Sampras: Federer/Nadal Era Far From Over

http://www.tennisweek.com/news/fullstory.sps?inewsid=6641587

“When push comes to shove, I still like Roger at these majors,” Sampras told the Associated Press in a conference call.

“He’s going to be around in the top two or three in the world for as long as he wants to be,” Sampras said. “He’s an animal, a great athlete, a great player. He’s going to go through different lulls in his game, but when push comes to shove, you’re always going to see Rafa in the last couple of days of the event.”

My second last post you may remember was about Andre Agassi’s view on the Federer/Nadal era, which was that it was coming to an end now and that someone like Murray will be a big threat to them from now on. I made my case for the Federer/Nadal era not being over, saying that they are still my favorites at the majors. And as before it seems me and Sampras agrees on an issue. I just take Sampras’ opinion much more serious than Agassi, who tends to jump the gun. Having said that, I don’t agree with him 100% on his second statement about Rafa. It is nevertheless an interesting comment. I’ve been doing quite a bit of speculation about Rafa of late, arguing that he is moving past his peak now. So I’m wondering why Sampras’ is so confident that Rafa can stay around as long as he wants.

It seems like Sampras simply thinks that Rafa is going through a lull in his game and that he will come out of it again. I can totally appreciate the fact that he says Rafa is mentally and physically one of the best ever. But what about injuries and mental burnout? Not to mention other players figuring him out. I have said before that I think Rafa has pretty much maximized his potential. He has improved his serve, backhand, and volleys to the max. Therefor I don’t think he can show his opponents much more. Once they figure him out then that is pretty much it. What Sampras is saying is that when it comes to the big moment, that Rafa will once again come up with the goods. I’m not so sure about that. There is now three possible problems for Rafa.

One, injuries are starting to creep up on him after years of pushing himself to the extremes, and it does not look like he is willing to slow down. Two, he has maximized his potential, and once his opponents figure him out he won’t have anything more to show them. Three, he could be facing mental burnout. If a player puts as much effort into his game as Rafa does and starts losing their edge, it can be very hard on them mentally. As long as they are successful and everything is going well, it is easy for them to put the effort in. But once they lose their edge it becomes very hard for them to keep putting in the same amount of work, and they often go into steep decline. This doesn’t happen to a talented player like Roger, because although he works really hard, the game is effortless to him and he always has something new to show his opponent.

This is why I say that if I have the choice between talent and a strong mind, I would take both. Just talent alone or just hard work alone can only take you so far. But ideally you want both, which is what Roger has. Examples of guys who have loads of talent but weaker minds are Safin, Nalbandian and Rios. These guys all had heaps of talent, but their minds is not as strong as someone like Rafa. Then examples of guys who had average talent but maximized it are the guys I have mentioned before, like Courier, Hewitt, Rafa, Lendl and Chang. In my opinion none of these guys are incredibly gifted, but they had immense physical and mental reserves. When I say ‘average’ talent or ‘weaker’ minds remember I say that in terms of pro tennis.


When it comes to the average tennis player these guys were still very talented and mentally strong. I’m actually a little surprised that Sampras said this, because I heard him say before that Rafa’s mental and physical grind will eventually take it’s toll on him. Did he change his mind? I guess he just meant that Roger and Rafa’s destinies are somehow intertwined, as I have said before. I’m just not so sure Rafa can stay in the top two or three in the world for as long as he wants to. That’s a pretty long time and guys like Delpo, Murray and Djokovic can surely threaten him in the rankings. In fact they are already starting to do so.  Suffering losses like he did against Soderling, Delpo, Cilic and Davydenko surely can’t be good for his confidence either.

And for Rafa to be confident he must play a lot, which in turn could lead to injury again. It could easily become a vicious circle for him. Anyway this is just my opinion, which doesn’t make it a fact. I don’t think Rafa is done or anything like that, but he may be over his best now. Same goes for Roger, but like Sampras’ I still favor him in the slams. He has been there so many times and he knows how it is done, and even if he is not at his very best he will still have a wealth of experience to fall back on.

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8 Comments

  1. One overlooked factor that may exacerbate Nadal’s difficult conditions is the media. Remember when Roger was in slump from 2008-early 2009? The media kept asking him to hire a coach, how he needs to play different, etc. It upset Roger quite a bit, possibly affecting him to some extent, too. I still remember how a few Roger interviews went sour. Remember the racket smash in Miami, too?

    Hmm… what about the talk that Rafa must hire a new coach, rather than sticking w/ uncle Toni, to develop more strategies? I’d surmise it’ll upset Rafa greatly & put further mental pressures to what a seemingly already heavily pressurized conditions. Everyone and everything have their breaking points…

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Sure, no doubt he is going through a tough time. But i still dont think he will rise from the ashes like Roger has. I just dont think has the genius of a Federer. But i could be wrong of course.

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  2. Ruan,
    Thanks for all the articles to help us through Roger’s hibernation. Boy! do I miss him! It’s like tennis IS Roger Federer. Tennis without Roger is just so lacking. His talent, his serve, his game, his personality, his relaxed attitude, his smile, his classy yet humble manner, etc etc. I’ve been busy and didn’t have time to comment. Your latest one on Sampras’ comments were well-written and balanced. That’s why I like your writing. You are balanced, objective, informed, honest and unbiased although you are so in love with Rog!!! I hate biased, one-sided writing – even if they are all for Rog. One-sided writings are misleading, ill-informed, naive and fantasy. To sum up Rog and Rafa – their best days/form are over but they are still strong contenders especially in grand slams. And there won’t be one or two tennis players dominating tennis like how they have dominated; not in the near future; I don’t think so. The field will become wider. And whether Rafa can come back strong like Rog is maybe highly questionable because besides his being a brutal physical and mental game (as you described it so well), he does not have a strong, loving and stable family as Rog has. Besides Rog’s talent and strong mentalilty and ambition, Rog’s family (including Mirka) is the single most important factor for who Rog is today and what he has achieved. There is no one like Rog; he is as close to perfect as a human being can be. You don’t see super talented achievers having strong families and good character and values all at the same time. It is either one or the other. Rog has it all. So it is really really tragic for people in this generation who still has not appreciated Rog. Roger Federer only happens once in a lifetime. I can safely say there will not ever be another one like him; not even close. You can get talent and achievers anytime. But GOOD STABLE people who are talented and achievers? No way. Not in this world anyway. The day Rog hangs up his racket would be a day of great mourning for the whole earth.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    :D Thanks for the comment and i agree totally.

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  3. Stranger things happened in 2009.No one predicted Roger´s success,and Rafa´s downturn.That´s why I´ve learned not to understimate a Champion.I really don´t
    understand the “people have been unfair to Roger, now let´s be the same to Nadal”.
    I´m a fedfan but I don´t like people being biased against Roger or Rafa or anyone else.I remember those tough days for Roger …and for all his fans…the neverending criticisms…
    I agree with you Ruan that Federer-Nadal era far from being over.

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  4. Dear Ruan
    I think there is a huge difference between Roger’s illness last year and Nadal’s injury this year. Very few if anyone (apart from Roger of course) could have achieved all he did in 2008 with the mono he had. Nadal on the other hand is following a familiar pattern (Hewitt, Courier, Chang etc) – all hard working players who got to the top of the game and came crashing down because as you said hard work with little talent can not keep a player at the top.
    I believe Sampras was being POLITE. He does not really expect much from Nadal in the future. I know I don’t and I say it again, I expect Nadal to be out of the top 10 by the French Open 2010 and I don’t expect him to beat anyone in the top 10 any time soon! I believe he is burnt out. His recent losses have been crushing defeats.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    I dont know if Pete was being polite, and im not so sure Rafa will be out of the top 10 by the French Open. Its not impossible, but it would be worst case scenarion for him. Best case scenario for him would be winning the FO.

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  5. Dear Ruan
    I am going by what had happened in the past and what is likely to happen in the future. Jim Courier was a player rather like Nadal. When his fall came, it came very quickly and he was out of the top 10 faster than any player in history and he soon retired thereafter. I can not see Nadal coming back. Do you remember the last time he beat a top 10 player? Madrid semi final against Djokovic! That was 5 months ago. He has had favourable draws – the likes of Blake, Ljubicic and even they took sets off him.
    I liked Nadal when I first saw him though I cringed at his dramatic entrance and the sock-pulling etc. I changed my mind after a match he played in Madrid 2004 where he ran almost to the spectator barrier to retrieve a ball – he won that point but did not win another point in the match. It was then I knew he was likely to run himself to the ground and have a short career. So far he is proving me right.
    I’m not so sure he is good for tennis. Can you imagine what will happen to future tennis players if they take on the style of Nadal? How long a career will they have? Think about that.

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