Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Tiger Woods vs. Roger Federer: Who's The Best?

Back in September 2007, shortly after the US Open (tennis), Gutsy Goldberg began to believe that Federer “IS the best ever… BEYOND Tiger Woods.” MJ saw a chance to slam some logic into Gutsy Goldberg! Finally, we have this entertaining debate on who is indeed better: Tiger Woods in golf? Or Roger Federer in tennis?

Facts (courtesy of Wikipedia):

Résumé – Tiger Woods

Résumé – Roger Federer

Tiger Woods: 14 majors in 12 years; (second only to Jack Nicklaus with 18 in 25 years)

-Woods and Bobby Jones only golfers to win 10 Majors before age 30
-Fastest to win all four Majors (in 93 tournaments, compared to 125 for Nicklaus)
-Youngest to win all four Majors
-Only golfer to win all four Majors by at least five strokes
-Holds record for most consecutive weeks at #1 (264) and most total weeks (497)

Roger Federer: 12 grand slam titles in 6 years (tied for second with Emerson, only 2 behind Sampras’s 14 in 12 years)

-Only man in Open era to win three straight grand slams TWICE in his career
-Five consecutive Wimbledons (currently tied w/ Bjorg); Federer has only lost 8 sets at Wimbledon in that span, compared with 19 sets lost by Bjorg
-Currently holds the Open era record, with 15 straight Grand Slam semifinals appearances (breaking the old record of 10 by Lendl)
-Reached 10 straight grand slam finals to break the old record of 7, set in 1934
-Currently #1 for record 231 consecutive weeks
-Won 24 straight finals (open era record)
-Currently has a record 63-match winning streak on grass

MJ’s Argument: Tiger Woods is the best golfer to ever play and is better in his sport than Roger Federer.

Tiger Woods has dominated his sport more completely based on the number of victories and his rank on the all-time lists in his sport. My argument is backed by the fact that I view golf, in this day and age, as far more difficult to dominate and a more difficult sport to master on the whole. As great as Federer is, I perceive him to be a player in an era of weaker competition where the men’s circuit is no longer as stacked with great players as it was from the 70’s to the mid 90’s.

Gutsy’s Argument: Roger Federer is the best tennis player to ever play and is better in his sport than Tiger Woods.

In an age where injuries, exhaustion, and parity are the norm, Federer has won 8 of the last 10 Grand slams. He is BEYOND Tiger Woods. The thing that makes him so dominating? He can play any style that is advantageous for the surface or the opponent. He can play serve-and-volley, or he can just run around the baseline all day. Either way, he’s going to dominate you!

MJ’s Counterargument: Tennis is less competitive today.
Unlike Pete Sampras, who was a contemporary of Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, Jim Courier, Andre Agassi, Goran Ivanisevic, Patrick Rafter, and Stefan Edberg, Federer never had to face players on that level. The two best players Federer has beaten would be Andy Roddick (not ready for prime time and may never be) and Rafael Nadal (currently a one-surface specialist).

Further to the above, all of Federer’s opponents are baseliners who rely on power. Obviously that is the new direction of the game, but it calls into question Federer’s versatility in terms of what sorts of opponents he can beat. He’s never been tested against serve-and-volley players like Becker, Sampras, or Edberg.

Gutsy’s Counterpoint: Tennis is just as competitive today as it has been in the past.
You call this era of tennis “less competitive.” But isn’t this a chicken-and-egg problem? It’s less competitive because Federer is DOMINATING everyone! I beg to differ about both Roddick and Nadal. Roddick is ready for prime-time...just not for Federer. Roddick actually already won a US Open and has finished as a runner-up to Federer in three other events. Nadal is no longer a one-trick pony. In fact, Nadal has won the last four French Opens and made the finals at WIMBLEDON each of the last 2 years, which is quite impressive considering that grass is not typically suited for the “clay-court specialist.” Lleyton Hewitt should be considered one of Federer’s contemporaries. Hewitt has won two grand slams and has been runner-up twice (losing once to Federer), and recently losing this week in the round of 16 to Federer. You could also consider the inconsistent Marat Safin, winner of two Grand Slams, former #1, who also lost once to Federer in a final. Plus, how can Federer be blamed for the fact that he doesn’t allow anyone else to win a grand slam? The competition is there but Federer just can’t be stopped.

In addition, Federer HAS been tested by serve-and-volleyers. In fact, there’s a famous match that’s been called the “passing of the torch” – where Federer upsets Sampras in the 4th round of Wimbledon AND ends Sampras 31-match Wimbledon streak. Plus, Federer beat Philippoussis in the Wimbledon final in 2003, a classic serve-and-volleyer, as well as Tim Henman in Wimbledon (but not in the finals of course). It’s true though – there won’t be any further examples of serve-and-volleyers for the time being. My theory is that the game moves too fast for anyone to get immediately to the net after the serve. Granted, Federer can do it in matches because he is the best ever, even in this modern age of powerful tennis.

MJ’s Interruption: The passing of the torch was symbolic and should not be taken as an example of Federer’s mettle against arguably the greatest serve-and-volley player in Wimbledon history. Pete Sampras was on the tail end of his career and would only play one more season of competitive tennis. Citing Federer’s victory over Sampras without mentioning the fact that Sampras’s career was essentially over is a bit disingenuous.

MJ’s Argument: Weather and the Golf Course are Ever-Changing

The reason why I still put Tiger ahead of Federer is because Tiger (and all golfers) are competing against a golf course. The ball bounces in a very predictable way on each of the three major surfaces (grass, clay, hardcourt). It’s not to say that it’s easy to play those surfaces, but you can prepare for the environment of each surface. By contrast, golfers play tournaments where the course conditions are not only very different from one another but can vary from day to day. It can be a slow green one day and a speed-demon the next. The consistency of the rough can change in a matter of hours based on moisture or heat.

All of this isn’t meant to disparage Roger Federer. He’s an incredible tennis player and the best there is at what he does right now. He might even be the best tennis player of all time. But there are definitely arguments for the other side too.

Gutsy’s Counterargument: Tennis courts at Wimbledon and the French Open change throughout the tournament
I’m still placing Federer ahead of Tiger. To address your argument about the conditions of the course, Wimbledon and the French Open have surfaces that actually change throughout the course of the tournament. For example, the courts at Wimbledon tend to get dried and worn out as the tournament progresses and so the balls move slower in the first week and the balls start to move faster and faster during the second week.

MJ’s Counterpoint: Tennis Courts still the same dimensions
One of your other arguments – that weather and surface conditions at tennis tournaments are as variable as they are in golf – misses one crucial element, however. While there is no question that heat or rain, as well as court wear-and-tear can affect a tennis tournament, the net and the dimensions of the court remain the same. Therefore, there is a relatively predictable element of change in all tennis tournaments.

MJ’s Argument: Pin Placement Makes Golf Harder

Golf tournaments, however, change from day to day given that the pin placement on the green changes after each round. The course will play differently in each of the four days of a golf tournament and the change in pin placement, coupled with the change in elements of heat, moisture, and wind, make a golf course far more unpredictable.

When I play golf at my regular course, I’ve played it enough times to know the lay of the land well enough to know how to approach each shot. Obviously wind/heat/moisture play a part but I’m not yet a good enough golfer to shape my shot to take those factors into consideration. But the point is that I know my course very well and I know, for the most part, how the ball will react and what shot I’ll have to make on the next turn. Tournament golf is different in that the hole location moves around every day. On the first (easiest) day, the hole will usually be most accessible to all golfers in terms of its position on the green. On the last (hardest) day, the hole will usually be protected by all sorts of barriers including water, bunkers, and steep incline/decline approaches. My overriding point about pin placement, then, is to point out that while both sports have to battle weather and court/course conditions, only golf has a constantly changing landscape. No two days of a tournament are ever the same. While the grass at Wimbledon may get worn down by the second week, it’s still a grass court. But the US Open at Torrey Pines, as we saw, was four separate mini-tournaments where, depending on all the variables, different players had advantages. The one overriding theme is that Tiger is so far and away better than his opponents on the tour that nothing affects him, despite all the challenges he faces.

Gutsy’s Counterargument: Courts are not Static
Yes, Wimbledon is a grass court, (and the French is a clay court); but both courts change throughout the tournament based on wear and tear and moisture accumulated. My whole point is that it is not a static grass court. The courts at Wimbledon speed up throughout the two weeks, which also changes the different players that may benefit from its condition. Of course, one could say that the changes in golf are more pronounced perhaps, but tennis still has its variables on the courts, including the basic argument of the ball moving, spinning, and the strategy of hitting shots and trying to outmaneuver your opponent. The one overriding theme is that Federer is so far and away better than his opponents on the tour that nothing affects him, despite all the challenges he faces.

MJ’s Argument: Federer still does not have the “career” Grand Slam! He’s never won the French Open!

Federer is the best men’s tennis player of all time. But it’s definitely a blemish if you can’t win the career Grand Slam. Granted, Sampras (the previous owner of the title “best men’s tennis player of all time”) never finished the career grand slam either. But I think it’s a big deal if you’re not well-rounded enough to cover all four surfaces. If Agassi could do it, why couldn’t Sampras/Federer?

Gutsy’s Counterargument: Federer has the Tools; He Just Cannot Beat Nadal on Clay
Agassi had the tools to win all four, but not the consistency to win enough grand slams (in addition to multiple “off” years ranked below 70 in the world).

Sampras - Was a dominant serve-and-volleyer but could not grind out points on the baseline. Only one semi-final appearance at the French, three quarterfinal appearances, and a whole bunch of early exits proved only one sad thing: Sampras only could play one style, so he was unable to complete the Career Grand Slam.

As to Federer, I have to reiterate that he can play serve-and-volley OR be a baseliner. Unlike Sampras, Federer is a three-time finalist at the French open only losing to Nadal who is; well, virtually unbeatable on clay. In almost any other era, Federer would have the career grand slam... He’ll still get another chance next year, but it’s not as though he can’t compete on clay, which is more of the case in Sampras’s situation, as Sampras can only play one style (serve-and-volley).

MJ’s Counterpoint: Federer Could Not Beat Nadal, Nor Could he Beat Someone like Gustavo Kuerten
I don’t believe you cay say that Federer would’ve won the French if not for Nadal since that’s an assumption only based on the fact that Federer has reached the finals. It’s safe to say that Federer is far better on clay than Sampras ever was but would Federer have beaten Gustavo Kuerten, “Guga,” on clay? Guga was Nadal before we knew who Nadal was...

Perhaps only time will tell who is the BEST EVER!

No comments: