Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fun With Tennis Numbers

Here are some of the statistics compiled by one of the Open Era's finest male tennis players:
  1. Best career overall match winning percentage (.827)
  2. Best career Grand Slam match winning percentage (.898)
  3. Best career Wimbledon match winning percentage (.927)
  4. Best career match winning percentage against top 10 players (.705)
  5. Best career Grand Slam tournament winning percentage (.407)
  6. Won at least one Grand Slam singles title for eight straight years
  7. Only man to win three Grand Slam singles titles without losing a set
  8. Only man to reach four Grand Slam singles finals without losing a set
  9. Only man to defeat six previous Grand Slam winners in a Grand Slam final
  10. Holds the record for most consecutive Davis Cup singles match wins (33)
  11. Holds the record for most singles titles won before his 25th birthday (59)
  12. Reached the finals in 11 of 12 Grand Slams entered during a four year stretch
Based on how often Roger Federer is referred to as the greatest tennis player of all-time, one might assume that he produced the above numbers--but those statistics in fact belong to Bjorn Borg (who shares the record for eight straight years with a Grand Slam win with Federer and Pete Sampras). Borg did not lose a single set at the French Open in 1978 and 1980 and in 1978 he posted a .799 winning percentage in his French Open games en route to winning nearly two thirds (.665) of his Grand Slam games that year, the best such single season winning percentage ever. Rafael Nadal has tied some of Borg's French Open records (including six titles overall and four straight titles) but--except for one year--Nadal has not approached Borg's simultaneous mastery of Roland Garros' clay and Wimbledon's grass; Borg is the only man to win both the French Open and Wimbledon for three straight years (1978-80) and the only man who won both six French Opens and five Wimbledons.

While it is certainly true that Federer has posted some gaudy statistics and Sampras displayed amazing consistency by finishing first in the year-end rankings a record six straight times, Borg's dominance is far too often overlooked; no sensible discussion of the greatest Open Era male players can omit his name.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Competitive Greatness: Why Tom Coughlin Should Always be More Respected Than Tony Dungy

The NFL Network series "A Football Life" is a wonderful tribute to Steve Sabol's visionary genius. The Tom Coughlin episode includes a great story about the final game of the 2007 season. Coughlin's New York Giants could not improve their playoff position but instead of resting his starters Coughlin played the game straight up. The New England Patriots defeated the Giants 38-35 to clinch the only 16-0 record in NFL history but Coughlin's approach earned him a powerful phone message from Hall of Fame Coach John Madden: "Yeah, Tom, this is John Madden calling on Sunday morning just to congratulate you and your team for a great effort last night--not good, but great. I think it is one of the best things that has happened to the NFL in the last 10 years and I don't know if they all know it but they should be very grateful to you and your team. We were getting too much of that 'Well, they're going to rest their players because they don't need it.' That's not sports and that's not competition. Anyway, I'm a little emotional about it but I was so damn proud of what you guys did. It is something that we all ought to thank you for because, believe me, the NFL needed that. Congratulations." Coughlin saved that phone message and played it for his entire team; Coughlin explained to the NFL Films interviewer, "When John Madden calls you, that brings it right to mind again that that's really what football is: it's sport--and what is sport all about? We're trying to win. That's what this league is about, competitive greatness and always putting your best foot forward." The Giants eventually beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Meanwhile, Tony Dungy's well-rested Indianapolis Colts watched New England defeat San Diego in that season's AFC Championship Game; instead of truly competing in the final week of the 2007 regular season, Dungy made sure that Reggie Wayne won the receiving yardage title and then Dungy shut his whole team down. Every time Dungy pulled this stunt his team lost in the playoffs; despite their great regular season records under Dungy, the only time his Colts won the Super Bowl was the one season that the situation forced Dungy to actually act like every game really matters. Sports is not about trying your best some of the time or acting like some games matter while other games don't matter; Tony Dungy may be a wonderful human being but he should never, ever be ranked alongside Tom Coughlin--or New England's Bill Belichick--as a head coach.