Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Federer vs. Sampras

It's happening. Albeit eight years too late.

I actually don't know who I like in a match-up of Sampras and Federer both in their primes. These theoretical tennis matches are always dependent on lots of things--for instance, are you talking about a player at his absolute single-moment peak, or at some rough approximation of how good they were during the meat of their career? In other words, if you're talking about a player at their very best moment, I think you have to consider McEnroe, who was downright scary in 1981. But if you consider the totality of his game, he's a top 10 (or 12) all-time player and isn't in league with Laver, Borg, et al.

But Sampras at his general best level against the Federer we've seen for the last couple years? I just don't know. Federer is such an amazing ball-striker, Sampras was probably the best pure athlete ever to play the game. Both could switch on their dominance and both had the ability to play a game basically independent of the guy on the other side of the net.

At this point in time, I give the smallest edge to Pistol Pete II, because he was so mentally tough. But I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise if Federer is able to assert himself over the coming wave of great young players who will be reaching maturity in the next 24 months or so.

(Andy Murray and Richard Gasquet, in particular, who look like monsters.)

1 comment:

Kevin Hayward said...

Interesting debate. I tackled Federer vs. all tennis players of all time on my blog!

Actually, my contention is that it's tough to measure greatness on playing ability. I bet any one of today's players would beat the crap out of Rod Laver. It's not because they are "greater" than him, it's just because the game -- styles, conditioning, equipment -- is vastly different now than it was then.

And I would argue that a lot has changed even since Sampras had his heyday.

But here's the thing. The question you pose is a good one from a slightly different angle: the angle of "greatness." Sampras was great because he beat great players, Andre Agassi in particular. In Grand Slam Finals, Sampras beat Agassi four out of five times!

Federer, meanwhile, has had no real yardstick to measure against. Roddick and Hewitt are good players, but they have proven that they don't have the "it" factor, the intangible ability to reach for a deeper gear when push comes to shove.

That's why Federer-Nadal is so wonderful, both for the game of tennis and for the annals of sport. If Federer can come out triumphant in his rivalry with Nadal -- who DOES have the "it" factor -- then he will be one of, if not THE, greatest of all time.

Sorry for the long comment.