Comparing the 90's vs. the 00's
Although comparing careers seems in general more fair than the rigid timeframe of a decade, the later approach might be interesting until Federer's and Nadal's careers will be completed. We compare their results in the first decade of the years 2000 to Sampras' and Agassi's results in the 90's. No entire careers are compared (we have other topics on their careers).
The fact that Sampras was born exactly 10 years before Federer gives a little extra cachet to comparing the 2 decades. Both of them were 19 at the start of the decade, Agassi was 1 year older. Nadal on the other hand was 5 years younger at the start of the decade, so comparing him in this timeframe is slightly unfair.
The most dominant players of the 90's -Sampras and Agassi- started winning big tournaments at the very first year of the decade: the US Open (Sampras) and the Tennis Masters Cup (Agassi). For the dominant players of the 2000's on the other hand, breakthroughs came only after the decade's first years, so there are fewer years left in the decade. Still, Federer and Nadal reached about the same total weekly No. 1 spots as their 90's equivalent and won more Masters 1000 & slam titles (more than half of all the decade's slam titles, equalling the 21 total slams won by the 90's Top 3 Slam winners).
In each decade, 1 player has been outstanding, Federer & Sampras:
- each held No. 1 position for about 50% of all weeks in the decade and has been the year-end No. 1 for 5 years or more,
- Federer won 37,5% of the decade's 40 Grand Slam tournaments, Sampras about 30%,
- each won by far the most ATP World Tour Finals.
The runners-up are left far behind on all fronts but Master1000 titles. Except for Master1000 victories, Nadal's and Agassi's results are similar too:
- both players held about 10% of the decade's weekly No. 1 spots,
- 15% of the slam titles were won by Nadal, while Agassi won about 12% in the 90's & 7% in the 00's,
- both players realised a career Grand Slam, Agassi just before the end of his decade of prime, Nadal in the 1st year after his prime decade.
Nadal is a more consistent No.2 than Agassi, maybe because he was able to dominate the least favourite underground of the No. 1 player,
There is a general consensus on Sampras' dominance during the 90's slams:
- With his 6th Wimbledon in 1999, Pete won his 12th slam title, breaking 2 of Borg's records : his 11 career slam titles, and his 5 Wimbledon titles, both standing since the early 80's,
- he reached at least 1 slam final in every year of the 90's,
- there are only 2 years without at least 1 slam title for Sampras. Not really wasted years though : in '91, he won the Tennis Masters Cup, in '92 his first Master1000 title,
- at the end of the 90's already, he was generally considered one of the greatest ever.
Agassi ended the 90's far behind Sampras' 12 Slams, but his career slam at 1999's Roland Garros -first career slam since 1974- and his Olympic gold medal inspired some critics to call him the better allround player. Agassi may clearly have been the better on clay but there were other players excelling him on that surface. On other surfaces, Sampras dominated him most of the time, with 3 wins of the 4 slam finals they disputed, 2 out of 3 during the 90's.
Federer not only finished the decade with more slam titles than Sampras but realised as well Agassi's career slam with his 2009 Roland Garros title. Federer had already proved to be a more consistent clay player than Agassi and Sampras. He reached the 3 previous Roland Garros finals, to be stopped only by Nadal, one of the best ever on clay, who in this decade, won 4 consecutive Roland Garros titles, done before only by Borg. On other surfaces, Nadal's results for the decade -1 Wimbledon & 1 Australian Open- are less impressive, his best year -3 slam titles- would come in the first year of the next decade.
Multiple titles & finals per year
Sampras won 4 times 2 slam titles/year, Agassi once. Federer realised the double twice plus had another 3 years with 3 slam titles, since 1974 done before only -and only once- by Wilander (1988) & Connors (1974). Last decade, Federer and Nadal are the only ones who won more than 1 slam title/year; besides them, only 2 players reached 2 slam finals in 1 year: Sampras in (2000) and Ferrero (2003). During the 90's, a fistful of 'subtop-players' reached 2 or more finals/year : Edberg, Becker, Chang, Courier. Besides Sampras and Agassi, there was even a 3rd player who realised a double : Courier in 1992.
In the pre-Federer part of previous decade, Agassi won 3 slam titles, Hewitt & Kuerten 2, and Safin 1. Of these 4, only Safin won another slam in the Federer era, so he completes the trio of players who won 2 Slams.
In the decade's part after Federer's first Wimbledon title in 2003, there's not a single other player who was able to win more than 2 slam titles, except for Nadal: out of 26 slam finals, only 5 titles didn't go to either him or Federer. 5 Different players each rose once to the occasion: Del Potro, Djokovic, Roddick, Safin and Gaudio.
From 2005's Wimbledon untill 2007's US Open, Federer reached all finals of all 4 slams, 10 slam finals in a row, never done before by another player. Way back between 1934 and 1935, Jack Crawford realised a 7 finals's streak at the 4 Grand Slam tournaments. Federer would reach again all finals from 2008 Roland Garros untill 2010 Australian Open, another 8 in a row.
Total & successive years with slam titles
In the decade of their prime, Federer and Sampras had 7 successive years with at least 1 slam, 1 year more than Borg in the 70's. At 1981 Roland Garros, Borg's streak would end at 8 years, a record equalled only by Sampras (2000) and Federer (2010). Sampras had another year before his 8-year streak though, so he owns the most years with slam titles in 1 decade.
In the first decade of the new millennium, Nadal realised a 5 years' Slam-streak (still going). Agassi's longest slam-streak in the 90's lasted 1 year less than Edberg's 3 years' streak in the 90's. Agassi lost his first 3 finals before he was victorious at 1992's Wimbledon (defeating Ivanisevic). Nadal, Sampras and Federer won the first slam final they reached.
N° 1 rankings
The 90's protagonists each had 1 year more with a weekly No. 1 ranking than their 00's equivalent but the total No. 1 weeks they collected are about the same : Federer and Sampras have been No. 1 for about half the decade, the Swiss ending with 262 weeks, just 15 weeks short of Sampras' 90's total and 24 less than his record 286 career weeks. Little remains for Hewitt (15%) and Edberg (13%); Nadal and Agassi each collected about 10% of the weekly No. 1 spots.
Over the whole of the decade, Nadal and Agassi collected about 1 year of No. 1 weeks. While they clearly were the 2 best runners-up as to slam titles, their No. 1 rankings are less impressive :
- in the 90's, Edberg & Courier have more No. 1 weeks than Agassi,
- last decade, Agassi & Hewitt have more No. 1 weeks than Nadal.
Hewitt realised the 2nd longest streak of the decade (75 weeks) in the early years of 00's. Since Federer's 1st No. 1 position, only Nadal was able to dethrone him. More challengers dethroned Sampras, whose longest No. 1 reign (102 weeks) lasted less than half as long as Federer's 237 weeks.
Since 1974, only Connors & Lendl have been able to realise achievements that come close:
- Connors : a 160 weeks streak, total of 251 weeks during the 70's (interrupted only 1 week by Borg) and a career total of 268,
- Lendl : a 157 weeks streak, a career total of 270 weeks.
Agassi was the year-end No.2 in '94-'95. He then collected about 30 No. 1 weeks before he fell back to No.8 in 1996 and disappeared a while from the Top 100 in '97. Muster, Moya, Rios, Kafelnikov each took a few No. 1 weeks. Sampras regained pole postion before Agassi returned to the No. 1 spot in 1999 -at his 29th. He would hold it for a whole year, his longest streak, reaching 4 slam finals in a row (1999 Roland Garros-2000 Australian Open), losing only Wimbledon to Sampras.
Nadal was a more consistent No.2 than Agassi : from 2005 to the 1st half of 2008, he was the uninterrupted No.2. He dived into the Top 100 in April 2003, to reach Top 50 in August of the same year. Until March 2005, he bounced between 30th and 50th position. Nadal reached the No.2 spot in May 2005, only 1 month after his rapid & succesful climb to No.3 position, then reached the No. 1 position halfway 2008. He would hold it for almost 1 year before gliding back to No.2 halfway 2009 untill the end of the decade.
ATP Master1000 titles and World Tour Finals
Federer's, Sampras' and Agassi's Master1000 results have a gradual growth, Nadal wins 4 titles in his first year. He continues to win at least 2 Master1000 titles/year untill the end of the decade -5 years in a row. Federer and Sampras had only 4 years in a row with 1 or more ATP Master1000 title(s), but they both won at least 1 Masters 1000 title in 6 different years of the decade.
Each decade, the protagonists collected about the same total M1000 titles. But while Sampras and Agassi accumulated 'only' 10 M1000 titles in their decade, Federer and Nadal won 15 and 16 titles. Last decade, there's only Agassi with more than 5 titles; Djokovic won 5 titles, Murray & Roddick each 4, about the same as Courier & Edberg reached in the 90's.
Out of the 4 top-players, Nadal is the only one who didn't win the ATP World Tour Finals. Sampras and Federer are again very much alike here, winning 5 and 4 times each. Lendl is the only other player who won 5 World Tour Finals in a decade.
Yearly wins and losses
For the whole of the decade, Federer won slightly more matches than Sampras, with significantly less losses (e.g. 2006 : 92 wins vs 5 losses). The only other player who finished a year with less than 10 defeats is Agassi : 1995 with 9 losses, of about 80 matches (NB not taking into acount Sampras' 8 losses in 1999 -he only played 48 matches that year).
Nadal seems to make the biggest leap forward (2005, doubling his wins & strongly reducing his losses), while Sampras and Federer had a more gradual growth. Sampras was slightly better in his younger years. While Federer reaches his prime 3 years later, he's able to keep up a higher level during the last half decade.
Conclusion : omnipresence vs everlasting presence
Sampras and Federer are both outstanding compared to their contemporary opponents; their achievements are quite alike too, but Federer realised them in a shorter lap of time.
While Sampras dominated a larger part of the decade (more No. 1 weeks, 1 more year with a slam title and 1 more year No. 1), Federer has been the more omnipresent of both and his reigns more undisputed. From Wimbledon 2004 to the end of the decade:
- he reached semifinals at each slam tournament, only lost 3 of those 22 SF's and all of them to the later winner: 2005's Australian Open & Roland Garros to Safin & Nadal, and 2008's Australian Open to Djokovic. He won 13 of the 19 finals,
- only 4 players beat Federer in a slam: Del Potro, Nadal, Djokovic and Safin. Out of those 4, Nadal is the only one to beat Federer more than once (5 times).
Since Wimbledon 2003 (his first slam title), only 2 more players were able to beat Federer at slams : Nalbandian and Kuerten.
Sampras on the other hand, sometimes lost unexpectedly and early :
- In 1994, a rather obscure player like Yzaga beat him at the US Open 4th round.
- In Wimbledon's 1996 QF, he was eliminated by the later winner Krajceck.
- In 1997 he suffered an early loss at the US Open (defeated by Korda).
- 'obscure' players like Kucera or Delgado beat Sampras in slam tournaments since his first US Open title.
Federer was a more inevitable Grand Slam-final certainty, but when Sampras reached the final of a slam in the 90's, he rarely lost : only 2 losses out of 14 finals.
To end, a last resemblance between the 90's & the 00's: like there were claims of Agassi being the better allround player, there are also theories claiming Nadal being better than Federer, since he's got the lead in their head-to-heads (13-7). We'll be analysing the Federer-Nadal rivalry soon, for the moment it suffices to point out that head-to-heads have no influence on modern tennis rankings. Moreover, it's clear the No. 1 player is more concerned with the long-term (trying to stay No. 1 as long as possible) which might make him less motivated for head-to-heads as the challenger. Clearly, the No. 1 position prevails on a head-to-head.