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Agassi: Federer ‘a class above’ Sampras; Nadal has case as best of all time

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ATP greats (from left) Rafael Nadal, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Roger Federer played an exhibition at Indian Wells in 2010. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

ATP greats (from left) Rafael Nadal, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Roger Federer played an exhibition at Indian Wells in 2010. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Andre Agassi believes Rafael Nadal can make a claim as the greatest player of all time. But when it comes to comparing Roger Federer and Agassi’s old rival Pete Sampras, the eight-time Grand Slam champion says Federer is on a different level.

“I think Federer is a class above, quite frankly,” Agassi told HuffPost Live. “You’re talking about a guy who dominated pretty much on every surface, minus one guy [Nadal] on clay. He’s won everything.”

Federer broke the record for Grand Slam titles he shared with Sampras when he won his 15th, at Wimbledon in 2009. The 32-year-old Swiss also surpassed Sampras’ record of 286 weeks at No. 1 after reclaiming the top spot following his 17th major title, at Wimbledon in 2012. Federer has 77 career titles and Sampras has 64.

Agassi favors Federer because of his all-court prowess.

“Pete was obviously off the hook on faster courts, but during the clay season players wanted to play against him,” Agassi said. “It was an opportunity to get a win over him. You didn’t have that luxury with Fed. He was really the world-class, all-around player. Until Nadal, you would say that Fed is probably the best of all time.”

Nadal, 27, has 13 major titles and owns a 21-10 record against Federer.

“Nadal has an argument to make for the best of all time,” Agassi said. “If Nadal is sitting at a table with Federer and Federer says, ‘I’m the best ever,’ my first question would be, ‘Well, then how come you didn’t beat me, because I beat you twice as many times? And, hey, by the way, you know I won everything, including a gold medal [in singles at the Olympics] and Davis Cup [with Spain].’

“But at the same token, Federer has separated himself during a few years like nobody else. And he’s done it more consistently. To be able to make the argument for both guys playing in the same generation is pretty remarkable.”

Agassi, who won all four Grand Slam tournaments, finished with 60 titles and spent 101 weeks at No. 1, doesn’t put himself in the greatest-of-all-time conversation.

“It’s not even close,” Agassi said. “I’m way down the list from guys like that. I did manage to win all of [the Slams], but that’s just the first criterion in my mind. … For me, those two [Federer and Nadal] and [Rod] Laver are in a whole other tier.”

  • Published On Sep 25, 2013
  • 51 comments
    ned k
    ned k

    Once they retired,  Agassi is always looking to say something to bring Sampras down. This one is no different. I guess he has forgotten the thumping he took playing Sampras all those years.

    minisergiumx
    minisergiumx

    I wonder if Nadal or Djokovic will be able to win the Grand Slam, and if any of them will manage to win all the big ATP tournaments: 4 GS, All Masters 1000, Davis Cup and Olympics. I think Nadal can do it and it would definitely push him to the top of the bests.

    SunjayJayachandran
    SunjayJayachandran

    Hi Vinny,

    Laver won the grand slam both as an amateur and a pro and after a five year gap. He also won the, years he was banned the french pro , the wembley pro(like wimbledon for pros) 4 times, and the US pro( 3 times) tournaments. He would have won at least 20 slams if he was allowed to compete and had winning records against Gonzalez ,etc.

    CharlesAlbon
    CharlesAlbon

    Does anyone else think that picture makes them look like a really awesome Boy Band?

    stabmasterarson21
    stabmasterarson21

    Which means he's TWO CLASSES above Agassi!  What a dumb thing to say, no one really knows how this would've played out.  It's like those goobers who want to label Lebron James the best basketball player ever....people are dumb!

    DSM
    DSM

    Laver was a great player, but would he have won his first Grand slam if pros had been eligible? How did he do on the pro circuit immediately after joining it?

    6marK6
    6marK6

    It is impossible to compare today's game of tennis with that of the 1980s and earlier, not the same game. For my money, Borg was the best. However, if you ask me today, nobody comes close to Nadal. 

    dtwin
    dtwin

    I may be betraying my age but I have seen a lot of tennis and to me the GOAT is still Rod Laver.  2 Grand Slams.  And 11 singles titles while taking 6 of his prime years away from Grand Slams after he turned pro.  If the Slams had been open all those years there isn't much doubt that Federer, Nadal, Sampras would be way back in Laver's rear view mirror.  I realize tennis has changed quite a bit due to racket technology so the game is at times not even recognizable (no more Harold Solomon vs. Eddie Dibbs matches - what a relief) but if you want the best of the last 25 years it is Federer with Nadal closing in.  (No, I didn't see Bill Tilden play)

    mundomadrid
    mundomadrid

    Agassi may have offended Sampras fans, and Sampras, but he's right. Despite how amazing Sampras's resume is, Federer's is even better. He dominated on all surfaces, and could win by attacking the net or staying back. His GS record is, of course, his most prominent claim to greatness ... but his 23 GS semifinals might be an even more impressive record. And his most underrates: 6 World Tour Finals, a tournament which is without any doubt the 5th major. I think Agassi showed a lot of humility by saying that he doesn´t see himself in a class with Federer. I think he's right: there are a small handful of players who are in another league.

    abigchocoholic
    abigchocoholic

    get real, Agassi isn't saying anything anyone doesn't already know.  Federer has had the most amazing career in tennis--by far.  The game has never seen anything like him. He's is hands down the GOAT.   He had entire years where he just toyed with all opponents except Nadal. 


    And speaking of Nadal---he is well on his way to being even more amazing than the GOAT.  Of course, Nadal is a noisy, sweaty beast while Federer was an elegant, silent ballet dancer--but that aside, nobody has ever seen anything like Nadal--not even Federer.  



    marhlh
    marhlh

    The only player who wins a grand slam at the actual age of Federer was Agassi.The only player who wins more than 3 grand slams at the actual age of Nadal not counting of course Federer was Agassi too.Then the question is: who will be like Agassi now , Federer or Nadal?

    evdanker
    evdanker

    Being a good player and a great player are different things. Good, to me implies excellence at playing the game, while great implies excellence at representing the sport. Federer may be good, but Sampras is great. Federer, because of his attitude toward the game and other players, will never be great.

    amanaceo
    amanaceo

    Agassi considers winning on all surfaces as the first criterion, thus implying that he passes that while Sampras fails. What an obnoxious idiot! He may have a fair point about Federer being a class above Sampras - but I he secretly knows that he is at least 3 rungs lower than Sampras.

    Maxshade71
    Maxshade71

    I agree with Andre. Fed the best for now. Rafa will overtake him. When all is said and done Fed ends up 2nd or 3rd in the all time list.... I think Rog can live with that.

    James117
    James117

    In order to have a real conversation about this there needs to be proper consistent criteria set.  There are obviously many criteria to consider.  However, head-to-head record against one person is not a judge of greatness in tennis.  It is a judge of how well you did against that one person.  In order to be great in tennis one needs to beat everyone consistently.  Both Nadal and Federer can claim to have accomplished that goal, so the debate becomes about parsing out the accomplishments (titles, major titles, olympic titles, masters 1000 titles, year-end-championship titles, titles at other events, consistent streaks at majors and other events, weeks at number one, the list goes one). Think about the things you mention when you talk about the great players: Rod Laver won THE GRAND SLAM twice, Pete Sampras held the #1 ranking the longest (until Fed) and won 14 majors.  Agassi won all four majors and the olympic gold medal, Lendl playing in eight consecutive US Open finals, Graf with 22 major singles titles, etc.  We discuss titles, records, and streaks.  We do not discuss head-to-head against one other person.  These are the things that define greatness in a tennis player's career.  Focussing on head-to-head versus one person is a Red Herring fallacy.  No kid ever grew up saying "I want to have a good head to head record against one of my rivals."  They say "I want to win wimbledon, I want to be #1 in the world, etc."  Additionally, there are many all time greats that had losing records against other players (Sampras had a losing record against Krajicek for example).  There are many ways to consider this debate that show how head-to-head against one person is just not a relevant factor in tennis greatness.  In Agassi's fictional conversation above Federer would reply "All you have stated just proves that you have the kind of game that gives me trouble. You have not yet shown that this should be a relevant factor in tennis greatness."  Of course for me the mathematical computation is irrelevant.  Federer has the most beautiful tennis game I have ever witnessed, Nadal will never be able to claim that accolade.

    ramification
    ramification

    Federer can turn around and ask Nadal , hey howcome you weren't good enough to make it to the finals of the Australian and US Open so that I can beat you on my favourite surface during my prime but I was good enough to make it to clay court finals and face you on your best surface during yours!

    Party_Gator
    Party_Gator

    Andre is going to get under Pete's skin someday and Pete is going to bring up some sketchy parts of Andre's history, and then it's going to get ugly.

    Vinny Cordoba
    Vinny Cordoba

    @DSM , good question, and unfortunately the pro records in the pre-open era are pretty spotty. It was almost like an exhibition circuit, with the same handful of guys playing each other over and over again, with few real tournaments because there weren't enough players. They would just play each other in a city one day then move on to the next city. 

    mangstadt
    mangstadt

    @dtwin I think the same way about Rod Laver, but then I have my doubts. In the five and a half years that he was a pro before the start of the Open Era, he only won 7 pro slams, the closest thing to the amateur slams at the time. Pancho Gonzales and Ken Rosewall each won 15 pro slams to add to their 2 and 8 amateur slams. We'll never know what would have happened, that's why I prefer to speak of the "Greatest of the Open Era" rather than the GOAT. So far it's Roger Federer but he may soon be overcome by his long-standing Nemesis, Rafael Nadal.

    DSM
    DSM

    @dtwin Good point, but if, say Pancho Gonzalez and Jack Kramer were eligible, would Laver have beaten them (or whoever the top pros were then) for his first Slam?

    partidoalto
    partidoalto

    @mundomadrid Federer did NOT dominate all surfaces. Not on clay. One French Open and he didn't beat Nadal for his only clay title. So get that right. As we speak Nadal is one that dominates ALL surfaces. You better put credit where it's due.

    SRJ
    SRJ

    @mundomadrid Would you put Nole in that league? Or is he at this point more in the Agassi league (which undoubtedly is still a great one).

    partidoalto
    partidoalto

    @abigchocoholic  You better look at the competition and era Federer was number on and todays era. Huge difference. Fed's closest rival was Andy Roddick. Sampras and Agassi were on their way to retirement. Look at today's era of competition including the last four years. No comparison. Nadal is dominating in an era of golden tennis. Enough said.

    marhlh
    marhlh

    It´s this for the last 40 years.Only Agassi made this things.

    RickDesper
    RickDesper

    @evdanker So "great" means what you say it means and not what everybody thinks it means, and that's why Federer isn't "great".

    Um, right.  

    Lakan_Kildap
    Lakan_Kildap

    @evdanker Federer has not just represented the sport well, he has transcended it. Not something Sampras was able to do. I love Sampras, but I don't know where "will never be great" is coming from.

    mundomadrid
    mundomadrid

    @evdanker What in the world are you talking about? Federer has been universally praised by fans, by players, by the media, by sponsors and by ATP officials for being an absolute class act throughout his career, in every single way.

    SRJ
    SRJ

    @evdanker Federer's attitude towards the game and other players have been nothing but exemplary. You can dislike him for what ever reasons you want, but that is irrational.

    PatrickS77
    PatrickS77

    @amanaceo 

    Well, he never said anything to the contrary, you butthurt Sampras fan. Read the last paragraph.

    tmathew41
    tmathew41

    @Maxshade71 I agree with Agassi. I have watched Sampras, Agassi, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and

    even players of another time like Borg, Connors and Vilas. I have been a frequent visitor at US Open since 1972. Sampras is undoubtedly a great player but he is still not on a par with Federer. Federer at his peak was far more dominant and consistent than Sampras who was  only above average on clay.

    Nadal is still relatively young and has still time to prove his level of greatness.

    I hope we can honestly and sincerely appreciate these great players without making comparisons all the time. Having said that, I just made a little comparison because of the discussion here and on many

    other times on this blog.




    mundomadrid
    mundomadrid

    @James117 You're right. Head to head is one criterion. A big one, but just one.  Some trivia for you: Fabrice Santoro dominated Marat Safin head to head. Does anyone think Santoro was actually better than Safin, overall?  No.

    AounJafarey
    AounJafarey

    @ramification let's make a few things clear here. Federer lost to Rafa on clay in Federer's prime. Not Rafa's.. Federer's. If you think Nadal was at his prime in 2005/2006, then that is completely unfair. He was 20 years old. What that says is that on clay, the comparison between Rafa and Federer is pointless as far the match up goes. When Rafa did hit the usual stride most players do at the age of 22 he beat Federer on clay far more convincingly than he had done so in the past and even managed to win the greatest match of perhaps all time on a surface where he does not have an advantage over Federer, I'm not saying Nadal is a better grass player, all I'm saying is that he is close enough to give Federer a headache on it while Fed couldn't do the same on clay to Rafa. Their grass set tally reads 8-6 in favor of Federer over a course of 3 years, one sided? hardly. Look at the clay numbers on the other hand and it begs a lot of questions. For hard courts, let's split this into two different environments (outdoor and indoor), largely because Federer's dominance over Nadal in some aspect needs to be recognized. Indoors. 4-0 and only losing one set in this particular match up in perhaps Rafa's greatest year to date in 2010. Federer only has 2 outdoor hard court wins over Nadal. One in Miami which he had to scrape in 2005 and then another one in 2012 at IW. So your argument for Federer beating Nadal at hard court outdoor tournaments isn't really justified. Indoor? sure! I will not even go there, Federer is much better there and in fact it might be the most one sided match up in this rivalry (though I think Nadal deserves credit as a problem solver and if there were more indoor tournaments I would bet on Nadal figuring something out). Outdoors on the other hand? not a chance mate, because it's not about Federer being better than Rafa or the other way around, it's just the most phenomenal lefty forehand going to Federer's backhand at that height. That's it. Indoor's the ball doesn't grip as much and the acrylic surface is faster, even at the NTC in Flushing the indoor courts are faster than any of the outdoor one's, so point being you should be happy Rafa lost to a couple of big hitters or insane double handed guys (Del po, Andy, Novak, etc.) because he would have created an even bigger dent in Federer's trophy cabinet otherwise. It's all a match up game.  

    topsport1
    topsport1

    @ramification and Sampras can ask Agassi to ask Federer why he couldn't consistently beat his main rival like he did...and then they can all ask their butlers to bring them a clean shirt

    AaronDunckel
    AaronDunckel

    @ramification Rafa is only getting better at other surfaces, and has now won multiple of non-French titles to go with his dominance in clay.  By the time both are done, that argument wont hold much water

    SRJ
    SRJ

    @ramification I agree.... I don't think it's completely fair to compare them as they aren't the same age and while their careers overlapped by a lot, Roger's really started a few years before Rafa's, and I think Rafa will continue (arguably is at the moment) after Roger is past his prime, which is an age thing and not something any of them can help. Not that this should be the only way to compare people, but it's worth taking into consideration. I think it's more fair to compare Nadal to Djokovic and Murray in that sense, and obviously if you do that, Nadal wins hands down.

    mundomadrid
    mundomadrid

    @ramification Don't go there. Nadal owns Fed head to head. But Fed's resume is better. If Nadal overtakes him in no. of GS ... he's the best ever.

    shelley
    shelley

    @ramification And Nadal can respond that he was just a teenager when Fed entered his prime and you weren't getting to the finals or winning any slams when you were a teenager either.

    That five year age difference was a factor early on, and as Federer aged it's become a factor on the other end with Federer not making it to finals at the Australian and US Open in the latter years. It all evens out but there's no denying the fact that in the middle, when they were both making it to finals, Rafa consistently beat Federer. You guys are going to have to find another red herring in your attempts to big up Federer.

    tarynblake88
    tarynblake88

    @ramification 

    Federer lost to Nadal the very first time they played 9 years ago and Nadal has consistently beaten him on every surface for the past 9 years, so even though Federer may currently have more Grand Slam titles than Nadal, he is not a better player than him.  The longer Federer keeps playing, the wider the stretch will be in their head to head matches.  Federer was only 27 when he played Nadal at the Australian Open in 2009 and he wept uncontrollably after losing to Nadal.  Nadal had to comfort him.  Let's face the facts that Federer is good, bu not better than Nadal.  

    RickDesper
    RickDesper

    @Party_Gator 

    Agassi isn't supposed to say something that everybody knows: that Sampras was not a great clay court player?  

    mundomadrid
    mundomadrid

    @Party_Gator Sketchier than his taking of crystal meth, which he confessed to, without having to, in his book? I don´t think so. Unless you're privy to some scandalous info the rest of the world is not, which I doubt.

    tarynblake88
    tarynblake88

    @Party_Gator 

    You missed their little tete a tete at Indian Wells I see.   They already got under each other's skin there and it was quite uncomfortable for Nadal and Federer to see it unfold right before their eyes.  It is obvious that Sampras and Agassi never had the same type of  "off court" relationship that Nadal and Federer have with each other now.   I believe their rivalry of yesteryear was real on and off court, whereas Nadal and Federer are very friendly with each other off court and it is genuine.  

    Lakan_Kildap
    Lakan_Kildap

    @Vinny Cordoba @DSM yes, but it means the quality of competition was high. Remember, back in the "segregated" era, the pro tour was basically invitational since the financiers needed players who could fill stadium seats. They needed players who have won the amateur majors. Players like Spadea or James Blake wouldn't even be invited simply because they lacked success. There's a reason Pancho and Hoad and Trabert and Kramer and Rosewall and Laver were playing each other to death in those years. They were the best.


    Today's Open Era is more democratic and everyone has an opportunity. It also means there are journeyman players.


    Moral of the story, it's hard to compare eras. Laver wouldn't have won the 1962 Grand Slam if the pros were there. His 1969 Grand Slam, of the Open Era, won at near the end of his career (his results dipped after that), was more credible. And astonishing. (Even more astonishing was Margaret Court's Open Era record, but because she's non-PC, she never gets her due.)

    mundomadrid
    mundomadrid

    @SRJ @mundomadrid Good question. I'd put Nole on a second tier, yes, with Agassi, and so many other great players. That said, it raises a philosophical question: do you rank a player by his peak level of play, or his consistency and longevity? In terms of peak level of play Djokovic's 2011 might be the greatest season ever, and the sheer highest level of play ever, beating Nadal over and over. But he can´t compare to Fed's 17 GS wins. Or Connors' 109 tournament wins (!) and 17 years as an elite player. Personally, I value consistency and longevity a lot, but that´s an arbitrary preference. If Nadal's knees gave out tomorrow ... where would he go down in history?

    SRJ
    SRJ

    @mundomadrid @ramification I agree. I am an RF fan to the end, but if Nadal exceeds GS he becomes the GOAT. However until then this is not a discussion as far as I'm concerned. RF wins in most other categories (weeks at no.1, streaks and records, WTF wins etc.), while RN will always have the head-to-head (I think this is insurmountable at this point), but the decisive factor is GS. I will accept this fact the moment this happens (and I don't doubt it will, but it hasn't happened yet).

    SRJ
    SRJ

    @tarynblake88 @Party_Gator I agree, that was embarrassing to watch, and must have been embarrassing fro Rafa and Roger as well, as they are nothing like that with each other, even during the prime of their rivalry. The Sampras/Agassi thing was after they'd both retired.

    Vinny Cordoba
    Vinny Cordoba

    @Lakan_Kildap @Vinny Cordoba @DSM, no question the pros were the top players back then, and that Kramer and Gonzalez would have hung a bunch more major titles if the Open era had begun in 1938 instead of 1968. But the original question was, How did Laver do on the pro circuit immediately after joining it? The answer is, I don't think anyone knows unless there are records lying around somewhere of his match record during the years from '63 to '68.