There’s little doubt in my mind that the ’95 Sampras would beat the ’10 Nadal on grass and hard courts

I’m watching the first set of the first men’s semifinals, Nadal v. Youzhny. And Nadal is an impressive cat. His ability to turn a shot into the corner hit by his opponent into his own offensive shot is incredible. He is 6’1, 6’2, although he’s moves like a cat, particularly side to side. Youzhny, on the other hand, is not a strong semifinalist. I realize he’s had to go five sets in his last two matches, but nothing about his game stands out. At 28 years-old, He hits a 99 mph first serve at 30-40 on the first game he is broken on. His forehand is not big enough, nor is his backhand, to steal time from Nadal.

Rafa will get to the finals having played no tougher opponent than Youzhny and Verdasco. When Sampras won the US Open in ’95, he beat Phillipoussis, Todd Martin, Courier and Agassi in four sets in the final. Nadal has beaten Dennis Istomin, Feliciano Lopez and the two above mentioned players. How can you even compare that lineup? Sampras faced two guys who won multiple slams, and two guys who were multiple slam finalists. In Agassi, he was playing an opponent who had not lost a match all summer long. At Wimbledon in ’95, Sampras beat Jared Palmer, Rusedski, Ivanisivic and Boris Becker. Getting to the finals of the Aussie that year, he beat Magnus Larrson, Courier, Chang and then lost to Agassi.

Sampras was 23 in 1995, and at the peak of his game. Nadal served two second serves in the first set against Youzhny at 89 mph and 92 mph. Sampras would tee off on these serves. Remember, Sampras needed only one break. He hit second serves much harder than Youzhny hits first serves with much better placement and a much heavier ball. To think that Nadal would be able to do much with Sampras’s serve is wishful thinking in my mind. How would Nadal combat Sampras serve at his body and to the backhand side? How would he deal with Sampras’s cross-court forehand, bigger than any player has ever hit this shot? Sampras is as big as Nadal, but quicker getting to the net. I was in awe of watching Sampras move, especially forward, when he was young.

I know he lost to Safin and Hewitt in the finals of the Open in 2000 and 2001, but Sampras was 29 and 30 in those years, and clearly not the same player. Let’s see how strong Nadal is playing at those ages. Let’s see if he gets to the French Open finals and wins that tournament at 31, the way Sampras did the Open. Nadal is tremendous, but I just don’t think on fast surfaces, where the ’95 Sampras moved as well or better than Nadal, hit much bigger on his serve and could volley with the best of players, that he would lose to the ’10 Nadal. He would steal time from Nadal, force errors and would break Nadal more than he would be broken.

And I’m still sticking to Federer beating Nadal in the finals.


  • Sakhi · September 11, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Dan–Interesting observation–I’m surprised that none of the commentators on telly have mentioned Nadal’s opponents yet. I’m also not that convinced Nadal has changed that much. He’s always been a superior player and now had added a few more aces to his game. Am not sure about the Fedal final. As a Fed fan, I am blindly devoted to his mastery, but as a arm-chair historian of their rivalry, I want to see how Federer will blunt the endless shots to his backhand, even on this court. Federer won against an aging Sampras by serving and volleying his way out, but what can he do against a fighting Nadal in his prime? I think Federer will have to outsmart Nadal with his variety (again a cliche used by all) but watching him beat Soderling has convinced me that it’s Federer’s tennis IQ that is genius.
    My ten paisa, as we chez nous.

  • RIP · September 11, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    Was on a conference call with Pete last year and someone asked how he would play Rafa on grass and he basically said seeing Nadal stand 8 feet back he would “lick my chops, bring the heat and come in…”
    On the one hand you could envision Sampras being able to enforce his tempo: attacking relentlessly playing quick points, pushing forward persistently.
    That may be conventional wisdom. In his book, Sampras himself said he always felt the bigger servers who played similar style to him – namely Krajicek and Stich (Sampras has called Stich one of his toughest opponents – gave him the most trouble.
    On the other hand I look at the fact Hewitt gave Sampras so much trouble – not just the US Open final but at Queen’s Club, etc. and Hewitt, as tough as he was mentally, is just not nearly in Nadal’s league.
    Let’s put it this way: Federer’s return game is much more effective than Pete’s and look how much trouble Federer has had converting break points vs. Rafa in big matches. You have to think both of them are going to hold (again people question Nadal’s serve but the guy has only been broken twice this tournament and as Q-Ball said the other day the lefty spin on that serve does pull you out wide or can bite into the body) and then it comes down to the breakers.
    Sampras tended to play very conservatively in tie breakers because he believed he would always hold his own serve and figured that fact puts even more pressure on the returner.
    It’s a tough call because you look at Pete’s history and as dynamic and dominant as he could be, he really did not have to deal with a dominant lefty. Muster could not trouble him on faster surfaces (obviously clay is another story), Rios lacked the big heavy shot to really hurt him, Korda was a clean and pure ball striker and I was at the US Open match when Korda beat him. Granted, it was one match on one day but Korda gave him trouble and while Korda is a different type of player than Nadal I still think we don’t really know how he would have responded to a lefty.
    If you had posted this 3 years ago I would have been in total agreement with you but watching Nadal evolve (and unlike another poster in another thread I do believe Nadal has evolved over the years) and his hunger to win I cannot discount Nadal at all in that match up.
    Realized Nadal has not won a hard-court title since IW in ’09 and he got rolled by Del Po at the Open last year (ab strain was an issue) and I believe Del Po, on a hard fast court will be a Nadal nemesis for life (if he is healthy), but I can’t sit here and say Sampras would have owned Nadal.
    I just can’t say it seeing how tough Nadal is and how he always seems to find a way and you look at Nadal in some of these matches where the margins are not great (tie breaks vs. Gabashvili and Istomin, etc.) and the man finds a way. He competes so hard and gives you so little.

  • NAME · September 12, 2010 at 1:49 am

    I don’t think you can compare across generations. The game changes. When I look at film of Borg it looks like he’s playing in slow mo.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 12, 2010 at 2:31 am

    It’s kind of easy to imagine Sampras swooping his big serves in early but eventually Nadal begins to read it and retaliate with some smashing searing winners which whizz past the ears of a bewildered Sampras who begins to get the hangdog look as his shoulders droop as the Nadal onslaught continues and picks up steam. Sampras was a king but I would not underestimate Nadal who always finds a way to figure out how to get the job done. Sampras vs. Nadal on Center Court at Wimbledon would likely be as dynamic and spectacular as Fed vs. Rafa. Nadal can absolutely beat Pete on grass and perhaps even establish himself as the superior. I may be mistaken but pretty sure that Nadal’s slam record at age 24 is greater than Pete’s and Pete did not have the GOAT to overcome like Nadal does.

  • Andrew Miller · September 13, 2010 at 12:30 am

    I think Robin Haase showed at Wimbledon that Sampras would have beat Nadal on grass. Sampras was every bit as fast as Nadal and moved just as well.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 13, 2010 at 12:35 am

    Pete could and would beat Nadal on grass but Nadal could and would also beat Pete on grass. But in a Wimbledon final dream match, prime vs. prime, I might take Nadal in five sets, based on the edge in physicality and lefty forehand to the Pete backhand. I see Pete’s backhand breaking down. Pete’s serve is deadly but I see Rafa adapting and figuring it out. Rafa figures everything out.

  • Dan Markowitz · September 13, 2010 at 11:11 am

    If Rafa could lose to Andy Roddick in Miami the way he did this spring, with Roddick playing the aggressor and attacking the net and breaking down Nadal, there’s little chance on a fast court that Nadal would beat Sampras often.

    In terms of attacking players, Sampras’s serve was much better than Roddick’s, he’s faster, has better hands at net and was a far more dynamic player that Roddick. People forget that Sampras owned Agassi, and Andre had a pretty fair backhand that Sampras handled. Agassi took Nadal to three sets in Canada when Agassi was 35 and Nadal 19. I think Agassi would’ve beaten Nadal on hard and grass courts a lot, too, because the key to beating Nadal is by stealing his time. And Agassi takes the ball so much earlier and hits with so much more precision and pace than a guy like Youzhny.

    Look, James Blake beat Nadal three out of seven times, and every time he lost, the match went three sets. Are you suggesting that Blake is a pimple on Sampras’s back? How many times do you think Blake would beat Sampras in a big match at the OPen or anywhere else? Nadal would be chipping back Sampras’s powerful serves to his backhand and Pete would be knifing volleys away all day long. You just forget how fast Sampras was in ’95 and how big and heavy his serve was.

    Trust me, it wouldn’t even be that close.

  • tom michael · September 13, 2010 at 11:32 am

    “I think Robin Haase showed at Wimbledon that Sampras would have beat Nadal on grass.” It is amazing that in a near loss match at Wimbledon, people would write that Nadal would lose to Sampras at Wimbledon. Sampras had tons of five-setters at Wimbledon, but people only remember him being dominant. Those near-losses by Sampras at Wimbledon only tell me that Nadal would win! Meanwhile, Rafa plays one tough match here and there, still winning, and that becomes an indicator light to people thinking that Sampras would win. Total Garbage Double-Standard!

    “Trust me, it wouldn’t even be that close.” Yeah! Nadal would drive that anemic Sampras to the ground. It does not make any sense to me. Rafa at the US Open 2010 has won his first 4 matches without the loss of serve, his first six matches without the loss of a set, and Dan thinks that Pete would beat this Rafa. Insane line of reasoning. Pete has never won a slam in his career without the loss of a set. Rafa has won two at Roland Garros alone, and likely in the future to win some more at other venues, including at this year’s US Open. If he wins against Novak today in straight sets, then there must be some concession in favor of Rafa! I admit thought it is going to be hard to even beat Novak today, now he is well-rested.

  • Dan Markowitz · September 13, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    What, are you being sarcastic? If Nadal is so great, why shouldn’t he beat Djokovic, who has not had a good year, almost lost to the 40th-ranked player in Round 1 and people on this site were picking Fish to beat him in Round 3. Djokovic has played two five-set matches in the tourney, and you’re saying it’s going to be hard for Nadal to beat Djoker? The way you talk about Nadal, I’m surprised you give Djoker even a fighting chance.

    The reason why Sampras is a marvelous player who I think would beat Nadal at the Open and at Wimbledon, especially on the old, faster grass, is that he beat champions like Agassi, Courier, Chang, Becker, Rafter, Ivanisivic, Kafelnikov and McEnroe on his way to titles. Nadal in this tournament has faced Verdasco and Youzhny, at Wimbledon, he’s faced Federer, of course, and who else? He hasn’t even beaten Roddick there. Who else is any good on grass today? Berdych isn’t a grass court player.

    So reign in your Rafa-dom and let’s see how he does against a competitive opponent in a big match at Flushing Meadow today. If he wins, he deserves ample praise, if he doesn’t the bugaboo continues.

  • tom michael · September 13, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    Djokovic had no chance yesterday because he would have been poorly rested after his five set ordeal on Saturday. Today, against Nadal, with one extra day rest, he has a fighting chance. Going back to argument about champions, Djokovic is a grand slam champion. The type of competition that supposedly Pete had to contend with in his day.

    I have written this before, and I will again. Pete won in the era of no replay challenge. If this existed in his time, especially at the US Open, then he may have lost more matches. So if Pete plays Nadal with replay challenge, Pete would lose easily.

  • Dan Markowitz · September 13, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    That last comment is absolutely absurd. First, your suggesting that Sampras benefited from numerous lines calls that actually would have gone against him with replay. And secondly, even if this was the case, you’re suggesting that these lines calls would’ve gone to changing who won and lost the match. The case for either one of these scenarios is far-fetched. Why do you think linesman were favoring Sampras and not, say, Agassi?

    Pete wasn’t one to argue calls that didn’t go in his favor. While Nadal not only pulled an injury timeout out of nowhere against Petzschner at Wimbledon this year down two sets to one, but he also dropped out of Wimbledon 2009 with a phantom injury. Furthermore, almost every close ball Rafa walks up to the line to look closely at the call.

    Djoko is the only Slam winner Nadal is facing in this year’s Open, and the rest of his competition has been downright mediocre. That’s the facts. He’s never faced the lineup that Sampras had to contend with.

  • tom michael · September 14, 2010 at 2:29 am

    Sampras never faced a Muster with 2 perfect knees (because of the awful accident). If his competition at best was an inferior athlete like Agassi, that is not saying much. ( BTW, Nadal never lost to that 9U$$^ Agassi, and never would) And my reasoning for the faulty line calls has nothing to do with his matches against Agassi. And Agassi won matches against foreign players with calls in his favor.

    The line calls in Sampras’ favor were exemplified in the match against Corretja in the 1996 US Open quarter. When Corretja was serving for the 1st set at 30/40 down, his backhand passing shot was called out, and Pete broke him and they went to a tie-break, which Pete won. Corretja’s shot was in, but there was no replay challenge to reverse it, and potentially hold serve for the 1st set. Corretja did win the 2nd and 3rd sets. If he won the 1st, he might have won the match in straight sets, instead of lose in 5. Korda who beat Pete in 5 at the 1997 US Open round of 16, would have beaten him in 4, if not for faulty calls. And do not even talk about the disgusting scheduling at the 2002 US Open, with Pete getting 4 night matches, and his opponents intentially being cooked outside.

  • Dan Markowitz · September 14, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    If there was no Shot Spot, how do you know these shots that Corretja and Korda hit were actually ruled against them. What are you like Johnny Mac and can tell always which shots are out or in. I would think Sampras as an American might get some home town calls, but the linesman and umpires are from all around the world. To suggest that Sampras won his US Open titles because of bad lines calls is biased and subjective.

    Also, you state Agassi isn’t a good athlete! Are you kidding, do you realize his eye-hand coordination is amazing. Agassi was very quick, very strong, and his reflexes were incredible. So in what way was he an inferior athlete? Is it b/c he’s not 6-2 and doesn’t have long arms or legs or he doesn’t look agile? Agassi is an amazing athlete.

  • tom michael · September 14, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    A great athlete is one who can run, jump and throw. The prototype is a decathlete. One who plays sports or games well is not necessarily the best athlete. The likes of Agassi would be one of the weakest decathletes on the tour during his time. He won because he was first and foremost the best hitter of a tennis ball. Then he became a great player, who can craft points. Athletically, he is a great thrower. With excellent training, he moved better and even jumped better. Many players of his time were better runners, and jumpers, with greater stamina, speed, and comparable strength. Muster was the potential better athlete if not for the accident. He was comparable in the hitting and tennis craft department. But Agassi was the best hitter of a tennis ball thanks to excellent training, and had to be because he was facing better athletes on a day to day basis.

    The highest ranked tennis player is not always the best athlete, or the most skilled tennis player, or the greatest competitor. But a great combination of all three. Monfils comes to mind as probably the best athlete, but poorly skilled tennis player and competitor compared to ATP top 20. So he is not the highest ranked.

  • tom michael · September 14, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    “If there was no Shot Spot, how do you know these shots that Corretja and Korda hit were actually ruled against them. What are you like Johnny Mac and can tell always which shots are out or in.”

    No I am not like Johnny Mac. But it was Johnny Mac during the broadcasts even said the shots by Korda and Corretja were in. But he did not take sides on who deserved the match. He is not likely to, since he would be rooting for Pete each time.

  • Dan Markowitz · September 14, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    After seeing how many times JMac is wrong with lines calls, are you suggesting that his vision from up in the broadcast booth is as good as a linesperson on the line itself? Come on, it’s ok to say, you just don’t like Sampras and want to smear his record.

  • tom michael · September 14, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    Sampras thankfully has no records to sneeze about, since Federer took almost all of them for himself. And only seven years after Pete thought everything he accomplished was set in stone. Now Rafa won the career golden slam last night, and Andre Agassi is just an afterthought. In the past, people equated tennis with the phrase, Sampras and Agassi. Now people know Federer and Nadal.

  • Dan Markowitz · September 14, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    Tom, keep in mind, I’m not a big fan of Agassi or Sampras, my favorite players were Johnny Mac, Patrick Rafter and Becker, but what you say has to be addressed because it’s ludicrous. Sampras’s Slam record might have been surpassed by Federer, as well as his GOAT claim, but neither Agassi or Sampras are afterthoughts. If so, Agassi’s book wouldn’t have generated a $5 million advance and been a No. 1 New York Times best-seller. As popular as Federer and Nadal are, neither one in their primes now, could write a book that sells anywhere near what “Open,” has, so Agassi is still extremely popular.

    Sampras and Agassi are playing in the Garden in February, it will be a sell-out. Maybe not to the level of a Nadal-Federer US Open final, if it occurred, but not far from it, and one of these guys has been retired for eight years already. The ’95 Agassi-Sampras final was bigger than what a 2010 Federer-Nadal final would’ve been. I enjoyed the match last night. I marveled at both Nadal and Djoko, but as far as clean-hitting and a great match up, Sampras-Agassi was better.

  • tom michael · September 14, 2010 at 10:47 pm

    Of course, in America, Sampras and Agassi will draw an audience comaparable to a Fed-Nadal one would. But outside of America, they are not likely to draw the same level as Fed and Nadal.

    Fed and Nadal could easily sell books about themselves in Europe. They would not sell much in America. So what? So Agassi could sell a book about his loserly self. So Rafa and Roger have a more wholesome existence. So their lives are not that interesting. The average person does not want drama in their lives if they could help it. Besides, when was the last time you saw Agassi or Sampras in a hot Shakira video, and if so, could they even pull it off?

    My statement is what tennis historians care about. The statistics. And Pete and Andre are afterthoughts compared to a Federer and Nadal in tennis statistics.

    I am sorry that the topspin game is beyond your understanding. It is very artistic. Nadal, Djokovic, and Federer are just that–real artists on the court.

  • Izzul · September 16, 2010 at 6:13 am

    In other words, the ’10 Nadal will never beat the ’95 Sampras on grass and hard court. You as well as everybody else in the world should know by now that “Nadal and Never” does not mix well at all. Earlier in his career, the pundits so convinced that he will never win on any other types of courts in Slam. He duly won the Wimbledon. Then they said that was the most he can do. No hard court titles for this guy. He duly won the Aussie Open in that 10 sets thrilla. But apparently the Melbourne court is not hard enough and not fast enough like in New York, so people flocked to stake their experience and expertise that this is the one that will NEVER be won. Apparently, in his vocabulary, NEVER does not exist. Well, after all said and done, I can also say that There’s little doubt in my mind that the ’96 Sampras would not beat the ’08 Federer on clay courts, even right after his trashing by Nadal.



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