New Balls We Hardly Knew Ye
The New Balls generation has for the most part been replaced by a few new cans. Marat Safin and Gustavo Kuerten did not last as long as I would have liked. Lleyton Hewitt and Tommy Haas are still hanging around. David Ferrer and of course Roger Federer are still winning events with great regularity. Former world number one players Andy Roddick and Juan Carlos Ferrero hung up their racquets in 2012. This dual retirement makes one wonder how the Hall of Fame ballots will shake out for the New Balls generation as well as other active champions.
The Chang – Kafelnikov Hall of Fame Paradox
Michael Chang is in the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Yevgeny Kafelnikov is as of today not. Chang reached 4 Grand Slam finals winning 1 and reached a career high of #2 in the rankings. Chang had greater longevity and more Masters 1000/Super 9 success than YK, but Kafelnikov won 2 slams in singles, was runner-up at a 3rd slam final, reached #1 in the world, won an Olympic Gold Medal in singles and won 4 slam titles in doubles. Kafelnikov is the most recent male player to win multiple slams in singles and doubles. That has to count for something.
Players who have produced fewer big results than Kafelnikov and more than Chang are in a sort of Hall of Fame Limbo. Juan Martin del Potro could reach the International Tennis Hall of Fame, but his results of a US Open title, a bronze medal and multiple solid slam showings are not as of yet enough to clear the Chang threshold. Give JMDP a few more years and maybe he will achieve enough to enter. Andy Murray is close to passing the Kafelnikov barrier as he has 4 slam runner-up finishes and a fistful of Masters 1000 shields to go with his 2012 US Open title and 2012 Olympic Gold Medal in singles and Silver Medal in mixed doubles. Murray to my mind is in the Hall of Fame if he retires tomorrow.
Ferrero and Roddick’s Cases
Andy Roddick certainly clears the Chang threshold. Roddick reached one more slam final than Chang. Roddick spearheaded the singles for a US Davis Cup victory without the aid of another exceptional singles player such as Sampras, Agassi or Courier. Roddick reached the #1 ranking and ended a year at #1 in 2003. Roddick’s consistency and longevity also compare well to Chang’s. To be blunt, if Michael Chang is in then Andy Roddick should be in as well (Kafelnikov too!).
Juan Carlos Ferrero’s case is tougher. The Mosquito won a French Open like Chang. He was the second best player in the world on clay from 2000-2002. He became the King of Clay in 2003. From 2000-2003, Ferrero went 23-3 in French Open play. Chang never had a run like that at any of the slams. In 2003 Ferrero equaled Chang’s 1996 accomplishment of reaching 2 Grand Slam finals in a single season. Unlike Chang, Ferrero won a Grand Slam title in his most consistent year. Ferrero also posted the best Grand Slam record of any player in 2003. Again unlike Chang, Ferrero reached the #1 ranking. Ferrero followed up his stellar 2003 with a semifinal showing at the 2004 Australian Open. From French Open 2002 through Australian Open 2004, a period of 8 majors, Ferrero won one Grand Slam, was runner-up at 2 Grand Slams, reached a Grand Slam semifinal and a Grand Slam quarterfinal. Then illnesses and injuries hit.
Ferrero lacked Chang’s longevity and consistency. After early 2004, Ferrero managed to reach only 2 more Grand Slam quarterfinals (both at Wimbledon). He never threatened for another major after losing to Roger Federer in the final four of the 2004 Australian Open. Ferrero’s best period shined brighter than Chang’s best years, but his star faded far faster than Chang’s. Ferrero’s window for greatness was short as he faced Guga at Roland Garros in 2000 and 2001 and Roger Federer’s dominance began in late 2003 or early 2004 depending on how one looks at Federer going 5-0 to win the 2003 World Tour Finals.
Should Ferrero get in? Scrutiny will accompany the International Tennis Hall of Fame’s decision on Ferrero regardless of what decision is reached. Had Ferrero beaten Roddick to win the 2003 US Open, he would be in and Roddick would not. One match flips that result as Roddick almost surely gets in and Ferrero is likely to miss out. In my view, Ferrero might deserve to get in based on my belief that clay court results can be undervalued. Still, I think voters will be slow to select him for entry. He’s likely to be in a similar spot of to the more qualified Michael Stich who is still waiting for entry.
The Status of Other New Balls and Active Players
Of the New Balls generation we know that Gustavo Kuerten is already a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. My guess is that Marat Safin will be enshrined as well. Lleyton Hewitt’s 2 slams, 2 Year End Championships, 2 years at #1 and tireless longevity put him ahead of the Kafelnikov threshold. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are 2 of 3 most accomplished players of the Open Era. Novak Djokovic is an easy pick for admittance as well. David Ferrer and Tommy Haas deserve credit for their grit, but minus an unlikely or miraculous slam title neither will be selected. To summarize, I think Roddick gets in based on his unwavering consistency as much as anything else. Ferrero is likely to miss out on admission (maybe they could do a Bruguera through Nadal “Spanish Armada/Siglo de Oro” group induction). Andy Murray is in, but JMDP still has work to do.