Category Archives: tennis

The Federer vs Sampras impasse

With the Wimbledon entering the second week, the Roger Federer vs Pete Sampras debate rages on with pundits unable to pin-point who  the real master of the Center Court  is. Nirmal Shekhar in this article in the Hindu, “Federer all class, but Sampras the king on grass“, puts forward his two cents on the debate. He correctly avers that the quality of opponents that Federer gets to face is inferior to that of players which Sampras got to face.
When you compare the current top-ten with the batch of ’96 the difference in class is obvious. Sean Randall, in a blog entry here makes the following comment:

____________________________________________________________ “When I look back just ten years ago, at the year-end Top 10 of 1996 when Pete finished No. 1 I see seven Hall of Fame players. To refresh, here’s the 1996 Top 10: Sampras, Chang, Kafelnikov, Ivanisevic, Muster, Becker, Krajicek, Agassi, Enqvist and Ferreira. Maybe you Fed freaks see fewer, but I see at least seven.

Now when I check this week’s Top 10, I see three, maybe four among Federer, Nadal, Ljubicic, Nalbandian, Davydenko, Roddick, Robredo, Blake, Baghdatis, Gonzalez. Obviously Federer, Nadal and Roddick get in. Maybe Baghdatis and maybe Blake if he can get a Slam.”

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Although I believe that evolution takes place in sport and the present lot of players playing any sport is better than the players of ,say, ten years ago, here is the exception to that rule. The ’96 top- 10 is miles ahead of the present lot of baseliners. So should Sampras’ 14 grandslam wins be valued more than Federer’s slams?
The response from a federer fan would be expeditious; it is not Federer’s fault that his opponents aren’t good enough. All he can do his take on the bloke who turns up on the other side of the net and more often than not he takes them apart. How many players could do a “6-4, 6-0, 6-2″(Fed vs A-Rod 2007 Aus Open) to a top-50 player, let alone a top-5 one? Federer does the dismantling of his opponent with the skill of a surgeon,with panache and often raises his game to a level which, I believe, is out of even Pistol Pete’s reach even on the days when he could ‘walk on water’.

When I looked for a career comparison of the two stars I found this. (There is this eerie similarity in their stats.)
If you take the rankings system points though, Federer is in stratosphere, way ahead of Sampras, albeit the ‘quality of opponents’ argument will come into picture here)

Nirmal Shekhar even hazards guesses on who’d win a 10 match head to head between Sampras and Federer at the four Slams. According to him its 7-3 Federer at the Aussie open, 8-2 Fed in the French Clay, with Sampras coming back to take Wimbledon 7-3, surprisingly convincingly, I must add, and edging Fed-ex 6-4 at Flushing meadows.

If I were to risk similar guesses ( take it with a pinch of salt, as I was more of an Agassi fan) it would be Fed ex all the way 7-3 down-under and in NY, i think a 9-1 in Paris is a safe bet and 6-4 in Wimbledon, the same ratio in which they divided the sets in their only meeting- a spectacular ‘changing the guard ceremony’ at center court.

The commentator sums it up well when he says : “[For Sampras] It is like looking in the mirror.”