Sampras and Nadal

First, a heart-felt farewell to the great Bud Collins. If you don’t know who this is, you have some work to do. He helped make tennis what it is today, was a very important voice and pioneer in the tennis discourse as it made its way to television and the global audience we know and appreciate.

Celebrating his career is a reminder, too, of the role the United States has played in the professional tennis narrative. I saw a great clip of a young Lendl, sitting exhausted after his first major win at the 1984 French Open and Lendl saying something to the affect of hey, Bud, you can’t say I can’t win the big one anymore. Bud would call people out. Check some of the evidence of him being sharp with the surly McEnroe. You have to call-out that crap.

Speaking of calling people out, here’s a little postscript on my Nadalism (and I’ll probably have a few more words on this cult in the coming days/weeks/months as my tremendous staff continues to uncover the “truth”).

Part of the Nadal claim to fame that echoes this ridiculousness that I call Nadalism is his comparison to Pete Sampras. You rarely here people compare them, but they both sit there in the record books at 14 slams each, so the comparison is natural.

Not in the same class, i.e., adios.

Here’s the bottom line with Nadal: he really isn’t a damn thing with out clay or Federer. That’s his claim to fame. His numbers on clay, especially at RG (though Borg’s numbers are very historical), and his H2H versus arguably the GOAT give Nadal this half-assed claim to fame. Granted, his numbers are pretty good across the board in H2Hs, but if you open both eyes and see the full reach of his game, it’s a pretty niched piece of work.

This goes to my claim that he was basically trained, molded to be the anti-Federer. His game is everything that Federer’s is not. Sure, some of his “runs,” on whatever milkshakes he was on, included some impressively offensive tennis, but he’s all defense. He was built to beat one of the most offensive tennis players of all time, who owned tennis during Uncle Toni’s birthing process. Indeed, in so many weird ways, Toni gave birth to Rafa. I have charted this camp’s pilgrimage to top Federer. That was the agenda from day 1.

That’s pretty much all Nadal has at this point: a good record against Federer whom he ducked throughout the aughts as Roger made every deep run at every big tournament.  And his over-celebrated clay, the inferior surface of the sport.

And even when Nadal dramatically beat Roger, at the 2009 AO, for instance, this got over-played in everyone’s imagination. Dramatic stuff, seemingly dominant H2H stuff, right? Roger was done. As I have pointed-out before, Roger went on to win 3 of the next 4 majors and lost in that 4th in a dramatic F vs. DPo.

The Nadal legacy is so flawed. I see his fans watching this guy circle the drain and their responses amount to it doesn’t matter; he’s already made us so proud. They’re in so deep they’re going down with their guy.

Nadal is like some kind of activist who took down the big Federer corporation. The pathos of it all is very reminiscent of futbol hooliganism. But this is Nadalism.

Nadal vs. Pete.  Get the fuck out of here.

How about this flashback to some young Sampras.

Scroll to 16:05 to where the Wilander v Sampras highlights begin although if you’re a total tennis geek you’ll probably enjoy some of the other highlights, too. McEnroe getting upset by Paul Haarhuis in this 2R action is interesting, especially the comments Mac makes at the press conference. People see controversy in today’s game? Ha. He says he basically “wasn’t into [the match].”

A little background on that Mats v Pete match. It’s 1989 and Pete, at 18, (spoiler alert) beats the defending champion. Where was Mats’ game at this point? in 1988, the year before, he had won 3 majors, losing in the QF that year at Wimbledon. Despite his incredible form in ’88, it’s safe to say, too, that he was beginning a pretty steady decline here in 1989.

The video above of an 18 year-old Sampras is also interesting and quite timely as we juxtapose this with one of his American proteges emerging on the world’s stage, as we speak. Another 18 year-old, as a matter of fact. Taylor Fritz’s emergence has been a huge treat, especially for the hungry American tennis fans. He and the likes of Reilly Opelka, Frances Tiafoe, and Tommy Paul have the Americans feeling somewhat optimistic, but Fritz’s work recently, playing into the AO 2016 draw and being up 2 sets to 1 on fellow yankee Sock R1 before succumbing in 5, making the finals in Memphis, and then the QF in Acapulco, should have tennis fans feeling pretty certain about the arrival of Fritz. He got a wild card into Indian Wells, so let’s see if he can make good in his ATP 1000 debut, in his native southern California.

Another IW wild card went to Juan Del Potro. With Roger out and Novak having come back to earth with an eye and, from some reports, a shoulder (during his doubles DC loss today), IW might be a little wild west shoot out.

In closing, let’s reframe Nadal and predate this to late 2014.


The only controversy today is that Nadal isn’t sitting before a sports ethics committee answering questions about how laughable he’s been for the past year and half, of his recent demise, or how these various episodes of “demise” have plagued him through-out his career. The flood-gates have opened now, so any “miraculous” recovery where he “finds his form,” where his “confidence” re-emerges on clay. . . will be a huge scandal. Having said all of that (I could argue this until I’m blue in the face), some (99% of) tennis fans would absolutely cheer the return of their favorite blue-collar everyman, the pedestrian tennis player with the heart of a champion, with the serve and all-court game of a top-20 guy, at best.

What would you have said if Sampras had collapsed at 28 years-old? Or Roger? Or Novak?

The bull.

The bullshit.

2 thoughts on “Sampras and Nadal

  1. Incondite

    Hey Matt,

    I liked the last one, but I like this one even better! 🙂

    Farewell to Bud, who as you may know, stuck a feather in his cap, and called it McEnroe-knee. He was a flamboyant guy who gave a lot to the game, humor as well as great journalistic analysis, and I’m sorry to see him go.


  2. Pingback: Miami 2017 Finale | Mcshow Tennis Blog

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