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Federer Vs. Sampras Grand Slam Comparison – Who Had a Tougher Job?

Federer Vs. Sampras Grand Slam Comparison – Who Had a Tougher Job?

Roger Federer has just surpassed Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slams with his 15th win at Wimbledon but one common argument that keeps repeating is that Federer had easier opponents than Sampras.

Roger Federer and Pete Sampras / Photo by Getty Images
Roger Federer and Pete Sampras / Photo by Getty Images

I had the same feeling too and while it doesn’t matter for the record books, it’s an interesting topic to discuss.

The goal of this post is to measure the difficulty of winning 14 Grand Slams for Pete Sampras and for Roger Federer.

Here’s how I decided to do it:
a) Record the date of winning each Grand Slam
b) Record the top 10 players AT THAT time
c) Record the number of Grand Slam titles that the rest of the top 10 players HAD at that time

Winning a Grand Slam is one of the biggest accomplishments in professional tennis and if there are 5 players that have won a Grand Slam competing against you, then that is definitely more difficult than competing against players where no one has won a Grand Slam before.

So let’s start with an example:

Pete Sampras won his first Grand Slam at 1990 US Open. The top 10 players at that time were:
1. Edberg Stefan (SWE) – 4 GS
2. Becker, Boris (GER) – 4
3. Lendl, Ivan (USA) – 8
4. Agassi, Andre (USA) – 0
5. Gomez, Andres (ECU) – 1
6. Sampras, Pete (USA) – we don’t count him obviously
7. Muster Thomas (AUT) – 0
8. Sanchez, Emilio (ESP) – 0
9. Gilbert, Brad (USA) – 0
10. Ivanisevic, Goran (CRO) – 0

You can also see how many Grand Slam titles has been won by each player by that time. Edberg had 4, Becker 4, Lendl 8 and so on.

Now we’ll add the number of Grand Slam wins (GSW) to get a measureable number that will represent the quality of the competition; the total is 17 GSW. (Grand Slam wins)

Roger Federer on the other hand won his first Grand Slam in Wimbledon 2003 and at that time the top 10 were:
1. Agassi, Andre (USA) – 8
2. Hewitt, Lleyton (AUS) – 2
3. Ferrero, Juan Carlos (ESP) 1
4. Moya, Carlos (ESP) 1
5. Federer, Roger (SUI) – we don’t count him
6. Roddick, Andy (USA) 0
7. Coria, Guillermo (ARG) 0
8. Schuettler, Rainer (GER) 0
9. Nalbandian, David (ARG) 0
10. Novak, Jiri (CZE) 0

The total GSW at that time was 13.

We will now repeat this procedure for EVERY Grand Slam that Federer and Sampras have won and then add all the GSW to see the difference in difficulty:

Grand Slam # Pete Sampras competition GSW Roger Federer competition GSW
1 US Open 1990 – 17 Wimbledon 2003 – 13
2 Wimbledon 1993 – 25 Australian Open 2004 – 11
3 US Open 1993 – 18 Wimbledon 2004 – 13
4 Australian Open 1994 – 14 US Open 2004 – 14
5 Wimbledon 1994 – 15 Wimbledon 2005 – 14
6 Wimbledon 1995 – 11 US Open 2005 – 15
7 US Open 1995 – 10 Australian Open – 14
8 US Open 1996 – 13 Wimbledon 2006 – 3
9 Australian Open 1997 – 4 US Open 2006 – 3
10 Wimbledon 1997 – 3 Australian Open 2007 – 3
11 Wimbledon 1998 – 6 Wimbledon 2007 – 4
12 Wimbledon 1999 – 11 US Open 2007 – 4
13 Wimbledon 2000 – 11 US Open 2008 – 7
14 US Open 2002 – 14 Roland Garros 2009 – 8
TOTAL 172 129
The difference in competition GSW is 43 Grand Slam wins – so there’s the first number that shows us that Pete Sampras had much tougher competition when he was playing compared to Roger Federer’s competition.

The average GSW for Pete Sampras in 14 Grand Slams is 172 / 14 = 12,3
The average GSW for Roger Federer in 14 Grand Slams is 129 / 14 = 9,2

There’s one more thing that you can’t see from these stats but it’s obvious if you look at each player in the top 10 that’s playing against Federer or Sampras; in Federer’s case, it’s most of the time just Agassi and lately Nadal that keep the GSW number high for him. Agassi had 8 Grand Slams and Rafa has 6 now.

So what happens, if we remove the player with MOST GSW at each Grand Slam win?

Example:

Pete Sampras won US Open in 1990, the player with most GSW at that time was Ivan Lendl with 8, so we remove him from the stats and end up with 9 GSW (17 with Lendl).

Roger Federer won his first Grand Slam in Wimbledon 2003, the player with most GSW was Andre Agassi with 8, so we remove him and end up with 5 GSW (13 with Agassi).

When we do this for all Grand Slam wins for each player we end up with:
Pete Sampras minus best competitor GSW = 102
Roger Federer minus best competitor GSW = 47

In other words, if we want to see the rest of the field in top 10, when we don’t count Roger Federer and his biggest competitor (which early in his career was Andre Agassi and lately Rafael Nadal) then we see, then Roger had to play on average 47 / 14 = 3,36 Grand Slam wins from the rest of the field.

Sampras still had to play 102 / 14 = 7,28 Grand Slam wins.

Conclusions:

1. Based on this way of measuring competition – the number of Grand Slam wins of top 10 players at the time Sampras and Federer won their Grand Slams – Sampras had a much tougher job of winning 14 Grand Slams: 172 GSW compared to 129 GSW.

2. If we remove their biggest competitor from the list and want to see whether the rest of the field was still very competitive, we see that Sampras had even tougher job: 102 GSW compared to 47 GSW (or 7,28 average to 3,36 average).

3. It took Sampras just over 12 years to win 14 Grand Slams – from 1990 to 2002 and it took Federer just over 6 years to win 14 Grand Slams – from 2003 to 2009.

These are all facts based on stats and based on my way of measuring the competition.

But now it’s up to you to share your opinions and there are two questions that come to mind:

a) Federer seems so much better than the rest of the field (except Nadal) – is he really that exceptional (and the rest of the field is still very good) or is he simply very good and rest of the field not that good? Compare that to Sampras’ opponents…

b) If Federer would have played the same game against Agassi, Sampras, Rafter, Muster, Kuerten, Safin, Becker, Courier (just to name a few) in their best years, would he still have won 14 Grand Slams in 6 years? There’s already an interesting discussion going on at Sampras vs. Federer – Who Wins?

There are probably more interesting questions and comparisons between the two so please share them in the comments below.

P.S. If you find a mistake in my stats or calculations please let me know so that I can correct them!

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Related posts:

Can Roger Federer Bounce Back? Does He Even Want To?
Sampras vs. Federer in Their Prime – Who Wins?
Roger Federer On The Verge Of Another Record
5 Reasons Why Nadal Beat Federer in the Wimbledon 2008 Final
Roger Federer – The Last All Court Player To Hold #1?

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This entry was posted on Monday, July 6th, 2009 at 9:02 am and is filed under Roger Federer. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

89 Responses to “Federer Vs. Sampras Grand Slam Comparison – Who Had a Tougher Job?”
David Says:
July 6th, 2009 at 10:43 am
Hi Tomaz,

Interesting analytical way to make this comparison!

2 things jump out at me after reading your analysis:

1) Part of the reason that the GSW count that Federer had/has to deal with is relatively low (in comparison to Sampras’) is precisely because Federer has largely dominated his peers. So he’s been winning pretty much all the majors (with the odd exception here and there and of course not the French till this year), thus leaving no chance for anyone else to rack up a good GSW count during these past few years except for Nadal.

So it’s a bit of paradox isn’t it? Because the guy is so good, he makes the rest of the field look weak, but in making them look weak, the argument then comes out that he’s not really that good, but actually the rest of the field are just relatively weak. Your head could go spinning in circles!

2) Secondly, as some others have pointed out in the earlier thread about Federer vs Sampras, Agassi himself, who is one of the rare few top players to have played both Sampras and Federer in their primes, has said he considers Federer the best he’s ever played. Sure that is still just one person’s opinion, but it’s hard to argue with how qualified Agassi is to make such a statement – if not him, then who?

[Reply]

Tomaz Reply:
July 6th, 2009 at 10:52 am

Hi David,

Yes, good point; if Federer wins so much, then the others cannot win Grand Slams. But how did they do it against Sampras?

There were some legends in the game that still played fantastic tennis when Sampras starting winning Grand Slams, but the only legend left when Federer started winning matches was Agassi. That’s the key difference I think.

I think Federer was at his peak in 2005 when he played Agassi in the US Open final. Check some videos on Youtube and you’ll see what kind of shots they traded. He cannot play like this anymore (through the whole match) – but he still manages to win through sheer determination.

Sampras was never able to dominate Agassi from the baseline like Federer did; thus Agassi’s conclusion that Federer is the best ever. I agree with that.

[Reply]

Thrandur Says:
July 6th, 2009 at 10:55 am
Interesting thought with impressive number crunching 🙂

I would lean towards counting Federer as an exceptional tennis player. The other option is to say that the top players quality has gone down for the last years since Sampras was playing at his best.

[Reply]

Jcap Says:
July 6th, 2009 at 12:52 pm
Another thing to take into consideration is the equipment used during Sampras’ time versus that of Federer’s. Did advanced technology make it easier for Federer? Harder? The surfaces?

And how does one define the greatest? If one is born with amazing natural grace and talent versus one who puts in great effort and training WITHOUT having natural talent and has similar achievements, which really is the greatest? I might argue the one WITHOUT the natural gifts. How many times have we seen Federer make a shot and said to ourselves “you can’t teach that!”

I thought Andy Roddick played beautifully through most of the Wimbledon final and Federer NOT up to his full potential. If I were deciding the match based on effort, precision and tactics, and factoring out shots made by Federers G-d given abilities, hands down Andy would have won. Goes to show that on any given day the player that played a better match THAT DAY doesn’t always win…. watch it again and note how many forehands Fed missed…. even on his serve while he had many stunning aces Andy hit plenty that Fed just got a piece of and didn’t win the point so they didn’t count as an ace… Poor Andy.

[Reply]

Andres Says:
July 6th, 2009 at 12:54 pm
Hi Tomaz,

I do agree with your calculation but I think I stick with the point David made. You can look at this both ways, Fededer is so good that the players surrounding him look like less, or that Federer is not so good, it is just that the other players aren’t enough competition.

Federer might have less ‘legends’ but i think it is still a tough ocmmpetition. Also my opinion on the way Federer plays is based on how natural he is for this. He has never had an injury, he has been able to play every torunament nonstop. Nadal is a good player but is tennis is forced, thus making his step back on this wimbeldon.

Sampras was a great player, but as I have known tennis, Federer has a more natural style, he seems to play with some sort of more ease. He has kind of lost it over the years, but taking the best moment of each player, I think that Federer would win. Of course this is only my opinion.

Anyways it was a good article to read. Good job!

[Reply]

Terry Says:
July 6th, 2009 at 1:18 pm
Great discussion and I was impressed with some of the number crunching. Having been a tennis fan since the 70′s I’ve seen many of the greats in action and I have a gut reaction that there was a higher percentage of points won by winners than errors between say Borg and McEnroe or Sampras and Agassi for example than what I see happening in today’s game. Though Federer won the match and had an astounding 50 aces against Roddick in the Wimbledon final he also had a high number of unforced errors. Nadal wins many of his matches by somehow forcing the other player to make more and more unforced errors. So I wonder would it be possible to crunch some more numbers and determine if a higher percentage of winners had to be produced in Sampras’ era to win Grand Slam events. This might add to the discussion of whether or not Sampras played in an era where a higher quality of tennis had to be produced in order to win.

[Reply]

Kevin G. McClure Says:
July 6th, 2009 at 1:48 pm
Tomaz – I agree with David.

If Sampras had won twice as many Grand Slams in the first 6 years, his GSW numbers would be far lower. Can’t count it against Federer that he’s kicking butt, or at least squeaking out the close ones.

The only big surprise was his loss at Wimbledon last year. Everything else was within expectations.

I would like to comment that I really thought that Andy deserved to win this match and I feel for him. Obviously, the tiebreak in the second was key with the high volley error standing out, however, he played strategically, stayed focused, looked fit and never gave up. My Andy Roddick respect meter hit an all-time high

[Reply]

Tim Says:
July 6th, 2009 at 1:52 pm
Hi Tomaz,

Unfortunately I cannot agree with your counting. Since the number of GSs is always 4 in a year we can think of the number of GSWs by top 10 as of 2 different origin: (1) the ones won by others BEFORE their first win; (2) the ones won by others DURING their 14 wins. The second part, obviously, is only proportional to the years they took to win 14 slams; which I think, we cannot distinguish from their greatness or their opponents weakness. i.e., it took Federer 6 years but Sampras 12 years to get 14 slams. You can either intepret this as the weaker competition or the greater they are.
Now if we turn to look at the first part, this number contributes to your counting determined by how long it took for the “legends” to drop out of top 10. Either Lendl or Agassi, fit in this case. Again since this number originated from the GSWs BEFORE their first GS win, it’s hard to argue how this has anything to do with their greatness or the competitiveness of the field.

Now I want to address another point. It is actually IMPOSSIBLE to tell from any stats who has had an easier time. The real problem is, any number we collected and analyzed, always represents the difference between them and the rest of the field (in your case, the GSW wins by others in top 10 is just the total GSW wins subtract the ones won by them; the cut off of top 10 may be another factor but it is pretty rare that a GS is not won by top 10. ) and can only measure how they are different to their contemprary peers. The level of the field at a given time, however, cannot be measured this way.

To get an absolute measure of the level of the field, we must look at some absolute numbers instead of match stats. (match stats at most measure the variance of the level of the field.) For example, we can look at the average serve speed which should tell something. However I would say this has more to do with how the game has evolved.

[Reply]

Rwn Says:
July 6th, 2009 at 1:57 pm
Sampras lost to guys like Schaller, Yzaga, Delgado and Kucera at slams at his peak. That can only mean one thing: he simply didn’t have the consistency Federer has. No wonder that Federer wins more slams than him.

[Reply]

Marc Says:
July 6th, 2009 at 3:31 pm
Interesting discussion, but the basic comparison premise is flawed.

The reason the field during the Sampras time period had more slams is because they had 12 years to get them instead of the 6 years Federer has had.

Federer has won most of the slams during his 6 year timeframe; therefore, there are not many slams for anyone else to have.

[Reply]

Jack Says:
July 6th, 2009 at 4:20 pm
In the same vein as what Rwn said, why not take a look at who Federer’s LOST to. All the players he has lost to in grand slam since his FIRST Slam win are great, great players. Nalbandian (03 USO), Kuerten (04 FO), Safin (05 AO), Nadal multiple times, Djokovic. All are Slam Winners except Nalbandian (slam finalist), the others are multiple Slam winners other than Djokovic (and he’s got a few in him, for sure). The fact that this list is only 5 names long since 2003 can only say one thing about Federer: he is hands down the best player to ever step on a tennis court.

[Reply]

Andrew Says:
July 6th, 2009 at 7:36 pm
Tomaz, your fact-based approach is a welcome change from most who-is-the-greatest-of-all-time arguments, but I’m afraid I disagree with the basic premise of your analysis: that the relative difficulty of Sampras’ and Federer’s achievements can be measured by the GSW of the top 10-ranked players at the time of each Slam that Sampras and Federer won.

First, the winner of any tournament may not have to even play any of the top-10 ranked players in the draw. So the existence of those top 10 players may have no bearing on Sampras’ or Federer’s path through the draw of an actual tournament.

Second, a player’s past record is often just that: past. For example, Ivan Lendl won 8 Slams, but his last was before he played Sampras at the 1990 US Open; he never won one during Sampras’s reign. He was past his prime by the time his career overlapped Sampras’s.

Third, a player’s past record is not necessarily indicative of how well they are playing at the relevant time, namely, *at the time of a given tournament.* As the tournament progresses, whoever advances to the next round is – by definition – playing better at the only relevant time. Federer played “only” Baghdatis in the 2006 Aus. Open final, but Baghdatis was hot enough at the time to beat “better” players and make it to the final. Federer beat Soderling, winner of 0 Slams, at this year’s French Open, but Soderling was playing so strongly that week that he knocked out Nadal and continued to the final. The other top 10-ranked players were not playing as well at that moment.

Last, and most important, your approach doesn’t take into account the fact that any player’s wins come at other players’ expense. Sampras and Federer won their titles because their opponents did not. So the question should be: Who dominates his contemporaries more thoroughly? By that measure, Federer comes out far ahead of Sampras because he leaves almost nothing for anyone else to win. Sampras’s contemporaries won more Slams because Sampras failed to win them, either by losing earlier in the draws or by losing directly to them. In contrast, Federer’s contemporaries win almost no Slams because Federer is winning them all. It would be perverse to say that Federer would be a stronger player if he lost more often, thus leaving more for his contemporaries to win.

[Reply]

Tomaz Reply:
July 7th, 2009 at 2:13 am

@Andrew: “First, the winner of any tournament may not have to even play any of the top-10 ranked players in the draw…” True, but that’s not really the key. The key is to measure the difficulty of the competition. As you said, Soderling beat Nadal who has 6 Grand Slams and in that case, Soderling’s level of play must have been extremely high.

Therefore he is a good measurement of quality: playing against past Grand Slam champions as opposed to playing against those who never won. The same story happened with Sampras’ opponents… (Pioline reaching the final of Wimbledon and US Open, Moya the final of Australian)

“Second, a player’s past record is often just that: past. For example, Ivan Lendl won 8 Slams…” Exactly, that’s why I did the second calculation and removed the player with the most Grand Slams. The “best past” champion was removed and the rest of the field could show their muscles. 😉 You can still see huge difference in quality – in GSW.

“Third, a player’s past record is not necessarily indicative of how well they are playing at the relevant time…” True, but since they are in the top 10, (and not in top 300), then they must be playing pretty well throughout the year, right?

“So the question should be: Who dominates his contemporaries more thoroughly?” The “should” word is not welcome on this blog. That can of course be your question…

[Reply]

Jack Says:
July 6th, 2009 at 9:41 pm
By the way, I’m pretty such that if you did the same calculations for Nadal, the numbers would be as good as Sampras and better than Federer, simply because Federer’s own slams would be counted. That pretty much dismisses the entire basis of this analysis.

[Reply]

yaser Says:
July 7th, 2009 at 12:05 am
semply
federer Is the king of tennis
all the time
with respict to sampras
and the others

[Reply]

zerohead Says:
July 7th, 2009 at 7:05 am
Well done, Tomaz. We have some interesting stats here. The way you measure how hard the grand slams were earned during Sampras and Federer’s period is, however, not valid. I will demonstrate it by just using the stats you provided.
1. The number of GSW is related to how many slams left and the sport life of the other GSW during Sampras and Federer’s dominating period. You can see the GSW for Sampras’s period is high at the beginning and then dropped during his peak around 1997, and then raised again at the end of his career. That make sense as the GSW was lower when you won more, and higher when you won less.
2. So, when Federer is so dominate during the past few years, GSW should be the least.
3. Only the top 10 players were counted for the GSW, why? You may need to count the GSW from all of the participants during the slams.
4. A much simpler calculation, Sampras won 14 in 12 years, and Federer won 15 in 6 years, ie. Federer’s speed of collecting slams is double of Sampras’s, on the other words, Sampras’s GSW would be as simply as double of Federer’s. In that sense, your calculation is correct but its relevance to the topic, ie. how hard they won the slams, is still a doubt.

[Reply]

Tomaz Reply:
July 7th, 2009 at 8:22 am

@zerohead: “Only the top 10 players were counted for the GSW, why?” Well, because of being practical. It’s just one blog post for which I might take 3 to 4 hours of research but definitely not more. I have smarter things to do in life… 😉

I am not obsessed with these stats so there needs to be a practical line between getting useful data and getting ALL available data – which would take me days. Bur feel free to research that and let us know the results. 😉

By the way, thanks for sharing your views on these stats. Remember, these are the facts so you can’t dispute them. You can of course share your interpretation of them.

Here’s one thing to think about; Pete won US Open in 1990, but won his next Grand Slam in July 2003 (Wimbledon).

Here’s the list of Grand Slam champions and finalists from 1990 to 1993:
1990
Aus. Open – Ivan Lendl – Stefan Edberg (Was Lendl really out of his game when Sampras started winning? Far from it…)
French Open – Gomez – Agassi
Wimbledon – Edberg – Becker
US Open – Sampras – Agassi
1991
Aus. Open – Becker – Lendl (hey, it’s Lendl again 😉 )
French Open – Courier – Agassi
Wimbledon – Stich – Becker
US Open – Edberg – Courier
1992
Aus. Open – Courier – Edberg
French Open – Courier – Korda
Wimbledon – Agassi – Ivanišević
US Open – Edberg – Sampras
1993
Aus. Open – Courier – Edberg
French Open – Bruguera – Courier
Wimbledon – Sampras – Courier
US Open – Sampras – Pioline

I think these names tell you exactly why Pete didn’t win a Grand Slam for almost 3 years. They were too good for him at that time. He was then improving his game and they started to fade away – that’s why he started to win more – he was in a similar position as Federer has been.

Roger Federer had to play in the beginning only against 1 player with more than 2 GSW: Agassi (8 GSW). Hewitt was good at his time – had 2 GSW and was very steady. Safin won 2 GS but we all know how his form went up and down… Later Nadal came and stopped Federer from taking probably last 5 French Open titles…

So there’s some food for thought.

Second, if we venture into “opinions” (if you do, please let everyone’s freedom to share their opinion without telling them that they are wrong), compare the competitors of Sampras:

Lendl (I can count him, right?), Becker, Edberg, Courier, Agassi, Muster, Gilbert, Sanchez, Ivaniševič, Bruguera, Stich, Chang, Krajicek, Martin, Ferriera, Rios, Kafelnikov, Rafter, Moya and others…

And competitors of Federer:

Hewitt, Agassi, Ferrero, Moya, Roddick, Coria, Schuttler, Nalbandian, Philippoussis, Grosjean, Henman, Safin, Davydenko, Canas, Gaudio, Ljubicic, Robredo, Blake, Baghdatis, Ančić, Nadal, Murray, Gonzales, …

This represents 80% of their top 10 competitors during their journey to 14 Grand Slams. Which group do you think is better?

[Reply]

Valéry Says:
July 7th, 2009 at 7:16 am
Tomaz,
Excellent maths! and the two ways you calculate SGW are very fair.
It doesnot say at the end whether Sampars is better than Federer, or more natural than him.
It just says that Federer was probably lucky enough to face weaker or less experienced competition when he started winning himself 2003)
His main rivals were the old Agassi, and the young Hewit (2 slams), Safin (2 slams), and Roddyck (1 slam). And those 3 ones were frequently injured. Nadal came quite late, in 2005 aged only of 19, and he became a real competitor only in 2007 when he reached the final at Wimbledon. By that time Federer had already won 9-10 Slams.
I think that not only Sampras but also Agassi in full shape would have won a big bunch of Slams in such conditions.

[Reply]

Albert Says:
July 7th, 2009 at 7:38 am
This is a great stat, lovely read, but i think it is not so accurate to say about the toughness of the job. One of the biggest point is that past grandslam champions might not be at their peak during the time they play Sampras or Federer. Besides, if you think about it, how could others win if Federer wins everything. I am not just a Federer fan, i am a tennis fan, so i try to be fair on my analysis.
What is more accurate is how they fare against the top players at the time, who they met during the tournament, so i have a stat that shows how they fare against the seeds they met during the tournament.
(This research was actually done by my friend Thomas, so i will not take the credit for it)

Top 10 Seeds on the road to the Slam for Pete Sampras:
US Open 1990
1. Final Agassi Seeded 4
2. QF Lendl* Seeded 3
3. Last 16 Muster Seeded 6
Wimbledon 1993
4. Final Courier* Seeded 3
5. QF Agassi* Seeded 8
US Open 1993
6. QF Chang* Seeded 7
Australian Open 1994
7. Final Martin Seeded 9
8. SF Courier* Seeded 3
9. QF Gustafsson Seeded 10
Wimbledon 1994
10. Final Ivanisevic Seeded 4
11. SF Martin Seeded 6
12. QF Chang* Seeded 10
Wimbledon 1995
13. Final Becker* Seeded 3
14. SF Ivanisevic Seeded 4
US Open 1995
15. Final Agassi* Seeded 1
US Open 1996
16. Final Chang* Seeded 2
Australian Open 1997
17. SF Muster* Seeded 5
18. QF Costa Seeded 10
Wimbledon 1997
19. QF Becker* Seeded 8
Wimbledon 1998
None out of top 10 seeds.
Wimbledon 1999
20. Final Agassi* Seeded 4
21. SF Henman Seeded 6
22. QF Philippoussis Seeded 7 (withdraw after winning 1st Set)
Wimbledon 2000
None out of top 10 seeds.
US Open 2002
23. Final Agassi* Seeded 6
24. Last 16 Haas Seeded 3

Played top 10 seeds in 9 of 14 won Grand Slam finals.
Won against 7 top 3 seeds on the road to the title.
Played 13 times a prior Grand Slam Champion* on the road to the titles.
Average Seeds Met: 5,5

Top 10 Seeds on the road to the Slam for ROGER FEDERER:

Wimbledon 2003
1. SF Roddick Seeded 5
2. QF Schalken Seeded 8
Australian Open 2004
3. SF Ferrero* Seeded 3
4. QF Nalbandian Seeded 8
Wimbledon 2004
5. Final Roddick* Seeded 2
6. SF Grosjean Seeded 10
7. QF Hewitt* Seeded 7
US Open 2004
8. Final Hewitt* Seeded 4
9. SF Henman Seeded 5
10. QF Agassi* Seeded 6
Wimbledon 2005
11. Final Roddick* Seeded 2
12. SF Hewitt* Seeded 3
US Open 2005
13. Final Agassi* Seeded 7
14. SF Hewitt* Seeded 3
Australian Open 2006
15. QF Davydenko Seeded 5
Wimbledon 2006
16. Final Nadal* Seeded 2
17. QF Ancic Seeded 7
US Open 2006
18. Final Roddick* Seeded 9
19. SF Davydenko Seeded 7
20. QF Blake Seeded 5
Australian Open 2007
21. Final Gonzalez Seeded 10
22. SF Roddick* Seeded 6
23. QF Robredo Seeded 7
Wimbledon 2007
24. Final Nadal* Seeded 2
US Open 2007
25. Final Djokovic Seeded 3
26. SF Davydenko Seeded 4
27. QF Roddick* Seeded 5
US Open 2008
28. Final Murray Seeded 6
29. SF Djokovic* Seeded 3
French Open 2009
30. SF Del Potro Seeded 5
Wimbledon 2009
31. Final Roddick* Seeded 6

Played top ten seeds in 11 of 15 Grand Slam finals.
Won against 9 top 3 seeds on the road to the title.
Played 16 times a prior Grand Slam Champion* on the road to the titles.
Average Seeds Met: 5,32

VERY CLOSE!!!!

[Reply]

Valéry Says:
July 7th, 2009 at 8:38 am
I agree with you Tomaz.
Could we eventually also add Hewitt and Safin to Sampras’s main competitors? He lost two US finals against them at the end of his career. I also think that Sampras played Mc Enroe at the US Open in 1990, but you will correct me if I am wrong.
And even add Djokovic to Federer’s?
Kuerten also played the two players.

[Reply]

Tomaz Reply:
July 7th, 2009 at 8:45 am

Of course, I missed some of them. Add Hewitt and Safin to Sampras and Djokovic to Federer’s team…

[Reply]

Rob Says:
July 7th, 2009 at 1:23 pm
Jimmy Connors was the best ever. He played everyone from Rosewall to Borg to McEnroe to Edberg to Agassi. When Connors was 37, he lost to Agassi in 5 sets in 1989 at the US Open when Agassi was just 19. The same year, in the round before playing Agassi, when Edberg was 23, and had already won three Grand Slams, Connors crushed him 6-2, 6-3, 6-1.

* Most singles titles won: 109.
* Most singles matches won: 1,241.
* Shares with Andre Agassi the record of finishing the most years in the top ten: 16.
* Shares with Pete Sampras and Roger Federer the record for having won the most US Open men’s singles titles: 5.

Why don’t you do that analysis with Jimmy and see what you come up with. He might not have been the most skilled player, but he had the best return of service and the heart to win 8 Grand slams and 101 other tournaments, including 8 years between Wimbledon titles. Had he been permitted to play the French in 1974, it’s not a leap to say he’d have won the Grand Slam.

And among the men, other than Laver, Emerson, Agassi, and now Federer, he also won a Grand Slam on every surface. The US Open was played on clay from 1975 – 1977 and Connors won it in 1976.

And I won’t even mention 1991, when he made it to the semi-finals at the US Open at age 39, when most players are kicking back in their rocking chairs.

[Reply]

Nior Says:
July 7th, 2009 at 3:38 pm
Tomas, that was great. Qualitative analysis is better than just an qualitative opinion. After reading all the arguments, pros and cos, I have just one query – at what age did Sampras win his last GS? Do age has to do something with winning? I mean, if I win a GS at a later age, is it pure luck or I am really tough? Winning a GS when your young like RF is just like eating peanuts! What do you think? Just doing a brainstorming here.

[Reply]

Tomaz Reply:
July 7th, 2009 at 4:04 pm

@Nior: Sampras was born on 12th of August, 1971 – so in 2002 he was 31. Federer was born on 8th of August, 1981 – so exactly 10 years difference. But Sampras won his first Grand Slam at the age of 19 and Federer at the age of 22.

There’s one more fact to consider: If we take Sampras’ first Grand Slam away – in 1990 and his last Grand Slam away – 2002, then he won his other 12 Grand Slams since July 1993 until July 2000. So that’s 7 years to accumulate 12 Grand Slams! It took Federer 5,5 years to accumulate 13 Grand Slams for example – so not much difference there.

That’s just a counter argument to those that say that Federer’s opponents couldn’t rack up the GSW numbers because he was winning all. Well, it was VERY similar with Sampras when he was #1 – he was consistently winning 2 Grand Slams per year…

[Reply]

Kerashey Says:
July 7th, 2009 at 7:21 pm
Havent read through the comments, but right off the bat, here’s a flaw in your logic.

You use the number of grand slams a player has won to determine level of competetion.

So, according to you, more grand slams won = tougher competetion

Think of this:
Toward the end of a top 10 players career, when he is on his decline (but still in the top 10) he has won the most possible grand slams he can win. but he is not in his prime. Therefore he has lot of slams but need not be the most “competetion” for either Roger or Pete.

Your theory would be better if you could weight the competetion by recent versus past. i.e. more than just the grand slams won. perhaps you could look at another factor for the top 10… say win loss ratio for that year or some other factor that would indicate current form.

[Reply]

CM Says:
July 7th, 2009 at 8:28 pm
I agree with Tomas. If one has to carefully look at the GSWs and the Stats between Sampras and Federer, Yes, Sampras did have a toughler line to face. This is the FACT, we cannot dispute on this.
Interest in professional tennis has dwindled over the years. You don’t see as many legends as we saw in the past. This is a FACT again.
I like both, Sampras and Federer. But with regards to the question, who had a tougher job to do?? Of course it is Sampras and the reasons are as mentioned, it is simple, we don’t see that many legends in Tennis as we saw in the past!!
I don’t agree with what someone said… like Federer won because others could not win over him or that Federer is the best or that Sampras also lost against weaker players. Every legendary player loses here and there.
If we place the ladders of tennis talent during Sampras era versus Federer era, next to each other, the ladder of talent during Sampras’s era is obviously much taller than during Federer era. Except for Rafa Nadal and Roddick (I like them as well), tell me who is comparable to legends like Andre or Lendl or Edberg or Boris, Jim Courier, etc etc. during Federer era?? Don’t say it’s because of Federer that other players are not playing well. Apart from Rafa and to some extent Roddick, there is no true quality in tennis in today’s era, if you wtach them all play on Tennis couts, it’s obvious, you don’t see the likes of Andre or Lendl or Boris or Edberg.
And this of course made the job easier for Federer.
Let’s not be biased here, let’s use some rationale, take a fair judgement.
Sampras did have a TOUGH LINE to clear!!

As Tennis legend Rod Laver puts it, “”it’s not easier to compare two players. what is important is Who is best during their era”” During Sampras era, Sampras was the best. During Federer era, Federer is the best.
My final conclusion is Sampras DID have a TOUGHER JOB to get the 14 majors. This is my unbiased opinion. Thanks for reading!

[Reply]

Tomaz Reply:
July 8th, 2009 at 3:38 am

@Kerashey: During the Sampras era;
Edberg went from 4 to 6 GS
Becker went from 4 to 6 GS
Agassi went from 0 to 8
Courier went from 0 to 4
Kuerten went from 0 to 3 (and one Masters Cup win)
Rafter went from 0 to 2
Hewitt went from 0 to 2
Safin went from 0 to 2

I think only Lendl might fall into the category you mention – the same as Agassi for Federer. That’s why I took them out in the second calculation – and it got only worse for Federer.

But the more I look at this the more I see what’s the really the key – for both players to win some many slams in short time: Man Against Boys

When Sampras came on scene in 1990, he was 19.
But check the age of the rest:
1. Edberg – 25
2. Becker – 24
3. Lendl – 30
4. Agassi – 20
5. Gomez – 30
6. Sampras – 19
7. Muster – 23
8. Sanchez – 25
9. Gilbert – 29
10. Ivanisevic – 19

You see 3 “boys” – Agassi, Sampras and Ivanisevic and the rest are “men”. Being a boy on the tour and playing against past Grand Slam champions is typically a one way street. 😉

But the difference in maturity wasn’t so obvious when Sampras played, even in his best years, for example July 1997:
1. Sampras – 26
2. Chang – 25
3. Ivanisevic – 26
4. Muster – 30
5. Kafelnikov – 24
6. Corretja – 24
7. Bruguera – 26
8. Enqvist – 24
9. Rios – 21
10. Moya – 20

There are just 2 “boys” there; Moya and Rios, the rest are mature and experienced players.

Let’s check Federer July in 2004 (when he won 3 Grand Slams):
1. Federer – 23
2. Roddick – 22
3. Coria – 22
4. Nalbandian – 22
5. Ferrero – 24
6. Henman – 20
7. Moya – 27
8. Schuettler – 21
9. Agassi – 33
10. Hewitt – 24

The average age of competitors is a little bit lower. But check out who is Roger playing in 2009 (July):
1. Federer – 27
2. Nadal – 23
3. Murray – 22
4. Djokovic – 22
5. Del Potro – 20
6. Roddick – 26
7. Simon – 24
8. Tsonga – 23
9. Verdasco – 25
10. Gonzales – 29

You see that Federer’s main competitors right now are “boys”. 😉 They are all good tennis players, but except Nadal they are not in the league of Agassi, Kuerten, Edberg, Becker, Hewitt, Rafter and others. It’s really the change of generations from the older legends to the new “boys” and Federer is lucky to be right in between – when the legends have gone and the new boys haven’t matured yet.

My conclusion is this; Federer has a much easier path to get those 14 Grand Slams but that doesn’t make him a lesser player. I am sure he would have caught with Sampras’ record sooner or later because he is a class of his own. I’ve seen Federer play at Roland Garros and I saw that he can play tennis on another level that others cannot follow.

Yes, Nadal has a better head to head record but he wins in a completely different way – by frustrating and neutralizing. While Nadal does win matches, he cannot play the masterful tennis Federer does.

So Federer got to his 15th title and looking again at his competition – mainly “boys” 😉 , he has a good chance of getting to around 20…

[Reply]

Rwn Says:
July 8th, 2009 at 3:21 am
If Sampras deserves bonus points for beating grand slam champions holding several slams at the time, he also deserves penalty points for losing against 0-slam champions like Yzaga, Schaller, Philippoussis, Kucera, Delgado, no ?

[Reply]

CM Says:
July 8th, 2009 at 2:03 pm
yes, Tomaz… that’s how I ‘d put it.. “boys”.
As Laver said “Sampras was the best during his era and Fed the best during his era”. Andre Agassi says it’s tougher to play against Federer, coz these two playing against each other are good baseline players. My opinion is Andre sees Pete as his competitor, he seems to be little biased here. Everyone likes Pete, Roger, Andre etc. etc. Let’s be unbiased, ok.

As Laver himself puts it “Sampras is a better player of the two when it comes to grass, since Pete has a big serve and volley game”. This definitely helped Pete win more titles during his era.

I’d want to see competitive and quality tennis. Hope Nadal gets back. Nadal-less draw is little boring to watch, except when Roddick is around, although I like Federer winning the games. But I want to see competitive games. Let’s hope to see what we saw during Sampras’s era!! Some COMPETITIVE TENNIS AND TOUGH DRAWS!!

[Reply]

JTB Says:
July 8th, 2009 at 8:35 pm
Good argument and could go forever. Sampras was always my hero and he was the best in the 20th century. Today Rodger is the magician the best ever. Andy Murray, Djocivic,del Potro, Nalbandian Rafa naturally, Davidenko,Andy Roddick and the list just go and go.
In any sport its always the best in the time.
Jessie Qwens woudn’t even qualify for the 100 dash, Jhonny Weismuller etc, etc.
Comparing is not fair.
Who the best Mozart or Beethoven?

[Reply]

Tomaz Reply:
July 9th, 2009 at 1:41 am

@JTB: “Comparing is not fair.” We are not comparing Federer and Sampras here, we’re comparing their competition. And don’t take it so seriously, it’s just a thought exercise – an interesting discussion and it won’t hurt anyone. 😉

[Reply]

stan166 Says:
July 8th, 2009 at 9:49 pm
I’m not sure all the number crunching was really necessary. It is obvious that Sampras had a 2 times tougher job simply because it took him twice as much time to accumulate the 14.

[Reply]

gil utanes Says:
July 9th, 2009 at 5:28 am
Wow!!! What amazing intercourse! Tomaz, you really can get a thing go hot just like that. Kudos to you. Indeed so bejeweled discussions back and forth, although I am not pretending that I understand the stats. Pete Sampras and Roger Federer to me though are both great tennis players in their own times. Both are icons to me, Pete first then Roger (and Steffi Graf). Still I saw Roger won against Pete sometime. I forget whether it was at a slam or something. Also, I think tennis was much evolving from Andre’s time into a level far more competitive than say Pete’s era. This is not discounting the skills and talents before Andre’s for there were Pete, Lendl, Borg, Connors, Chang, Edberg, Becker, McEnroe, and much more. Before them were Rod Laver, Emerson, Ken Rosewall, Fred Perry ….. tennis greats all. Rah!, rah!, rah! Pete, Roger – oh how he digs himself out of certain defeat.

[Reply]

CM Says:
July 9th, 2009 at 7:31 pm
Folks, that was a fantastic discussion, Thanks JTB, Tomaz, gil utanes etc. etc. !! yes… we are not comparing anybody here, but the competition as such.. ..
n joy watching archives of Pete and Rog!!
ok folks, have a wonderful time!:-)

[Reply]

alan campbell Says:
July 10th, 2009 at 3:25 am
Best ever…no contest..Rod Laver…11 GS titles including 8 in a row …add 2 a year at least which he probably would have won during the 5 years he wasn’t able to play

[Reply]

Devdatt Says:
July 10th, 2009 at 8:40 am
Most aficionados seem agreed about the following points:
– Sampras faced a lot tougher opposition as convincingly demonstrated by the stats above. Also one should note that Sampras faced all time great serve-and-volley players like Edberg and Becker as well as all time great baseliners like Lendl and Agassi whereas in Federer’s time the serve-and-volley species has almost gone extinct.
– Federer is far superior on clay as his record consistently over the last 4-5 years demonstrates – in fact Mats Wilander recently rated him one of the 3 or 4 all time best clay courter players!
– Sampras was by far the better volleyer, especially potent in combination with his serve. Federer never developed into a really good volleyer despite promising potential, something that has cost him in encounters with Nadal.
– With groundstrokes, Federer clearly the more powerful, consistent and versatile on both wings.

Apart from this, there are three important respects in which Federer is clearly superior:
– Federer is by the fitter – whereas Sampras often had fitness problems, even throwing up at the US Open, Federer has rarely been troubled with stamina, usually showing almost no sweat, and in fact he comes out stronger the longer the match goes. The exception is the Australian this year against – who else? – Nadal.
– Federer is by far the better mover – always smooth, balanced and quick on all sufaces.
. Federer much better at taking balls early and on the rise , a hallmark of his attacking game, and those trademark flicks off backhand and forehand whn under pressure.

Still hard to compare across generations. For instance, if faced with the great serve and volley players Federer may have responded with developing new aspects of his game. Also, neither of the two did a real Grand Slam whereas Laver did two – 7 years apart – and was no 1 for 7 consecutive years. I don’t buy that that the competition was easier then – there may have been fewewr players but the skill and quality was amazing.

[Reply]

Alan Says:
July 10th, 2009 at 2:32 pm
Very interesting analysis. Had never thought of it that way and I envy you for coming up with that approach. The response left by Tomasz is interesting too although I would still favour your analysis in terms of measuring the quality of players around in each player’s time. When each player was on 14 titles a piece they both would have had to beat more or less the same number of players to win their titles – and in Sampras’s batch there were more Grand Slam winners – so the Federer blowing them all away theory doesn’t quite work. I think.

[Reply]

Sumit Sanghai Says:
July 12th, 2009 at 1:29 pm
I think ELO ratings is the best at comparing players across generations.
Here’s one.
http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/showthread.php?t=178992

Of course there are some things one must remember:

i) Tennis is played on multiple surfaces…so a single ELO rating might not work just as saying Roger/Laver/Sampras etc is the best ever is not good enough because we know that all 3 will be owned by Rafa on clay.

ii) The update rule can be varied to give slightly different results.

iii) The ratings calculated above give equal importance to all tournaments.

iv) These are just the peak ratings…it might also be interesting to look at career rating graphs.

[Reply]

Sumit Sanghai Says:
July 12th, 2009 at 1:37 pm
Tomaz, love your blog but I think there are 2 flaws in this article:

i) I think that using GSW as a metric is not good enough, imho, to compare strengths of players. Let’s assume Roddick beats Federer in Wimb’03 and goes on to win Wimbledon. Then Federer would have faced a 2-time slam winner at every tournament not a 1-slam winner. But, in reality, defeating Roddick is better than losing against him.

ii) You should look at which players Sampras/Federer defeated rather than whichh players played in the particular tournament. (I know that will require some additional research and might be a bit time consuming).

iii) It’d be good to look at the number of slams the players won in the last couple of years rather than the career slams. Sampras defeated Becker a lot but no way the Becker of mid 90s was as good as the Becker of late 80s.

[Reply]

Tomaz Reply:
July 12th, 2009 at 2:44 pm

Hi Sumit,

The Grand Slam record doesn’t count backwards. If Federer lost to Roddick, the 2 GSW from Roddick would ONLY count for this tournament against Federer.

Looking at who they defeated wouldn’t make much sense. They defeated the BEST players at that tournament – so no need to complicate matters more.

Sampras defeated Becker in mid 90s and Federer defeated Agassi in mid 2000s. The law of averages takes care of those things.

[Reply]

Mambo Says:
July 13th, 2009 at 4:48 pm
Cool numbers, I’ve been looking for something like this for a long time, wish this was a message board, it would be much easier to reply directly to some great points made here, but since it is impossible, I’ll just try to give my own opinion.
First, we must remember that this is not a debate on “who’s better: Sampras or Federer” but who had tougher competition. And while all the numbers might confuse some people, Tomaz explained it pretty simple in one of the comments with the “boys” and “men” comparison.
Quite true. If you take a better look – you could see how when Sampras came to the scene and won his first slam it was filled with experienced, tough players, already legends, and while he was at his prime, his main competitors were players of his generation, not too many “inexperienced boys”.
In Federer’s case, he really was lucky to avoid the ‘legends’ and have ‘boys’ who haven’t completely matured yet as his main rivals. So he was basically left with one super serious competitor – that wunderkind Nadal and even he was too young in 05, 06 and even 07 to be as consistent and a major threat outside clay, the way he is nowdays.
In fact, what Nadal did, at such a young age, against a complete powerhouse like Federer is truly impressive.
So, the question in the end is – would he have won so many slams with a more experienced, tougher competition?
I’m not quite sure, to be honest. To be more precise, I think he’d be close, but not sure if he would’ve got 14 or 15 or even more, as he’s able to.
My impression of that matter is mostly based on the rivalry with Nadal. I wouldn’t exactly say that Nadal isn’t able to play masterful tennis. When he’s at his best, when you watch their matches, my mouth goes wide open with the shots they BOTH produce. It is indeed amazing, masterful tennis from both. Unbeliavable solutions, unbeliavable winners. And then you see, Nadal moves better than other players, he’s faster, he anticipates better and the fact that he can play defense very well, it forces Federer to play on a much higher level than he has to in his matches against other guys. And sometimes, he’s just not able to do that and you then see that he’s not that unbeatable monster than no one can do anything against.
If there were at least 2 or 3 players of Nadal’s level there, I believe Roger would’ve had more trouble surpassing Sampras. It’s just my opinion.

Speaking of Nadal, he had and will have a much more difficult path. When he appeared, he had Federer at his best to conquer, and if he plans to play several more years he will have tough competition from his own generation leaded by tough guys like Murray, Djokovic and Del Potro.

[Reply]

Stefano P Says:
July 15th, 2009 at 11:20 pm
There is no doubt that in the slams Pete Sampras had a tougher time from the Quarterfinals to the Finals in respect to the competition..I won’t even argue that

However…there is no doubt that Federer had a tougher time from the 1st round until the 4th round in respect to the to the competition…why? Men’s tennis is deeper then ever

[Reply]

Ilie Nastase Says:
July 16th, 2009 at 1:13 pm
Listen, folks – Federer is the GOAT historically/statistically and in terms of the sublime artistry of his superb shot making skills as well as his amazing natural talent for pure ball striking which has allowed him to be a contender at the French for so many years (something Pete could never do)!
The one and only time FED had to play Pete while they were both on the ATP tour was at Sampras’ favorite tourney – Wimbledon, 2001, 4th rd. – and Federer won in five grueling sets of excellent tennis – he did not go on to win the title that year but, Pete knew he had just witnessed the future of the game!
Pete was the reigning KING of Wimbledon and FED was just an up and coming 19 yr. old kid!
I was there and I know what I saw / FED just flat outplayed Pete in the crucial stages of that match and they were both playing high level tennis throughout!
Babble on endlessly about who had tougher opponents and who had the easier task/era but FEDERER is the GOAT!
Johnny Mac, Andy Roddick, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and Pete Sampras all agree and that’s a good enough panel of EXPERTS for me!

[Reply]

Max Pinto Says:
July 17th, 2009 at 9:46 am
What was Sampras’s greatest achievement on clay? One semi-final in the French, in so many years? No further questions, your honor…I rest my case!
Alos, Fed is not done yet…

[Reply]

CM Says:
July 18th, 2009 at 3:41 pm
hey max,
Again, you are forgetting the point, it’s not about who is better than whom here. It’s about the competition.
Well, agreed Sampras has no French Slam to his credit, again we are not talking about who is greater than whom here.
But the competition during one era versus another, which Sampras of course had!! SAMPRAS, of course, had a TOUGHER competition during his time when compared to what Federer had had or has been having….
Enjoy!!

[Reply]

Sri Says:
July 20th, 2009 at 11:40 am
While I appreciate the analysis, it is not a reflection of who had it easier. Federer has been that much better than the field. The ATP Tour is the most competitive it has ever been! Nadal, Djokovic, Murray etc. And for Federer to dominate the way he has it a testament in itself.

Not taking anything away from Sampras, but none the guys played the game as beautiful as Federer. This guy is GOAT and I still can’t figure out why everyone thinks he has an easy path. Its an insult to rest of the field as well if you state that Fed has had it easy.

[Reply]

John Says:
July 20th, 2009 at 4:11 pm
The old saying goes, “…statistics are for losers.”

I’m sorry you cannot accept that Federer is the greatest player of all time, by all means, keep mining in the stats pit.

[Reply]

Tomaz Reply:
July 20th, 2009 at 4:45 pm

@Sri: Djokovic has one Grand Slam and Murray has none. While you may regard highly of them, they have not much to show in terms of Grand Slam wins which is what really makes a tennis champion. They are still behind Hewitt, Safin and Kuerten just to name a few.

Your opinion doesn’t count in the history books, only stats do.

@John: No one is talking about Federer not being the greatest player of all time; that would be stupid as he has the most Grand Slams. We are just DISCUSSING the quality of their competition. I and many others in this discussion are totally neutral and can express our opinions without giving other people’s opinion any less weight.

Can you do that?

[Reply]

John Says:
July 20th, 2009 at 5:36 pm
O.k.

So, based on your voluminous research, what is your conclusion?

Federer is the greatest of all time?

Federer is the greatest of all time statistically – he has won 15 GS?

Federer is not the greatest of all time qualitatively – he had statistically weaker competition?

Sampras may be the greatest of all time because he had statistically stronger competition?

Other….?

Basically, I guess my question is, what is the purpose and the conclusion of all this statistical research? It does rather seem you are attempting to put a statistical asterisk on Federer’s achievments.

[Reply]

Tomaz Reply:
July 21st, 2009 at 1:44 am

There is not a single mention in the article who is the greatest of all time – so not sure why you’re bringing this up. It’s just a blog post man. It’s an interesting view on competition and quality of their opponents. My conclusion is posted at the end of the article; Federer had easier competition.

What this MEANS is totally up to you.

The purpose of this post is to write some interesting, add more content to my blog, see what other people think about it, get new ideas from them, and learn about human behaviour – especially the fans of a certain players who cannot accept anything negative about their superhero. It gives me a better understanding of how many people are followers and how they react to different opinions than their own.

Maybe you shouldn’t take these things so seriously…

[Reply]

Leo Says:
July 23rd, 2009 at 2:27 pm
Two points you seem to forget;

1) Federer has racked up slams in at a much greater pace than Sampras since his first slam win – winning 2,5 slams a year over the last six years – compared to 1.8 during the in the same time-frame for Sampras. As Fed’s been so much more dominant there are obviously less slam titles for other players to accumulate.

2) Federer’s peers still have slams to win – since their careers aren’t over yet. We should wait another 10 years – or better yet until all his peers are retired – before making such a comparison.

[Reply]

Tomaz Reply:
July 23rd, 2009 at 4:36 pm

@Leo: 1) Did Federer accumulate his Grand Slams faster because his competition was poor? If they won a Grand Slam here and there as the opponents of Sampras did, they would have a higher GSW and Federer wouldn’t have 15 GSWs by now. And that’s exactly the point of the article…

2) I did the analysis now when Federer leveled with Sampras – and surpassed him a month later. We’re comparing the achievement of 14 Grand Slams – so we cannot do that later, when Fed might have 23… I’ll be happy to read your analysis in 10 years though…

[Reply]

Sumit Sanghai Says:
July 23rd, 2009 at 5:50 pm
So I did a thorough analysis of who Sampras met between 93 and 2000 (his periods of domination) and same for Federer (2003 and 2009)

So Sampras has met great players (agassi, courier and becker) only 9 times..winning 6 and losing 3. Federer has met great players (Agassi and Nadal) 11 times winning 5 and losing 6.
(Note: all meetings should be Quarters or after).

Sampras has met really good players 16 times winning 11 and losing 5 (Courier, Rafter, Ivanisevic, Bruguera, Hewitt, Safin, Kafelnikov, Krajicek were counted). His bunnies were Chang, Pionline and Martin.

Federer has met really good players 20 times winning 17 and losing 3
(Safin, Hewitt, Roddick, Djokovic, Kuerten and Murray were counted). His bunnies were Davydenko and Nalbandian (not really his bunny but Federer has defeated him a lot of times in slams)

So while Sampras’ competition might have been tougher (which I think it wasnt), definitely Samprass didnt meet the greats (or almost greats) as many times as Federer (partly because he lost in the 4th round or before 8 times). So I am not sure that Sampras worked extra hard to earn those 12 slams (between 93 and 2000) than Federer did to earn those 15 slams (between 93 and 99, we can add data for 2000 next year. I am sure that’s only going to better Federer’s case even if he loses to Nadal/Djokovic/Murray whoever).

[Reply]

Sumit Sanghai Says:
July 23rd, 2009 at 6:00 pm
Hoping this is readable.
year Aus French Wimbledon US Open
1993 L Edberg(S) L Bruguera (Q) W Agassi, Becker, Courier W Chang, Pioline
94 W Courier, Martin L Courier(Q) W Chang, Martin, Ivanisevic L Yzaga(4th)
95 L Agassi(F) W Courier, Chang L 1st Round W Ivanisevic, Becker W Courier, Agassi
96 L Philipoussis(3rd) L Kafelnikov(S), W Courier(Q), Bruguera(2nd) L Krajicek W Pioline W Ivanisevic, Chang
97 W Moya, Muster L 3rd Round W Becker, Pioline, Korda L Korda
98 L Kucera(Q) L 2nd Round W Henman, Ivanisevic, Philipoussis L Rafter
99 NA L 2nd Round W Henman, Phillipousis, Agassi NA
2000 L Agassi(S) L 1st Round W Rafter L Safin, W Hewitt
Total Slam wins: 12
Records: Chang 4 0
Courier 4 1
Becker 3 0
Agassi 3 2 # Times won against great players (3 Becker + 3 Agassi) 6
Ivanisevic 4 0 # Times lost to great player (2 Agassi + 1 Edberg) 3
Kafelnikov 0 1 # Times won against really good players (4 Courier + 1 Rafter + 4 Ivanisevic + 1 Bruguera + 1 Hewitt) 11
Henman 2 0 # Times lost to really good players (1 Courier + 1 Kafelnikov + 1 Bruguera + 1 Safin + 1Krajicek) 5
Muster 1 Bunnies: Chang, Martin, Pioline
Philipoussis 2 1 Met great players 9
Martin 2 0 Met really good players 16
Moya 1 L before Q 8
Bruguera 1 1 Total Slams 30
Edberg 0 1
Safin 0 1
Hewitt 1 0
Rafter 1 1

2003 4th Round 1st Round W Roddick, Phillipousis L Nalbandian
W Nalbandian, Ferrero, Safin L Kuerten W Hewitt, Roddick W Agassi, Hewitt, Henman
W Agassi L Safin L Nadal W Hewitt, Roddick W Agassi, Nalbandian, Hewitt
W Davydenko W Nalbandian L Nadal W Nadal W Blake, Davydenko, Roddick
W Roddick W Davydenko Robredo L Nadal W Nadal W Roddick, Davydenko, Djokovic
L Djokovic W Monfils L Nadal W Safin, L Nadal W Djokovic, Murray
W Roddick, Potro, L Nadal W Potro, Monfils Soderling W Roddick
Total Slam Wins 15
Records: Nadal 2 6 #Times won against great players (2 Nadal + 3 Agassi) 5
Agassi 3 0 #Times lost to great players (6 Nadal) 6
Safin 2 1 #Times won against really good players (2 Safin + 4 Hewitt + 8 Roddick + 2 Djokovic + 1 Murray) 17
Hewitt 4 0 #Times lost to really good players (1 Safin + 1 Djokovic + 1 Kuerten) 3
Roddick 8 0 Met great players 11
Djokovic 2 1 Met really good players 20
Murray 1 0 Bunnies: Davydenko, Nalbandian(?)
Total Slams 27

[Reply]

John Says:
July 23rd, 2009 at 10:23 pm
Your statistics are irrelevant if Sampras didn’t actually play those players with GSW in GS tournaments. Example, The French Open – admittedly the weakest part of Pete’s game was on the Terre Battue, but it’s the simplest GS to parse.

From 1991 through 2002 Pete played only 4 players ranked in the top 10 and won 1 and lost three. Only Jim Courier was a GSW at the time Pete played him in the French Open.

1991 ( 6th Seed) Lost 2nd Round to T. Champion (unseeded)

1992 (3rd Seed) Lost QFL to A. Agassi (0 GSW) (seeded 11)

1993 (1st Seed) Lost QFL to S. Bruguera (0 GSW)(seeded 10th)

1994 (1st Seed) Lost QFL to J. Courier (4 GSW) (seeded 7th)

1995 (2nd Seed) Lost 1st Round to G. Schaller (?) (unseeded)

1996 (1st Seed) Lost SFL to Y. Kafelnikov (0 GSW) (seeded 6th)

*Won QFL vs J. Courier (4 GSW) (seeded 7th)

1997 (1st Seed) Lost 3rd Round to lM. Norman (unseeded)

1998 (1st Seed) Lost 2nd Round to R. Delgado (unseeded)

1999 (2nd Seed) Lost 2nd Round to A. Medvedev (unseeded)

2000 (2nd Seed) Lost 1st Round to M Philippoussis (unseeded)

2001 (5th Seed) Lost 2nd Round to G. Blanco (unseeded)

2002 (12th Seed) Lost 1st Round to A. Gaudenzi (seeded 12th)

I hope my stats re: the seeding of opponents is correct.

If someone has more spare time than myself, I’d be interested to see how Pete fared in the other 3 GS against players with GSW seeded in the top 10.

Ciao

[Reply]

Tomaz Reply:
July 24th, 2009 at 3:05 am

@John: “Your statistics are irrelevant if Sampras didn’t actually play those players with GSW.” I disagree. Those players were in the draw and if they lost to someone else, than that player (who won) must have played tennis of the highest class.

And Sampras eventually faced that player who must have been in fantastic form. Since there were so many GS winners in the draw, the whole competition was much tougher – if the GS winners lost before meeting Sampras…

I don’t remember an example from Sampras era, but here’s one from Federer era: Gael Monfils beat Andy Roddick at French Open (who has a GS) and Monfils had to play top notch tennis to beat Andy and a few other players to meet Federer later in the draw. While Monfils has no GSW, he was in top form at Roland Garros and Federer had to overcome him.

Now imagine having 6, 7 or 8 GS winners in the draw, and while they may lose before they meet Sampras / Federer, the guys who beat them definitely had a tougher job than beating players who’ve never won a Grand Slam. Simple logic…

Edit: Just thought of another example that shows the quality of competition when you have GS champions in the draw. Lleyton Hewitt defeated Juan Martin Del Potro in Wimbledon 2009. Lleyton is not in his prime and Del Potro is, but Lleyton is a former #1 player, former Wimbledon champion and former US Open champion.

All these factors come into play and it’s VERY VERY tough to beat someone like Lleyton when is he is fit and focused.

He eventually stretched Roddick to 5 sets and that probably FORCED Andy to raise high game even higher and reach new levels. And eventually Federer had to DEAL with Andy playing at those higher levels to win his 15th Grand Slam.

Let’s exaggerate but you’ll see my point: if Andy Roddick had to beat you and me in the QF and SF, he wouldn’t be able to play at such high level in the finals, you agree?

So that’s what Grand Slam champions like Hewitt do with the draw – they RAISE the quality of the whole tournament. This is what kept happening in Sampras era and this is what is not happening often in Federer era.

It doesn’t matter whether Federer or Sampras actually play those GS winners, it’s the general quality of the draw that is higher with more GS winners in it – and therefore it’s tougher to win the tournament.

And remember, the difference in those 14 tournaments is 43 GSW which is HUGE. We’re not talking 5 or 6 GSW, but 43!

That means approx. 3 additional GSW on average in EVERY Grand Slam tournament that Sampras played compared to Federer.

[Reply]

Sumit Sanghai Says:
July 23rd, 2009 at 10:26 pm
Btw Lendl met the great players (Becker, Edberg, Mcenroe, Connors, Wilander, Agassi and Sampras) an astounding 27 times in the slams between 84 and 90.
I’d say Lendl is really an underrated player because he had to face too many great players. And his domination of the rankings shows that he bettered his peers on a lot of occasions.

Becker and Edberg both met fellow great players 14 times between 88 and 94.

Btw, if Djokovic/Murray turn out to be great players, then Federer’s numbers will shoot up as well.

But, one thing is for sure the 80s era was something else. The game was changing fast and there must have been numerous classic duels.

[Reply]

Sumit Sanghai Says:
July 24th, 2009 at 8:33 am
Tomaz: I think we have seen numerous times that a lowly-seeded player takes out one of the favorites and then goes out tamely. So, this player indeed played the highest quality of tennis to defeat a great player but he couldnt reproduce it later.

Also, if you are saying the general strength of the draw was much better in the 90s, I disagree.

The other problem with the stats thing is this: we all know that Nadal is a great player and he will win a lot many GSs later but whenever Federer and Nadal face, according to your metric Federer faces a player who has won 6 or less GS. Whereas Nadal is facing a player who has won 10+ GS. So it seems that Nadal is facing tougher opponents which is completely unfair because both are playing at the same level, Nadal in fact at a higher level in the past year.

This difference is exaggerated when you compare Sampras with Federer because Sampras won tournaments when Courier, Becker, Edberg and Lendl were participating (the latter two definitely not in their prime). So Lendl played 7 GS tournaments in 93 and 94 of which Sampras won 3. This itself contributed 8*3 = 24 in your metric whereas Lendl didnt even reach quarters in any of the events, let alone play Sampras.
Same with Edberg. He played 11 Gs between 94 and 96 (and managed to reach a single QF). Sampras won 5 of those and hence Edberg contributed 5*6 = 30 GS.

In essence if you are playing against past champions (and especially those that are not in their prime) your metric will sound great for the person in concern. For Federer, the biggest challengers, apart from Agassi for a couple of years, have been Nadal (and Djokovic/Murray to a smaller extent). Nobody in their right mind would suggest that these players are not as good as Edberg/Lendl of the post-92 era.

I give a lot of credit to Sampras that he defeated Becker 3 or 4 times in GS when Becker had definitely not lost his touch and also for having an upper hand against Agassi and Courier (those he last to Agassi a couple of times in GS). But that’s about it. That’s the challenge he faced from the great players. In the latter part of his career he faced some very good players including Henman and Kafelnikov whom he managed to defeat, and against Rafter, Safin and Hewitt (against whom he lost 1-2 times).

Compare that to Federer. His main challenge was Agassi, like Becker was to Sampras, and like Sampras, Federer showed that he is better than the past generation great. He had challengers like Hewitt and Safin whom you can compare to Courier (and players like Roddick and Ferrero whom you can compare to Ivanisevic and Chang respectively).
Federer didnt have a player equivalent to Agassi, but Sampras never faced a guy like Nadal. There were no players in the immediately next generation who could be called one of the greats. And your metric just doesnt take care of this and in fact bloats up Sampras’ competition by including players like Edberg and Lendl.

[Reply]

Sumit Sanghai Says:
July 24th, 2009 at 8:41 am
Hey Tomaz, you only included the top 10 players, I see that now, so Edberg and Lendl wouldnt have counted for more than 3-4 tournaments in 93, 94 and 95. But still I hope you get the general point I was trying to make which is that if you face a great player from the next generation, then the metric is biased against you.

[Reply]

Sumit Sanghai Says:
July 24th, 2009 at 9:08 am
I think I am posting a lot here, but one final post to bring home my point.
Wimbledon 93 was clearly loaded and Sampras had to defeat Agassi, Becker and Courier to win it. and these guys themselves had to defeat some awesome players in Edberg, Ivanisevic, Stich, etc. (and sure it counts for 25 in ur metric).

The next highest is US Open 93 which counts for 18. Sampras defeated Pionline, Volkov, Chang, Enqvist, Boestch, Vacek and Santoro. Many of the greats lost before the 4th round. I think this was the easiest ride Sampras had ever had.

[Reply]

Troy Says:
July 24th, 2009 at 10:13 am
Tomaz, Great analysis. When comparing different Eras of any sport it is extremely subjective.

I will say this.

I have watched the level of tennis in both Era’s and have found the level of consistent competition in Pete’s era to far exceed Fed’s era.

That does not mean that Fed is not a better player overall, just that, in my opinion, Pete had much more competition to deal with than Fed has to win the same number of GSW.

In Federer’s dominance of the last 6 years there has been minimal competition for him. Look at the list of players he beat to win his slams compared to Pete’s. The level of quality players that each had to beat is by far in Pete’s favor.

For someone to say that the depth of mens tennis has never been better now is completely forgetting the depth of tennis when Pete played. Here’s a small list.

Sampras
Agassi
Stich
Becker
Chang
Martin
Cash
Kafelnikov
Muster
Bruguera
Edberg
Courier
Medvedev
Rafter
Safin

Not to mention floaters like Pioline and The “Big Cat” Milosovich

Just to name a few. Any of the above players were better than most of the players in mens’ tennis today.

The only three players in Men’s tennis today that could even possibly hold their own against that list is Fed, Roddick and Nadal, period. The remainder of men’s tennis today are a bunch of over hyped nobody’s that play big for a day or a week then collapse and fall from the ranks.

There was a litinay of players in Pete’s era that stepped up and played big time tennis for years at a time.

Is Fed that much better than his competitors. Hell yes! He dominates because he just about the only one that plays at his level now. (Nadal and now Roddick are his only contemporaries)

Pete had 15+ guys that played top tennis while he played. If you had him and those guys playing now, NO WAY does Rodger have 15 GSW, not even close.

If all you have is the history of watching Fed the last 10 years and you have never truly watched Pete in his days as well then you can never truly understand how the Era’s compare.

The competition for Fed is pitiful in comparison to Pete’s competition.

[Reply]

Sumit Sanghai Says:
July 25th, 2009 at 9:03 am
The another thing which people forget is that Hewitt has an absolutely awesome H2H against Rafter, Henman, Kafelnikov, Ivanisevic, Kuerten, (almost anybody of the 90s) and a very good H2H against Sampras and Agassi. He was playing at a level matching Agassi’s for a couple of years. The way Federer has dominated him post 2002 is not even funny.

Tennis has evolved to an extent that if you dont have a good baseline game, (and you are not one of the all-time greats like Sampras, Mcenroe, Becker, etc) you will be smoked by great returners like Hewitt, Murray, Djokovic, Nadal, Fed…

[Reply]

Dave Says:
August 25th, 2009 at 6:48 pm
Tomaz, as some people have already pointed out, the method you use of proving that Sampras had a tougher line up to beat, is fundamentally incorrect.
Taking Lendl and Agassi out of the equation doesn’t alter that.

When someone wins all the grand slams, in time there won’t be as much other grand slam winners to beat.

Also: someone who is in the top 10, but hasn’t any GSWs (yet), doesn’t give you any points, but someone who has had GSWs in the past and is gradually falling out of the top 10, does give you points.

30 year old Pete Sampras in 2001 is worth 13 points every GS you win in which he also competes, but 21 year old Pete Sampras in 1992 is worth only 1 point. I don’t see why. 21 year old Pete had it in him to go on and win 13 other GSs. 30 year old Pete had just 1 GS left in him.
And why is it worth more to beat a 27 year old Boris Becker (5 GSWs at that age), 27 year old Edberg (6 GSWs), than to beat 27 year old Agassi, who is yet to rake in 5 of his 8 GSWs at that age.

Another example: If Sampras would have played on until 2005 (he would have been 34, so not that strange), and would have played enough tournaments outside the Grand Slams to keep his rating inside the top 10, this could have generated 6 x 14 = 84 extra points for Federer!!!

So 43 extra points for Sampras is not that much at all, if you consider that the retirement of Sampras took away a lot of posibilities to gather points for Federer.

With Lendl, McEnroe, Wilander, and especially Becker and Edberg that still played on quite some years when they were past their prime, they gave Sampras the opportunity to collect loads of points from them.

Several other players that were also raking in GSWs were of the same age as Sampras (Courier, Agassi, Bruguera, Kuerten), kept on playing during Sampras’ carreer, giving him the opportunity to collect points from them.

I guess what you are actually measuring with your system is whether or not the older players in a period tried to hang in there for some time, when they were either passed their prime OR surpassed by a new generation.
Players like Connors (played on for 9 years after last GSW), McEnroe (8 years), Lendl (almost 5 years), Becker (3 years since his last, but he had a dry streak of 6 years before that one), Edberg (4 years), Courier (7 years), Bruguera (7 years), Kuerten (4 years) and Agassi (almost 4 years) played on. Some of them only gradually dropped out of the top 10, so gave opportunity to collect points from them over a long period of time.

To think of it, I guess Roger Federer is kind of sad that he hasn’t let Andy Roddick beat him a couple of times in the past. It would have earned Federer a lot of extra GSW points…
And now I know why Federer is letting Nadal have so many GSWs!

😉

Thomaz, I hope you now see how crooked the reasoning is by calculating the GSWs of the other players, to measure the strength of the competition.

Saying that nowadays there aren’t as many “tennis legends” around as in the old days, is actually using the same argument of the GSWs.

What makes someone a tennis legend? Grand Slam Wins! Had Andy Roddick won all his GS finales with Roger, he would now have had 5 GSWs and would haven been considered a “tennis legend”. Now Federer has beaten him time after time, he isn’t.
And the likes of McEnroe, Lendl, Wilander, Becker and Edberg aren’t considered legends because of their results DURING the reign of Sampras, but because of their achievements BEFORE his reign.

About the boys versus men argument: What is the average age players have GSWs? I wouldn’t be surprised if the average prime of a player is somewhere in his early twenties.

You could use various ways of comparing the strength of the competition:

1) Look at players that overlap both era’s, like Hewitt and Agassi. Together they make a strong case for the competition Federer has to face. The tennis Hewitt plays, just doesn’t cut it anymore. The current level is to high.

2) Ask the pros, present and past. They all agree that the level of play is (generally) improving all the time. And that’s only logical. There’s more money to be made, so there are more and better prepared competitors. Also the number of countries where all the players come from, seems to have risen. It used to be US, Sweden, Australia, Spain and Tsjechoslavakia. Now the top 10 consists of 1 Swiss, 1 Scot, 2 Spaniards, 1 Serb, 1 US citizen, 1 Argentinian, 2 Frenchmen and 1 Russian.

3) Look at measurable statistics like service speed and % returns of service. The average service speed has gone up a little bit, but nevertheless there are more and more players that know how to return those projectiles anyway. By the way: Weren’t the balls made slower in recent years? Or was that only the case at Wimbledon, where they slowed down the court as well.

4) Finally: Just list the competitors in the order of strength.

Very arbitrary, but here it is: I think Nadal on average is (much) stronger than Agassi was. I also think that Murray, Djokovic, Roddick and maybe even Del Potro and Hewitt are stronger, than Becker, Edberg, Courier, Bruguera, Ivanisevic and Rafter were. In my opinion, the current top 10 is the strongest ever. Anyone of the top 5 or 6 could be a worthy no. 1. But there can only be one…

This was fun to think about. But in the end it all boils down to a matter of opinion. Which is kind of nice, really.

[Reply]

Tomaz Reply:
August 25th, 2009 at 9:19 pm

Hi Dave,

If you’re stating that this boils down to a matter of opinion, then you cannot state that my method is incorrect and crooked. This would suggest that you are right and I am wrong. So which is it? Are you right or is this a matter of opinion?

Second, I based my “opinion” on facts – the GSW – and you based your opinion, well, on your opinion such as “If Sampras would have played on until 2005…” and “In my opinion, the current top 10 is the strongest ever…”.

That’s not very strong argument against my facts…

You also say: “When someone wins all the grand slams, in time there won’t be as much other grand slam winners to beat.” Well, that’s obviously not true for Sampras.

My explanation is that since the competition was tougher, the other players were winning Grand Slams more and it took Sampras very long to accumulate his 14 GSW. Federer’s competition is much weaker therefore he is winning most of Grand Slams – in much shorter time.

Federer has reached a semifinal of a Grand Slam more than 20 times in a row. It cannot be more obvious that his competition is really not at his level!

What I really want to know is what is your intention and who is your favorite player?

There are lots of Federer fans here that are so “in love” with Federer and enjoy his superiority so much that they cannot stand the fact that the reason why he has the most Grand Slams ever is not only because he is a great tennis player but because the current competition allows him to win those Grand Slams relatively easy.

Therefore here are some facts that explain this level of competition: winning a Grand Slam is one of the most difficult things in tennis (ask Roddick or Safina or Dementieva) and whoever wins it at least once is a great champion. And whenever that player is in the draw and is still ranked top 10 in the world, that counts a lot.

Based on that, you can see HUGE difference in the quality of opponents. Again, if they were great right now, Federer would have maybe 8 Grand Slams and it would take him longer to win 14…

See what happened in Paris and Wimbledon when there was no Nadal – basically the only player that has a good chance against Roger…

See what happened in Cincinnati when Roger was on: 2:0 against Murray and 2:0 against Djokovic…

[Reply]

bryan Says:
August 26th, 2009 at 4:58 pm
i agree with you especially! some of these others have good opinions also. lets not forget one thing. federer isnt the best player in his era. rafael nadal is clearly better. the head to head match ups shows that for sure. i dont care what surface they played on. if fed is so great, he would overcome the nadal factor. he cant because nadal is better. in big and small tourny’s rafa has beaten fed! the very first match they played rafa beat him (on hard court) lol. sampras was clearly the best player in his era. how can you be the goat when you arent even the best in your era? this is why fed can’t be the goat. rafa has acheived far more per age comparison that fed has. he has better win percentage, more titles, more GS than Fed does, with the same competition. one thing is for sure though. fed nor nadal could handle the golden era (the era of sampras, lendl, agassi, etc). they would win max of 8 slams.

[Reply]

p0ntus Says:
September 13th, 2009 at 7:41 pm
The stretch of time for Sampras between first and last major win: 12 years
for Federer: 6 years

Years of quality play remaining for Sampras: 0
for Federer: 3+

I think that says everything. When this is all said and done, Federer will be the outright winner based on total GSWs, since the reason Fed’s opponents don’t have GSWs is that he has them all in his era. While the depth of the men’s game has appeared better in the past, the current young guns should not be discounted and I think Fed will hold his own against them for a few more years, after which, they will make his accomplishments all the sweeter by proving to be powerhouses who were overcome by a truly great player until his inevitable retirement.

[Reply]

Tennis Nerd Says:
September 15th, 2009 at 1:03 am
Anyone can say what they want, but at the end of the argument we can clearly come to the conclusion that Sampras faced a tougher field of opponents, guys that are now known as tennis legends. Federer faces pros, but mediocre pros. Agassi himself is a legend and I dont think Federer would have beaten Even Agassi in his prime. I do think That Sampras has to be the best of ALL time!

[Reply]

Tomaz Reply:
September 15th, 2009 at 1:56 am

Serena finally says the right words:

[Reply]

Matt Says:
September 15th, 2009 at 2:46 pm
An excellent analysis, and it supports my gut feeling from having seen the careers of both Sampras and Federer in their entirety. Federer’s dominance of weaker competition (Roddick et al) has been magnificent. But Sampras, from start to finish, faced a tougher job and was the better player. Finally, I believe if Sampras faced Federer, each at their best, Sampras wins. His serve, volley, and forehand were simply too good. All he would need is to win the tie-breakers, and we know he was great at that. Federer would not break him.

[Reply]

Anand Says:
December 25th, 2009 at 11:31 am
I don’t agree with the numbers at all. This is not telling the whole story. For example, what happens to federer’s 65 consecutive wins on grass, 22 straight GS semis, 15 of last 16 GS finals, 5 consective wimbledon and 5 consecutive US Opens, the most number of points some 8000-odd, 237 consecutive weeks at no.1, losing only 15 matches in a span of 3 years etc., etc.,

Can anyone in the history match these numbers? If not for Rafa, federer would have won the GS 3 times and would have surpassed laver.

In my opinion federer is the greatest, whatever way you look at it.

[Reply]

Renato Farias Neto Says:
January 19th, 2010 at 2:43 pm
For me, who ever Sampras say it is the best, for me it is the best.
And i heard him saying Roger is the best just last year.

[Reply]

Frank Says:
January 29th, 2010 at 9:39 am
Federer won all his slams over a shorter period of time. The use of GSW figures are therefore pointless. Your figures don’t take this into account at all.

1 US Open 1990 – 17 Wimbledon 2003 – 13
14 US Open 2002 – 14 Roland Garros 2009 – 8

That’s 12.25 years for Sampras, 6 years for Federer…. Surely that allows Petes opponents to win more slams??

Over the respective periods:

Sampras win/loss: 14/49 = 35 slams won by others
Federer win/loss: 14/24 = 10 slams won by others

Factor the difference (3.5) divided by the time period (12.25/6) = 3.5/(2.04) = 1.715

So Sampras’s opponents had a 1.715 times GREATER CHANCE OF GAINING A SLAM than did Federers. You therefore need to divide his opponents total GSW figure of 172 by that factor to compare it to Federers 129…

And so the figures adjusted for time are:

Sampras (172/1.715) : 100
Federer: 129

Federer has therefore been more impressive.

[Reply]

Martin Says:
January 29th, 2010 at 9:56 am
Think about this: Let`s suppose that Federer reaches all the finals 3 years from now, to get to 31 (the age Sampras had when he retired) but he losses all the finals (let’s say to Djokovic, Murray, Del Potro and Nadal), how would he stand in your system then? He would have improved!!! By losing consistently he would go up in your system, isn’t that a paradox?

Some other things:

1. French Major: Sampras never even reached the final of the french. Federer got there four times. Not being his favourite surface he obviously faced much tougher competetion, beating consistently clay court specialists. Sampras never did that.

2. Lost to weaker player: Sampras caved in in finals to much weaker players, Federer only lost to Nadal and Del Potro.

3. Remember that your opinion is not a fact but it`s (supposedly) derived from facts. Is what you make of facts what`s important, and that is open to discusion.

4. It’s my opinion that stats doesn`t really tell you anything about que quality of competition. Disregarding stats, I don`t think that Federer doesn`t have a tough competition, just think about Safin, Hewitt, Roddick, Nadal, Djokovic, Agassi, Murray, Del Potro, Davydenko. I don`t think those names are lesser (or better) than any other names in the history of the sport.

5. Federer and Sampras are just two of many great players in history and it’s really difficult if not impossible to say who is better. If this is true about them, it is obviously true about their competetion.

[Reply]

Dhawal Buaria Says:
February 1st, 2010 at 12:08 am
a poor way to evaluate.
the fact that Sampras never won a french open in his such a long career alone is enough to prove Federer is far better. Federer has won it only 1 time agreed. But he has made it to french open finals 4 time in a row (and a semi final before that). Sampras hardly got past quarters.

and the fact that Federer has won it in 6 years ( versus sampras’ 12 years) should point other way round.
simple trick is to normalize the GSW by no. of years.

172/12 for sampras
129/6 for federer

now compare that !!!

and even if sampras played against harder opponents (which i think is totally untrue) that doesnt make him better then federer. i can counter argue, that federer is so much better, that his opponents dont look so competitive !!

[Reply]

Julz Says:
February 2nd, 2010 at 1:10 pm
Interesting analysis but I totally disagree. I don’t want to take away the great players in ’80s & ’90s great accomplishments. However, I was just watching on youtube how the top players in ’80s & ’90s were playing and comparing their skills to the players that we have now(2000′s). The ’80s & ’90s top players would definitely not be in the top 8 except for Sampras and Agassi. The current players we have now are faster, stronger, serve and hits harder and return better. Let’s not include Fed. If Nadal,Roddick, del potro, hewitt, murray and djokovic were playing in the ’80′s & ’90s a lot of players would be denied of GS. The “serve and volley” type of players would see a lot of passing shots. Believe me, ” a lot of passing shots”.

I don’t see how Edberg is going to return Roddick’s, Murray’s or del potro’s serve or rally with them. Edberg’s serve & volley style would not work. How Lendl is going to play baseline against Rafa or Djokovic. And so on. You also have to realize that none of the curent top ten players rely on just one style whether it’s serve & volley or just stay in the baseline. They’re all all-around type of players.

Last of all, Sampras himself even says that Federer is ‘the best ever’. Sampras also said that Fed can do things that he coudn’t do. See the link below, or use google to find more Sampras’ comments on Fed. You can also find Agassi’s comments on Fed – ‘The Best Player ever to play tennis’.

I hope my comment adds more facts to what majority of the bloggers are already saying. Fed is the best. It’s not an opinion it’s the fact. Why? because the best tennis players of the past said it themselves. Even Tiger Woods who doesn’t even play the game said the same.

http://edition.cnn.com/2009/SPORT/06/08/federer.great.tennis.sampras/index.html

[Reply]

Tomaz Reply:
February 3rd, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Hi Julz,

I think it makes no sense to compare different generations and how the players would play against each other.

There have been so many advances in racquet technology and training systems that modern players eat previous generation for breakfast. ;

[Reply]

Bill Myers Says:
February 4th, 2010 at 5:00 pm
Part of the reason that Federer’s opponents have fewer GSW is because Sampras, with 14 wins, retired, and at a relatively young age. So his 14 wins were removed from the GSW total of Federer’s opponents.

[Reply]

Ian Says:
February 6th, 2010 at 4:48 pm
They are both epic players, and in terms of overall career, Federer is the best player of all time. However, if you could put Pete Sampras and Roger Federer both on a tennis court at their peak, Sampras would win 9/10 times. Federer has definitely had his moments dominating players from the baseline, but never in the way that Sampras could simply dismiss the best players in the game during his time. Talent like that hasn’t been reproduced.

[Reply]

Fred the great Says:
February 7th, 2010 at 5:14 pm
I think that the argument is crazy. It comes down to it would be better for Federer to lose his matches so Fed could say “see, I played against great competition”. If Federer were to play for 4 more years and win 16 strait in a row, would that mean his competition is “bad”? I know what your getting at but you don’t need a stat when God gave you two eyeballs and you can see that the tennis is better. By the way, I wonder what Pete’s record would be if they played on clay 11 times agains Agassi.

Hey Tomaz, would Federer have been better if he would have lost in the semis in all the clay court tournaments and never have faced Nadal? See the crazy logic? Fed has made something like 23 strait semis and something like 18 of the last 19 finals. That is the most impressive stat I have seen in sports in a long time. That’s a Babe Ruth kind of stat. By the way, when playing a head to head sport like tennis there will always be a person who may not be as great as you but will give you problems. I think that Nadal matches up great against Fed. I saw Shane Mosley, a great fighter, lose twice to Vernon Forrest. I have seen hall of fame pitchers dominate hall of fame hitters and get rocked against average hitters.

Now let me break it down on this level. How many Grandslam tournaments did Sampras play when Agassi wasn’t feeling up to playing? I would say about 10 -12. Nadal, Feds main competition, has pulled out of one GS tournament in the last 5 years. You never knew which Agassi you were getting during the career of Sampras.

Let’s be honest, do you really think that Michael Chang could hang with Federer? If they were to play 20 times I think it would be a 19-1. Maybe the one loss would be if Fed had too much sex the night before.

Let me paraphrase what Agassi said, With Sampras if you could get the rally past 4 strokes than you know you can control the point. With Federer you can never get comfortable. He really doesn’t have any weak points.

By the way, for those who say that Fed can’t play serve and volley just watch the Sampras vs Federer match at Wimbledon. By the way, the match Federer won to beat the champ. Looks to me that Fed was at the net a lot. Fed was able to go to the net… now he can stay back or go to the net. You have to realize that the ball is a bit heavier and the courts are a little slower and with the strings that make the ball dip so fast it is very hard to see any serve and volleyers.

If you want to compare games than here is how I see it

Fed Sampras

forehand 9.5 8.0

backhand 9.0 6.5

net game 8.0 9.0

return of serve 9.0 8.0

overhead 9.0 9.5

speed 9.0 8.0

defense to offense 9.5 7.5

endurance 9.5 7.0

Serve 8.5 9.9

pressure 9.5 9.0

shot making 9.9999 8.5

By the way, unlike boxing you can’t “duck” your competition. You play who they put in front of you.

How about this one….. Fed beat hewitt and Safin in the finals of his majors while Sampras got creamed by them both not winning a set.

[Reply]

Tomaz Reply:
February 7th, 2010 at 10:32 pm

If you say:”Fed has made something like 23 strait semis and something like 18 of the last 19 finals.” or any similar stat and claim, then you have to ask yourself why.

In my view, the reason why Federer can do that is because his competition is much worse than the competition Sampras had to face. This is the cause.

Most you mix up the cause and effect. The cause is poor competition – players not at the same level as Federer – and the effect is that Federer is by far the best.

You could also say the Federer is a much better player than Sampras but since they play in different decades, we cannot compare them realistically.

So we need to compare the competition. In my view, the best players win Grand Slams. They were able to win LOTS of Grand Slams in the time Sampras played and yet he was still #1 for 6 years and was clearly dominant.

Now the players cannot win many Grand Slams – neither the previous generation (Safin, Hewitt, …) who are not able to extend their careers in the way Edberg and Becker had.

Safin and Hewitt both posed some problems then for Federer but quickly fade away and the emerging generation like Djokovic and Murray just cannot keep it up. They are both capable of beating Federer and have done it a few times but not on Grand Slams.

The only “legend” in the Federer era is Nadal and now even he seems to fade away. It’s a walk in the park for Federer.

Again, it’s because the lack of really great players and not because there are great players and he is even greater. That’s the whole point.

In Sampras era there were great players and Sampras was even greater – if we count Grand Slams – because that counts towards tennis “greatness”.

In Federer era we have one great player Nadal (and we had Agassi in the beginning) and the rest are just top class tennis players (Djokovic, Roddick, Murray, Del Potro, …) but FAR FAR from great.

So in my view, this is the cause of Federer’s dominance and not because he is 10 times better then any other player ever. If Fed was born 10 years earlier and would face the same competition as Sampras (together with Sampras at his best), he would probably have 6 to 8 Grand Slams in 6 years (and now he has 16 in 6+ years).

And please be polite and share your views without saying who is right or wrong. This is just an interesting discussion and not a political battleground. No one is right or wrong here – we just flex our brains a little bit. There are much more important things in life which require your full attention and effort than figuring out why Fed has so many Grand Slams. 😉

[Reply]

pfus Says:
February 15th, 2010 at 9:17 pm
First I must say that doing those calculations are tedious. So well done for going through them all.

I wondered how you had done it and decided to try to replicate Wimbledon 93 and USopen 93. It turns out I am not reaching the same numbers actually. Instead of 25 and 18, I am getting 24 and 17.

Not that it matters much because first I may be wrong and if not then similar small errors can occur everywhere anyway. Still it allows to show the variability in the measure (i.e. the Avg GSW criterion) because assuming I am right, by just correcting those two numbers then sampras avg GSW goes from 12.3 to 12.1.

The reason I am bringing this up is that whatever criterion we want to use we would ideally want to see how precise it is. I may try to show you more FACTS 🙂 on that later using some sensitivity analysis.

So I may try to replicate it all but really I would like to go back to the very first comment that is addressed above (from David). I quote: “Part of the reason that the GSW count that Federer had/has to deal with is relatively low (in comparison to Sampras’) is precisely because Federer has largely dominated his peers.”

So first let’s assume Federer was even better than he already is and say he would have won all the French Open from 2004. Even better say he would have won all the GS that Rafael Nadal currently owns. That’s obviously an even far better Federer than the one we know. Yet that “super Federer” would have a criterion (Avg GSW) of around 7.3 to 7.4.

Better yet, take the reverse and say Federer was less dominant than he has been. Say he could not win those first 4 GS where his competition was (assuming the numbers above): 13,11,13 and 14. Now “worst Federer” has a better criterion and sits around 10.75.

We can also create another worst Federer, one that would not win Wimbledon 06, US open 06 and Australian Open 07. Note that in terms of his carrier our “worst Federer#2″ is actually more comparable to Sampras. I mean comparing number of GS won, year by year, 10 years apart. This “worst Federer#2″ has a criterion of 11.8.

Summary: A “far better Federer” gets down to 7.4 and a “worst Federer” can go up to 11.8.

I think it shows what David said but using numbers and the conclusion is that this criterion is not necessarily all that great to rank our tennis players. It may even show the reverse of what we want it show.

That said, going along with that idea and trying to improve on it, it would probably help to consider not only those players who WIN but those who reach the FINAL. Such a criterion would still be biased (for exactly the same reason as above) but not as much… Anyway, anyone wants to go through those calculations?

[Reply]

Tomaz Says:
February 15th, 2010 at 10:01 pm
@:Pfus – You’re not looking at this the right way. You cannot subtract any wins from Federer or Sampras because the divider – 14 Grand Slams – changes.

We can ONLY compare both players in this system if they BOTH have the exact same number of wins of Grand Slams.

Otherwise the comparison would not be needed – someone would have a higher number of Grand Slams (like Roger has at the moment I am writing this – 16 already) and that is not really comparable.

So again – if you do any kind of assumptions like: if Fed had lost, if Fed won more etc… then you’re missing the point of the article and the system I used.

The fact is – both HAD 14 Grand Slams wins. This factor cannot be changed.

Now compare both players and their competition using that fact.

Now it comes to logical question:

How come Federer has managed to win 14 GS in 6 years and how come Sampras needed almost 12 years for 14 GS?

There are two possible answers:

1. Federer is the GOD of tennis and he is so much better than anyone else at any time in history of tennis. Even if you had him compete with the best players of the past in their prime (Sampras, Agassi, Courier, Becker, Edberg, Rafter, Kuerten, …) he would still have obliterated them.

2. Federer is facing players who are not at the same level of greatness as the players Sampras faced.

I have been closely following tennis for over 20 years. I have been playing and coaching tennis for the same amount of time.

I have seen the great players of the past play their best tennis. I have seen their mental toughness and tenacity when it mattered most.

When Becker, Edberg, Sampras or Agassi were in their prime and 100% focused and determined to win, they were in a league of their own.

I am not talking about tennis technique or the speed of shots. This was 10 years ago and tennis training has evolved.

I am talking about the mental and tactical mastery.

ONLY Nadal is at this level when it matters. Murray, Djokovic, Roddick and Del Potro (main opponents of Federer) are just good players and have NOT demonstrated the GREATNESS when it comes to mental toughness and tactical mastery of the game.

They have almost ALWAYS crumbled against Federer or Nadal. RARELY has Federer has to beat one of these players when they were playing their best and didn’t not break under pressure.

Del Potro’s US win last year was an example of not breaking down under pressure and so was Nadal’s win at Wimbledon and Australian Open against Federer.

But that’s about it.

That’s the toughest Federer had to face in the last 6 years when it comes to mentally battling it out.

There are just no legends out here at the moment.

Federer is a legend and he is a master of the game. But he has only one real opponent (Nadal) and even that one is getting more and more injured and has lost his edge in the last year.

So that’s my personal view of things. To make a more realistic point besides my personal opinion, I tried to measure the competition’s quality.

The system is perfectly logical to me and it shows what I had in mind with real numbers.

Legends win Grand Slams and good players don’t. (or very few) They reach semi-finals or even finals and stay in the top 10 and provide excellent training partners for the legends to acquire even more Grand Slams. 😉

(Remember Federer – Tsonga semi-final of the AU 2010? It was an afternoon practice session for Federer.)

Again, go back to the question of: “Why could Federer have won 14 Grand Slams in half the time Sampras needed?” and use common sense and logic to answer it.

You’ll come to the same conclusion as I did.

[Reply]

pfus Says:
February 16th, 2010 at 8:01 pm
I am only interested in the method you proposed to possibly answer whether one tennis player had a tougher job than the other. I really only want to stick with the object of the article. My reply is that unfortunately your “system” cannot be used to answer the question. It does not mean that I object to your personal opinions. I only object to that system. You actually came up with two criteria (or two versions of your criterion):
1. Total GWS: 172 and 129
2. Avg GWS: 12.3 and 9.2

You say: “We can ONLY compare both players in this system if they BOTH have the exact same number of wins of Grand Slams.”

Well, the Avg GWS could be used to compare players even if they don’t have the same number of GS. Not a bad idea but it probably only “works” for players who won a small number of GS (but then we would have a reliability issue). As soon as someone wins too many GS, especially in too short a time, it is easy to see that the criterion is flawed: it becomes a logic fallacy. And that is all I am pointing out.

You say it comes down to this:
How come Federer has managed to win 14 GS in 6 years and how come Sampras needed almost 12 years for 14 GS?

That is not the initial question but the system does not answer that question either. The absolute greatest tennis player, one who would win all GS, would necessarily look, using your system, to have had a very easy job. In fact the greater the player, the worse will he look on that scale.

Now the question might be: can we improve on it? It’s an academic exercise, nothing more. I have a few ideas actually but if I cannot even convince anyone of the current problem then I will be wasting everyone’s time anyway 😉

My only objective was to show the shortcomings in the “logic”. That said, and it’s irrelevant to my arguments, just the numbers above show some counter intuitiveness. In 93-95 and 03-05 both players faced, according to the criterion, their toughest challenge. Together, on average, they won 2 GS a year. During 97-98 and 07-08 both should have had an easier job (apparently) and yet they do not win more often. On average they actually win a little less often.

I am afraid I still don’t know who is the best player and who had the toughest job. I guess it could very well be Nadal 😉

[Reply]

Tomaz Reply:
February 16th, 2010 at 8:46 pm

@pfus: Feel free to play with the system and come up with something. But yes, you can simply count the GSW of their opponents to see who had a tougher job.

As for your idea of the greatest tennis player who would win all Grand Slams (so no one else would) – you’re looking at things in theoretical mathematics and not in realistic world.

My system (of just counting the GSW or using a common divider) works well and explains why Federer won 14 Grand Slams in just 6 years.

Feel free to develop a mathematical model that works in all possible theories and show it here.

If someone feels that GSW are really not the right measure (since how can someone win a GS if Federer wins them all?), then one could count the tournament wins of Sampras’ and Federer’s main opponents in their careers.

Define 10 main competitors in the years they played and add the their tournament wins (like I added the GS wins of competitors). That would be another very realistic way of assessing their competition. (Again, it would break down in theoretical mathematics but I am sure pfus will come up with an equation to solve it all. 😉 )

[Reply]

Julz Says:
February 24th, 2010 at 1:40 am
Tomaz,

What I want you to explain is why Sampras himself said:

“Regardless if he (Fed) won there(French Open) or not, he goes down as the greatest ever. This just confirms it,” Sampras told the Guardian newspaper.

Tomaz, what’s the point of comparing the two ?

You also said that there have been so many advances in racquet technology and training systems that modern players have.

Having you said that, don’t you think that Federer has a tougher job since he has to deal with faster balls and super fit/strong players ?

http://edition.cnn.com/2009/SPORT/06/08/federer.great.tennis.sampras/index.html

[Reply]

Tomaz Reply:
February 24th, 2010 at 3:19 am

Hi Julz,

Very easy to explain: we’re not comparing Federer and Sampras but their competition. This is all about the players they faced and comparison between those.

We cannot compare Federer and Sampras realistically since they are 10 years apart.

You can do some brain gymnastics and share your best guess on this hypothetical Federer vs Sampras comparison.

[Reply]

Julz Says:
February 24th, 2010 at 4:09 am
Tomaz,

I understand about “who had a tougher competition”. You have to read the rest on my response.

Once again.

You also said that there have been so many advances in racquet technology and training systems that modern players have.

Having you said that, don’t you think that Federer has a tougher job since he has to deal with faster balls and super fit/strong players ?

[Reply]

Tomaz Reply:
February 24th, 2010 at 6:12 am

Federer has been trained since young age against much faster conditions and pace of tennis. He adapted.

Second, he also plays faster shots towards his opponents so this “disadvantage” is nullified.

In fact, there were many more big servers in the Sampras era than they are now. Ivanisevic, Becker, Krajicek, Phillipoussis, Rosset, Todd Martin, etc, etc.

It was really really hard to break these guys on fast indoor courts or on grass. Sampras even said in his autobiography that playing on grass those days was the most mentally tough tennis of all – just one small lapse of concentration and you lost your serve and “the set was gone”.

There are not many big servers in the top 10 at the moment besides Roddick.

So I don’t really see any tougher conditions actually – while the play is somewhat faster, the average serve speed of a top 10 player is probably lower.

What they do better now is that they are able to serve at let’s say 180-190 km/h with higher percentage than they used to – thanks to the Luxilon string mostly.

[Reply]

sungod Says:
July 12th, 2011 at 4:36 pm
I find this analysis extremely interesting as I have been thinking about this very topic. After reading the comments below I find myself mostly in agreement with tennis nerd and Troy. Instead of trying to do a numerical analysis of grand slams by the competition, just by looking at the general quality of players fed and sampras were facing in their runs to GS wins, my opinion is I get the feeling that the depth of quality players in the field when sampras played was greater than feds. Although this discussion is centered around Sampras vs. Federer, we shouldn’t forget about Nadal as he’s on pace to beat both of them and Nadal exhibits perhaps the greatest mental toughness, I have to admit even though I’m not a big fan of him. When the chips are down (esp. vs nadal) I’ve seen Fed wilt away like flower. When Sampras was making his mark he was obliterating everyone who were legitimate GS winners at the time (Becker,Edberg, Lendl, Agassi, and later on Rafter. When Fed was raking in the GS there seemed to be a low in greatness in mens tennis competition until nadal arrived and fed capitalized on that cusp. Kudos to the person who did the GS analysis, and it makes more good discussion.