Why did Sampras give up on clay?

Zain786

Semi-Pro
Dude only won Masters 1000 Titles on the clay courts, never even remotely looked close to winning the French Open at any moment in his career. For a 14 time Grand Slam winner for all his talent he should have worked at his clay court game just like Nadal did to improve his grass court and hard court prowess. He simply just gave up after a certain period of time. Federer though losing to Nadal in every clay court final apart from two he still came back to win and ultimately won his career slam at the French. Sampras should have done the same, it is not like anyone remotely dominated the clay courts like Nadal has done.

There is no doubt that Aggasi is more revered amongst the americans. Why is this?
 

marc45

G.O.A.T.
Dude only won Masters 1000 Titles on the clay courts, never even remotely looked close to winning the French Open at any moment in his career. For a 14 time Grand Slam winner for all his talent he should have worked at his clay court game just like Nadal did to improve his grass court and hard court prowess. He simply just gave up after a certain period of time. Federer though losing to Nadal in every clay court final apart from two he still came back to win and ultimately won his career slam at the French. Sampras should have done the same, it is not like anyone remotely dominated the clay courts like Nadal has done.

There is no doubt that Aggasi is more revered amongst the americans. Why is this?[/QUOTE

don't know if revered is the right word..he's more popular than Pete and always has been simply because of personalities...old story too, lots of words have been said on it over the years...actually, Pete may be more revered
 
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tennisaddict

Bionic Poster
It is strange why he gave up as right from the time of McEnroe and Lendl, the talk of career slam gained traction
 

bluetrain4

G.O.A.T.
I always get the impression that Sampras simply never cared that much, was more "if the draw opens up and I happen to be playing well, great, but, if not, whatever." Not that he would have been a dominant champion on clay as he was at times on grass and hard, but he certainly could have done better. He made 3 FO QFs and a SF within five years from 1992-1996 and won Rome in 1994, and then pretty much dropped off the clay map. IMO, he was probably thinking "if it hasn't happened by now, it's not going to happen" and why waste his energy and focus on the clay season when the most important events to him were still upcoming in the season.
 

ultradr

Legend
He cared. He did beat top clay courters on clay, winning Italian Open.

I just don't think he had a fitness to string 7 wins on clay.
 

Michael88

Banned
Well, he lost Wimbledon the one time he made it really deep at the French Open. After that, he thought, "screw it, I'm not gonna risk Wimbledon just to have a shot at winning the French," and gave up on it.
 

Boom-Boom

Legend
I think he valued Wimb much more. French open during the 90's was dominated by clay courters who were zilch everywhere. It was kind of a dirty slam to be associated with

Well it's still is given it requires much more (natural or most likely chemical) stamina than any other slams..
 

bluetrain4

G.O.A.T.
He cared. He did beat top clay courters on clay, winning Italian Open.

I just don't think he had a fitness to string 7 wins on clay.

I don't mean "cared" in the narrow sense - like he didn't care during his clay court matches or didn't put forth a full effort when he actually was playing on clay. I mean in a broader sense - he wasn't going to tinker with his game, instigate some sort of never-done-before intense training specfically for clay season, rearrange his schedule, etc. in pursuit of a French Open title or even just more glory on clay (additional Masters wins, more deeper runs at the FO). Especially, as stated, when the events he valued most were still coming up on the season calendar.
 

Michael88

Banned
I don't mean "cared" in the narrow sense - like he didn't care during his clay court matches or didn't put forth a full effort when he actually was playing on clay. I mean in a broader sense - he wasn't going to tinker with his game, instigate some sort of never-done-before intense training specfically for clay season, rearrange his schedule, etc. in pursuit of a French Open title or even just more glory on clay (additional Masters wins, more deeper runs at the FO). Especially, as stated, when the events he valued most were still coming up on the season calendar.

He knew that if he tinkered with his game for the French Open, he wouldn't win Wimbledon. And Wimbledon was always more important for him.
 

citybert

Hall of Fame
I think back then sampras knew it wasnt worth the fight. He did have one year where I think he said he committed to it and he played good enough to win but lost in QF
 

Boom-Boom

Legend
Sampras physical disability did not help either.

There is also the little fact that Americans except Connors and Courier to this day don't care for FO

True that most US players don't really give a damn! Red clay is a very special surface but (in a different way) not so more than grass...strange
 
L

Laurie

Guest
He says in his autobiography that he never really felt comfortable on clay, especially with S&V.

I haven't read his autobiography since 2008 but I also recall he said he felt quite comfortable on clay early in his career when he won Kiztbuhel in 1992 and had a relatively good record in Rome getting to the semi in 1993 as well.

He went into quite some depth the defeat to Ramon Delgado in 1998 had on him for the rest of his career. It might have had something to do with the wet conditions that particular day making it very heavy. He had beaten Delgado in the Atlanta final on green clay in April but apparently that was a close match. Also, green clay (a lovely surface to play on by the way) plays quite differently from red clay.

Ironically, I think players like Sampras, Becker and others from that era would actually enjoy playing on red clay a lot more today. The balls are lighter now than they were then, the racquets are easier on the arm and the strings are more friendly for that kind of surface. All court / attacking players liked to use heavier racquets with tighter stringbeds back then. With the balls heavier and opponents hitting very heavy topspin, difficult to overcome other than fighting fire with fire and amending their own equipment to suit. Remember, whilst Sampras was in hibernation in 2003, he kept saying in interviews he wished he tried a different racquet at the French. (probably one not as heavy with more modern strings as well).
 

citybert

Hall of Fame
He says in his autobiography that he never really felt comfortable on clay, especially with S&V.


thats interesting since edberg made a good run to the finals vs chang and had a couple QFs. but i know sampras wasnt a true SV guy like edberg was.
 

BTURNER

Legend
thats interesting since edberg made a good run to the finals vs chang and had a couple QFs. but i know sampras wasnt a true SV guy like edberg was.

Edberg was a swede, he was far more comfortable moving and sliding on clay and Mac as a junior had played a lot on har tru courts. I maintain Sampras did not feel confident in his movement, having grown up on hard courts and not spending lots of time practicing before the European season began.
 

encylopedia

Professional
I always get the impression that Sampras simply never cared that much, was more "if the draw opens up and I happen to be playing well, great, but, if not, whatever." .

I had a similar, but slightly different feeling that Sampras simply...had no urgency regarding the FO. In fact, I saw a number of quotes from him in the "early" years that went: I think I can win the French some day down the road, you have to play a certain way on clay, and I'm improving....."

He really should have truly believed, and tried all out....by 93, he was fully capable of beating the top clay guys on clay....it was just more difficult, not to his liking - all the moreso b/c of his stamina issues.

I felt he went out there thinking: if I play great....great. If I don't....well there's next year and the year after...

Before he knew it, his stamina problem was worse, and by 99, he wasn't moving quite as well.

He'd lost his window, with a handful of 70-80% attempts....
 

droliver

Professional
I'm not so sure the "stamina thing" was in fact a real issue. He had no problem competing in long matches on his preferred surfaces and won a number of long clay court matches over the years.

I think he just had a real clear idea of his relative limitations on clay and knew he was unlikely to be able to compete consistently enough to come through 64 or 128 player draws. On any given match, he could serve well enough to win against the best of his era, but he was also vulnerable to qualifier level players on an average day. The court surface just could not mask his weakness (inconsistency overall and his backhand specifically) off the ground
 

Shroud

G.O.A.T.
I think he saw what happened to lendl and his bid to win wimbledon.

Its always been a given that wimbledon is the most important title to win and that was where Sampras was strongest anyhow.

Wonder if the order of play was different would it had any affect. For instance, if wimbledon came first.

As an American I had to look up the French open and red clay. Its really a thing...
 

PMChambers

Hall of Fame
His game was just not suit on clay.

+1

You can ask the same of the 90's players with the same style and come up with the same answer.

Stich - Only S&V who got to Final but his other results are very average.
Ivanisevic - Quaters best rsult.
Rafter - SF same results as AO on slow Round Ace
Martin - 4RD worst major.

All Round player who volley
Ferreira - 4rd his worst GS.
Becker - SF worst Major won all other.
Krajicek - Sf not his worst or best.

Mac got to the final in 84 also SF & QF but he was GOD in this era. Also you could S&V in the 70's and early 80's as the game was slower. Borg went to net more in a FO than current players do on grass. Connors also went to net a bit on clay as did most the greats of 70's except maybe Villas.
 
+1

You can ask the same of the 90's players with the same style and come up with the same answer.

Stich - Only S&V who got to Final but his other results are very average.
Ivanisevic - Quaters best rsult.
Rafter - SF same results as AO on slow Round Ace
Martin - 4RD worst major.

All Round player who volley
Ferreira - 4rd his worst GS.
Becker - SF worst Major won all other.
Krajicek - Sf not his worst or best.

Mac got to the final in 84 also SF & QF but he was GOD in this era. Also you could S&V in the 70's and early 80's as the game was slower. Borg went to net more in a FO than current players do on grass. Connors also went to net a bit on clay as did most the greats of 70's except maybe Villas.

IMO, Stich was the best clay-courter in your 90s players list. His game is able to play on all surface. Adriano Panatta, other all-courter, he was such a force on clay in 70s. Ironically, he never succeed on grass, where his all-around game should be suited.
 

Gizo

Hall of Fame
Yeah Stich was a very good player on clay. He also reached the semis at RG in 1991 just before he won his Wimbledon title, and he had a strong record at all of the German clay court events including his home-city event at Hamburg, winning all of them and reaching numerous finals and semi-finals.

He was capable of adopting a completely different playing style on clay compared to grass and indoor courts and still do well. I remember Newcombe raving about how Stich was able to reach that semi-final at RG in 1991 playing from the baseline, and then win his Wimbledon title a few weeks later playing full-on serve volley tennis.

Had Sampras beaten Kafelnikov in his 1996 RG semi-final, I definitely would have made Stich the favourite to beat him in the final in-spite of his nerves (also Sampras would have had next to nothing left in the tank anyway).

Back to Sampras, it's true that the European serve-volleyers/attackers all grew up playing on clay and so were more comfortable moving on it and likewise McEnroe on the har-tru at Port Washington, while Sampras was one of the first notable attacking players to grow up playing almost exclusively on hard courts. So that was a big disadvantage for him.
 
Yeah Stich was a very good player on clay. He also reached the semis at RG in 1991 just before he won his Wimbledon title, and he had a strong record at all of the German clay court events including his home-city event at Hamburg, winning all of them and reaching numerous finals and semi-finals.

He was capable of adopting a completely different playing style on clay compared to grass and indoor courts and still do well. I remember Newcombe raving about how Stich was able to reach that semi-final at RG in 1991 playing from the baseline, and then win his Wimbledon title a few weeks later playing full-on serve volley tennis.

Had Sampras beaten Kafelnikov in his 1996 RG semi-final, I definitely would have made Stich the favourite to beat him in the final in-spite of his nerves (also Sampras would have had next to nothing left in the tank anyway).

Back to Sampras, it's true that the European serve-volleyers/attackers all grew up playing on clay and so were more comfortable moving on it and likewise McEnroe on the har-tru at Port Washington, while Sampras was one of the first notable attacking players to grow up playing almost exclusively on hard courts. So that was a big disadvantage for him.

Stich was one of the few players who can handle Sampras in his prime year. When his game is on, it's really tough to play. Yep, my money would be on Stich too if Sampras made to the Final that year
 

bluetrain4

G.O.A.T.
+1

You can ask the same of the 90's players with the same style and come up with the same answer.

Stich - Only S&V who got to Final but his other results are very average.
Ivanisevic - Quaters best rsult.
Rafter - SF same results as AO on slow Round Ace
Martin - 4RD worst major.

All Round player who volley
Ferreira - 4rd his worst GS.
Becker - SF worst Major won all other.
Krajicek - Sf not his worst or best.

Mac got to the final in 84 also SF & QF but he was GOD in this era. Also you could S&V in the 70's and early 80's as the game was slower. Borg went to net more in a FO than current players do on grass. Connors also went to net a bit on clay as did most the greats of 70's except maybe Villas.

Edberg made the final of the French Open and 3 other QFs. He also made the Monte Carlo SF 3 times, won Hamburg (a Super 9 tournament), and won 3 clay titles overall. yet, I still wouldn't say his S&V style, like the others listed, was that amenable to clay. He skipped some of the big clay tournaments many times.

Yet, he did grow up on the stuff, so he seemed to have a certain comfort level and understanding of the movement and nuances, even if his game wasn't best-suited for clay.
 

90's Clay

Banned
I think it's a combination of losing gullickson, focusing primarily on Wimbledon, and his thalassemia. Having thalassemia really did affect his stamina as you could tell at the French in '96 and at flushing that year



Also perhaps winning all 4 slams wasn't the be all end all as it apparently is today
 
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I think it's a combination of losing gullickson, focusing primarily on Wimbledon, and his thalassemia. Having thalassemia really did affect his stamina as you could tell at the French in '96 and at flushing that year



Also perhaps winning all 4 slams wasn't the be all end all as it apparently is today

If Sampras made to the 1996 RG Final, who would you pick for the champion? Sampras or Stich?
 

90's Clay

Banned
If Sampras made to the 1996 RG Final, who would you pick for the champion? Sampras or Stich?


Sampras depending on the weather. I think it was record breaking humidity that year which only added to his Thalassemia condition.

Stich is good though.. I think Pete even said Stich was the toughest or most talented player hes ever played against. Which is saying something
 

carpedm

Rookie
Sampras could play on clay

The extreme changes between conditions made it difficult for anyone to win everything during the 90’s. Every week was literally a different ball game - so much more so than the modern game.

It truly is a testimony to Sampras’ talent and ability that he was competitive on so many surfaces between such a diverse and dense group of players. Back in the 90’s, you literally had ten to twelve guys that had it within their grasp to win a Grand Slam tournament at any given time. Today, you have four guys and then the field all with an equal chance, which is not a commentary on the field. It’s just the way the game shapes up today.

But for Sampras, it could be said that he put less emphasis on clay for obvious reasons - he chased overall numbers and not singular titles. I’m not saying I agree with this because by modern criterial, it did hurt his legacy.

Unfortunately, there are people who only remember athletes how they want to remember them. And some people see Sampras as a one-dimensional player. Or just a fast court player. And that’s unfortunate. It’s like Michael Jordan: at the end of his career he was known for his smart play - his occasional push to the rim, his stellar outside shot and solid defense. He also developed this great fade-away mid-court jump shot that opened up the court for his aging legs. And all that is wonderful, but if you don’t remember Michael Jordan as the poetic expression of athleticism, grace and talent when he was younger, then man you’re missing a lot about the game. Likewise, if you just remember Sampras as a clutch serving-machine than man you’re missing a lot about tennis. Because at his best, Sampras could out-hit and out-move anyone on any tennis court - period.

How sure of this am I? Of the 90’s French Open winners, Sampras posted red-clay wins over Courier, Brugera and Muster at Roland Garros, and Agassi, Gomez, Kafelnikov ( during the Davis Cup final in Russia no less ). He also has red-clay wins over French Open finalist Corretja, Leconte, Magnus Norman, and Albert Costa.

He never played Kuerten, Lendl, Wilander or Moya on clay.

Maybe Sampras should’ve put more emphasis on the French. Maybe McEnroe should’ve played the Australian earlier even though it was expense to go there and a long trip. And no one cared back then. Or maybe Gerulaitis’ two Italian Opens were a much bigger deal than even the French back in the 70’s - it was severely lagging as a Grand Slam tournament back then.

My point is the eras were different times. And with the players, different priorities. And when you consider the denseness and the specialities of the competition, you can hardly blame them.
 

droliver

Professional
It truly is a testimony to Sampras’ talent and ability that he was competitive on so many surfaces between such a diverse and dense group of players. .... Because at his best, Sampras could out-hit and out-move anyone on any tennis court - period.

But that's just it. For much of his career he wasn't a top tier competitor on clay, the 2nd most common surface on tour. He actively avoided competing on it during much of his prime. Go back and look at his schedule from say 1996-1999. He avoided most of the spring clay seasons and when he did compete he was pulling a lot of ugly losses.

While I don't think he routinely "out hit" most players except off the serve, his movement is really forgotten. He was quick as a cat coming forward, and watching some old matches from the mid 1990's recently I'd forgotten how elegant he was. He doesn't cover the whole court side to side as well as some of the best movers, but he was excellent prowling the service line forwards.
 

carpedm

Rookie
Yeah, you're right. He really did avoid clay for the second half of his career. And it's a shame too, because I thought he had great potential as a clay-courter. But he had different priorities ( especially when his decease kicked in ). For the era, you really can't fault the players for doing that.

I also like your point about his movement forward. That's one of the biggest things that separated his ground game from his contemporaries - his transition game. He could move from a baseline rally to the front of the court better than anyone at that time and excel in both battlefields.

I do contest your assertion about his side to side movement. I don't think he moved as well to his right as most of his contemporaries, but he covered the backhand by hanging left of the baseline center mark. And we all know about that thing he did when he's on the baseline and has to dart to his right. He'd have to do that running thing, and that was a thing of beauty.

But that's just it. For much of his career he wasn't a top tier competitor on clay, the 2nd most common surface on tour. He actively avoided competing on it during much of his prime. Go back and look at his schedule from say 1996-1999. He avoided most of the spring clay seasons and when he did compete he was pulling a lot of ugly losses.

While I don't think he routinely "out hit" most players except off the serve, his movement is really forgotten. He was quick as a cat coming forward, and watching some old matches from the mid 1990's recently I'd forgotten how elegant he was. He doesn't cover the whole court side to side as well as some of the best movers, but he was excellent prowling the service line forwards.
 

encylopedia

Professional
Stich was one of the few players who can handle Sampras in his prime year. When his game is on, it's really tough to play. Yep, my money would be on Stich too if Sampras made to the Final that year

While I agree with both of you that Stich might be favored - on paper, I would not bet on him. Unless Sampras' achilles heel (the stamina) becomes a factor - and he came out listless like against Hewitt/Safin, then I would give him at least a 50% chance - probably higher? Why?

He is a true GOAT champion....Stich wasn't, mainly because of his head. Never underestimate the Stich's moodiness, temper, ability to unravel. In fact, I would give the Stich a 10% chance against Connors - because Connors would do anything he could, legally or illegally to make SURE the Stich unravels if the Stich came out on.

THE Stich was not stable.
 

encylopedia

Professional
The extreme changes between conditions made it difficult for anyone to win everything during the 90’s. Every week was literally a different ball game - so much more so than the modern game.

It truly is a testimony to Sampras’ talent and ability that he was competitive on so many surfaces between such a diverse and dense group of players. Back in the 90’s, you literally had ten to twelve guys that had it within their grasp to win a Grand Slam tournament at any given time. Today, you have four guys and then the field all with an equal chance, which is not a commentary on the field. It’s just the way the game shapes up today.

But for Sampras, it could be said that he put less emphasis on clay for obvious reasons - he chased overall numbers and not singular titles. I’m not saying I agree with this because by modern criterial, it did hurt his legacy.

Unfortunately, there are people who only remember athletes how they want to remember them. And some people see Sampras as a one-dimensional player. Or just a fast court player. And that’s unfortunate. It’s like Michael Jordan: at the end of his career he was known for his smart play - his occasional push to the rim, his stellar outside shot and solid defense. He also developed this great fade-away mid-court jump shot that opened up the court for his aging legs. And all that is wonderful, but if you don’t remember Michael Jordan as the poetic expression of athleticism, grace and talent when he was younger, then man you’re missing a lot about the game. Likewise, if you just remember Sampras as a clutch serving-machine than man you’re missing a lot about tennis. Because at his best, Sampras could out-hit and out-move anyone on any tennis court - period.

How sure of this am I? Of the 90’s French Open winners, Sampras posted red-clay wins over Courier, Brugera and Muster at Roland Garros, and Agassi, Gomez, Kafelnikov ( during the Davis Cup final in Russia no less ). He also has red-clay wins over French Open finalist Corretja, Leconte, Magnus Norman, and Albert Costa.

He never played Kuerten, Lendl, Wilander or Moya on clay.

Maybe Sampras should’ve put more emphasis on the French. Maybe McEnroe should’ve played the Australian earlier even though it was expense to go there and a long trip. And no one cared back then. Or maybe Gerulaitis’ two Italian Opens were a much bigger deal than even the French back in the 70’s - it was severely lagging as a Grand Slam tournament back then.

My point is the eras were different times. And with the players, different priorities. And when you consider the denseness and the specialities of the competition, you can hardly blame them.

Good post.
 
While I agree with both of you that Stich might be favored - on paper, I would not bet on him. Unless Sampras' achilles heel (the stamina) becomes a factor - and he came out listless like against Hewitt/Safin, then I would give him at least a 50% chance - probably higher? Why?

He is a true GOAT champion....Stich wasn't, mainly because of his head. Never underestimate the Stich's moodiness, temper, ability to unravel. In fact, I would give the Stich a 10% chance against Connors - because Connors would do anything he could, legally or illegally to make SURE the Stich unravels if the Stich came out on.

THE Stich was not stable.


Agreed. Bad luck and the lack of effort put shortened his career. However Stich was a bad match-up for Sampras. He could be mentally tough when he wanted to. If his game was ''on'' in the Final, then it would be very tough for Sampras to win the title. Should be a close match if both of them were in form
 

bluetrain4

G.O.A.T.
The extreme changes between conditions made it difficult for anyone to win everything during the 90’s. Every week was literally a different ball game - so much more so than the modern game.

It truly is a testimony to Sampras’ talent and ability that he was competitive on so many surfaces between such a diverse and dense group of players. Back in the 90’s, you literally had ten to twelve guys that had it within their grasp to win a Grand Slam tournament at any given time. Today, you have four guys and then the field all with an equal chance, which is not a commentary on the field. It’s just the way the game shapes up today.

But for Sampras, it could be said that he put less emphasis on clay for obvious reasons - he chased overall numbers and not singular titles. I’m not saying I agree with this because by modern criterial, it did hurt his legacy.

Unfortunately, there are people who only remember athletes how they want to remember them. And some people see Sampras as a one-dimensional player. Or just a fast court player. And that’s unfortunate. It’s like Michael Jordan: at the end of his career he was known for his smart play - his occasional push to the rim, his stellar outside shot and solid defense. He also developed this great fade-away mid-court jump shot that opened up the court for his aging legs. And all that is wonderful, but if you don’t remember Michael Jordan as the poetic expression of athleticism, grace and talent when he was younger, then man you’re missing a lot about the game. Likewise, if you just remember Sampras as a clutch serving-machine than man you’re missing a lot about tennis. Because at his best, Sampras could out-hit and out-move anyone on any tennis court - period.

How sure of this am I? Of the 90’s French Open winners, Sampras posted red-clay wins over Courier, Brugera and Muster at Roland Garros, and Agassi, Gomez, Kafelnikov ( during the Davis Cup final in Russia no less ). He also has red-clay wins over French Open finalist Corretja, Leconte, Magnus Norman, and Albert Costa.

He never played Kuerten, Lendl, Wilander or Moya on clay.

Maybe Sampras should’ve put more emphasis on the French. Maybe McEnroe should’ve played the Australian earlier even though it was expense to go there and a long trip. And no one cared back then. Or maybe Gerulaitis’ two Italian Opens were a much bigger deal than even the French back in the 70’s - it was severely lagging as a Grand Slam tournament back then.

My point is the eras were different times. And with the players, different priorities. And when you consider the denseness and the specialities of the competition, you can hardly blame them.

Wonderful, well-written, well-reasoned post!
 

encylopedia

Professional
Agreed. Bad luck and the lack of effort put shortened his career. However Stich was a bad match-up for Sampras. He could be mentally tough when he wanted to. If his game was ''on'' in the Final, then it would be very tough for Sampras to win the title. Should be a close match if both of them were in form

Yes, that is all true. Stich's best game was a huge problem for anyone, he was as complete all-courter with a huge game, very quick and agile for such a lanky, big man. On top of all that power, he had touch as well.....and, as you say, Sampras did not like his game.

Yes, he could be mentally tough at times, and when he was focused, both men would have a shot if both played near their best....but at the end of the day, in a grand slam final, if both are playing well - pick the guy with 14 slams....there is a reason ;-) ....and there's a reason why he had all those "good" days.

But I agree...of all the big men all-courters, Becker, Krajicek, Ivansevic....and they could ALL play on clay at their best....Stich might well be the one Sampras would least like to see over there in a final....
 
Yes, that is all true. Stich's best game was a huge problem for anyone, he was as complete all-courter with a huge game, very quick and agile for such a lanky, big man. On top of all that power, he had touch as well.....and, as you say, Sampras did not like his game.

Yes, he could be mentally tough at times, and when he was focused, both men would have a shot if both played near their best....but at the end of the day, in a grand slam final, if both are playing well - pick the guy with 14 slams....there is a reason ;-) ....and there's a reason why he had all those "good" days.

But I agree...of all the big men all-courters, Becker, Krajicek, Ivansevic....and they could ALL play on clay at their best....Stich might well be the one Sampras would least like to see over there in a final....

Agreed. Sampras psychological strength was one of his trademark features and still underrated I find by many today.

I was never a fan when he came onto the tour. His first full match that I saw was his first US open win on tv. His game itself never grabbed my interest, although I could appreciate that he did everything well. But after seeing his 'steelier' wins and his growing tally of majors I learned to appreciate just how good the mental aspect of his game was, and even become a big fan of his dangerous all-court game, especially his running forehand. His victory against Courier in the 1995 AO QF while suffering emotionally over the illness of long time friend and coach Gullikson was the mark of a true champion.
 
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sarmpas

Hall of Fame
People need to stop sprouting the nonsense a player can't play on a surface because he didn't grow up on it.

Courier, Agassi and Chang didn't grow up on clay but all felt more comfortable than Sampras on the surface.

Edberg and Borg both from Sweden didn't grow up on grass but I believe they were quite good on the surface.

Guy Forget grew up playing on clay in France but was very comfortable moving on grass and grass was his better surface.

Federer didn't grow up on grass but plays well on it.

Goran didn't grew up on grass but loved it.

It's how you move and shot preparation/mechanics that determine whether you feel comfortable and play well on natural surfaces.

Pete was a silky smooth and powerful mover. He couldn't slid and wasn't as light on his feet as Edberg hence his problems attaining and maintaining and effective court position to hit effectively on clay on a consistent basis.
 

90's Clay

Banned
Sampras could play on clay. It's complete nonsense to say he didn't. He pretty much single handily beat the entire Russian team on the slowest clay in human history at the '95 davis cup. Won Rome. Beat just about every top clay court player the 90s had to offer. That's not the work of someone no good on clay
 

bluetrain4

G.O.A.T.
Sampras could play on clay. It's complete nonsense to say he didn't. He pretty much single handily beat the entire Russian team on the slowest clay in human history at the '95 davis cup. Won Rome. Beat just about every top clay court player the 90s had to offer. That's not the work of someone no good on clay

Lol. I remember that. Granted, I was watching on television which doesn't always accurately capture the actual conditions, but still, the clay did seem extremely slow.

Agreed about Sampras' clay prowess - he was good. But, I think a lot of people speak relatively - he wasn't as good on clay as on other surfaces, and the results show that, for the most part.
 
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krosero

Legend
The clay court in that Davis Cup tie was actually playing fast (as were the courts at the '96 French): http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/showthread.php?p=5461043#post5461043.

The excessive watering of the court had taken place in the Russia-Germany semifinal. In the Russia-US final one of the commentators (Drysdale) said that if the Russians wanted to slow down Sampras they would have to water the court more than they were current doing, because in its current state the court was doing nothing to slow down Sampras' serve.

Generally speaking, though, Sampras' claycourt game is often underrated -- since the most common statements are blanket declarations that he couldn't play on clay, which obviously isn't true.
 

Prabhanjan

Professional
How sure of this am I? Of the 90’s French Open winners, Sampras posted red-clay wins over Courier, Brugera and Muster at Roland Garros, and Agassi, Gomez, Kafelnikov ( during the Davis Cup final in Russia no less ). He also has red-clay wins over French Open finalist Corretja, Leconte, Magnus Norman, and Albert Costa.

He never played Kuerten, Lendl, Wilander or Moya on clay.

He has a good winning 12-11 H2H against the players listed here, except Gomez, on clay. His performance against these players on clay reads as Courier 1-2, Bruguera 1-2, Muster 1-0, Agassi 2-3, Kafelnikov 2-2, Corretja 1-1, Leconte 1-0, Norman 2-1, and Costa 1-0. Posting victory over clay players does not amount to being good on clay though. I think he stopped caring about clay completely after the demise of his coach Tim Gullikson, may be for good reasons too.

We have seen how after a deep run at FO, players like Fed, Nadal, and Nole have been skipping the warm-up grass tournament. And partly due to the 32 seed system and homogenization of the surfaces, this luxury can be had in the current times. For Pete, this may have spelled doom as he cared for Wimbledon more than anything. Also, after running the deepest at FO in 96, he lost to Krajicek and he may felt it best to focus on Wimbledon. It can be safely said that if a player who goes 12-11 strong on the best clay courtiers in his era cannot have such bizarre run at FO during 1997-02.
 
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NatF

Bionic Poster
Sampras was good on clay, it's only relative to other players in his tier that he 'sucks' compared to - and that's mostly to do with him giving up on the FO after 1996.

I don't read much into some of his wins at the FO though, not when the clay court champs he beat were often clearly well out of form.
 

Roddick85

Hall of Fame
Like others have mentionned, I think he just valued Wimbledon more than the FO. Let's face it, his game was tailor made for grass court tennis, and in the eyes of many people, including myself, Wimbledon is the epitome of tennis. So why should he exhaust himself, trying to win the FO, on a surface that doesn't favor his game, at the expense of not performing well at the next slam who's more prestigious and more suited to his game?

I also agree with other people in regards to how the FO was viewed back in the 90's. I can remember very well back then, pre-surface homogenization, the FO was pretty much always won by clay court specialist, who never did much of anything outside of clay, so I don't believe the event was considered as prestigious as Wimbledon or the US Open back in those days because clay was more of a niche thing.

A lot of people like to bash on Pete's legacy for the simple fact that he didn't win the CYGS and had a lackluster record on clay. In my opinion, the CYGS is an overrated feat, especially with the way current courts play, it's a lot easier to accomplish this feat than it was 20 years ago because the transition between surfaces is seamless. Pete was THE player of the 90's and in my opinion definitely up there in the GOAT debate, his clay record doesn't change the fact that he accomplished a lot on grass and even hard courts.
 

jga111

Hall of Fame
Pete's primary target was always beating number 12. The record number of slams at the time for a male tennis player. That was his primary aim. No other. And he achieved it intelligently. Of course he was bothered about the FO, but he liked the game of the hard court and clay was never his natural surface, whatever he was going to achieve from that open was a bonus. His game was compatible with AO/US/Wimbledon and that is where he excelled. It was only natural he was going to adjust his focus and training accordingly to achieve that aim.
 

Prabhanjan

Professional
A lot of people like to bash on Pete's legacy for the simple fact that he didn't win the CYGS and had a lackluster record on clay. In my opinion, the CYGS is an overrated feat, especially with the way current courts play, it's a lot easier to accomplish this feat than it was 20 years ago because the transition between surfaces is seamless. Pete was THE player of the 90's and in my opinion definitely up there in the GOAT debate, his clay record doesn't change the fact that he accomplished a lot on grass and even hard courts.

I agree with almost all that you have written. Though CYGS I am not contending, I would have my reservations on career slam. Apart from Agassi, two players between mid 80's and 90's came close to accomplish it, Edberg and Lendl. If McEnroe had got that 84 final, who is to say that he would not have tried harder for AO, especially the years it was played on grass. Same can be said about Borg if he had got one of those 4 USO finals, may be he too would have given AO a serious try.

Though Becker and Sampras have SF as best FO performance, I would not give it to them because FO was the most difficult slam for them. So, with a bare minimum luck, we are staring at 4 very good candidates at accomplishing career slam.

Post the surface homogenization, Fed got a single chance at 09 FO and he grabbed it though it can be said he was a lot closer than the 80's and 90's contemporaries to complete the career slam. Nadal has nicely completed his career slam. Now about Nole, if can't do the FO thing in this year or next, we can as well say he won't complete the career slam. Its too early to comment on the next gen of slam winners and way distant from any comments on their chance of career slams. Overall, career slam is not easier either, no matter which era we are talking about :)
 

Gizo

Hall of Fame
Regarding a hypothetical Sampras-Stich 1996 RG final, i'm not sure that Sampras's superior mental strength would actually be that big a factor. Plus physically he was already running on empty going in to his semi-final against Kafelnikov, so had he somehow come through that match he most likely would have been totally spent for the final.

Sure Sampras was an absolute mental giant during his Wimbledon finals for instance, and delivered time after time during the big points. However it's much easier for a player to be mentally strong on a surface that suits their game perfectly and at a tournament that they enjoy playing in. Nadal was a mental rock in his big clay court finals from when he was only 18 years old, but even he fell victim to his nerves during the 2006 Wimbledon final, being completely overawed by the occasion at the start of the match and choking while trying to serve out the 2nd set.

How mentally tough would Sampras be in a final at RG, knowing that it was completely unchartered and untested territory for him, that if he lost he probably wouldn't ever get such an opportunity again, and that his attacking game and movement weren't suited to the surface? I'm not sure that he would be so clutch. He did show signs of nerves plenty of times even in early round matches at RG during his career. (i.e. against Gaudenzi in 2002).

One thing I'm sure of though is that there is no way that Sampras, Becker, McEnroe etc would trade in any of their Wimbledon titles for a RG title. Even with Mac still being haunted by the 1984 RG final, Wimbledon was just so much more important to all of those players. On the other hand Lendl said during his career that he would trade in all 3 of his RG titles for a Wimbledon title (of course ever since he retired he moved on with his life and stopped caring about his failure to win Wimbledon).
 
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NonP

Legend
As for Sampras "giving up" on clay, I'm fine with that conclusion as long as people don't confuse it with tanking, an accusation that shouldn't be made lightly (and I say this as a fan who came close to making that very accusation in a recent discussion of his infamous '00 USO final against Safin). I go more in depth here:

http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/showthread.php?p=8158581#post8158581

People need to stop sprouting the nonsense a player can't play on a surface because he didn't grow up on it.

Courier, Agassi and Chang didn't grow up on clay but all felt more comfortable than Sampras on the surface.

Edberg and Borg both from Sweden didn't grow up on grass but I believe they were quite good on the surface.

Guy Forget grew up playing on clay in France but was very comfortable moving on grass and grass was his better surface.

Federer didn't grow up on grass but plays well on it.

Goran didn't grew up on grass but loved it.

It's how you move and shot preparation/mechanics that determine whether you feel comfortable and play well on natural surfaces.

Pete was a silky smooth and powerful mover. He couldn't slid and wasn't as light on his feet as Edberg hence his problems attaining and maintaining and effective court position to hit effectively on clay on a consistent basis.

Yes, and you can also throw in Navratilova who has said on record that she took to grass with ease despite not growing up on it. I've made this same point myself.

Where I differ is on Pete's sliding. I know this is often put forth as the explanation for his lackluster results on clay, but I don't think that's quite right, because while there are matches where he looks downright awkward sliding on the surface, there are also others where he seems on a much surer footing (his '94 Italian Open final against Becker comes to mind).

Instead I think the reason was more strategic and mental. IMO Pete never quite figured out the right balance between net and baseline play. He had to use the former judiciously, because unless your name was Rafael Nadal or Bjorn Borg you were not beating prime Courier or Bruguera from the baseline, at least not most of the time. Pete was gonna succeed in that daunting task 2, maybe 3 at most out of 10 times and of course we know he did just that not once but twice at the same single event ('96 FO), but this was the proverbial alignment of the stars: the courts were reportedly playing fast (though I doubt they were that much faster than usual), Bruguera was coming off an injury-ridden year, and throughout the tourney but especially against Courier Pete was inspired by the recent passing of his long-time coach Gullikson (in his book he discusses how strangely calm he was in the QF even though he was down 2 sets to none). In other times he expectedly came up short, as he did in '93 and '94, and as Becker had found out in his painful loss to Edberg in '89 when he tried to topple Edberg off the ground rather than engage him in S&V battles.

Which brings us to the mental/baseline part of the equation. Past net rushers like Panatta and Noah have shown that coming in can be a successful strategy on clay even against its best exponents like Borg and Wilander, but what's often left out of this factoid is that they didn't just storm the net behind every serve, but rather they patiently traded ground strokes with their opponents while waiting for the right time to move in. (I was once corrected on this very score by krosero, when I made the oft-unchallenged claim that Panatta beat Borg twice at RG with S&V.) This is probably what threw Sampras off the most, and in fact it explains why he had his best result at RG in '96 when he had this net-baseline balance right (the stats I've seen show that he had a fair number of net approaches, but not the kind of sky-high # that a full-on S&Ver like Edberg posted in his '89 SF). In his later years he was attacking the net more and more to an extent where the back court was put on the back burner so to speak, which made getting into that baseline groove more difficult, and I think this was reflected in his sliding we talk about so often. That is, he was constantly questioning whether he should be duking it out from the baseline rather than charging the net at that very moment, hence the unsure footing and the awkward-looking sliding.

That's what I meant when I said his sliding issue had more to do with his mind than with his footwork. In his late years he simply wasn't confident enough as to where to be on the clay court, and he needed someone to rein him in and stress more patience on clay so he could develop this confidence or right frame of mind. Unfortunately Annacone was not this someone, because if anything he was more of a net rusher than Pete and the brand of attacking clay-court tennis necessary to win RG was as alien to him as to his more talented but no less unaccustomed pupil. And when the right coach (Higueras in 2002) came along it was already too late and Pete was no longer willing to tinker with his game (or racquet).

Of course what's done is done, but I do wish Pete had put more effort into clay because his relative weakness on it is what prevents me (and I'm guessing most others) from making a strong GOAT case for him.

The clay court in that Davis Cup tie was actually playing fast (as were the courts at the '96 French): http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/showthread.php?p=5461043#post5461043.

The excessive watering of the court had taken place in the Russia-Germany semifinal. In the Russia-US final one of the commentators (Drysdale) said that if the Russians wanted to slow down Sampras they would have to water the court more than they were current doing, because in its current state the court was doing nothing to slow down Sampras' serve.

Not sure I'd take Drysdale's (and Stolle's) word for it on this issue. In his book Pete says the court used for the finals was watered enough to be "muddy," and I've read at least one article where Bud Collins backs him up as to its slow speed. It was most likely faster than the one in the Russia-Germany SFs but that doesn't tell us much because the Russians were fined for rendering the latter court in virtually "unplayable" condition (believe that's the actual word used by the DC committee). I'd say (though of course I'm biased) the Russian squad complaining about the court was probably more sour grapes than anything else. :)

Besides I don't think the court mattered much anyway. In general I tend to think that courts of the same surface type are more or less the same in speed unless there's an extreme scenario as was the case in the '95 DC SFs. I can't confirm this about the clay courts but the stats I have show that there's not much difference between "fast" and "slow" HCs in % of service/return games won (Cincy being the one exception). My guess is that CCs aren't much different.
 
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