scratching Pete's service %s (back when players were actually playing CC rather than HC tennis and holding less often on dirt) doesn't scream surefire RG winner to me. Maybe being stopped by the likes of Courier and Bruguera (who actually won a higher % of games in their best CC seasons than either Fed or Novak has to date) had something to do with Pistol's early disappointing record at RG!

Oh and here are Fed's own %s from '04-'15 (haven't updated my spreadsheet w/his '19 #s yet):

2004 - 88.5/29.9
2005 - 85.2/35.2 (FYI stats from his sole DC rubber with 262th-ranked journeyman Alan Mackin are excluded - w/'em his %s would be 85.9/37.4)
2006 - 85.4/32.9
2007 - 83.8/30.3
2008 - 83.9/32.2
2009 - 90.3/27.5
2010 - 87.4/26.3
2011 - 87.8/24.2
2012 - 88.3/26.6
2013 - 84.3/28.0
2014 - 87.6/24.6
2015 - 88.8/25.2

Again I dunno know about you but from these #s I'd think twice about betting on Fed spanking Pistol on clay prime for prime. In fact I daresay it'd be a pretty decent matchup!

Alright, but that doesn't say anything about Pete's other matchup with Ferru, you say? Now I'll give David one thing: the guy was a true dirtballer, one of the few remaining in the late aughts and '10s who posted an impressive career 35% of return games won. But he also averaged a mere 76% on serve, in fact struggling to clear 80% all his career except in '12 when he posted 87.1%. That lack of firepower ain't gonna get it done against an in-form Pistol even on clay, especially in this era where nearly everyone plays more or less the same way on all surfaces. If Thiem with his clearly superior artillery can make multiple FO finals without breaking even 30% of the time on clay I like prime Pistol's chances of making a run to the final today.
 

zagor

Bionic Poster
Not this one. I've argued that what prevented Pete from achieving more on clay was not his thalassemia or even his movement but rather his frame of mind (the broken link in that post here).

Endurance was indeed the biggest factor in that loss to Kafelnikov, though Pete's hardly the only player who would run out of gas following three grueling 5-setters on dirt.



Jim looked like he wanted to kill someone afterwards, LOL:


Must've been really demoralizing, to go down from 2-0 up twice in one year. That was probably his last serious shot at a Slam.



Pete sprained his ankle early in the '95 clay season and never recovered in time for RG:


Plus he was having trouble with his 1st-serve % all year. Usually hovered around 60% but he averaged only around 55% in '95.



Not close, I'd actually argue higher. Even in that '00 AO SF Dre barely survived the climactic 4th-set TB (my all-time fave TB, BTW) with probably the biggest serving of his career, and the 5th set was a downer because Pete had torn his right hip flexor early in the match and it finally caught up with him:


(And while I don't have this other particular link I believe Pete also said in the post-match presser he probably would've been a no-show in the final anyway.)



These are Pete's %s of service/return games won on clay from '92-'97, before he "gave up":

1992 - 82.4/27.7
1993 - 86.0/33.3
1994 - 84.2/32.2
1995 - 77.8/31.6 (include stats from all of his four DC rubbers except the dead one vs. Gaudenzi)
1996 - 83.8/18.1
1997 - 81.0/28.4

So except in '95 when he struggled with his 1st-serve % all year and in '96 when he likewise had trouble breaking throughout the guy actually posted respectable #s on clay. ('97 was another unlucky season where he caught a stomach bug before his RG 3rd-rounder vs. Norman following two dominant performances.) Most players would love to "suck" so much on their worst surface.

To put these in perspective let's look at Thiem, you know the guy who would've been another Kuerten if not for the Big 3. Here are his #s from '16-'19:

2016 - 82%/28%
2017 - 84%/33%
2018 - 84%/28%
2019 - 83%/29%

Now I dunno about you but to fail to clear even 30% on return except once while barely scratching Pete's service %s (back when players were actually playing CC rather than HC tennis and holding less often on dirt) doesn't scream surefire RG winner to me. Maybe being stopped by the likes of Courier and Bruguera (who actually won a higher % of games in their best CC seasons than either Fed or Novak has to date) had something to do with Pistol's early disappointing record at RG!

Oh and here are Fed's own %s from '04-'15 (haven't updated my spreadsheet w/his '19 #s yet):

2004 - 88.5/29.9
2005 - 85.2/35.2 (FYI stats from his sole DC rubber with 262th-ranked journeyman Alan Mackin are excluded - w/'em his %s would be 85.9/37.4)
2006 - 85.4/32.9
2007 - 83.8/30.3
2008 - 83.9/32.2
2009 - 90.3/27.5
2010 - 87.4/26.3
2011 - 87.8/24.2
2012 - 88.3/26.6
2013 - 84.3/28.0
2014 - 87.6/24.6
2015 - 88.8/25.2

Again I dunno know about you but from these #s I'd think twice about betting on Fed spanking Pistol on clay prime for prime. In fact I daresay it'd be a pretty decent matchup!

Alright, but that doesn't say anything about Pete's other matchup with Ferru, you say? Now I'll give David one thing: the guy was a true dirtballer, one of the few remaining in the late aughts and '10s who posted an impressive career 35% of return games won. But he also averaged a mere 76% on serve, in fact struggling to clear 80% all his career except in '12 when he posted 87.1%. That lack of firepower ain't gonna get it done against an in-form Pistol even on clay, especially in this era where nearly everyone plays more or less the same way on all surfaces. If Thiem with his clearly superior artillery can make multiple FO finals without breaking even 30% of the time on clay I like prime Pistol's chances of making a run to the final today.
It's nice to be backed up by stats but all of the following:

-90s had a much deeper CC field, especially the early-mid 90s.

-Sampras was a tough player to beat in a one-off match on clay. It's a combination of several factors that stopped him from being a legit FO contender in his era (not that Ferrer ever was either, mind you).

-Fed (and I'd argue Novak as well despite his impressive stats on clay) wouldn't be making 5 FO finals in the 90s, on the other hand Pete would have a FO final or two in this era.

-Thiem isn't nearly as good as advertised. The guy who doesn't have a single big CC title by the age of 26/27 is not another Guga/if not for Nadal, regardless of his impressive consistency at the FO.

etc. etc.

is self evident IMO.

Now regarding Ferrer being a true dirtballer, that I'm not sure. I can't even tell if he's better on clay than on HC. He has had more success on clay but there's much more depth on HC.

The first slam breakthrough he made was 2007 USO when he reached a SF there. He also had similar results at AO compared to FO.

Murray and Hewitt had great return stats for example but clay is their worst surface. Chang was also IMO better on HC than on clay despite winning FO.
 

Dolgopolov85

G.O.A.T.
Sampras can beat Courier, Bruguera and Muster but not Ferrer
Seriously. Peak for peak, Sampras can certainly beat Ferrer on clay. And no, Ferrer wasn't only denied by Nadal there. He has also lost to Murray (who never won RG) and even to Monfils. Hidalgo in 2006, Verdasco in 2007. Yes, he has a more impressive record than Sampras on clay but not by a huge margin and his own final run does not compare to the competition Sampras faced in his SF run in 96.
 

TTMR

Hall of Fame
Hypothetically? Anyone can beat anyone in a single match. Small sample size.

Over a course of many matches especially on smaller stages I'd give the edge to Ferrer. At a slam you have to favour Sampras. Ferrer has shown throughout his career an inability to be able to overcome the weapons of top players when those players are at their healthiest and most motivated/prepared.

Ironically, this is a case where both players would be better off playing in the others' era. Today's strings would make Sampras' serve more effective on clay while Ferrer's world class return would be all the greater on the possibly slower 90s clay while facing weaker serves.
 

NonP

Hall of Fame
It's nice to be backed up by stats but all of the following:

-90s had a much deeper CC field, especially the early-mid 90s.
-Thiem isn't nearly as good as advertised. The guy who doesn't have a single big CC title by the age of 26/27 is not another Guga/if not for Nadal, regardless of his impressive consistency at the FO.

etc. etc.

is self evident IMO.
I've moved your post around somewhat cuz I forgot to add one more point which is apropos here: forget 30% of return games won, it's actually the 40% threshold that almost guarantees a Coupe des Mousquetaires in the current year or at some other point in the player's career. For illustration here are all the RG champs since '91, except Rafa (haha), who in their prime have cracked or flirted with (defined as an unrounded 39%+, relevant years in brackets) the 40% mark:

Courier - [93]
Bruguera - [91], 93, 94
Chang - 94, [95]
Muster* - 95, [96]
Costa, A. - 96
Ferrero - 01
Agassi - 03
Gaudio - 05

(Muster also won 39.5% in '91 but wasn't a serious contender that year. And for completeness' sake Lendl also posted 39.9% in '93 but flamed out early at RG in the 1st round.)

Failing to make this list are Kafelnikov, Kuerten, Moya, Federer, Wawrinka and Djokovic. (FYI Novak did manage 42.0% in '05 but was a nonfactor on clay till at least '06. His 2nd-highest RGW average after '05 was 38.7% in '10.) That's only 8 players (again apart from Rafa) and just a dozen CC campaigns out of who knows how many since the ATP began tracking this stat in '91*.

Even when you consider the creeping upticks in % of service games won it really is telling that only one of these guys was born in the '80s or beyond... and just barely at that (JCF's DOB is 2/12/80)! And even when you look at the % of overall games won Novak is the only one not named Rafael Nadal who cracked the all-important 60% mark in the '10s ('11, '14, '15, in addition to '08 and '09). In fact for the latest non-Djokodal instance you need to go all the way back to '05 when Fed and Gaudio won 60.7% (again his DC stats are excluded) and 59.7% respectively. That's not a whole lot of depth, especially when the numbers also suggest that the strongest RG challenger even at his absolute peak would be barely competitive with Rafa's weaker versions.

So yeah I definitely think the '90s had a deeper field, even without factoring in the lack of surface customization (as opposed to specialization, mind you) these days. And that doesn't bode well for Thiem's chances at RG when he struggles to win even 30% of his return games on dirt.

*Just for fun here are the former FO runner-ups and SFists who managed to post or flirted with 40% of RGW:

Ferrer - 02, 07, [11], [13]
Coria - 03, 04, 05, [06]
Nalbandian - [01], 05, 09
Murray - 11

It goes without saying none of 'em were serious contenders in at least half of these years (Ferru in '02 and less so in '07, Coria in '06, Nalby in pretty much all of his three)... and in the other half all of these guys combined managed to make the top 10 in % of service games won only once! (Perhaps the most egregious case was Andy in '11, when he made the FO SF despite winning a pathetic 72% of service games on clay.) In fact that was the only time Coria ever cracked 80% (82.0% in '03) in the serving department, and though Ferru and Muzz have done it more often - five times for David (81.3%, 82.1%, 87.1%, [79.6%] and 80.4% in '10, '11, '12, '14 and '15 respectively) and twice for Andy (85.8 in '15 and 83.6% in '16) - it wasn't quite enough to make up for the drop in their RGW% (37.5%, 33.7%, 35.4% and 37.9% in '10, '12, '14 and '15 respectively for Ferru and 34.6 in '15 and 32.7% in '16 for Muzz) except David's 39.7% in '11. Oh yeah, and you'd have to be blind to think Ferru and even Coria were gonna overwhelm anyone with heavy groundies a la Nadal, Bruguera, Courier or even Muster, as the diminutive Argie found out at '03 RG when Martin friggin' Verkerk blew him off the court with one of the finest offensive displays on dirt (as Moose would tell you).

-Sampras was a tough player to beat in a one-off match on clay. It's a combination of several factors that stopped him from being a legit FO contender in his era (not that Ferrer ever was either, mind you).
While browsing YT to see if the '95 Pete-Gaudenzi DC rubber had finally become available (though perhaps I should stop looking - like I said it was a dead rubber) I came across this earlier one in full:


Blur Pete's mug/bod in this vid and I doubt anyone would be able to call him out for his supposedly hopeless sliding that everyone is so sure about. And check out the patented running FH to close out the 1st-set TB (point starts at 1:16:50) which did plenty of damage throughout the match. Call me crazy but I don't think the Sampras-was-a-mug-on-clay canard stands up to scrutiny!

(BTW I won't pretend to have seen the whole thing or even be familiar with the guy's game but Furlan seems to have had a sweet DTL BH himself. One of those dirtballing floaters that used to be a dime a dozen.)

-Fed (and I'd argue Novak as well despite his impressive stats on clay) wouldn't be making 5 FO finals in the 90s, on the other hand Pete would have a FO final or two in this era.
Novak I actually think might equal his final appearances, though obviously not all in the '90s. The guy may not be a born dirtballer like Rafa or Bruguera but he's solid as a rock.

And I do think Fed would eke out a FO in any era though he'd need some luck (like almost anyone else). I also think Pete would make at least one or two FO finals now, though that depends on how committed to clay he'd be (which would be easier today, but still difficult enough to make him think twice).

Now regarding Ferrer being a true dirtballer, that I'm not sure. I can't even tell if he's better on clay than on HC. He has had more success on clay but there's much more depth on HC.

The first slam breakthrough he made was 2007 USO when he reached a SF there. He also had similar results at AO compared to FO.

Murray and Hewitt had great return stats for example but clay is their worst surface. Chang was also IMO better on HC than on clay despite winning FO.
I've long maintained that Ferru is actually more dangerous on HC myself, but that's really thx to his 1st-rate return which tends to do more damage on faster courts. Of course that can only take you so far. I still remember catching his action during one of his Wimby runs (think it was vs. Delpo in '12, but not sure), and after seeing almost nothing but half-moonballs from the baseline I knew he had absolutely no chance at topping any of the legit GCers in the SF if he ever got past the QF.

Having said that I think Ferru's superior CC stats to either Rusty or Muzz (both on serve and return) despite being a lesser player in more ways than one (believe he's even shorter than Hewitt) is pretty convincing evidence that the guy was a legit dirtballer. He's a Spaniard after all and his comfortable sliding allows him to play from well beyond the base/sidelines and change direction without planting the foot. That allows him and his dirtballing peers to maximize their potential and play their otherwise superior opponents tough despite having no big weapon on paper (guess I'll put in an obligatory shout-out to the '05 Rome final between Rafa and Coria).

Yup, players just hit way harder now on clay because of poly and the resultant spin. Even back then, Berasatagui could do that on the forehand side and Kuerten was using Luxilon and was already vaporising balls at RG.
They say the clay mixture has changed at some of the tourneys but I've yet to see any evidence of that. So yeah, clay looks faster now cuz 1) poly and 2) same HC tennis everywhere. The operative word being "looks."
 
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