Sampras and the Era of Champions

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by illkhiboy, Jul 13, 2007.

  1. illkhiboy

    illkhiboy Hall of Fame

    Jan 16, 2006
    It has often been said on these boards that this era lacks "champions," boasts of "chokers" and that the past era - of Sampras et al - was far more competitive. Some contend that Sampras' competition had a lot of champions, and thus he wasn't as dominant as Federer. Ergo, some contend that, Sampras is a greater player than Federer. However, looking up Sampras' record, it's plain to see it's not only heavyweights that bothered him, but infact he often lost to mediocre players.

    These are some of the matches he lost in his best years.


    Montreal Masters - Loses to Brett Stevens - Rank 45

    Indianapolis - Loss to P. Rafter - Then ranked 139 and not a top player until 3-4 years down the road

    Stockholm - Loss to C. Costa, a claycourt specialist on Carpet


    Loses to Karim Alami at Doha in the first round

    Philadelphia - Loses to doubles specialist Jacco Eltingh

    Queen's - Loses to Todd Martin, dubbed by many on TW as a 'choker.'

    Grand Slam Cup - Loses to Magnus Larson


    Memphis - Loss to Todd Martin

    Philadelphia - Loss to Paul Haarhuis, Eltingh's doubles partner ranked 47

    Loses to Random players in claycourt season, which is often the aspect of Sampras' career that gets overlooked it seems. The GOAT that barely ever performed on clay.

    Indianapolis - Loss to Karbacher, ranked 27

    Lyon - Loses to W. Ferriera, rank 13

    If you look up 96 an '97 you ll find some more losses to ordinary players. It's a bit of a myth IMO that Sampras wasn't as dominant as Federer because of a tougher competition. Now it's true that Becker, Stich and Courier beat him occasionally but the supposed GOAT also lost to players like Haarhuis and Leander Paes, both of whom never amounted to anything in singles. I 'm not denigrating Sampras, he is ofcourse one of the best of all time, but I just wanted to discuss this whole "Sampras had to compete with more champions" thing.
  2. War Safin!

    War Safin! Professional

    Aug 15, 2005
    Didn't Sampras lose to Ferriera 4 times in a row on hard and carpet-courts?
    At Sampras' peak?
    It means fcuk-all.

    Sampras is The Boss and that's all there is to it.

    I've been less and less impressed with Federer since 2005 (IMO, his peak).
  3. Moose Malloy

    Moose Malloy Legend

    Dec 27, 2005
    While all true, you need to remember that Sampras viewed most non-slam events as meaningless & tanked quite a bit at them(to his discredit) I remember him losing badly to Bjorkman & Woodforde at Queens a couple years, no one even mentioned that match at Wimbledon, they knew Queens was just practice to him & that result was meaningless. Even Bjorkman said as much after winning that match, that it wasn't a 'real' win.

    I'll always remember an 18 year old Sampras winning his first career title at Philadelphia(US Pro Indoor) and when asked about how important a win it was to him, said "Its nice, but no one remembers who won Philadelphia."
    I think that comment accurately summarizes his approach to his career. Basically, you are pointing his losses out at events that no one remembers(Philadelphia doesn't even exist anymore. Who knows what will happen to some of those other events you mentioned in another 10 years?)

    BTW, if you're gonna go strictly by win/loss record in evaluating players, McEnroe, Borg, Lendl, Connors were all more dominant(better winning %) than Sampras & had far less bad losses than he did when in their primes.

    Fed's regular tour dominance is amazing, but it will probably be forgotten 10 years from now(if not sooner), while just his slam wins are remembered. Look at how many on this board are completely clueless to how dominant Mac was. Or Borg. Or Lendl.

    Its amazing that fans aren't catching on, almost every non-'total slams won' record that Fed is equaling or approaching weekly doesn't involve Sampras, but involves Lendl, Borg, Mac, & Connors. What does that tell you about Sampras in relation to those players, not just Fed? Yet he still won 14 slams, while basically half-assing it most of the year.

    One other comment about Sampras, it was an era of extreme polarization. Grass was faster, indoor surfaces were much faster. There were a ton of clay specialists & grass specialists around, which made it a bit harder to have consistently good results year round. Basically it was like 2 or 3 tours, guys would disappear during one part of the year & appear during another. While today carpet has been phased out, grass has been slowed down. Everyone plays the same, & does pretty well on all surfaces. Look at the final 4 at the French & Wimbledon. 3 of the same semifinalists at those majors. That never came close to happening in the 90s(& I know what some will say that shows just how good these guys are, but really should Djokovic be doing this well so early in his career? He's not exactly Borg, he plays exactly the same on all surfaces & yet does well, he has to make no adjustments going from surface to surface)

    Playing Djokovic or many other players of today on clay or grass or hard, you know exactly what you are going to get. Playing in the 90s, you had to deal with so many different types of players week to week. A S&V player, an all courter, a huge server, a counterpuncher, a power baseliner, and on & on. Its kinda hard to adjust to that unpredictability event to event. From clay to grass to outdoor hardcourt to carpet, you had so many different styles to face with more guys who lived for that particular surface. While 90% of all tennis today on any surface, is power baselining. Even Fed said the same thing in his press conference at W, since everyone plays from the baseline & the surfaces are slower, you will see much more consistency from the top players on all surfaces.

    Its great for the game though, tournament directors are certainly enjoying this time more than the 90s, the top seeds are almost guaranteed to make it deep in their event.
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2007
  4. tHotGates

    tHotGates Rookie

    Apr 5, 2007
    To expand a little bit from what has already been posted. Two factors to consider: Pete's Thalassemia condition & his attitude in which I feel a shared relationship exists.

    From wikipedia: Thalassemia is not synonymous with hemoglobinopathies, like sickle-cell disease. Thalassemias result in under production of globin proteins, often through mutations in regulatory genes. Hemoglobinopathies imply structural abnormalities in the globin proteins themselves [1]. The two conditions may overlap, however, since some conditions which cause abnormalities in globin proteins (hemoglobinopathy) also affect their production (thalassemia). Either or both of these conditions may cause anemia.

    The disease is particularly prevalent among Mediterranean peoples, and this geographical association was responsible for its naming: Thalassa is Greek for the sea, Haima is Greek for blood.

    There is no cure for thalassemias, and the best treatment available today consists of frequent blood transfusions (every two to three weeks). Bone marrow transplants may also be used, despite the risk of further complications.

    The general public didn't know about Pete's Thalassemia disorder until after Pete had retired. IMO, there's little doubt this impacted his conditioning. Look at how often Pete struggled in hotter conditions (e.g., 1995 AO), he was borderline narcoleptic in behavior or looking like he was going to pass out or in some cases dehydration led to vomiting (see USO 96 Alex Corretja). You could see it in eyes or face & body disposition. I think it's fair to say his overall conditioning was hampered by this disorder. More to the point, with reduced stamina, his won loss record while very good was never super dominant as other greats. When people point out Pete's won loss record they often miss this point. Moreover, I think if you put Pete back or forward in other eras (70s, 80s, 00s) with contemporary technology, IMO, his won loss record stays pretty much the same because of his condition.

    His physical condition forced Pete to pace himself. It was less of an issue when he was younger but still a factor (see 92 USO Edberg/Courier matches) but as he got older, there is little doubt it impacted which partly explains his slower Slam totals toward the end of his career. Remember Andre's comment comparing Roger to Pete ... about losing to Pete 2 & 2 or 4 & 5 (something like that) blow out or close match, they were hard to differentiate. Pete's serve was so strong he would not press his opponents trying to break them unless the opportunity was there ... this became more so towards the latter part of Pete's career. Conditioning wise, Pete was not going to exert himself to go 6-2 when with one break, he could win it at 6-4 or even a tie break ... it was just an easier option for Pete. It would seem logical absent this condition, that maybe Pete applies more effort on his return of serve & notably improves. Add to this his low priority for non Slam events or his casual approach towards lower seeds or early round matches & upsets occurred a lot more for Pete than other greats. Moose hit the nail on the head when noted: "Its amazing that fans aren't catching on, almost every non-'total slams won' record that Fed is equaling or approaching weekly doesn't involve Sampras, but involves Lendl, Borg, Mac, & Connors. What does that tell you about Sampras in relation to those players, not just Fed? Yet he still won 14 slams, while basically half-assing it most of the year.."

    To know Pete better will help explain his won loss record. Given his physical limitations, it's remarkable he was #1 for 6 years.
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2007
  5. fastdunn

    fastdunn Legend

    Feb 19, 2004
    Yes, Pete was a critical match player(or critical point) player.
    You gotta look at his slam matches. I don't think Ferrera, Krajicek and Stich has
    winning head to head against Sampras at slam events

    In other words, Federer (of 2005 and 2006) lead a Mongolian type
    of empire (win everywhere) while Pete's reign was more like Roman empire
    (don't have win everywhere as long as you get what you want).

    IMHO, he needed this extreme efficiency because of
    1. physical conditon he had
    2. extreme polarization of surface conditons in 90's
    that Moose mentioned above.
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2007
  6. laurie

    laurie Guest

    As far as that list is concerned - big deal, who cares.
  7. kaiotic

    kaiotic Rookie

    Sep 17, 2005
    goats thrive on grass, son
  8. TheNatural

    TheNatural Legend

    Jan 27, 2005
    This is who Fed was losing to in 2002 when he was ussually ranked in the top 10 -ranked between 6-14, before the playing conditions and string technology made his erratic game much more consistent:

    Sanguinetti ranked 87
    Escude ranked 22
    Schuettler r40! 6-3 6-1!
    Enqvist r22
    Nablandian, r35 6-2 6-1!
    Gaudenzi r 58
    Arazi r45
    Kiefer r66
    Schalken r31
    Ancic r154 (1st round WIlmbledon, Fed ranked 9)
    Stepanek r110
    Canas r19
    Ljubicic r34
    Massu r65
    Santoro r50

    Feds big weapon that works great against the prediminant style of tennis that developed along with the current conditions( 1 dimentional western grip baseline bashing), is his movement across the baseline. If he kept playing under the previous eras conditions, he would have alot more troubles winning.
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2007
  9. TheNatural

    TheNatural Legend

    Jan 27, 2005
    Todd martin was very good, he was like a Djokovic, but more efficient with an excellent volley and all court game,and probably a better return too.The only areas Djokovic is better is the movement across the baseline. Ferreira beat Federer 2 times n 2001 so he was pretty good.
  10. Tennis_Monk

    Tennis_Monk Hall of Fame

    Dec 1, 2005
    Your impression on Federer is not very relevant to this discussion.
    One can think all they want but in the end it is Results that define a Champion. Marat Safin , one of the best talented players, will not be looked in the same league as Sampras down the history because he has 2 grandslams to Federer's 11. Marat is probably in same league as Hewitt in terms of Grandslam wins.

    Dominance is a subjective term and not easy to quantify. But guess whats easy.. Results.

    Who is having better results between Sampras and federer?
  11. illkhiboy

    illkhiboy Hall of Fame

    Jan 16, 2006
    Insightful post. I think you are right about the difficulty of facing a variety of players in the '90's. However, apart from the lack of serve and volleyers and all-courters, the baseliners today do play different styles, e.g. Berdych, Roddick, Federer, Nadal & Nalbandian are all classified as baseliners yet they all play vastly different games. On the other hand, there are plenty of very similar players like Baghdatis, Djokovic, Davydenko etc.
    You mentioned Djokovic not changing his game. Well, Agassi and Courier didn't change much either..or did they? On the other hand, Nadal has changed his game quite a bit on grass (standing closer to the baseline, knocking off volleys, amping his serve etc). His claycourt style got punished in the 2nd round in 2005.
    The point about McEnroe, Borg etc having a better winning percentage is interesting. I personally think it's debateable on whose greater between Borg and Sampras. I do take Sampras over McEnroe because he won more Slams and YEC's. However, Federer naturally has had better results than either of them in every way which IMO makes him "greater" than Sampras. Though of course, if Federer suddenly falls into a bad slump and never recovers, in retrospect it would look foolish to crown him greater than a lot of past players. But my original point was about Sampras losing to mediocre players, which as you noted, is to his discredit.
    I 'm sure you're right about Sampras tanking a lot of unimportant matches, but..personally I do think he lost a lot of matches during his prime which he never wanted to lose (e.g. Phillipoussis at the '96 AO). And I don't really think he enjoyed losing to Kracijek, Ferreira and Haarhuis multiple times. Just like Federer badly wanted the revenge against Canas. However, Federer IMO is much more competent when it's time for payback. Of course, the polarity of the surfaces and variety in styles has to be considered when evaulating Sampras.
    I must say, that Sampras comes off as someone who cared more about what the general public remembered. Ofcourse, as you mentioned, no one remembers the smaller tour events. However, it is somewhat hypocritical for the die-hard fans on these boards to judge GOATs by the same standard the average Joe does. Too often Sampras' big 14 are mentioned but what's ignored is his 11 AMS titles. Players like Federer, Agassi and McEnroe should be given their due credit for winning so many of these AMS events or their equivalents.
  12. illkhiboy

    illkhiboy Hall of Fame

    Jan 16, 2006

    I don't think it was the relatively big differences in surfaces that helped Federer achieve his success. Federer hadn't been doing well til' the '03 French, and then suddenly turned it on during Wimbledon and went from strength to strength since then. I think it was more a case of maturity. It's not like the surfaces went from fast to slow between 2003-2004. The slowing of the surfaces has been gradual. Besides you can't say for sure if Federer would had trouble in the conditions of old. Similarly, it can't be said with certainty that Sampras would have suffered in today's conditions. He did do fine in Australia and Miami, and had a decent record at the French. Overtime he would have adapted his game, just like all greats do.
    This thread is not a knock on Sampras. I'm just saying that the argument that the 'champions' of the '90's denied Sampras from dominating like Federer is invalid. As others have pointed out, it was more his physical condition and a different mindset that had him peaking at certain events.
  13. arosen

    arosen Hall of Fame

    Mar 11, 2004
    Thalassemia - shmalassemia. All these Sampras excuses. When Fed wins wimby 2008 ( if he does), Sampras will become just another one of them "greats", whereas Fed will be the best tennis player that ever lived.
  14. federerGOAT

    federerGOAT Rookie

    Jul 8, 2007
    Sampras was nothing more than a serve and a volley. Fed has better volleying technique and can serve just as good, maybe better.
  15. AndrewD

    AndrewD Legend

    Dec 11, 2004
    It tells you that Sampras had so little genuine competition at the majors he could afford to 'half-arse' it through the year. McEnroe, Lendl, Borg, Edberg, Becker, Wilander and Connors couldn't afford to give anyone a break.
  16. CyBorg

    CyBorg Legend

    Mar 8, 2007
    Atlanta, GA
    I don't understand the point here. Yes, Pete half-assed it at times, but not at the majors. I fail to see how him half-assing it at Paris-Bercy has anything to do with his performance at the US Open.
  17. keithchircop

    keithchircop Professional

    Apr 16, 2007
    Malta, Europe
    for pistol pete, a non-slam event was a non-event.
  18. hyrulemaster

    hyrulemaster Rookie

    Jan 21, 2007
    NOOOO that is so so untrue. Sampras's serve was the best part of his game and he kicked a$s with it. Federer's serve is much more casual and he doesnt get nearly the same speed as Sampras did consistently. His fastest serve at the Wimby final the whole match was just 129. But Sampras had really good placement, but you cant really compare how him and Fed place the serve.

    And volleying was what sampras did very well, no way Federer is better. Samp kicked almost the same amount of a$s from the baseline as Federer, but was a lot better at net than baseline, which cannot be said about Federer.

    PS - your username shows your obvious bias. no offense of course.
  19. Pete.Sampras.

    Pete.Sampras. Semi-Pro

    Feb 22, 2007
    I'm so tired of this... :sad:

    We will never find a good answer to this Sampras-Federer stuff!

    All I know is that I had a lot more fun watching tennis back in the days when Sampras was No.1 - when my favourite player Boris Becker was still around :)
  20. Mr Topspin

    Mr Topspin Semi-Pro

    Jun 28, 2005
    Pete was one of the most efficient champions of the modern era. With Pete you knew that one break was enough to decide a set. That was how effective and reliable his serve was. There is no way Federer has that level of reliability on serve and is often broken when serving for sets and matches.

Share This Page