Sunday, July 1, 2007

Bjorn Borg--The Sandy Koufax of Tennis

Roger Federer may tie Bjorn Borg's modern record by winning a fifth straight Wimbledon singles title and he may also eventually break Pete Sampras' career record of 14 Grand Slam singles titles--but is Federer really a greater all-around player than Borg, who could be called the Sandy Koufax of tennis? Koufax put together a marvelous six season run (1961-66) as a Los Angeles Dodgers' pitcher before arthritis cut short his 12 year career when he was just 30 years old; he is the youngest player ever inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Borg's career ended at an even younger age (26) than Koufax' did and he enjoyed a similarly meteoric rise to the top of his sport. Borg is most remembered for the concentrated greatness that he displayed from 1978-80, when he won the French Open and Wimbledon each year, reached the U.S. Open Finals twice, captured 29 singles titles and earned three Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Player of the Year Awards (he also won that honor in 1977).

Well before Borg's unexpected retirement (he played his last Grand Slam in 1981 but did not officially announce his retirement until 1983), many observers felt that he had already proven himself to be the greatest player of all-time. In a September 17, 2003 Tennis Week article, Raymond Lee evaluated the statistics of all players whose careers took place entirely in the Open Era (1968-present). Borg proved to be the runaway winner in Lee's analysis, placing first in seven of the 10 categories considered, including career won-loss percentage (.855), best five year won-loss percentage (.916), career percentage of tournaments won (.483--a staggering number; Jimmy Connors ranked second at .312), percentage of tournaments won during best five year period (.655), percentage of career Grand Slams won (.407--another staggering number; Sampras ranked second at .269), Grand Slams won in best five year period (eight, tied with Sampras) and percentage of Grand Slams won during best five year period (.571). Federer's career was just kicking into high gear when that article was written, so it remains to be seen if he can match Borg's numbers. Federer broke the Borg/Sampras mark by winning 10 Grand Slams in a five year period (2003-07--and he may add this year's Wimbledon and U.S. Open to that list) but Borg retains an edge in most of the categories that are based on percentages, so Federer will have to play even better than he has (and then retire young before he begins to decline) in order to beat Borg in those departments.

Borg's dominance can really be seen in his Grand Slam record. He won at least one Grand Slam title for eight straight years (1974-81), a mark later matched by Sampras. Borg's Grand Slam winning percentage of .898 is the best of the Open Era (Federer's stood at .850 entering this year's Wimbledon). A record five of his Grand Slam titles came in five set matches, showing his mental and physical toughness (Borg's overall record in five set matches, 24-4, is by far the best in the Open Era). Three times he won a Grand Slam singles title without losing a single set (1976 Wimbledon, 1978 and 1980 French Open); only three other players have accomplished this in the Open Era, none of them more than once.

Borg's Grand Slam totals would undoubtedly be even more impressive but for the fact that he only played in the Australian Open once, losing in the third round in 1974, his second season as a pro. In 2001, Borg explained in a interview why he made a habit of not playing in the Australian Open: "When I boycotted the Australian, I was trying to make a statement. I had made my mind up. My point was that a player requires some time to himself, he can't keep rushing from one court to another all the time without a break. They all heard me say that, but no one did anything about it. So I did it myself, I skipped the Australian and gave myself the time I needed. That was the only way that I could think of to do it. I have always played my tennis and lived my life on my own terms. I have no regrets."

He really made his mark at the French Open and Wimbledon, going a combined 100-6 in his matches in those two events. Borg won a record six French Open titles, including a record four straight (1978-81); he retired with a 28 match winning streak at Roland Garros. Borg won his first French Open at age 17 in 1974 and for eight years he held the record as the youngest man to win a Grand Slam singles title. He won Wimbledon for the first time in 1976, the youngest winner in the Open era there until Boris Becker's 1985 triumph. Borg won a record 41 straight matches at Wimbledon, a streak that extended from his first title in 1976 to his loss to John McEnroe in the 1981 Finals.

The only blemish, such that it is, on Borg's Grand Slam resume is that he never won the U.S. Open. Still, he reached the Finals four times in nine tries, losing twice each to Connors and McEnroe, his two main rivals. Borg finished his career with a 15-8 overall record versus Connors and a 7-7 overall record versus McEnroe.

Borg did not lose a match to a younger player until 1977, when he had already been a professional for several years. During his career he set numerous records for being the youngest player to achieve various accomplishments; in addition to being the youngest ever (at the time) to win the French Open and Wimbledon titles, Borg was the youngest player to win a Davis Cup match (1972 at age 15), the youngest Italian Open winner (1974, age 17; this record has since been broken) and the youngest player to win 11 Grand Slam titles (1981 at age 25; Sampras was nearly 27 when he won his 11th, Roy Emerson was 30 and Rod Laver was 31).

Borg has graciously said that he would be happy to see Federer equal or even break his modern record of five straight Wimbledon titles. Federer certainly seems to have a great chance to do that--but can he truly be considered the best all-around player ever without winning at least once on the French Open clay? While Federer is making a run at Borg's Wimbledon mark, Rafael Nadal is likewise challenging some of Borg's French Open standards--but no one before or since Borg has remotely approached winning six French Opens and five Wimbledons, including three straight years of taking both titles. That kind of multi-surface dominance is not likely to be seen again any time soon.


Unknown said...

Great post David,
I had not realized about the incredible numbers Borg achieved in his sort of short tennis career. Just to think that it is taking a combo of Federer+Nadal to match his Wimbledon + Roland Garros marks is just unbelievable.

Marty said...

You should check your facts before writing an article. The "unbelievable" stats you attributed to Borg are just that: they're unbelievable, because they are NOT TRUE.

Borg won 61 tournaments in his illustrious career. He entered 164 tournaments. That's a career win rate of 37.2% -- still very impressive, but nowhere close to the 48.1% you credited him with.

Most important, it's not as good as Federer's win rate!! Roger has won 51 out of 129 tournaments, which is 39.5%. His percentage will surely go up in the future; both of them had comparatively low win rates in their first 3 years on tour.

Notably, in their first 3 years, Borg and Federer had almost identical records. Each of them took off in his 4th year, but once they both started winning, Federer clearly surpassed Borg: he's won more majors per year, a higher percentage of tournaments, and a higher percentage of matches.

If you doubt it, look up the records yourself. They're available thru Wikpedia.

David Friedman said...

Wikipedia is not an authoritative or official source for tennis statistics--or anything else; anyone can post anything there.

Furthermore, it is more than a bit of a stretch to assert that on the basis of one alleged error that what I wrote is "NOT TRUE," particularly when your only source of information is a community-edited website.

As I indicated in the post, my source for Borg's statistics is Raymond Lee's Sept. 17, 2003 article for Tennis Week. Lee lists more wins for Borg than you do because he included events that were not sanctioned by the ATP.

Federer has improved his statistics in several categories since the time that I wrote the original post. My point was to place Federer's accomplishments in historical context: Borg's career is most impressive and his dominance on both clay and grass is something that Federer has yet to match.

Whether or not Federer's percentages will continue to improve is purely speculation; who thought in 1981 that Borg would retire at (or near) the height of his powers? It would seem that Borg could have won a few more French Opens, possibly another Wimbledon or two and maybe even the U.S. Open title that narrowly eluded him on several occasions. After all, in Borg's last full season he won the French and reached the Finals at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Injuries or other factors could negatively impact Federer's winning percentage and other statistics.

In any case, all we can go on is what actually has happened. Federer is roughly the same age now that Borg was when he retired and their numbers are very similar, with Federer having an edge in some categories and Borg having an edge in others. One could also debate which player faced tougher opposition. Federer may well be the greatest tennis player ever and in the next few years he may place all of his numbers far beyond what anyone else has done--but to this point Borg's numbers are much closer to Federer's than a lot of people seem to realize.

David Friedman said...


Just out of curiosity, I checked out the Wikipedia entry for Federer. Federer is credited with 51 wins in 186 tournaments (.274), so you did not even quote Wikipedia accurately in the first place!

You need to take your tennis research back to the lab before you come here spouting insults.

David Friedman said...

I just received an email from Raymond Lee, who wrote the article that I cited in my original post. Lee has been in steady contact with Robert Geist, who he calls "probably the leading authority on Professional Tennis History." Lee just did an article for Tennis Week about the greatest players of all-time. He used a similar statistical methodology to the one that he employed in the article that I cited but he has tinkered with it slightly so that he could include players whose careers took place before the Open Era.

In his email, Lee said, "...people have to realize that the record keeping for the ATP is to put it mildly, just awful.

Geist is constantly researching records in tennis but no one can be 100% accurate with records going back so many years. I just finished an article on the all time great male players in tennis history and it took me months to do it. You have to figure out what tournaments are actual. You have to check if this tournament was counted in that player's records or not."

Interested readers can check out his article here:

If cutting and pasting that link into your browser does not work, then just google Tennis Week and when you get to the site do a search for Raymond Lee and "Greatest Player of All-Time: A Statistical Analysis."

By the way, Lee's verdict is that Rod Laver ranks first. He has Borg and Bill Tilden in a tie for second, with Federer in fourth place. In the article, Lee writes of Borg:

"Borg was astonishing in this study considering he basically retired at age 25. Borg finished second in the study, tied with Tilden. People are now talking about how Roger Federer today is the greatest of all time and how Federer is tracking ahead of all the old timers like Borg. Frankly that is so wrong. Federer as of September 9, 2007 has won 51 tournaments. Federer is 26 now so a comparison at about the same age between the two is quite appropriate. Borg won 77 tournaments by the time he retired at age 25, which is 26 more than Federer had done at this present time at the age of 26. Borg won 11 majors in 27 attempts. Federer has won 12 majors but in 5 more attempts. Borg has a lifetime .855 winning percentage and Federer as of now has a .803 lifetime winning percentage. How can Federer be called the greatest of all time right now if he’s not even the best player of his own age. This is not meant to downgrade Federer but it’s to show the greatness of Borg that he can leave a great player like Federer in the dust."

Marty said...

I double checked my figures using the ATP's website (, and verified the numbers I posted here before. The ATP site counts all ATP tournaments, majors, and Davis Cup matches. The bottom line is that Borg won a little less than 40% of his tournaments; he did not win nearly 50%.

Also, I think we need to clarify what is meant by "the best ever," and then avoid a common mistake / trap in comparing players' stats. Bill James has identified two distinct ways to think of "best ever": (a) who was the best at his PEAK; and (b) who accomplished the most over his entire career. They are very different measures. When I think of "the best ever," I focus on PEAK value: who dominated the most at his pinnacle?

AVOIDING THE TRAP: if you just count career winning percentage, you're mixing apples and oranges. Every great player, including Borg, Sampras, and Federer, goes through several periods, which I'll define as follows:

1. Novice
2. Near-peak (b/f and after peak)
3. Peak
4. Over the hill

For most tennis players, the PEAK lasts 5 to 6 years. The NOVICE period tends to be the first 2 or 3 years. The duration of OVER THE HILL varies; some (e.g., Borg) retire before they reach that stage.

Simply counting total career percentages distorts the figures in favor of Borg, because Federer hasn't finished his Peak yet. Every one of these players had awful results during his "NOVICE" period (compared to the rest of his career):

Borg: won 0 of 30 tournaments
Federer: won 4 out of 48
Sampras: won 0 out of 33.

So far, 29% of Federer's career stats come from his NOVICE years. During that time, he only won 4 out of 48 tournaments he entered.

By contrast, Borg's NOVICE years only account for 20% of his career stats (2 out of 10 yrs). That's NOT because Borg was better (his novice period lasted the same number of years), but because Federer still has some Peak and Near-Peak years ahead of him.

Likewise, Sampras' "over the hill" period distorts his career winning percentage vs. Borg's. Leaving aside majors, Sampras won only 1 out of 30 tournaments from 2000-2002. So, 33% of Sampras' "career totals" come from his novice and over the hill periods, when he almost never won a tournament.
Borg, on the other hand, only gets 20% of his career totals from his novice and over the hill periods --not because he's better, but just because he retired before reaching "over the hill" status.

If you want to compare "apples to apples," you need to compare stats from the SAME STAGE of each player's career: e.g., winning percentage during peak period. Further, if you're trying to figure out who was the best AT HIS PEAK, only the peak years are relevant. So, throw out the "career" totals mentioned earlier, and focus on the following figures.

Here's how I break each player's career into the relevant periods:

Sampras Borg Federer

Novice '88-89 '72-73 '01-02
(2 yrs) (2 yrs) (2 yrs)

Near Peak '90-92 '74-76 2003
'98-99 (3 yrs) (1 yr)
(5 yrs)

PEAK '93-97 '77-81 '04-07
(5 yrs) (5 yrs) (4 yrs)

Over hill '00-02 never not yet
(3 yrs)

Borg had a 5-year peak: 1977 to 1981. During that stretch, he won 8 out of 14 majors (57%), and reached at least the semi-finals 4 other times (so he got to the semis or better in 12 out of 14 majors). During this PEAK, Borg also won an incredible 91.3% of his total matches (his W-L record was 314 - 30), and won 43 out of 73 total tournaments he entered (59%). All very impressive.

However, Federer is even BETTER on all counts. During his Peak he's won 11 out of 16 majors (69%, vs. Borg's 57%). He's reached at least the semis in 14 out of 16 majors (87.5%, a tad better than Borg's 86%). Remarkably, he's even beaten Borg's overall W-L percentage, with a staggering
283 - 20 record, which is 93.4% (vs. Borg's 91.3%). And, he's won 40 out of 60 total tournaments (67%, vs. Borg's 59%). He CLEARLY has been more dominant than Borg, during their respective peaks. Not a lot more dominant, but definitely somewhat more dominant.

Sampras doesn't come close to Borg or Federer during his peak. He "only" won 9 out of 20 majors (45%, vs. their 57% and 69%), etc. Further, his W-L percent in other tournaments isn't even close to theirs: he "only" won 30 out of 74 events he entered during his Peak, which is 41% (vs. their 59% and 67% win rates).
Basically, in about 1 of every 3 tournaments, including majors (and NOT just at the French), Sampras suffered an early loss to a low-ranked opponent he should have beaten. That happened to Borg and Federer far less often, especially in the majors.

Of course, all of these stats just measure HOW MUCH BETTER a player was than the OTHER PLAYERS in his era. In theory, if Federer has been the most dominant, it could be for either of two reasons: (1) he's the best ever; or (2) he's facing easier opposition (i.e., the best opponents of his era don't stack up against the best opponents that Borg and Sampras faced).

I've read lots of comments by Sampras fans, who feel Federer isn't facing as tough a group of opponents. Further, I suspect Borg fans will point to Connors and McEnroe as tougher than anyone Federer faces today.

I'll save my full statistical rebuttal for another day. As a quick preview, it turns out that Federer has FACED much tougher opposition than Sampras in majors. The key is that the best players of his era (Nadal, Safin, Roddick, and Hewitt) consistently end up playing Federer in majors, because they rarely get knocked out early by lesser players. Sampras, by contrast, often avoided playing the best potential opponents, because they frequently lost in earlier rounds. It's a statistical fact (in majors, Fed PLAYED top notch opponents nearly twice as frequently as Sampras!!).

As for Borg, he failed to dominate Connors and McEnroe. In fact, his career record against them in majors was 5-5. Also, he played them a bit LESS frequently than Federer has played his top rivals (in majors). Again, supporting data will follow later.

Hope you find this interesting.

David Friedman said...


What you wrote is interesting and very detailed but I don't agree with your main points.

1) The ATP site only would count ATP events. There were other significant non-ATP events during Borg's career. Also, I'm not sure if the ATP site's records are exhaustive. Raymond Lee gathered his numbers from historian Robert Geist. Lee also notes that tennis' historical records are much more incomplete than those of other sports. This is not like looking up the NFL career rushing record.

2) Your analogy to Bill James' methods is interesting. You don't rank Sampras ahead of Borg and Federer, nor did I in my post, so let's just leave him out of the discussion and focus on Borg and Federer. Federer is roughly the same age now that Borg was when he retired, so the "over the hill" stage is not relevant for either player. Now is actually the perfect time to compare Federer's entire career (to date) to Borg's. You did so and concluded that Federer is ahead of Borg. However, Lee just wrote an article for Tennis Week and the stats that he obtained from Geist tell a different story than the ones that you cited. There is no point in me listing all of Lee's numbers here because he created a chart to accompany his article, so you and anyone else who is interested can go to the Tennis Week website and see for yourself what he wrote (the article was published on 9/14/07). The bottom line is that Lee has Borg a little bit ahead of Federer right now. Lee leaves open the possibility that Federer could surpass Borg if he maintains his current pace for a few more years.

Of course, the fundamental issue here is that you and Lee are using different sets of numbers. Your numbers give Federer a slight edge, while Lee's numbers give Borg a slight edge. Since tennis unfortunately does not have a definitive record book there may not be a simple way to resolve this discrepancy (short of Federer doing so well in the next couple years that he comes out ahead no matter whose numbers one looks at).

I think that the most important thing to note is that casual observers and even some professional commentators seem to accept without question that Federer has already proven that he is the greatest player of all-time. Whether you believe that he is slightly behind Borg or slightly ahead of Borg, the fact that Borg's numbers are clearly in the same general class as Federer's gives one an idea of just how great he was. In his last full year on the tour he won the French and was the runner-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, so it would certainly seem that he could have racked up more Grand Slam wins had he played for a few more years.

Anonymous said...

What is Robert Giest's email?

David Friedman said...

I don't know his email but even if I did I would not post it publicly without his permission.

DH Towers said...

Well, as usual, I'd like to throw a few different slants on how we rank "the Best":
Firstly, are we only considering from the "Open Era", because although we today - in our totally "professional" world - may be tempted to consider the Amateur Era as defective, you would have to realize that in the past, it was THE thing to do.
All the Prestige and Glory was connected with amateur play.
The honour was what was played for, and it was competed for totally seriously.
Names like Laver, Kramer, Budge, Gonzales, Emerson, Tilden, all hold their own honours and unique accomplishments that neither Borg, nor Federer, etc. came near achieving!
Firstly, Borg was only just inside the open era when he started. By that point, there had not been the build up of players across the world competing in a full career-minded sense as there had by (say) the Sampras era, for instance.
The number of total players to beat was less than [say] Sampras or Federer.
You also need to consider the competition for the 3, also, that you are currently debating. Obviously, Sampras had the toughest overall opposition in making his achievements.
Further, Borg only won at 2 Majors – you cannot seriously present the All-time Greatest under such limited conditions.

Then if you look at past players, some achieved full Grand Slams within the one year.
Most were also far better doubles players - some achieved brilliantly even in mixed doubles as well.
Some won on all surfaces - the very top tournaments.

To me, the Real Greatest of All time has to have DONE IT ALL - under all sorts of conditions, including say his record playing Davis Cup, etc for his country.
All this goes together to make 'the Complete Player' – the true Champion

David Friedman said...


I only considered the Open Era for two reasons:

1) It is almost impossible to compare stats and achievements from before the Open Era and after the Open Era.

2) If it is possible to do so, I don't feel qualified to undertake that analysis.

Borg's positioning within the time frame of the Open Era is not relevant; he played his entire career in the Open Era. There were advantages to playing in the 1970s and there were disadvantages and the same holds true for today's players.

How is it "obvious" that Sampras faced the toughest competition? That may be true but it is hardly obvious. For one thing, his major rival plummeted to 141 in the world rankings and only really devoted himself to conditioning in the latter part of his career. How many more majors could Agassi have won with a different attitude?

Borg elected to not play in the Australian, which is certainly the most "minor" of the majors, so his lack of victories there was by choice as opposed to being a reflection of some weakness in his game. Borg did not win the U.S. Open despite reaching the Finals several times but he won major tournaments on hard courts so it was not a surface problem that betrayed him, unlike Federer on clay; also, Borg did not have a decisively losing record against a major rival like Federer does versus Nadal.

Borg is arguably the greatest Davis Cup player of all-time, so adding Davis Cup in as a factor to be considered only strengthens his case to be the greatest Open Era player.

DH Towers said...

I'll start with the last first:
What a blatantly false assumption that Borg was the greatest ever Davis Cup player!!!!
Most of the Australians of the 50s and 60s would laugh rings around him in Davis Cup ... and the Cup calls for excellent doubles players!
Come on ... Borg: one of the greatest doubles players of all-time??!!
I think you'd better close discussion before you get laughed out all the way to the bank, by a betting man!

@nd Borg's 'choice' not to play in Australia is his own personal downfall in this type of debate.
Reality is his score is zero [FULL STOP]
Each of those 4 tournaments is pretty much equal in its weight of import. It is yours alone to classify that the Aussie was much less important. Obviously, just based on last year's men's singles entries alone [I think they had every one except one of the top 20 in attendance!]: How can you belittle one over others?
The other point, as universally stated, is simply that he failed in the US.
That is of significant import alone, and cannot possibly be lightly discarded.
He just 'did not perform in 2 out of 4', one way or another.

The following were facts I gained on these 2 - Borg and Sampras:

Sampras record – Davis cup (15-8 in singles, 4-1 in doubles)

Borg never won a doubles title
Sampras won 2.

The following is entered on Wik re Borg:

“Borg has stated publicly that he would have attempted to complete the calendar year Grand Slam and played in the Australian Open had he succeeded in winning the first three Grand Slam tournaments of the year, which he never did. (During Borg's career, the Australian Open was the last Grand Slam tournament of each year.)”
However, he did attempt the Australian once and fouled out in the 3rd round.
In truth, Borg knew he was not good enough on the fast Australian grass with his back court game.

A player can never be considered “the Greatest” unless he can show he can do it all: singles, doubles, heat, cold, wind, wet, Davis Cup (for country), all surfaces and all Majors.
Sampras did it all.
Borg did not by a long shot!

Then there is the point that you seem to have downplayed:
That Borg was right near the start of the Open Era. There were many fewer young people making tennis a career goal at that point. It was still too new.
By the (0's and 2000's however, this is genuinely not the case at all.
I lived through those eras. I know.
I umpired at the Australian Open a number of times.

[I'm still laughing at Borg being the greatest ever Davis Cup player! Sorry]

David Friedman said...


I never said that Borg was a great doubles player. However, as the stats below prove, he was at least as good as Sampras as a doubles player.

Borg led Sweden to its first ever Davis Cup championship in 1975, when he was just 19. Borg won 33 straight Davis Cup singles matches, a record that still stands. I said that he is "arguably" the greatest Davis Cup player ever, meaning that his name has to be in the discussion. What are the records/stats/accomplishments of the players who you think would "laugh rings around him"?

Whatever the importance of the Australian Open now--and I frankly don't see how you can possibly argue that it has the same prestige as Wimbledon or the French Open--it was clearly the least important of the Slams by far in the 1970s. Borg said many times that the year round tennis schedule was too much and that since the authorities did not include an offseason that he would make one of his own by not playing in the Australian. Yes, he did play there once as a young player but during his prime years he did not do so. If he had ever won the first three Slams in one year then I'm sure he would have played in Australia to try to get a Grand Slam. To say that Borg's one loss in Australia--at age 18 when he had only won one Grand Slam title yet--proves that he could not win on that surface is absurd. He did not win at Wimbledon until two years after his only Australian appearance but he ended up winning five Wimbledon titles and that was a surface that many "experts" felt did not favor him. If all Borg cared about was accumulating titles then he would not have retired so young when he was still dominant at the French Open and had just made the Wimbledon and U.S. Open Finals.

Sampras had a great career but he hardly did it all. He only reached the French Open semifinals once and usually departed pretty early from that Slam, showing a glaring clay court weakness.

I'll take Borg's 33 match Davis Cup singles winning streak (and 37-3 singles record) over Sampras' 15-8 singles record. Borg went 8-8 in his Davis Cup doubles matches but came through with a doubles victory in 1975 when Sweden won the Cup. Sampras went 4-1 in Davis Cup doubles play.

Borg won four career doubles titles and had an 87-82 match record; Sampras won two career doubles titles and had a 64-70 match record.

As for the relative competitiveness of the two eras, consider this: Borg defeated nine different players in Grand Slam Finals, setting a record that Sampras later matched. In other words, there were a number of top competitors in both eras. During his prime, Borg faced Connors, McEnroe and Vilas, who was a great clay court player.

Considering the numerous inaccuracies and omissions in your comment, you need to do a lot more research before you spout any alleged statistics or make any more bold proclamations about who is better than whom.

DH Towers said...

Look, Colonel Friedman, you're pretty good at spittin' off the [so-called] statistics, and telling everybody else they should check their facts or stats, but what's your so infallible source of stats??
Why is it that you should claim that your source is the only reliable, but everyone else's source is wrong??
Where on earth yo' gettin' yo' stats, Boy??!!

David Friedman said...


That's General Friedman, to you--or Minister of Information :)

The Davis Cup statistics that I cited are from the official Davis Cup site. For instance, here is the link to Borg's stats:

The career doubles records for Borg and Sampras can be found at the official ATP site.

I don't trust Wikipedia because anyone can post anything there.

If you are going to argue that the official Davis Cup and ATP sites are not more reliable than wherever you found/made up the numbers that you cited then I am not able to help you.

DH Towers said...

See, part of the inaccuracy of your analysis is that you are just a 'stats boy'. You weren't there to really analyse how this was all done, and what were the ploys used by various players in achieving their ends.
A player has to be able to pretty much do it all - to ever be considered 'the Greatest'!!
You cannot have a 'Greatest' who only performed in certain chosen areas to any significant level.
Only TOPS play well both singles AND doubles.
Fact is in the 4 majors, where "everyone was invited" [as the famous line goes], Borg won nothing - doubles.
Sampras: 2.
From your own information, as I read it, Davis Cup doubles, Borg didn't do as well as Sampras at all.
As I see it, Borg avoided part of the season. Having analysed him well, I say Borg knew his baseline game was not good enough in Australia: the Australian grass is too fast for him. It's not like Wimbledon's lawn at all.
Further, Borg was not necessarily a tip top tennis player: his main ploy was to wear opponents down through sheer greater fitness.
He was master of the 5 setter.
He simply outstayed his opponents: that was his game.
He was next to useless on the net. He rarely out-volleyed opponents, unless the ball was hit well up and he just had to move in and put it away.
On the other hand, Sampras could play well from baseline and still win tournaments.
He was just not good enough from the baseline, or quite fit enough, to win long, very gruelling matches in the French and similar surfaces.
Nevertheless, he was, of course, a very fit man - just not a marathoner - which is partly, Federer's problem.
Fitness is part of tennis; but Borg used to play to make it almost the 'be-all-and-end-all' of the game. It could also become quite boring to watch.

In my view, Borg did not go to Australia, because like other tournaments it had a lead-up season there. All were faster grass tournaments.
As the Wik interview said, no doubt, had he won all other 3 majors, he may have turned up to at least, have a go; but i think he also instinctively knew the surface was going to be a very hard one for him to win on.
So,to make up cash during the year, I would say he played more little ones - which helped him get all the great stats - you know, back-yard jobs!

Hey ... look, let's face it, I lived through it all, and umpired.
You are not going to change my opinion; I am not going to change yours: you are a stats man.

David Friedman said...


I respect very much the fact that you lived through it and I'm sure that you had some wonderful experiences and must have some very interesting stories to tell. However, living through it does not necessarily mean that your analysis of the career records of two players is better than mine.

It is very ironic that you label me a "stats man," because if you read my basketball writing you would know that I in fact rail against blindly using stats to evaluate players. However, I must insist that in any discussion accurate stats are used; all I did was correct inaccurate stats that you cited, plus bring up some relevant numbers (Sampras' sub-.500 career doubles records) that you neglected to mention.

A big part of being a great athlete is maintaining superior physical condition and also having the proper mental/psychological conditioning to win long, grueling matches. Borg was rightly known as the fittest player on tour and I completely reject your suggestion that this reflects badly on his greatness.

I never made the contention that Borg was a great doubles player, so that whole discussion is a red herring; all I did in response to your comment is point out that Sampras' career doubles record was hardly better than Borg's, contrary to your contention.

You are entitled to your opinion about Borg's motivation regarding which tournaments to play in but umpiring matches does not give you special insight into his thought process in that regard (unless you actually talked to him or his trainer about this issue).

Your contention that Borg skipped big events to pad his stats by winning small events is absurd. You can deride stats all you want but the only way to refute your contention is to refer to the stats. Borg's record shows that other than the Australian--which, contrary to what you said, was the least important Slam at that time--he consistently played not just in the other three Slams but also in the big events of the time. In fact, part of the reason that Borg retired is that he got to a point that he only wanted to play in big events but the powers that be were going to force him to play in qualifiers at the Slams if he did not play in a minimum number of small tournaments. Since you read Borg's Wikipedia biography you must have noted the Chris Evert quote about how common it was in that era to skip Slams because not so much emphasis was placed then on career Slam totals.

I don't know how you can say that Borg was not a "tip top" tennis player. I am hardly the first or only person to suggest that he is the greatest tennis player of the Open Era, so your negative view of his skill set is decidedly in the minority.

It seems to me that your opinion that Borg was boring to watch and unskilled has clouded your ability to objectively look at what he accomplished.

No one has come close to matching Borg's feat of winning both Wimbledon and the French three years in a row. That versatility, his amazing winning percentages at Slams and his total body of work convince me that he is the greatest player of the Open Era. Sampras holds the career Slams mark but he never came close to winning at the French. His problem was not stamina but rather skill set.

It would not surprise me if in the next few years Nadal passes everyone, because he--like Borg--has shown that he can win Wimbledon and the French.

By the way, you never mentioned specific Australian Davis Cup players and why you think that they were better than Borg. In one sense that is outside the scope of my original post--which only concerned the Open Era--but because Borg set the Davis Cup singles match winning streak record and led Sweden to their first championship he certainly has to be in the discussion of great Davis Cup players.

DH Towers said...

Colonel, you see the point is that knowing these people's games quite intricately - first hand, you will never convince me, nor many other people, that Borg was better than Sampras.
In tennis, you are a stats man. You don't need to be in basketball, because that is really your expertise. In tennis, however, it is because you, having not been there, that really becomes all your 'expertise' to lean on - that and a few comments by certain other 'Greats'. But there are also many 'Greats' who would not place Borg in that position of those that you have chosen.
Everybody has his own benchmarks required for Greatness.
Mine are that only a TRUE Great will prove that he can do it ALL ... and you keep avoiding this issue of "ALL", by downplaying the need for any REAL Great to play outstanding doubles.
I don't care what the other [so-called] experts may say ... they may have been excellent at PLAYING the game - they would have left me 'in the dust' on the court; but each of us has his specific talents.
My talent is recognizing Talent.
I also see a LOT deeper into what makes success than most. I can analyse well - many times better than I ever umpired! That was just my 'contribution', you might say, to the cause. I umpired in the day when money was never handed out. When the money started coming in, I started dropping out!
To a large degree I feel the same about playing sport, as well.
That is why I stuck to the amateur sports, or amateur competitions. But I appreciate that sport has become professional, and that's all there is to it.
I think my Bottom line is that True Greatness [I mean the very Tops] should only be applied to those who show mastery of all conditions within their fields.
And I tried to live by that in my own chosen sports.
I won state championships in Rebound Handball - commonly just called handball/"downball", by some - the faster off the wall game.
Triple consecutive singles titles and undefeated in doubles.
Although I also preferred the faster surfaces, I also well-handled the slightly slower.
Whether the weather was wind, rain or shine, that did not stop performance.
Whether the game was orientated more as cross-court, or directly off the wall, I was equally 'at home'.
Top artists make sure they can play anything; you learn to do that right from a youngster. You build that capability into your repertoire.
That's where I favour some of the older boys in tennis. They learned how to do it all. They were not so busy chasing the money that they neglected large departments of the game.
To be honest, my Greatest of all time is Margaret [Smith] Court!
She did the lot - singles, doubles, mixed doubles - all surfaces. By far more titles than anyone could approach: she did everything.
Now that is what I call, "a Champion"!
Just like Heather McKay in the squash field - never beaten in 12 years.
For men, I like Laver: there was a boy that certainly did do everything - whether volleying, whipping impossible shots crosscourt for winners on the run, serving great ... swing serves; heavy sliced backhands, or topspin off both sides ... and he had the fitness for the gruelling games - and a top Davis Cup player.
Emerson also - a true champion, who stuck with the amateurs when all the other boys were running professional.
Also, the Best and most exciting doubles player I've seen.
You want Greatness?
It has to be epitomized in every department of the game.

David Friedman said...


I am not downplaying the significance of a great player doing it "ALL"; I just disagree with you that Sampras meets this criteria better than Borg.

Neither player was particularly accomplished in doubles and I have never heard anyone make a case for either player's greatness based on his performance in that aspect of the game. Borg and Sampras made their names as the dominant singles players of their respective eras.

Leaving doubles out of the equation, how can we best define doing it "ALL"? I would say that this requires a combination of winning Slams, winning on multiple surfaces and establishing some sort of dominance over one's contemporaries. In Sampras' favor is that he holds the career Slams record and that he reigned as the number one player longer than Borg did--but Sampras never came close to winning the French Open and he fattened his Slam total at the Australian, which was not taken as seriously during Borg's time (you can dismiss the quotes from all-time greats if you choose but I will take Chris Evert's word about this, particularly since the record clearly shows that many of the top players of that era skipped various Slams quite often).

The bottom line is that in his prime, Borg was simultaneously unbeatable at both Wimbledon and the French Open, the two most prestigious tournaments. He not only displayed fitness and mental toughness by winning five set matches but he also set records for "bagel" matches, another way of demonstrating dominance.

Even if I accept your criteria of doing it "ALL," Sampras hardly meets this standard better than Borg.

You seem to long for the "simpler" era of amateur tennis in the 1950s and 1960s. I made a point of limiting my comparison to players from the Open Era precisely because I don't think that there is really a way to compare the players across those eras; too many things are different, from playing conditions to level of competition and so forth. So, Laver and Emerson may very well have been greater than Borg or Sampras. I don't make a claim either way in that regard. My claim is that Borg is the greatest player of the Open Era.

Versatility is certainly important and the accomplishments that you described in handball are impressive. That said, I really think that you are selling Borg short; it almost sounds like you are blaming him for the demise of the amateur era. Ironically, based on his conflicts with the powers that be, he may very well have shared your outlook about the "good old days."

You insinuate that Borg was some kind of money grabber who went to smaller tournaments but the record shows that this is not true; like Tiger Woods today, he was a "big game" hunter who valued most the biggest tournaments, Wimbledon and the French--and, like Woods, that is where he played his best. The fact that Borg retired--at 26 no less!--as the modern record holder in both events is simply remarkable. It has taken several decades and multiple players to even approach some of the standards he set in terms of consecutive match wins, consecutive titles and so forth. We'll see if Nadal can win three French Opens and three Wimbledons in a row simultaneously, as Borg did in 1978-80. If Nadal cannot do this, I suspect Borg's feat will not be matched for a long, long time.

DH Towers said...

Well, Colonel, you know, we all have our opinions, and what they are based on. Yours are basically on stats, as far as tennis goes.
This does not consider quality, and the size of the quality opposition at the time.
Withhout doubt, as Borg was only at the beginning of all-pro tennis, there just weren't the millions all over the world 'going for it' re a full-time tennis career that were in Sampras' day.
Overall he would have had an extremely heavy field of world contestants to 'better'.
And it may even be that in that sense, Federer has 'topped' even more players.
These are only factors we can surmise about.
BUT, they are stats!
So, if you want to base it all on stats, what about the worldwide 'beating' of the most players??!!
Actually, you try to read too much into my comments; I don't really blame Borg for anything: he certainly did not start or affect the start of the Open Era; he was way too late and young for that.
He probbaly made a huge difference to the flavour of the game though - to the more dominant baseline game now. I must admit, that, for me, has not been a spectator's joy.
But to be honest with you, Colonel F, I'm not really the type of person that likes to 'blame' people for mere changes in the nature of events - unless they grossly affect people's lives [such as the deadly, Germaine Greer, re the terrible outcome of feminist influences on the world scene and the ruination of familes and the economies of the world as well - which few realize has grossly impacted - but that's another story].
No Borg played his game and he played it well. He was just not the All-Arounder we expect from a living legend.
He may also have been a prime influence in the Aussies changing from the great Kooyong grass to kill their own serve and volley game by building the Flinder's Park surface and venue as well. That I don't know; but i am sure it was in considerations.

Now, one other thing: you seem to have this gross misconception that certain Grand Slams were more important than others.
Let me tell you that onther than Wimbledon, it is agendas and personal preference, alone, which decide for each individual.
If you ever involve yourself in everyday 'Answers and Questions' type sites [EG Yahooanswers (possibly the biggest) and AnswerBag], you will see that these types of Q's are asked of everyone. The Public opinion on these issues seemsto be almost equally divided between Australian and French as to the lesser tournament. BUT, you have to realize that most respondents are from the States.
So, it is not necessarily unbiased.
May I say that here, in Australia, the French is most often considered least important.
The Europeans would, no doubt, pick Australia, with some the US.
Now let's talk about the practicalities, and why certain players tended to avoid or downplay some of the Majors.
Firstly, I wouldn't take too much notice of what Chris Evert-Lloyd had to say about the Australian Open: I umpired her here. She turned up.
Chris' game was, like Borg, a baseline game:
Let's look at her agenda:
She won 7 French, 6 US, 3 Wimbledon and 2 Aussies - each of the latter requiring 3 sets. Her 2nd was only against Helena Sukova, whom I also umpired - a much lower standard of player than most in a Grand Slam final.
I think those stats say it all for Chris.
The practical realities for 1970's players in Australia were:
1. It was the end of the season; it was Christmas time. People, understandably, want to be with families. It was a dreadful time, in that sense, to run the tournament. It probably should have been played in November or March-April.
This would have also helped avoid the extrme heat that players to Australia had to face, which of course, leads to:
2. Oppressive, humid heat players had to endure here in December and January. It's still not the best time! Can you imagine that being pleasant for players like Borg? Playerswere often reported as having collapsed due to heat exhaustion, or dehydration.
3. As Grand Slam achievement was calendar in those days, in terms of the prestigious [Big 4], if a player had not won the previous 3, he didn't achieve greatly by turning up in Australia, unless he knew he had the fast court game needed for the grass here. That's probably partly why we NOW get all the top players virtually every year [because it is no longer grass AND because Grand Slam is no longer a calendar prestige]; which leads to:
4. Players knew the Aussies and some of the Americans were mighty hard to beat on the faster grass, and after all, distance was also certainly a factor in those days.
So, unless there were some other particular reason they should be here, what was the point??
After all, it IS Christmas!!

I just don't like the fact that he only ever did it in 2 out of 4.
I'm a maths tutor, and 50% is just not anywhere near good enough for My students; I would hang my head in shame, should that happen!
In doubles, he is a Big FAT Zero out of 4!
I mean, Come on! You are speaking to a mathematician!!

DH Towers said...

Big Dave, I'd say you're better off comparing the Greats of basketball rather than tennis.
For mine, I tend to go with Michael Jordan or Wilt Chamberlain.
Like your situation with Borg and tennis, I did not see Wilt play; so it is really very hard to properly judge which was the better.
Just like the other 2 we have speculated over, each of these has set certain records and had praises and accolades heaped upon him.
Funnily enough, I have actually had significantly more personal basketball experience than tennis, even though I probably like tennis better. Life leads where it does for its own reasons, I suppose - especially as being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In one sense, it opens up opportunities never dreamed of elsewhere, but in others, one could say it limits certain other doors from fully opening.
Basketball, here, in the Church, when I joined at 17.5 yrs old, was virtually, THE thing in sport.
I had learned for a half season in another church at 13; but it was not until I was 18 that I got into it as some kind of program.
Having flat feet from babyhood and other physical hurdles of some description, I therefore, had to work hard in anything I did in sport; but at 18, it was a very big call for a beginner to amount to anything - not that basketball grabbed me that way either. It was simply that it was the prime Church sports' avenue.
I still had very local successes and I was given coaching opportunities etc, from about 21, but basketball was seen as more an American game, mainly, and we know that the really great palyers have historically derived from there.
So, tell us about the various Greats of basketball, Big Dave.
Again, though, I tend to qualify that one - to be "the very Greatest" - must be able to do it all.
So he must offensively and defensively rebound well, be a great point scorer, be able to steal well, play great defence and great offence, a great ball handler, and a prolific assiter of baskets - a great team leader, as well as an individual.
That qualifies greatness.

Give us a few thoughts, Big Dave [hope you are big] - just it runs off the tongue well!

David Friedman said...


Borg's contemporaries include Connors--holder of the record for most singles titles--and McEnroe, a marvelously gifted player. Some of the lesser known top 10 players from that era were also at least as good as the top 10 players Sampras or Federer faced. I just don't buy your contention that Borg faced weaker opposition, whether you go by stats, skill sets or any other reasonable criteria.

I'm surprised you favor Sampras' style over Borg's, because in Sampras' prime his modus operandi was to blow people away with his serve. There was hardly much volleying or rallying going on in those matches. Borg's matches featured a lot of peerless shotmaking. Sampras is one of my favorite players, so I don't mean that as a slight but simply a statement of fact.

I am not talking so much about public opinion of the importance of the Slams but rather how the players themselves felt at that time. That said, it is obvious that as an Australian you will understandably and naturally have a high opinion of the importance of the Australian Open. I certainly mean no disrespect to your country or its Grand Slam tournament--but any objective follower of tennis knows that Wimbledon and the French are the preeminent Slams, followed by the U.S. Open.

OK, Borg "only" won two out of four Slams--but the two that he won, he DOMINATED in record setting fashion and the skill sets that it takes to win those two tournaments are completely different, which is why three decades later no one else has won both tournaments three years in a row. Borg made the U.S. Open final four times, losing to Connors and McEnroe, two of the greatest Open Era players. Sampras did great at Wimbledon and he spaced four U.S. Open wins throughout his career but did not dominate (i.e., win four or five in a row). He lost U.S Open Finals to Hewitt and Safin, hardly all-time greats like Connors and McEnroe. Do you honestly think that Borg would have lost a Grand Slam Final to those kinds of players? The record shows that he never did.

Sampras won his two Aussie titles over Moya and Todd Martin. Forgive me if that does not impress me more than Borg's Wimbledon-French combo. Borg was 141-16 in Grand Slam matches; Sampras was 203-38. Again, Borg was hardly fattening up his record in small events. In fact, Sampras played more actively that Borg did and that is one reason why Sampras attained more year end number one rankings than Borg did.

Sampras is an all-time great and one of my favorite players but I still say that Borg was the greatest player of the Open Era because he did in fact display the versatility (grass/clay) that you bizarrely keep insisting that he did not display.

David Friedman said...


I feel comfortable comparing the greats in any sport that I take the time to properly research. Also, I have seen the Open Era players that we are talking about (Borg, Sampras, Federer), so I am not just relying on stats. I don't pretend to be an expert on tennis prior to the Open Era--I am obviously too young to have lived through that time and I have not extensively researched it, though I have done some reading about Gonzales and Tilden.

My opinions about the greatest basketball players can be found in my Pantheon series (links are located in the right hand sidebar of the main page of 20 Second Timeout, my basketball website).

DH Towers said...

I guess with Borg, there is grass and then there is lawn.
The Wimbledon game was lawn.
The Australian surface was much faster.
Borg would have had enough personal insight to know he would have struggled to win there.
Also, your perspective that I am biased re Aussie could just as rightly appply to yourself, placing US above Australia - just because there are a lot more people there!
There is Nothing to say any of those others were any greater than the other [The only one that truly stood out among players was Wimbledon and still is]; this is just your own pickiness coming out here.
It would seem you have looked for a few gripes among certain 'gripey' players [Chris Evert could be one of them; yes, she had that tendency] to try to build up stories or innuendo of your own making ... no doubt, true to your profession, where journalists etc. make things out of nothing just to pitch a story.
This is also a form of bias.
There was no 'air' around back then that Australia was generally considered an any lesser tournament than the others.
I've told you quite clearly and comprehensively why there was a period where some of the players preferred not to turn up in Australia; I thought I made all that quite clear.
I spent some time going over that particular insight for you.
Youcan beleive what you like today; it will make no difference to what actually was. The Europeans were not as good on the grass in Australia; it is hotter and drier and it was Christmas. I don't think any of that is particularly hard to understand.
When officials in Australia made venue changes and changes to January from December, they cited reasons. Those reasons are resident within what i have said was why certain players tended to avoid the tournament at the end of the year. So they made the tournament first, and gradually fouind, nearly every top player turns up every year.
But it wouldstill be better if it was still further removed from Christmas and the extreme heat here.
I am not going to say anything further on the 2 players; I think I have made my points clear.
Further, if Federer can pull himself back into it again, and become fit enough to win a French, there is no reason why he couldn't yet become the most successful moden player.
Nadal, I'm afraid, for me, is just a little like Borg: he tries to out athleticize his opponents.
These guys are really just making tennis into ironman events, or triathlon events, where they are merely guys running around with tennis racquets in their hands, but really just making Decathlon or Marathon events of tennis!
We already have triathlon and 10,000 metre races, etc., if we are interested in mainly seeing some guy wear out the opposition!
We already have many such events in sport. We choose tennis, though, because we want to see smart play ... guys who use tennis skills and racquet skills etc to win points, and hopefully - matches. AND we like to see variety of play - not just some guy finally keeping concentration longer than another in a boring point that trades 20 or 30 shots in the point, til someone makes a mistake!

David Friedman said...


Your comments about Borg's "insight" about where he might struggle are purely speculation. The reality is that he did not struggle on any particular surface during his career, even the grass at Wimbledon that was supposed to not suit his playing style; he proved to be a very adaptable and versatile player.

I placed Wimbledon and the French Open at the top tier, with the other two Slams below them--as most objective observers of tennis do. You placed all four on equal footing despite the indisputable fact that the Australian Open is historically the least significant of the four. When people talk about Sampras, what do they mention first--his Wimbledon titles or his Australian Open titles? It seems to me that his Slam total is mentioned first, then his Wimbledon total and then his U.S. Open total and you are left to figure out how many Australian Opens he won by putting the other totals together and keeping in mind that he never won the French. I've never heard of a player being described primarily in terms of his Australian Open wins, unless that was the only Slam that he won.

I did not agree with or dispute your lengthy recitation of reasons about why players have skipped the Australian Open in the past. All I said was that this was clearly the least significant of the Slams during Borg's era. Obviously, if it had been the most important Slam at that time then so many top players would not have skipped the event.

Anyone can read my work here, at my other site and in various publications and see quite clearly that I am hardly a "typical" journalist who stirs something up just to have a story--quite the opposite, in fact.

Fitness is a prime ingredient for success in sports. Just because you do not like that or wish it was not the case does not change reality, but at least you are finally admitting that this is part of the source of your bias against Borg (and Nadal).

It is ironic that you laud Sampras as an all-arounder even though he had a surface that he could not win on (unlike Borg) and even though his game consisted primarily of blasting his serve past his opponents. Borg was much more of a shotmaker than Sampras, but you dismiss Borg as a marathoner who was just outrunning his opponents. A lot of people cite Borg's fitness but they do so with awe. You are the only person I can recall who has criticized Borg for being in shape. I have criticized athletes for not being in shape but never the other way around.

DH Towers said...

All I'll say, Dave, is that as a journalist, you are great at 'twisting' things. It is a journalistic 'art' to misquote or misrepresent: to also invent out of nothing, as in your insistence upon ranking the 4 Majors, which neither officials nor people tended to do [and they try to claim today that theyre world is less judgmental and [Supposedly] more "tolerant" - what a laugh!].
You've been told sufficiently [Are you deaf?] the prime reasons for the changes made to the Australian Open; I cited them. As umpires of a Major, tournament directors would come in and speak to us and often confide certain information to us. If you can't confide in impartial umpires, who can you confide in?
I cannot ever remember a journalist ever quoting me or representing what I have stated properly, during those various times that papers have written articles on me for various reasons. Every time, facts have been distorted in the final article!
What's wrong with you people??!!

Another of your biases is your adamance against even considering Wik entries. That is your loss, because I have found all sorts of very highly reliable info on there.
If you look up "Australian Open" on Wik, you will see for yourself why changes occurred from time to time. You will also see that the southern tournament was never listed as any lesser in status [That is entirely a "Friedmanism", and that's all it is. Every player had their own preferences and possibly biases. Some criticize the French and even the US - Big deal!] Apart from Wimbledon, there is no consistent opinion on status. This is just your barrow to push ... and you owe it to your agenda: to simply justify your own choice of Borg as the modern era stand out. The rest is unjustified.
As for the fitness issue, again, misrepresented by a journalist. You have twisted it your own way and to your own understanding levels.
My degree is in Physical education - sub-major maths: I top-degreed the 1980's in fact at the RMIT Bundoora institution.
Exercise physiology (what you are harping on about, effectively) - both units with Distinctions. However, I also top-graded Kinesiology, which I consider my prime specialty. In sports psych my % mark was the 2nd top mark. Gemneral Psychology - clearly top.
Biomechanics units - High distinctions.
I am quite able to separate the various components in sport.
If we want to watch Marathons, which I have watched (I won an over 35's 10,000 metre race myself), we will choose to do so.
Most of the time, I prefer tennis.
When I watch tennis, like so many other people, I am more interested in players winning points, not that someone outstays someone else on a court, or that he waits for them to make the first mistake, or tire.
That's junk play.
Borg didn't exactly do this, but at times, it certainly leaned that way.
Your other Big problem in all this is your simple bias against the Okker, Man!
Borg did NOT win on every surface.
He lost on the Ocker surface, Man!
He couldn't play here; whether it was heat, whether it was just only the surface, whether it was that he didn't bother because, like many others at the time, distance made a huge difference, whether it was being Christmas - whatever it was, when he had his go, he slumped pitifully - just as, as you seem to be saying, Sampras dumped out in France.
Borg, for various reasons, dumped out in Australia. He also proved a consistent dumper in USA.
That's all there is to it; and although Sampras was no genius at doubles, the point is in the big tournaments, his record is better than Borg's.

David Friedman said...


I have not twisted a single thing that you wrote, nor have I twisted or misrepresented any factual information. On the other hand, you incorrectly stated "Borg never won a doubles title" (he actually won four, as I told you) and you implied that Sampras was a better doubles player but the truth is that Borg won more doubles titles than Sampras and had a much better career match record. So it is you who in fact have attempted to twist things to suit your biases. All I have done is correct your errors.

The reasons for why players did not show up at the Australian are irrelevant. I think that you are the one who is deaf--or stubborn. If the Australian were equal to or greater than the other Slams, then the top players would have shown up all along. The reality is that the Australian is struggling right now just to maintain Slam status at all and there is serious talk that if the facilities are not improved that it will be downgraded. It always has been and remains the least important Slam, certainly much less prestigious than Wimbledon and the French. You are the only person I've ever heard suggest otherwise and, as an Australian umpire, you are hardly an unbiased person in this matter.

How does other journalists allegedly misquoting you have anything to do with our exchange? You should direct your complaints to those people, not me. I have not misquoted you; all I have done is patiently correct your errors.

Wikipedia is a site where anyone can post any information, without sufficient safeguards against bias and outright falsehood. Based on your style of debating, I can see why you would use it as a primary source but no reputable writer is going to use something from Wikipedia without verifying it from a reliable source. Anyway, the issue here was ATP and Davis Cup wins; do you really trust Wikipedia over the official ATP and Davis Cup sites?

Your assumption that Borg could not handle the conditions in Australia is based on him playing there once at age 18; that makes no sense, because all of his greatest triumphs were still in front of him. For you to say that at such a tender age he figured out that he could not win there is the height of arrogance on your part. You know better than Borg what Borg was capable of doing? Give me a break.

I find it interesting that over the course of several comments you have chosen to provide more extensive biographical information about yourself than about Borg, Sampras, Federer or any tennis players. I did not ask for your resume, nor do I need to see it.

Sampras won more total Slams than Borg but he also played much longer. Borg has better winning percentages in Slam play and was much more dominant; he retired with the most Wimbledon and the most French titles.

I'll say this for the last time: Borg's three year run as dual Wimbledon-French champion is the most impressive feat in Open Era tennis; it has not been matched in the three decades since and if Nadal does not do it we may go another three decades before someone matches it, because Nadal is the only player before or since Borg who looks like he even has a shot at this.

I would be interested to know if you can cite even one credible, unbiased figure from within the tennis world who has said that the Australian Open was in Borg's time or is now equal in stature to Wimbledon and the French.

David Friedman said...


While you search in vain for credible quotes to support your ludicrous assertions about the Australian Open's status, consider these two pieces of evidence supporting my case:

1) Tennis Australia recently issued a report admitting that the Australian Open lacks the "lustre" of the other three Slams.

2) In a January 13, 2006 article, respected tennis writer Joel Drucker declared, "Thanks to the long, chaotic tennis calendar, results from Australia rarely matter as the year unfolds. If tennis' four Grand Slams were the Beatles, then the Australian would be Ringo: beloved, charming, a vital mate -- and short on enduring resonance."

Since you are so fond of mentioning your competitive endeavors, let me borrow a term from one of mine:


David Friedman said...

For those who don't know, Tennis Australia is the organization that runs the Australian Open, so if they say that the event "lacks lustre" that is pretty much irrefutable proof that this is the case.

As for Mr. Drucker, he has been covering the tennis tour for decades for a variety of publications and he is very familiar with Open Era tennis history. Here is another quote from him about the Australian Open (taken from his article about the 1978-87 period in the Open Era):

"For years the Australian Open had grown increasingly moribund, showing signs that it was a Grand Slam event in name only in everything from its ragged facility to its painfully shallow player fields. At one point there were even rumblings it would lose its Grand Slam status. But in the mid-'80s, Tennis Australia at last stepped up, building a state-of-the-art facility that opened in January 1988."

So, exactly as I have been saying all along, the Australian Open was by far the least significant Slam in Borg's era. Although its status increased a bit after Borg retired, it has now once again dropped off and recently there has been renewed, serious talk that it is in danger of disappearing altogether.

Anonymous said...

Well, I just read the exhaustive and frustrating at times discourse's between Friedman Vs. (Marty and Denidowl).

Without whistling Dixie or hailing any of the 3 presented assertions throughout this thread as being correct or wrong .... I can honestly say to Marty and Denidowl from a reader's and tennis enthusiasts point of view on this particular topic you guys would almost be the classic cases of 'chooks running around with their heads cut off', with your responses and prevarications of the issues that were initially raised by David. Also having to resort to smattering this thread about Borg with your own personal anecdotal kudos about yourself was sad.

I have never read any of David's articles before and unless I come across them like I have per chanced on this one, then I am not likely to go all out and add his writings to my favourites or bookmark his articles. This article does need a sense of cohesion, as it becomes a battle of stubbornness.

The mere fact that any sports fan or in this case tennis enthusiast wants to compare different players across era's and in this case post 1968, requires 2 major ingredients. The first is to keep opinion out of it (and personal self-adulatory anecdotes of no relevance) and the second is to use unbiased and irrefutable facts and statistics. This discussion and thread cannot hope to make inroads unless both these realms are adhered to.

So, the loosest point to clear up, which was infuriating to keep reading and none of the 3 of you cleared and tidied up, rather it just went on and on was the point raised about, and I quote here from Denidowl, "A player can never be considered “the Greatest” unless he can show he can do it all: singles, doubles, heat, cold, wind, wet, Davis Cup (for country), all surfaces and all Majors.
Sampras did it all.
Borg did not by a long shot!"

Well, Denidowl you shot yourself in the foot on this point so often that as David said you had to resort to trying to mesmerise anyone reading the article with your unrequested nor sought resume, which honestly needed to be kept in your mum's scrapbook. And David why didn't you close out and easily conclude this point in yours and Borg's favour over Sampras, by saying Sampras did not do it all ( a la zero French Opens as well as not 1 clay court title, a less impressive Davis Cup record than Borg's, doubles results that did not equate to anything like Borg's didn't, Borg actually won many tournaments on all surfaces and just barely missing out on the US Open in 4 finals appearances, also (yawn here) Sampras never made it past 1 semi-final of the French and on I could go, as for who would decimate the other using your own criteria in stacking this up, you don't have to be a statistician, nor a genius to see that Sampras was not in the same league as Borg). That should close out and finally shut that point up, after all it was your own quote of greatness - Denidowl. Sorry, but laughable at best to think Sampras's record comes anywhere near Borg's using those criteria you resorted to.

I think Marty and Denidowl, let's not confuse this issue any more, I will present facts that many have already been put forward, but add to this Federer's name alongside Sampras and you will see that other than both Federer and Sampras heading Borg in Grand Slam titles their accumulation of titles and overall career statistics come up short of Borg's in every possible way.

1. Davis Cup records ... Bjorn Borg is the only player in Davis Cup history to have never lost a singles match whilst playing for his country (Sweden), his record 33 wins, 0 losses. Compare that to Federer's current record of 26 wins and 10 losses.

2. Borg had won 50+ tournaments by the age of 23, Sampras was almost or just past the age of 26 to be the 5th youngest ever to have amassed 50+ tournament victories, Lendl being the second youngest at 25. Federer last year displaced Sampras and is now the 5th youngest player to have won 50+ tournaments, relegating Sampras to the 6th youngest. That is a difference of 3 years in Borg's favour, and it is not as though it was by a couple of months either, as was the case when Federe dislodged Sampras by a mere 3 months. A 3 year gap to achieve this milestone separates Borg from Federer and this includes all players in history not just recent players. With many more tournaments on the circuit these days and higher prize-money being offered, the chance to win more tournaments each year for the greatest players exist now than when Borg or his predecessors were playing the circuit. When you consider Borg won almost 90% (actually 89.8) of matches in his whole career compared with 81% for Federer and Nadal is at 82% currently, the difference there again is quite marked and again in Borg's favour. Let's sit back and watch Nadal most likely trump Federer and Sampras and possibly Lendl in this statistic, he is en-route with the current tournament in Cincinnati to win his 31st tournament and he is only 22 years old going on 23. I don't believe he can win 20 tournaments in 18 months to eclipse Borg but it is looking more and more likely he will pass the others on this one, if his dominance on court that he exudes at the moment continues.

3. Borg won 3 back-to-back French Open and Wimbledon titles which can be compared to Federer's 3 years of back-to-back Wimbledon and US Open titles. However, on the comparison of these incredible feats, Nadal is the first player since Borg to have won the French / Wimbledon double and Borg won it 3 years in a row. Whereas, I believe Sampras, Edberg, Willander, McEnroe and Connors have all won the Wimbledon / US Open doubles. Which gives some audacity and validity to the claim the French / Wimbledon double is the harder one to do, and Borg did it thrice consecutively. Also, credit here must go to Laver with his 2 x Grand Slams as having also achieved both feats on 2 separate occasions in 1962 and 1969.

4. Borg won his 11 Grand Slam titles in 27 attempts which equates to 40.7% success rate in winning a Grand Slam title. Federer's 12 titles have so far come from 37 attempts and this equates to a 32.4% success rate in winning a grand Slam title. Nadal has won 5 Grand Slam titles from his 18 attempts, equating to 27.7% and rising I believe. Sampras's record 14 Grand Slam titles however is not as flattering, taking him 51 attempts to achieve this milestone which is statistically not as impressive at all equating only to a 27.4 success rate in winning his 14 Grand Slam titles over 15 years and even Sampras's best 9 years on the circuit which was the number of years Borg played on the circuit for would summarise as 12 titles from 36 attempts and this equates to 33.3% (from 1993 - 2001). So no matter how one wants to play or manipulate the statistics, no one is close to Borg's percentage of success in Grand Slam titles won.

5. Looking further into these players Grand Slam records; Borg never once lost in the first round of any Grand Slam, and of his 27 attempts he made the finals a further 5 times, which is a phenomenal 16 attempts out of 27 he made the finals or better (59.2%). Compare this to Federer; who has lost in the first round on 6 occasions and his 4 losing final appearances coupled with his 12 wins, that is 16 attempts out of 37 times in which he made the finals or better (43.2%). Sampras's records here are on 7 occasion he lost in the first round and on 4 occasions he was a losing finalist which adds up to 18 from 51 (35.3%). Nadal currently has also never to this point lost in the first round and has to date appeared in 2 losing finals against Federer which is 7 from 18 (38.9%).

6. Grand Slams - Only on 5 occasions out of his 27 attempts did Borg not make the Quarter Finals or better (an amazingly low 18.5%). Federer however, on 16 occasions in his 37 attempts failed to make it to the Quarter finals or better (a rather high 43.2%). Sampras on 22 occasions from his 51 attempts failed to make it to the quarter finals or better (a similarly high 43.1%). Currently Nadal has on 8 occasions not made it to the quarter finals or better (also similar to Federer and Sampras at 44.4%).

7. Borg's greatness and legacy spawned a tennis playing nation from a previous minnow nation (e.g. Willander, Edberg, Bjorkman, Jarrad, Pernfors and many others). Federer as yet has not spawned any fellow Swiss players that are in the top 10-20 in world rankings, this may well change over time. Nadal is a product of a Spanish rich pool of talent. Sampras is the last great player of the most dominant playing nation ever, with Roddick and Blake being the most impressively credentialed players that have followed him in the current talent.

I could go on .... but anyone who has read this far and knows anything about sports and specifically tennis will know or now realise that as great as Federer really is and possibly Nadal is proving to be an even greater player than Federer based on the undeniably incredible statistic that he leads Federer 12 to 6 in career head-to-head meetings and seems to be improving all the time as compared to Federer's 2008 record of 1 tournament win and 14 losses this year alone, Federer can not be called or regarded as the greatest player of all time if he is not even the greatest player of his own era and neither he, Nadal nor Sampras has a record in any statistical analysis you want to conjure up to be equal or better than Borg's.

Add to this consideration also that Borg never visited Australia after his one and only attempt in 1974, which was his first year on the circuit. He along with many other top players (including Connors) over his years as a player boycotted Australia for various reasons. The fact that the Australian open back then was played on grass at Christmas, would allow you to conjecture as to how many times Borg would have won the Australian open during those years if he had come considering his pedigree at Wimbledon, his dominance on grass and all surfaces and his 90% winning record. He cannot be blamed nor prejudiced for not coming to Australia back then in accumulating his records against players like Federer, Sampras and Nadal who do now include the Australian Open in their calendar as do all the top players since the Melbourne Tennis Centre opened in 1988.

As saga's go, here's conclusion and a full stop to your bickering.

Borg is the greatest of all time or failing that conclusion, certainly and without any doubt the greatest since the Open era began in 1968 and likely to be so for many many more years to come, Federer has come close that is for sure. Sampras although he is a great player however if his career had coincided with either of Borg's or Federer's and their respective rivals (eg. Connors, McEnroe, Vilas, Nadal, Djokovic and Hewitt for comparisons) would have been left stranded on fewer Grand Slam titles than any of these rivals could muster, excepting Hewitt although he did demoralise Sampras to win his US Open title, didn't he.

So no more personal stories of self-grandeur please and David please swamp lame responses that Marty and Denidowl put forward with more vigour and indisputable facts as above showcase. Sampras in the class of Borg, laughable at best. Borg's records have stood the test of time and the only ones who cannot wrestle with the plain unadulterated facts are those that are myopic.

David Friedman said...


I thought that I made most of those points either in my original post or in my various responses to the comments here but thank you for supplying a lengthy and orderly listing of the many and various ways that Borg is indeed superior to Federer, Sampras and all of the other Open Era greats.

Anonymous said...

What we all need to remember is that Borg won all his titles with a wooden Racket, and not a over size racket. To play only seven years and change the game the way he did. Brought money and class to the game.


Anonymous said...

Do you think the players today could have beaten Borg with a wood racket, if so the argument is over, but I think Sampras for example would have had a very hard time beating Borg as Sampras relied on his serve so much.