Dude, Federer's years of domination were 2004-7. Last time I checked, Nadal finished 2nd in 3 of those years & had a losing record against Federer off clay, & Djokovic finished 3rd in 2007, the same as he did in the subsequent 3 years. (And before you start, any other great player would have had a losing record on clay against Nadal, including Laver & obviously including Sampras - the only conceivable exceptions being Borg & Rosewall.) Ferrer, at 29 with a roadrunner game, is currently No. 5 in the world in what you consider the era of the big dogs (& has recently thrashed big dog Djokovic); Davydenko, before recent injuries, used to own "big dog" Nadal; Agassi is a famous exception among great players for having his best years late in his career; Roddick used to beat up on Sampras & has won as many US Opens as either Djoker or Nadal; & you don't mention Safin, who thrashed Sampras in a slam final & was hardly lacking in talent, or Hewitt, who also thrashed Sampras in a slam final, or Nalbandian, whose talent you yourself have praised, or, I dunno, Moya, who was one of the mighty threats Sampras faced in a slam final. Sampras's years of (lesser) domination were 1993-7, & in that period his biggest competition was Agassi (awol except for late 1994 and 1995), old Becker (who won 1 slam in the period), Courier (who was fucked by 1995), choking Ivanisevic, & erm baby Moya? and a few clay-court specialists he couldn't beat on clay. The end of his domination coincided with the rise of "big dogs" such as Rafter & Rios.
I had posted this on a different message board awhile back under a different username but wanted to bring it out and update it. This myth that Sampras had to face tougher competition is simply a myth.
During Sampras' prime from '93-'98 when he won 10 of his majors, Sampras never beat Edberg, Stich, Krajicek, Rafter, Rios, Kuerten, Moya, Kafelnikov, Philippoussis, Bruguera in a Slam when they were ranked in the top 10. He was 0-5 against these players when they were in the top 10 and was fortunate enough never to have faced many of them when they were. So Sampras' competition is always inflated when people talk about all the tough players he had to beat to win his Slams.
Which top 10 players did Sampras beat from "93-'98 in those 6 years when he was no.1 and who did Federer beat?
US Open - Sampras:
'93 - Chang (7); '94 - noone- lost to Yzaga (23) in the 4th; '95 - Agassi (1); '96 - Ivanisevic (6), Chang (3); '97 - noone - lost to Korda (16) in the 4th ; '98 - Kucera (9), lost to Rafter (3) in semis
So basically, he beat prime Agassi for which he deserves tremendous credit, Chang twice, Ivanisevic who had a poor record on hard courts, Kucera, and lost to Yzaga, Korda, Rafter.
Us Open - Federer:
'03 - noone - lost to Nalbandian (13) in the 4th, '04- Agassi (7), Henman (6), Hewitt (5); '05 - Hewitt (4); Agassi (7); '06 - Blake (7), Davydenko (6), Roddick (10); '07 - Roddick (5), Davydenko (4), Djokovic (3); '08 - Djokovic, Murray .
He beat Djokovic twice, Hewitt twice, Roddick twice, Agassi twice, Davydenko twice; Murray; Blake and Henman.
Conc: I realize Sampras' win over prime Agassi in '95 was probably the toughest matchup, but overall, I would say that Federer has beaten more quality opponents and suffered fewer questionable defeats.
Australian Open - Sampras:
'93 - noone - lost to Edberg (2) in semis ; '94 - Courier (3), '95 - Chang (6), lost to Agassi (2) in final ; '96 - noone - lost to Philippoussis (40) in the 3rd round; '97 - Muster (5); '98 - noone lost to Kucera (20) in the quarters.
Basically, he has wins over Courier, Chang and Muster.
Australian Open - Federer
'03 - noone - lost to Nalbandian (12) in the 4th; '04 - Nalbandian (8) ; Ferrero (3) (pre-chicken pox); '05 - Agassi (8); lost to Safin (4) in the semis; '06 - Davydenko (5); '07 - Robredo (6); Roddick (7); Gonzalez (9); '08 noone lost to Djokovic
Federer has wins over Agassi, Roddick, Ferrero, Nalbandian, Davydenko, Gonzalez and Robredo with fewer bad losses. (Federer also beat Safin in the finals in 2004, but, unfortunately Safin's ranking had slipped because he was injured the year before - it's still probably a scalp better than any of Sampras' wins at the Aussie)
Conc: Federer has beaten tougher competition at the Aussie
French Open- Sampras
'93- noone- lost to Bruguera (11) in Quarters; '94 - noone - lost to Courier (7) in Quarters; '95 - noone - lost to Schaller (24) in 1st round; '96 - Courier (8); lost to Kafelnikov (7) in semis; '97- noone- lost to Norman (65) in 3rd round; '98 - noone - lost to Delgado (97) in 2nd round
He has one victory over Courier and lots of bad losses
French Open - Federer
'03- noone - lost to Horna (88) in 1st round, '04 - noone - lost to Kuerten (30) in 3rd round; '05-noone - lost to Nadal (5) in semis; '06 - Nalbandian (3); lost to Nadal (2) in final; '07- Robredo (9); Davydenko (4) -lost to Nadal (2) in final; '08 noone - lost to Nadal in the final
Federer beat Nalbandian, Robredo, and Davydenko, made it to the finals three times and had fewer bad losses.
Conc: If not for Nadal, Federer would have been a dominant multiple clay-court champion and clearly outperformed Sampras at Roland Garros
'93- Becker (4), Courier (2); '94- Chang (8), Martin (9), Ivanisevic (5); '95 - Ivanisevic(6), Becker (4), "96 - noone - lost to Krajicek in the quarters; '97 - noone; '98- noone
He beat Ivanisevic twice, Becker twice, Courier; Chang and Martin
'03- Roddick (6); '04- Hewitt (10); Roddick (2); '05- Hewitt (2), Roddick (4); '06- Ancic (10), Nadal (2); '07- Haas (10) in a walkover; Nadal (2); '08 noone - lost to Nadal
He beat Roddick 3 times, Nadal twice, Hewitt twice; Ancic
Conc: I think Ancic was as good as Martin on grass and Hewitt was better than Courier and Chang. Roddick is on par with Ivanisevic. The evaluation depends on whether we think pre-prime on grass Nadal is as worthy competition as the older Becker that Sampras faced. While Nadal does not have a typical dominant grass game, it's hard to argue with results. Ignoring 2009 since he withdrew, Nadal won twice and made 3 finals between 2006-2011. It's hard for me to say that the old Becker was playing at a higher level than Nadal knowing Nadal's success that follows after 2007.
I don't see any substantive evidence to suggest that Sampras beat tougher opponents to win his Slams. On the contrary, I think a strong case can be made that Federer has in fact beaten tougher opponents.
Furthermore, if you don't just look at his wins but look at their losses, you will see that Federer has virtually no bad losses. Starting from Wimbledon '93, Federer only lost to Nalbandian (13) at the US, Guga (30) and Nadal (5, 2, 2, 2) at Roland Garros, Safin (4) and Djokovic (3) at the Australian and Nadal (2) at Wimbledon. Starting from Wimbledon '93, Sampras lost to Yzaga (23) , Korda (16) and Rafter (3) at the US, Philippoussis (40), Kucera (20), Agassi (2) at the Australian; Courier (7), Schaller (24), Kafelnikov (7); Norman (65) and Delgado (97) at the French and Krajicek (13) at Wimbledon.
Take a long hard look at the data from the 6 years of Sampras' prime and the 6 years of Federer's prime and then tell me who faced tougher competition and who was losing to pigeons.