Was it harder to win a slam in Marat Safin's era? - UBITENNIS
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Was it harder to win a slam in Marat Safin’s era?

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In a recent interview with Tennis World USA, Marat Safin claimed that it was much easier to win a grand slam now than in his era. The Russian who won two slams, the US Open in 2000 and the Australian Open in 2005, said: “At that time there were more quality players. In the top 20 there were big names like Ivanisevic, Krajicek, Sampras, Agassi, Kuerten, Norman, Kafelnikov. The level was higher than today. Now there are only four or five players who dominate. The rest are far away”.

 

So, does he have a case?

Juan Carlos Ferrero was asked about the matter yesterday by Spanish site Punto de Break and he agreed with Safin. “I don’t think the level has gone up but it has stalled a bit and that’s why the players at the top dominate so much. There aren’t 18 or 19 year olds knocking on the door. Back in the day you would face Agassi or Sampras at that age and give them a good match or even beat them. Winning a grand slam is always difficult but on clay before there were more specialists like Nalbandian, Cañas, Coria, Gaudio…now there’s only really Ferrer, Nadal and Djokovic. Before there were ten or twelve players who made it tough for you but now Djokovic or Nadal reach the quarters or semis of Roland Garros with a lot of ease”, said the former world number one.

To analyse the different eras I have taken the period between 1998 and 2006 as Marat Safin’s, and 2007-2015 as the current generation in order for both to have the same amount of years.

From 1998 to 2006 there were seventeen different grand slam champions (Korda, Moya, Sampras, Rafter, Kafelnikov, Agassi, Kuerten, Safin, Ivanisevic, Hewitt, Johansson, Costa, Ferrero, Federer, Roddick, Gaudio and Nadal). In fact in the years 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 ther were four different champions, which is a clear sign that no one dominated the game.

In the period between 2007 and 2015 there have only been seven different champions (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Del Potro, Murray, Cilic and Wawrinka) and there have only been four different winners in a single season in 2012 and 2014.

This diversity in the first period can also be seen amongst the winners of the World Tour Finals (Masters Cup) and Masters Series events. The likes of Rios, Krajicek, Corretja, Rusedski, Enqvist, Philippoussis, Norman, Pioline, Ferreira, Portas, Pavel, Grosjean, Cañas, Mantilla, Henman, Coria, Nalbandian and even current players Robredo and Berdych popped up with wins.

After that it was all mainly occupied by Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray with odd threats of resistance from Davydenko, Del Potro, Soderling, Tsonga, Wawrinka, Ferrer or even Ljubicic.

Looking at the mere numbers it would seem that Safin is wrong and in fact it was cheaper to win a grand slam back then as, quite simply, more of them were being shared. The absence of a clear dominator opened the door to more contenders and, as they were more equally matched, the outcome was more unlikely and, perhaps, fun because of the uncertainty.

The clear case in sample in Roger Federer. The Swiss maestro burst onto the scene in 2004 by winning three grand slams and, to this day, has been winning or contending for grand slams.

Perhaps where Safin and Ferrero could have a case is in that there was a stronger ‘midfield’ on tour. This is the reason why there were more surprises back then than now, and when I mean surprises, I’m talking about any seed falling at an early stage, because I strongly believe that Djokovic, Nadal and Federer would have dominated and won the same amount of slams now as they would have back then.

As an example of the strength in depth I have randomly chosen the 2002 Roland Garros draw to take a look at the 32 seeds and compared it to this year’s French Open.

If you look at the top eight seeds, it would seem that the current crop are stronger: 2002 (Hewitt, Safin, Haas, Agassi, Kafelnikov, Henman, Kuerten, Federer) v 2015 (Djokovic, Federer, Murray, Berdych, Nishikori, Nadal, Ferrer, Wawrinka). But when you look at the final eight seeds you would feel inclined that the former was pluckier: (Robredo, Mirnyi, Escude, Lapentti, Nalbandian, Schalken, Gaudio, Ljubicic) v (Karlovic, Garcia-Lopez, Tomic, Fognini, Kyrgios, Mannarino, Troicki, Verdasco). I think more of the 2002 crop would be capable of pulling off an upset than this year’s group.

Obviously this is just a single selection and doesn’t encompass or justify a verdict on both eras. Everyone will have their opinion as you can’t measure the quality of a player but the feeling is that ten years ago or so there was a greater variety of tennis players, as there was also a greater variety of playing surfaces. There were clay court specialists, who were as good as anyone in the world on that surface, and then the same on grass. Today, regardless of the surface, the same players make the same rounds. A unification in surfaces has led to a unification in players. Big serves and huge forehands are what you get from any youngster coming through. You no longer see a player like Fabrice Santoro or Pat Rafter; Gaston Gaudio or Sebastien Grosjean. Therefore once you have sussed out how to beat one of them, you know how to beat them all, and therefore there is no new challenge or surprise factor.

So to answer the main question of the article, it would be harder to win a grand slam for most players in Marat Safin’s era, but for Nadal, Federer or Djokovic it would have been the same as their level is substantially above anyone from the last twenty years.

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Nicolas Mahut and Pierre Hugues Herbert seal a hard-fought win in decisive doubles match

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Ten-time Davis Cup champions France beat Japan 2-1 scoring the fifth win in as many Davis Cup matches against the Asian team.

 

French star Jo Wilfried Tsonga reeled off seven games from 4-2 in the first set to beat Japan’s Yasutaka Uchiyama 6-2 6-1 in 58 minutes in his 12th Davis Cup season.

Tsonga saved two break points and converted four of the five break points. The Frenchman held four service games and broke twice in the fourth and eighth games to take a 6-2 lead.

Tsonga broke twice in the second and fourth games and closed out the match in the seventh game after saving two break points.

“It was very important for our team to start well. I am also happy about my game, what I did today, so I hope it continues like this”, said Tsonga.

 Yoshihito Nishioka claimed 9 of the last 11 games in his 7-5 6-2 win over Gael Monfils in 66 minutes to level the score at 1-1 sending the tie into a decisive doubles match. The Japanese player saved one break point and earned two breaks to seal the win in straight sets.

“I wanted to show to the whole world Japan are still strong. Of course, if Key was here we would be strong, but even when he is not here, we can play. Hopefully next time Kei is here and we can play better”, said Nishioka.

Both players traded breaks at the start of the first set and stayed neck and neck until the 11th game of the first set when Nishioka got the break at 5-5 to seal the first set. Nishioka broke twice to seal the second set 6-2.

Last week’s ATP Finals doubles champions Nicolas Mahut and Pierre Hugues Herbert fought back from losing the first set to beat Ben McLachlan and Yasutaka Uchyama 6-7 6-4 7-5 after 2 hours and 40 minutes.

After losing the first set at the tie-break, Herbert and Mahut broke serve in the fifth game to win the second set 6-4. Herbert and Mahut went up a break in the third set. Uchiyama and Nishioka got the break back in the 10th game, when Herbert and Mahut were serving for the match. Mahut and Herbert got another break at 5-5 and held at 15 to seal the decisive win for France.

“They played at a very high level. We know we have arrived late from London, but the captain had a lot of confidence in our team. We were 1-1, we really had to win to give France the win. There was a lot of intensity in the win but we are really happy today, this was a really difficult tie”, said Mahut.  

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Russia opens the Davis Cup campaign with a 3-0 win over Croazia

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Russia beat defending champions from Croatia 3-0 thanks to the two singles wins of Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov on Centre Court of the Caja Magica in Madrid.

 

Rublev cruised past Borna Gojo 6-3 6-3 in the opening match before Karen Khachanov came back from one set down to beat Borna Coric 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 6-4.

Khachanov and Rublev returned to the court to beat specialists Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 to give Russia a 3-0 win.

“It was important to start well. I had some opportunities and took them. I am really happy we won this tie”, said Khachanov.

Belgium (two-time finalists) beat Colombia 2-1 on Court 3. In the opening match Davis Cup specialist Steve Darcis cruised past Santiago Giraldo 6-3 6-2. David Goffin came back from one set down to beat Daniel Elahi Galan 3-6 6-3 6-3. Last week’s ATP Finals semifinalists Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah won the doubles match for the Colombian team beating Sander Gillie and Joran Vliegen 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 7-6 (7-3).

“The challenge was to fight against myself. It was not easy. Sometimes you have to fight. I am happy the way I fought. I did not give up. That’s the most important thing because I am playing for my country”,said Goffin.

 

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Canada beats Italy 2-1 in the opening day of the Davis Cup in Madrid

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Denis Shapovalov battled past Matteo Berrettini 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (3-7) 7-6 (7-5) in a hard-fought second match of the round-robin Group F at the Davis Cup in Madrid to give Canada a 2-0 lead over Italy

 

Berrettini faced three break points in the third game of the opening set. Shapovalov earned two break points in the ninth game, but Berrettini held on his serve at deuce. Both players held on their service games. In the 10th game Berrettini earned three set points on return, but Shapovalov fended them off. Barrettini saved another break point to set up a tie-break. Shapovalov took a 6-3 lead earning three set points. Berrettini won two consecutive points to claw his way back to 5-6, but Shapovalov sealed the tie-break with a backhand passing shot.

Both players went on seve setting up a second tie-break. Berrettini got an early mini-break, but Shapovalov broke straight back. Berrettini took another mini-break to take a 3-2 when Shapovalov hit a volley into the net and sealed the second set 7-3 on his first set point.

Shapovalov earned a break point in the fifth game of the third set with a forehand winner. Berrettini held on his serve with his 11th ace. Both players went on serve in the next games setting up a third tie-break. Berrettini got the first mini-break to take a 4-3 lead after a double fault from Shapovalov. The young Canadian player broke straight back, when Berrettini made a forehand volley error. Shapovalov sealed the tie-break 7-5, when Berrettini fired his forehand long on his first match point after 2 hours.

“After making semifinals in the Madrid Mutua Open here, and winning the Junior Davis Cup in 2015, I feel like Madrid is a really good city for me. We will see how this week goes, but it’s a good step today”, said Shapovalov.

Fognini and Berrettini won the doubles match over beating Shapovalov and Pospisil 6-2 3-6 6-3. The Italian team got a double break to win the first set 6-2. Shapovalov and Pospisil drew level by winning the second set with a break in the eighth game. Italy saved two break points in the seventh game of the decisive set before breaking serve in the eighth game. Berrettini sealed the win for Italy with an ace.

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