“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.