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Across The Net: Are McEnroe and Courier Crazy?
Posted by ikabod Crane on 05.07.2007

Player of the Week: Novak Djokovic continues his incredible year with a title in Estoril to claim his 3rd title of 2007. The 19 year old Serb is now ranked #5 in the world. If he gets his clay court legs, as Estoril suggests is happening, Djokovic might be the man to stop Nadal's clay court streak.

Honorable Mentions: Philipp Kohlschreiber won his first ATP title in Munich. Kim Clijsters has retired. Richard Gasquet and Mikhail Youzhny finished as runner-ups in Estoril and Munich. All deserve praise.

Cranky Veterans?

In many sports, announcers who are former players cannot help but let the viewer know that as good as the sport is today it is not quite what it was back in their day. Psychologically, this makes sense to me. However, that does not make it any less annoying.

Jim Courier and John McEnroe won a combined 11 Grand Slam singles titles, both held the #1 ranking and are prominent television commentators at tennis events. They also both said some crazy things about Pete Sampras and the approaching 2007 Wimbledon championships.

The North American Champions Tour held an event this week in Boston, MA. Courier began the wild speculation by stating, "If Wimbledon was best-of-three, Pete Sampras would be the No. 2 seed right now." Maybe Courier was just trying to promote a champions tour that he has had a large hand in creating. Promotors always talk a big game. Courier did at least admit that the 3 out of 5 set format would be a problem for Sampras. His statement was saying, "If we changed the rules, Pete would be the 2nd best prospect to win Wimbledon this year." I'll get to my thoughts on that below.

McEnroe went a step further. Big Mac, never known for being shy, stated that "Pete is the master on grass. Best of five and luck of the draw would be the difference. There wouldn't be a guy in the tournament who'd want to play him. Roger would say he'd want to play him, but he'd be concerned. He'd be a lot more concerned than he would be against all these other guys." Has McEnroe forgotten Alex Corretja and George Bastl beat Sampras on grass in 2002? Wait, I am getting ahead of myself, I will respond to Courier and Mac below.

Sampras is Sane

"I hit the ball better today than I did in my prime because of the bigger racket," Sampras said. "I think I can still play at a pretty high level. I can probably compete against anyone in the world today just one match, two sets." This all seems pretty realistic. Sampras, retired since September 2002, has no road weariness, a natural acumen for hitting a tennis ball, and likely in a one match situation could hang with most guys for a couple of sets. This leads to my response.

Sampras at 35 and Retired since 2002 is not a Threat to Win Wimbledon

Sampras is likely dead right that he could have two close sets with an elite player today. If he won both sets, he'd be the victor. If he split sets, look for Pete to get rolled in a 3rd set. Of course, he might lose both close sets. Sampras is a great athlete and at 35 that is still true. The thing Sampras seems to realize is that if he won that match in straight sets, he'd have to play again. In 2 out of 3 set tournaments, Sampras would be playing on back to back days. He might only be able to play 1 good set after playing 2 good sets the day before. No one wins a match by winning 1 set. So there you have it. Sampras is good enough to play really well if he could lie in wait and gear up for a single match situation. The key question is how would Sampras play the next day because to be elite you have to play well day in and day out. Add in road weariness of playing in different cities each week, sleeping in different hotels each week and living out of a suitcase and Sampras' 2 good sets once again get squeezed down to maybe 1 good set.

McEnroe and Courier Again

McEnroe, Courier and Sampras understand that at 35, Sampras is still a great athlete who has great hand eye coordination. Sampras alone seems to understand that he is 35, did not touch a racket for 3 years and only plays tennis 3 days a week these days. Sampras knows that all of those factors do not add up to a legitimate contender to win 7 matches, even seven 2 out of 3 set matches, in a row. He can play really well when he picks his spots. To be the legend he was, Sampras played well all of the time and he is not going to come back to play spotty tennis.

Todd Martin (no relation) may have proved my point today anyway. Martin was last a factor at a major when reaching the 2000 U.S. Open semifinals. Martin lost to Sampras in the final of the Boston event 3-6, 7-5, 9-11. The 3rd set was not 20 games of tennis, rather it was a match tie break because most guys in their mid thirties and up do not hold up well in 3rd sets (Agassi and Connors' longevity are the exception not the rule). So, Sampras split sets and saved 3 match points against a guy who has not been a factor in big time tennis since September 2000. Sampras beat Petr Korda, Tim Mayotte, and John McEnroe to reach the final. All impressive, but none of those players has been a factor since Korda won the 1998 Australian Open. McEnroe lost in the 1992 Wimbledon semifinals and Mayotte lost in the 1989 Wimbledon quarterfinals. Four very nice wins for Sampras, but none were against a player who could even play 2 tour level sets these days. What McEnroe and Courier think they are adding to the current product by making ungrounded criticisms and wild speculations is beyond me, but for two voices of the ATP Tour it is not a good bit of marketing.

What if He Did Play?

Sampras' first and second serve would still be potent at Wimbledon. His first volley and net rushing tactics would bother people. Still, if the opposition could absorb his first strike tennis, Sampras would look a lot like he did vs. Lleyton Hewitt in the 2001 U.S. Open final. If his opponent could track down his first volley, Sampras would be in trouble over 5 sets. Finally, we should not forget that from 1998-2002 Sampras coasted during most of his return games to conserve energy. This was a smart tactic given that he held serve so easily and suffered from anemia. How much coasting would he need to do in 2007 with a 3 year lay-off and only practicing every other day? The anemia has not gone away either. It is a romantic notion to think Sampras could lace them up and take down a young gun or clay court guru at Wimbledon. Sampras might be able to do that in round 1, but in round 2 he'd be in trouble. If you have to save match points vs. Todd Martin in 2007, it is not realistic to win matches vs. Ancic, Berdych, Djokovic, Youzhny, Baghdatis, Hewitt or any other player who'd like to add to his legacy by taking Sampras down.

½ Clay ½ Grass Exhibition

World #2 and holder of the active all time clay court winning streak of 72 matches Rafael Nadal defended his home turf in an odd exhibition match in Mallorca. Roger Federer holds the active all time grass court winning streak of 48 matches. A promoter (or two maybe) had the idea of pitting these two in a match with a court made of half grass and half clay. Nadal won 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (10-8) to claim the match in what was considered to be a light hearted event. Unlike Martin and Sampras, they did still play a 13 game 3rd set rather than a super tie-break. Still, the idea is intriguing and the court looks weird. Love or hate Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal's dominance, they seem willing to be fan friendly and to bring publicity to the sport.


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