Best Player in the Open Era? Laver, Sampras, other? [Archive] - MensTennisForums.com

Best Player in the Open Era? Laver, Sampras, other?

Professor14
01-05-2004, 10:20 PM
Who, in your opinion, was/is the best player in the Open era (post 1968)?

J. Corwin
01-05-2004, 10:23 PM
Sampras. I went in depth in a thread in the Andy forum. I'm not about to go into it again over here (laziness).

One point I will make: Laver played at a time when 3 of 4 slams were on grass. Think how many slams Pete would have won if 3 of 4 were grass during his prime.

Andre'sNo1Fan
01-05-2004, 10:29 PM
Sampras. Although i never really saw the others play live. But he won the most slams and was dominate for a very long time. people do say he didnt have much comp but u can only beat whats in front of u.

MisterQ
01-05-2004, 11:40 PM
Not saying it proves anything (I think there are persuasive arguments for all three of the men in question), but here is an article from Tennis Week arguing Borg's case (sorry for the length):

Numbers Reveal The No. 1 Player Of The Open Era
By Raymond Lee
09/17/2003
On the opening Monday of the U.S. Open, Pete Sampras officially retired, concluding a career that saw him win a record 14 Grand Slam championships and amass 64 tournament titles overall. While Sampras' legacy as one of the all-time greats is secure, the debate over the best player in history continues.

There is no doubt Sampras is one of the all-time greats and clearly the best player of the 1990s, but is he the greatest of all time? People have a tendency to acclaim current players as the greatest. This is quite common in tennis where statistics have not been quite as carefully compiled and consulted as in other sports.



Tennis is a tough sport to evaluate. We have a tendency to judge players based solely on observation rather than on careful statistical scrutiny. As we all know, appearances can be deceiving. A player like Brad Gilbert, for instance, did not look like he could beat anyone, but he reached the top 10 in the world and beat several Hall of Famers including John McEnroe and Boris Becker. In contrast, a player such as Henri Leconte looks like he could be one of the best ever — on his best days — but rarely produced the results to match his talent.

Ultimately, champions produce results and results are what should be used in assessing the greatest champions — not speculation, not opinions, not the style of someone's forehand.

With that in mind, I decided to compare Sampras to several Grand Slam champions who played their entire careers in the Open Era (from 1968 to the present). I analyzed the statistics for nine champions — Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Stefan Edberg, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Sampras and Mats Wilander — and after carefully considering several results in the most relevant statistical categories, I am ready to crown one player as the all-time greatest champion of the Open Era and perhaps the greatest of all time.

That player is Bjorn Borg!

Quite frankly, statistics show the comparison is not even close. Borg rates as the top player in seven of the 10 categories I established in statistical stature. The criteria I used to evaluate the champions are:

1. Career won-loss percentage
2. Best won-loss percentage for a five-year period
3. Career tournament titles
4. Tournament titles won in a best five-year period
5. Career percentage of tournaments won
6. Percentage of tournaments won in a best five-year period
7. Career Grand Slam titles
8. Slams won in a best five-year period
9. Career Grand Slam winning percentage
10. Percentage of Grand Slams won in a best five-year period.


Borg asserted his authority over opponents both on the court and in my study. The speedy Swede is now 47-years-old and recently re-married with a teenage son approaching the age of many of the current Slam champions. Borg played his last Grand Slam match in the finals of the 1981 U.S. Open and in his 22-year-absence from the Grand Slam stage many have forgotten how truly great and dominant Borg was. During his prime, many considered Borg one of the greatest ever and my study confirms this belief.

Jimmy Connors placed second on my list of Open Era all-time greats. Connors finished first in two categories: most career tournament championships (109) and most tournament titles over a peak five-year period (59). Connors also compiled perhaps the greatest single season of any man in the Open Era in 1974 when he captured three Grand Slam titles in three attempts, claimed 15 tournament titles and won 99 of the 103 matches he played for a winning percentage of .961.

John McEnroe, who along with Connors was Borg's greatest rival, was third. McEnroe didn't win any single category, but he was consistent in that he did not finish lower than tied for fourth in any category. McEnroe also produced a superb single season that rivaled Connors' as one of the greatest for any player who began his career in the Open Era. In his spectacular 1984 season, McEnroe won 13 of the 15 tournaments he entered and registered an 82-3 record. McEnroe won two of the three majors he entered that year and blew a two-set lead to Ivan Lendl in finishing runner-up at Roland Garros.

The underrated Ivan Lendl finished fourth. Lendl, as we all know, never won Wimbledon, but he did reach the final twice and did well considering his style was not necessarily the best for grass. Lendl won eight majors and finished as the runner-up in 11 majors.

Sampras set an Open Era record with six successive seasons as the ATP Tour's year-end No. 1 player. He finished first in two categories in this study: career Grand Slam titles (14) and most majors won over a peak five-year period (eight). He also placed second in percentage of majors won for a career with an excellent .269, which was well ahead of any player except Borg, who produced an incredible percentage of .407 in that category.

Boris Becker was sixth and Andre Agassi was seventh, but Agassi appears capable of improving his standing in several categories as he's the only active player on this list. Like fine wine, Agassi improves with age. In the future, I hope to assess how his wife, Steffi Graf, compares to other women Grand Slam champions of the Open Era using these categories.

The last two players on the list are the Swedes, Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander. A seven-time Grand Slam champion, Wilander is a strange case. His career winning percentage would have been fare greater had he retired after his spectacular 1988 season that saw him sweep three of the four majors. I must mention in picking his peak five-year period, I chose the best period in winning percentage and as a result had to leave out that 1988 season from that category, unfortunately.

The source for many of the records I used is Bud Collins' Total Tennis.

Unfortunately, I cannot find accurate statistics on many of the game's all-time greats such as Bill Tilden, Don Budge, Jack Kramer, Pancho Gonzalez, Lew Hoad, Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall. Many of those players turned pro at a time when pros were not permitted to play the majors. Kramer and Gonzalez won many matches on their tours against other all-time greats. The problem is, how do you rate those tours?

My conclusion is Bjorn Borg is the greatest player of the Open Era. I honestly don't see any way to arrive at any alternative conclusion if you review the numbers. You can argue in favor of Sampras or Connors or McEnroe or Agassi, but the numbers don't lie.

Statistically speaking, Bjorn Borg is the best player of the Open Era over the course of his career by quite a large margin.

Category

Connors Borg McEnroe Lendl Agassi Wilander Edberg Becker Sampras
W-L Career Pct.
.817(3) .855(1) .823(2) .817(4) .765(7) .720(9) .749(8) .769(6) .774(5)

Best W-L Pct. 5-Year Period
.908(3) .916(1) .896(4) .910(2) .789(9) .811(8) .820(7) .833(5) .829(6)

Career Tournament Titles
109(1) 73(4) 77(3) 94(2) 58(6) 33(9) 41(8) 49(7) 64(5)

Tournament Titles Best 5-Year Period
59(1) 55(2) 43(3) 41(4) 20(9) 22(8) 25(7) 26(6) 35(5)

Career Pct. Of Tournaments Won
.312(2) .483(1) .297(3) .283(4) .197(6) .129(9) .132(8) .186(7) .228(5)

Pct. Of Tournaments Won Best 5-Year Period
.562(2) .655(1) .506(4) .539(3) .212(9) .222(8) .243(7) .302(6) .411(5)

Career Grand Slam Titles
8(3) 11(2) 7(4) 8(3) 8(3) 7(3) 7(4) 6(5) 14(1)

Pct. Of Majors Won Career
.138(6) .407(1) .156(4) .140(8) .154(5) .159(3) .111(9) .130(7) .269(2)

Career Majors Won Best 5-Year Period
5(3) 8(1) 6(2) 6(2) 4(4) 3(5) 4(4) 3(5) 8(1)

Pct. Of Majors Won Best 5-Year Period
.417(2) .571(1) .400(3) .400(3) .267(4) .167(6) .200(5) .167(6) .400(3)

Total Score
26(2) 15(1) 32(3) 35(4) 62(7) 69(9) 68(8) 60(6) 38(5)

Raymond Lee is a tennis historian who lives in the New York area. This is his first story for Tennis Week.com

Leo
01-06-2004, 12:05 AM
I hate these types of polls. They're no clear way of deciding which of three is, in fact, the greatest ever. There will always be different opinions on the matter.

I will say, however, that this shouldn't be based on meaningless stats like those discussed in the article above. All three have competed in different eras so I failt to see how "career win/loss percentage" or "career percentage of tournaments won" matters.

star
01-06-2004, 12:09 AM
What a terrific article!

I think it is very difficult for those who were not alive at the time that Borg played to realize how truly great he was.

I have never seen anyone move on the court the way Borg did. I will never forget the way that he could thread the needle on passing shots from deep behind the baseline, yet come to the net and volley neatly and precisely.

His game was breathtaking.

WyverN
01-06-2004, 12:24 AM
Statistically speaking, Bjorn Borg is the best player of the Open Era over the course of his career by quite a large margin.



Borg retired during his prime, as soon as he started being challenged. Of course his stats look impressive, if Sampras retired after 1999 his numbers would be better as well, Mac could have retired after 1984 and have amazing stats.

J. Corwin
01-06-2004, 12:24 AM
I like Borg a lot. I just wish I've seen more of him.

ktwtennis
01-06-2004, 12:33 AM
Pete.

MisterQ
01-06-2004, 12:36 AM
Borg retired during his prime, as soon as he started being challenged. Of course his stats look impressive, if Sampras retired after 1999 his numbers would be better as well, Mac could have retired after 1984 and have amazing stats.


Once again, I am not saying the article necessarily proves anything --- it's all a matter of what you choose to consider important --- but it seems worthwhile to point out that Borg's early retirement only helped him in three of the ten categories considered, those dealing with career percentages (career win-loss percentage, career percentage of tournaments won, and career grand slam winning percentage). In all of the other categories, his early retirement would have hurt him, or had no effect at all.

MisterQ
01-06-2004, 01:43 AM
Borg's Grand Slam results are phenomenal: In a nine-year career, he lost in the second round only once, and never before that. And he made almost every final in the last few years of his career.



BJORN BORG*

Australian Open Roland Garros Wimbledon US Open
1973 - 4TH QF 4TH
1974 3RD WON 3RD 2ND
1975 - WON QF SF
1976 - QF WON F
1977 - - WON 4TH
1978 - WON WON F
1979 - WON WON QF
1980 - WON WON F
1981 - WON F F

Here's are Sampras' results, for those who are curious. They are also spectacular, but with more highs and lows.

PETE SAMPRAS

1988 - - - 1ST
1989 1ST 2ND 1ST 4TH
1990 4TH - 1ST WON
1991 - 2ND 2ND QF
1992 - QF SF F
1993 SF QF WON WON
1994 WON QF WON 4TH
1995 F 1ST WON WON
1996 3RD SF QF WON
1997 WON 3RD WON 4TH
1998 QF 2ND WON SF
1999 - 2ND WON -
2000 SF 1ST WON F
2001 4TH 2ND 4TH F
2002 4TH 1ST 2ND WON


And here are Rod Laver's, just for consistency, but it's OPEN ERA ONLY, and thus not that useful.

ROD LAVER

Australian Open Roland Garros Wimbledon US Open
1968 - F WON 4TH
1969 WON WON WON WON
1970 - - 4TH 4TH
1971 3RD - QF -
1972 - - - 4TH
1973 - - - 3RD
1975 - - - 4TH
1977 - - 2ND -

Havok
01-06-2004, 01:51 AM
how come Borg only played in very few US Opens?

MisterQ
01-06-2004, 01:53 AM
how come Borg only played in very few US Opens?

Are you referring to Laver?

Borg always played the USO --- but never the Australian.

MisterQ
01-06-2004, 02:00 AM
Didn't find the rest of Laver's results (pre-1968), but here are the highlights:

LAVER: RECORD IN GRAND SLAMS

Australian: Winner 1960, 1962, 1969. Runner-up 1961. French: Winner 1962, 1969. Runner-up 1968. Wimbledon: Winner 1961, 1962, 1968, 1969. Runner-up 1959, 1960. U.S: Winner 1962, 1969. Runner-up 1960, 1961.

Fedex
01-06-2004, 02:46 AM
Ithink it has something to do with Borg hating to play in the lights, so he never performed well there

Action Jackson
01-06-2004, 03:09 AM
Not just the lights, Borg didn't like New York much either.

MisterQ
01-06-2004, 03:41 AM
Someone voted for "other". Who did you have in mind??!

Deboogle!.
01-06-2004, 04:06 AM
Pete. He's my all-time favorite and I'm biased, I admit it, but I just don't think anything comes close to what he accomplished, in terms of both slams and dominating at #1 for so long.

Mimi
01-06-2004, 05:42 AM
I am biased, always Sampras! :worship:

undomiele
01-06-2004, 11:09 AM
Bjorn Borg. Without a doubt. He's still the only player to have completely owned Wimbledon and the French Open and that record won't be in danger of being broken anytime soon... IMO you can't be considered the best tennis player of the open era if you fail to win THE clay Grand Slam... or at least make its final hehe . ;)

Either way, its interesting to see how well the Swedes have done in the open era. They've really produced some outstanding tennis players.

undomiele
01-06-2004, 11:11 AM
Thanks for the article Mister Q!

propi
01-06-2004, 11:38 AM
The best player is that who won all the slams... if Sampras would have won RG he'd be the one

star
01-06-2004, 12:38 PM
Borg retired during his prime, as soon as he started being challenged. Of course his stats look impressive, if Sampras retired after 1999 his numbers would be better as well, Mac could have retired after 1984 and have amazing stats.

I'll say it again and again. Borg did not retire "as soon as he started to be challenged." He was challenged by great players throughout his career.

Experimentee
01-06-2004, 01:10 PM
Sampras. He won the most Slams, ended the year #1 for 6 years in a row and dominated everyone in his era. I dont think Borg sustained his dominance for as many years as Sampras did, because of his early retirement.

WyverN
01-06-2004, 01:20 PM
I'll say it again and again. Borg did not retire "as soon as he started to be challenged." He was challenged by great players throughout his career.

I gave my reasons in the Australian open final thread as to why I think Borg retired

star
01-06-2004, 01:21 PM
I'm not arguing whether Borg or Sampras is the best of all time because I voted for Laver. :)

I just want to say that Borg brought such a great presence to the game. He was the consumate sportsman. Even bratty players acted like gentleman when they played him. He had a great influence over everyone.

WyverN
01-06-2004, 01:27 PM
I'm not arguing whether Borg or Sampras is the best of all time because I voted for Laver. :)

I just want to say that Borg brought such a great presence to the game. He was the consumate sportsman. Even bratty players acted like gentleman when they played him. He had a great influence over everyone.

I agree with all that, it just seems we disagree as to why Borg retired