Douglas Perry of the Oregonian is one of my favorite tennis writers. He has written an article on his blog that shows how hard it is to compare players from a different era. First of all, many of the tournaments were not the same. Secondly, the tournaments you might pick often had smaller draws so they were easier to win – less chance for a bad match. Then there is the equipment. Below are some excerpts from the article.
By winning his seventh Wimbledon title this year, Roger Federer increased his major championships total to an unprecedented 17, three more than Pete Sampras, the previous career record holder. This is widely considered the greatest record in tennis.
But is it?
There were three pre-Open Era professional “majors,” starting with a U.S. championship in 1927 (won by Vinny Richards). By the middle of the 1950s, the Wembley Professional Championships in London and the French Professional Championships in Paris also were being held annually.
For example, if you include the pre-Open professional Grand Slam events, Gonzalez gets 12 more major titles on his curriculum vitae, putting him in a dead heat with Sampras at 14.
Some of the best commentary on this article came from the comments:
– The pre-open era pro majors cannot be treated as equal to open-era majors because:
(a) the fields for these pro major events were only 4 to 16 players (see links);
(b) some pro major events did not have the year’s best players (some pro majors were even cancelled due to poor attendance);
(c) some pro major events had best-of-three sets before the final while others had best-of-five sets through all rounds; and
(d) in certain years other ad hoc pro events were as or more significant than the usual three pro majors at U.S., French and Wembley (e.g., 1967 Wimbledon Pro, Tournament of Champions).
In any case, these smaller events do not equate with the 128-player, seven-round draws featuring an open field that most open era Grand Slams had. More rounds increase the potential for a loss.
Todd Woodbridge spoke with Kramer in late 2007: “”Yet recently I had reason to say Federer is the best singles player to have played the game. Just before Christmas, I had the opportunity to interview American Jack Kramer about his life in tennis. A life that’s included being a multiple grand slam winner, member of a winning Davis Cup team, a promoter, commentator and an official — the father of professional tennis has covered every facet of the game. For an hour and a half he gave me fascinating insights into the game…. Nearing the end of our chat, I broached the subject of Federer and asked if he compared with the greats of Kramer’s era… Having played against and watched every champion since the 1930s, I thought there was no one better credentialled than Kramer to answer the question. Kramer said Don Budge, Gonzales or Hoad might have been the equal of Federer if they had been able to use Federer’s racquet. Yet he had never seen any player do more with a ball than Federer.
Read more on the subject – HERE