A Major Accomplishment
Winning 6 Masters/ATP World Championships/Masters Cups/World Tour Finals (Year End Championships hereafter)* is not an accomplishment on the same level as winning 16 Grand Slams. It is however no small task. To win a tournament that is only comprised of elite players is difficult. To win a tournament in which one has to potentially defeat an elite player twice is doubly difficult. Boris Becker knows this all too well as he defeated Pete Sampras during the 1996 Round Robin portion of the Year End Championships to only face the world #1 a 2nd time in the final round and lose in 5 sets in front of a rabid German crowd. Federer winning this event 6 times is a major centerpiece of his career. Federer swept the field in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2010, and 2011. Only in 2007, did Federer lose a round robin match and then recover to take the title.
Lendl and Sampras
Ivan Lendl was ruthlessly consistent as a tennis player. Consider Lendl’s results from the 1985 US Open to the 1989 Australian Open. Lendl won the 1985 US Open, In 1986, he won the French and US Open titles and was runner-up at Wimbledon. The Australian Open was not held in 1986. In 1987, he was a semifinalist Down Under, won the French and US Opens and was runner-up at Wimbledon. In 1988, he had a down year in which he was a semifinalist at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, he was a quarterfinalist at the French Open and was runner-up at the US Open. He then won the 1990 Australian Open. This consistency was not demonstrated by either Andre Agassi or Pete Sampras. Roger Federer was the first player since Lendl to reach the deep stages of every major for multiple consecutive years.
Pete Sampras loved tennis history and demonstrated exquisite movement and balance on the tennis court. Sampras aimed to etch his name on multiple tennis records. He also played a form of tennis that looked effortless to the casual viewer. It takes hard work to look effortless, but Sampras’ style allowed for him to expend less energy on court than say Patrick Rafter did. Pete also typically kept himself from getting too high or low on the tennis court. Pete’s ability to ride out tough situations helped him a great deal in matches such as his 6-7, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6 2001 US Open quarterfinal victory over Andre Agassi. Roger Federer possesses similar qualities. Federer demonstrated a cool head most clearly during his 2009 Wimbledon victory over a nearly unbreakable Andy Roddick and his 2011 Year End Championship victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
I do not advocate reducing any player’s game to traits or tactics from another player’s game. I do think something can be learned from comparing present players to their predecessors and contemporaries alike. For instance, I always felt that Pete Sampras to an extent combined Boris Becker’s power all-court game with Stefan Edberg’s movement and athleticism. In the case of Federer, I think Roger has a lot of similar qualities to Lendl that helped each become predictable strong participants in big events. Roger also demonstrates similar on-court movement and a parallel passion for tennis history as Pete Sampras. I don’t see Federer as an amalgamation of Sampras and Lendl, but I think all three possessed traits that make their 16 combined Year End Championships unsurprising.
* – While the powers that be cannot settle on a single name for this event, I can.