September 29th, 2006
Record-crushing Federer Won’t Match Pete’s No. 1s
by Richard Vach
The year is not yet over, and Roger Federer has clinched his third straight year-end No. 1 ranking, putting yet another tennis record in his sights — the next record of greatness besides Pete Sampras’ 14 Grand Slam wins, and a record also held by the American.
If the Swiss dominates again in 2007, it would be four year-end top finishes, tying Ivan Lendl (1985-87,’89) and John McEnroe (1981-84). Jimmy Connors finished in the top spot five consecutive times (1974-78), and Sampras holds the all-time mark with six consecutive finishes (1993-98).
Can Federer do it, six year-end No. 1s in a row, in this Sega-tennis high-tech rocket era of injures?
And no disrespect.
Federer will top Sampras’ Slam mark, but the chances of him maintaining his dominance while staying uninjured for another three years is highly unlikely.
The way Federer wisely cares for his body between major events, resting after Slams (and tanking out of Masters Series events when he needs additional rest), it isn’t such a stretch to think that Sampras’ record of six year-ends in a row might not be out of reach. But Pete was a freak of nature who rarely succumbed to major injuries until his final years.
But health issues aside, who will be the next Rafael Nadal-type to step to the Swiss in 2007? There has to be some greater competition out there somewhere. Richard Gasquet? Marcos Baghdatis? Federer’s new buddy Tiger Woods switching sports? Can someone, for lack of a better term, get good?
David Nalbandian and Ivan Ljubicic have threatened over the last 12 months, but can’t seem to find that champion-type consistency. Former No. 1s Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt have battled with their confidence, while former-former No. 1s (seems like such a long time ago) Juan Carlos Ferrero and Carlos Moya have little left in the tank.
Speaking of rivals, or lack of, has Federer coasted somewhat over the last two years? Besides Nadal, have his challengers for the most part spun their wheels trying to find their own games, much less challenge his?
When it comes to the Roger vs. Pete debate, you also have to take into consideration the competition, or lack of, as Moya said earlier this week.
“Things were different in the ’90s,” the Spaniard reminisced. “There were quite a few great players like Sampras, (Boris) Becker, (Andre) Agassi, (Patrick) Rafter with virtually the same kind of skills. They were all in the same league. But today, there’s a big gap between the top two-three players and the rest. See Federer and Nadal. There is hardly anyone who can come close to them. (Sampras) was a class apart. Federer and Nadal are good, but not in his league.”
This from a player who played both Sampras and Federer. Actually, this from a player who beat Sampras, on hardcourt yet, at the Masters Cup. Then again, maybe you want to say the greatest player is the one you took out — then you can tell your kids, rather than telling them the greatest player was that Swiss guy you were 0-6 against.
Sampras himself concedes Federer his Slam record — of course throwing in the lack-of-competition jibe.
“It’s not a question of if he’ll break my record, but when he’ll break my record,” said Sampras of his 14-Slam mark. “I see a lot of good players out there facing him, but no great players.”
The 14 Slams, probably, but the six-consecutive year-end No. 1s? Let’s talk in around two years, if it’s still an issue.
To this point in time, no one even thought the Sampras year-end record could ever be touched. At the end of 1998, knowing that the all-time record sixth was in reach, and with Marcelo Rios breathing down his neck at No. 2 on the rankings, Sampras went on a European tear the likes that had not been seen before or since by a top American.
After the US Open in ‘98 Sampras played six events in eight weeks before the year-end championship — including Basel, Vienna, Lyon, Stuttgart-indoor, Paris-indoor, Stockholm — before reaching the semis at the year-end championship, finally clinching the year-end top rank when Rios withdrew after one match with injury. Talk about an effort.
Federer seems to be mowing down Sampras records left and right — but many of Pete’s accomplishments continue to amaze. Especially after the U.S. Davis Cup team was again bogged down in clay last week in Russia, the year 1996 was oft mentioned — the year Sampras almost single-handedly beat the Russians on clay in Moscow, winning two singles and the doubles to claim the U.S.’s last (and possibly for a long while) Davis Cup title.
For those already proclaiming Federer the all-time greatest (and there are more than a few), the Swiss has yet to equal Pete’s Slam mark, his year-end No. 1 mark, or win the Davis Cup. And for those wishing that Rog’s and Pete’s careers did more than barely overlap, don’t worry — Federer will still be going head-to-head against Sampras’ records for years to come.
Richard Vach, Tennis-X.com senior writer, can currently be seen on The Tennis Channel’s “Tennis Insiders: Super Insiders” episodes, and was recently awarded “Best Hard News” story for 2005 by the United States Tennis Writers Association.