The Greatest Athletes Of All Time? Not So Fast

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In modern sports it has become an obsession to talk about who is the “GOAT”, A.K.A., greatest of all time. Unfortunately, over the years, the conversation has escalated in frequency and devolved in to who has the most “chips”, as in championships. And that supposedly ends the discussion.

Growing up, I don’t recall Bill Russell being anointed as the GOAT even though he was the best player on those great Boston Celtic teams.  Same with Terry Bradshaw of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  I was a tennis fan for years before I heard the name Roy Emerson. FYI, that’s the guy who had the record of grand slam men’s title’s before Pete Sampras and then Roger Federer broke his record.

What a gross over simplification chip count is. Science suggests that in order to accurately compare two samples you would have to put them under the same conditions.

For example, in order to fairly compare San Francisco 49er QB legend, Joe Montana, to rising all-star QB of the Seattle Seahawks, Russell Wilson, you’d have to clone every person they’d ever played with and against, was coached by and against, and play the games in the same weather conditions and under the same league rules.  This would give you the fairest and most accurate comparison between the two. Don’t get mad at me, that’s science. But this is sports so let’s not let a little thing like science spoil all the fun.

Before the chip obsession we relied on statistics, clutch performance, the optics of what our eyes told us.  Players with chips stood out but it wasn’t the be-all and end-all that it seems to be today.  Other factors were and should also be considered.  Such as teammates, coaches, level of competition, rules changes, and so on.

Further, the difference between winning and losing can be so small and contingent on these other factors that have nothing to do with a player and warrant that they be considered.  With that in mind I am going to try to marry a little science with the optics and take a look at some of the so-called GOATs in a few different sports.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass during an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium on Sunday November 18, 2012 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. New England won 59-24. (AP Photo/Aaron M. Sprecher)

(AP Photo/Aaron M. Sprecher)

TOM BRADY – He just led his team to the greatest comeback in the  NFL’s Superbowl history. Congrats to Brady and the Patriots.  It was a great/historic comeback that in the eyes of many clearly cements Brady as the greatest ever.  After all it gives him one more chip than Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw.

As great as the comeback was…

  1. Atlanta’s defensive back drops a potential interception that would’ve sealed the game. *
  2. Atlanta did mismanage the game clock.  Their offensive coordinator called plays that moved them out of field goal range which would have sealed the game before New England’s game tying drive.
  3. The refs missed a face mask call that should have offset a holding penalty, giving the Falcons another down and 10 yards of field position.
  4. Julian Edelman makes a great/miraculous catch.  Coach Bill Belichik makes great second half adjustments.
  5. N.E. defense plays great in the 2nd half.
  6. Specials teams plays great.
  7. Offensive line gives Brady much more time in second half.

*(In fairness to Brady, had Asante Samuel not dropped a potential interception of Eli Manning, against the N.Y. Giants, in 2008, Brady/ Pats win another SB.)

Brady still had to do his thing, and he did, but if ALL of those things don’t happen we’re talking about his pic six, and open receivers he missed during the game, because Atlanta likely wins.

Not every QB plays with the assets Brady has had throughout his career.  True, he’s not playing with hall of fame wide receivers (except for when he had Randy Moss), but the guys he’s throwing to are often open.  Brady deserves his share of the credit but that does also speak to the system and to the coaching.

Two more words for you with implications on how Brady is viewed in the pantheon of great quarterbacks: Tuck rule.

Yes, of course Brady is great, all-time great, but like other greats, you give him time, he will pick you apart, you pressure him, like the Giants did in two Superbowls or Atlanta in the first half of this one, and he becomes mortal.  Give a handful of other great QB’s his defenses, his field goal kickers/ special teams, and his coaches, and their chip count is right where Brady’s is.  Maybe they have one or two less, or maybe one or two more.

I do put Brady in the discussion of all time greats, but it is and always will be just that… a discussion.

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ROGER FEDERER – The Fed just did something no one thought he could do.  At 35 years of age, (geriatric for tennis) coming off a six month layoff due to knee surgery and having not won a tennis major since 2012 Wimbledon, he won his 18th grand slam title, The Australian Open. He increased his record and lead to 4 slams over Rafael Nadal and Pete Sampras. To win the tournament he had to go the distance, 5 sets, in his last three matches, beating Nadal in an epic final. To many, this win, especially against Nadal, who has dominated their head to head competition, cements Roger as the GOAT.

You would think that declaring a GOAT would be much easier in an individual sport versus team but in tennis it certainly is not.  Tennis is played on different surfaces, clay, grass, hard, carpet, and indoor/ outdoor, that greatly affects the way the game is played.  Further, when trying to compare different generations, you have vast changes in racket and string technology, changes in surface, and advancement in training and recovery from injury.

I’m a HUGE Federer fan.  I was elated for him for his latest slam win. I draw personal inspiration from it as well, but objectivity requires that I point out the obvious.  Nadal is without question the better clay court player.  If not for a series of injuries, Nadal may have more slam titles than Fed, and he does have the head to head edge.  Pete Sampras, who was not the all-around player Fed is may be his equal or better on grass.  Novak Djokovic at his best at the Aussie? I’m not betting the ranch on either player.  At the U.S. Open, Andre Agassi in his prime, Sampras and others could have given Fed a run.  In fact in a hypothetical tournament of champions, Federer might not be the number one seed in any of the four slams.

Fed’s slam total, masterful play and the fact that he would likely be the first, second, third, or fourth seed in all hypothetical slams of champions of course puts him in the discussion, but cemented shut? Nope.  Most accomplished doesn’t automatically mean GOAT.

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SERENA WILLIAMS – Sticking with tennis.  In the women’s game, Serena just won her 23rd grand slam, passing Steffi Graf for the modern-day women’s lead. Also at the age of 35, Miss Williams is still dominant, ranked number 1 and may add to her already spectacular resume.

However.  I’m going to name some other players for you: Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams, Jennifer Capriati, Lindsey Davenport, Martina Hingis and Monica Seles. What do all of these players have in common?

  1. They all of have won multiple grand slams.
  2. They were all ranked number one at one time.
  3. Their careers all overlapped with Serena’s.
  4. They all prematurely retired, or took time off due to injury, desired to get pregnant and start a family, in the case of Venus Williams, illness slowed her down, and in the case of Monica Seles, she was stabbed on the tennis court.

Those are eight battle tested champions.  That’s a lot.  Setting aside Seles for a moment, let’s say that Serena is better than every player mentioned above.  I submit that if  half of these players didn’t leave the sport prematurely of suffer injury, they would have dented Serena’s slam total, which seems to be the nail that shuts the door on the GOAT conversation.  My Mt. Rushmore of women’s tennis is Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles and of course Serena Williams.

My personal favorite female player is Seles.  Seles, the sports world, including other players like Graf and Williams, were robbed when Seles’ career was irreversibly effected by the stabbing. Seles ended up with 9 slams.  No doubt she would have had many more if not for the lost years and psychological effect of such an event.

Her meteoric rise at such a young age came before that of Tiger Woods’ ascension in golf. Seles, by age 19, had begun to dominate then GOAT candidate Graf.  God forbid Woods had been stabbed after his 8th slam in golf and had he come back to only win one more, we’d be hearing for decades how he would have won 15 to 20 more slams easy.  History has not afforded Seles the same status they should have and would have if she were born in America or perhaps if she was a he.

But I digress.  Serena is an all-time great and given the length of her greatness and dominance and the fact her career is still going, the female tennis GOAT conversation does begin with her, but it does not end.  And like the men, in a tournament of champions her seeding may vary by surface.

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MICHAEL JORDAN – Toughest for last.  I love me some Michael Jordan.  When I think of MJ, I think of that scene in Rocky II when Apollo Creed’s trainer, Duke, is trying to talk Apollo out of a rematch with Rocky. Apollo asks Duke what is he afraid of. Duke’s answer is, “I saw you beat that man like I saw you beat no man before… and the man, kept, coming, after you … We don’t need that kind of man in our life…” Jordan, had Rocky’s heart and determination, and Apollo’s talent. A true terminator.  But the end of discussion GOAT?  I can’t go there.  Even for Michael.

When talking about all-time greats in basketball, big men seemed to get short-changed.  Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain. These are greats that can’t just be dismissed because their games don’t possess flash and style, or because they played more than 15 years ago.

Weirdly enough, the “chip” discussion in basketball only seems to apply to modern players and the flashy two guard or small forward. Kobe Bryant and Lebron James can’t be better than MJ because they have less rings?  (They’re not for other reasons but like I said, I love me some MJ) However, less rings doesn’t seem to disqualify MJ in the comparison to Bill Russell. Kareem has as many rings, scored more points and won more MVP’s, was an eleven time all defensive player, and had the most indefensible shot in the game.

MJ was a transcendent player who took the NBA to new levels.  With all due respect to the logo, (Jerry West), for all of his contributions to the game, and his game, the NBA should consider redoing the logo to Jordan’s image, and or do for him what hockey did for Wayne Gretzky and retire MJ’s jersey in all arena’s… But that still doesn’t make him the end of discussion GOAT.

These are just several examples of “GOAT” athletes.  I could have picked others.  In the case of Brady, Federer, Williams and Jordan, I am not saying that any of the them are not the GOAT in their respective sports, just that you can’t close the book, especially based on most championships.   There are lots of considerations, and this blog just begins to scratch the surface.

Six Tips to Improve Tennis

And Get More People to Watch

(This blog was originally posted on the Yahoo Contributor Network on June 27th, 2011. As of 7/31/14 YCN has taken down all of its content)

Tennis is a great sport. A warrior sport. I think it could and should be more popular. Theses are my tips to improve the game and make it more marketable.

6 — Allow coaching: Unlike team sports, there are no timeouts and players are on their own. But even boxers get to talk to their corner-men between rounds. Every change over might be too much, but how about allow coaching between sets? It could make for better matches and improved play. It gives announcers more to talk about and second-guess and it adds personalities to the game and post match press conferences.

5 — Expand replay: This is a joke. The speed of the technology is such that calls can be instantly corrected but the powers that be like to get the crowd buzzing in anticipation so they drag out the time it takes to show the replay. It is grossly unfair to the players to make them focus on the calls and play at the same time when the technology exists to where it doesn’t have to slow down the game and we can get it right. As it stands a player can run out of challenges late in a set or be hesitant to use one early in a set. Consequently, bad calls can still needlessly affect an outcome frustrating players and fans.

4 — Play through let cords on serves or make it a fault: As it stands now, if a serve hits the net and lands in, it is a let cord and they replay the serve. I heard John McEnroe years ago suggest playing through it and I agree. It would create some exciting points. True it is not skill demonstrated by the server but it is part of the game.

They don’t re-kick field goals that hit the crossbar and go through or bounce out. The other option I like better than replaying the serve is to call it a fault and go on to the second serve. The server’s job is to get the ball over the net and within the service line, if you’re not going to play it, than it should be a fault.

3 — Eliminate grunting or let the crowd make all the noise it wants: For years we have been told that tennis is a gentleman’s game. I’ve also heard tennis players say you need to hear the sound of the ball off the racket. Well the grunting, bellowing, sodomizing, screeching and all the other noises coming out of player’s mouths these days disputes that theory.

I am just one fan but there are matches and players I can’t watch because of the exaggerated and needless harmonic dissonance spewing from their mouths after every shot. Do they think it is cool or intimidating? Fine, let them moan like a dying Zebu on their serve. Anything more than an extended natural breath during a point is a violation.

First time it is a warning. Second time it costs them a point. Each time thereafter a game.

2 — Reschedule the U.S. Open Finals: One of the issues tennis has with gaining traction is when it competes against more popular sports and thus minimizing the coverage and attention it gets the next day. The U.S. Open finals is played on a Sunday, the opening weekend of the NFL season, and that is brutal. Schedule the tournament so that the final is either played on Labor Day on a Monday afternoon, (to avoid going head to head with Monday Night Football) or in prime time on Tuesday night.

This way you have a better shot of getting more coverage the next day in the 24/7 sports news cycle and going viral on twitter. You can have a great final on Sunday but the next day, sports radio, ESPN, twitter, they don’t care about it, you’re not water cooler conversation. Maybe, just maybe if the final is five sets and is the top five matches of all-time, you’ll get a little blurb at the end of PTI or a mention in fourth down on First and ten. Otherwise they’d rather talk about what Terrell Owens said about his latest new quarterback or Chad Johnson’s new name.

Tennis, I think you deserve better, but right now you’re like a great indie film about talking robots coming out the same weekend as the next Transformers movie. You have to market better and around the giants.

Oh and would it kill Wimbledon to start its tournament on a Sunday instead of Monday and play on the middle Sunday, you know when people are around to watch? Let the middle Monday be the down day to give the burdened villagers a break from all of the Wimbledon traffic.

1 – Pay Tiger Woods to play Tennis: Okay, not Tiger, but the point is do more to market your stars. You have two of the all time greats in Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. You have great challengers to the throne with Novac Djokovic and Andy Murray. A young rising star in Juan Martin Del Potro returning to form and a fiery veteran fighting for one more slam in Andy Roddick.

The bee swarm over U.S. Golf Open winner Rory Mcilroy proves the star doesn’t have to be an American to get attention.

Now that tennis has made a deal with the evil empire of sports coverage, ESPN, (I say that lovingly, please hire me!) its Q rating should go up. Tennis also has a great ex champion and ambassador in John McEnroe who will seemingly do anything to help the sport, get him out there even more. Get him on Sportscenter, have him debate Skip Bayless on First and Ten. Do the same with Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. Use your assets and they will make a difference.

Sprinkle fresh, innovative changes into the game, get your personalities out there and you will get more attention, and attention will help spread this great game.

Published by Jeff Schubert

Jeff Schubert is the Host/Executive Producer of the show Filmnut that airs on thestream.tv. Each webisode provides an in-depth interview about the making, marketing, or distribution of film, TV or new media…

Tennis: A Sport of Warriors

Profiles of Ten Tennis Gladiators

(This blog was originally posted on the Yahoo Contributor Network on April 27th, 2011. As of 7/31/14 YCN has taken down all of its content)

No time to rest. No off-season. Once the game begins there is no one to help you. No teammates, no time outs, and no coaches. Conditions change, court surfaces change, and in a tournament like Wimbledon there is no bell to save you in the twelfth round. You play until someone is broken.

Tennis requires a unique blend of world-class hand eye coordination, physical condition, stamina, willpower and mental toughness. To thrive in tennis you have to be a warrior. With apologies to the greats who came before my time here is a list of some who have impressed me. The list is in no particular order:

Andre Agassi – It was great watching Agassi’s metamorphosis. From seeing him not make the most of his talent to the light bulb going on and watching him get the most out of every last drop he had.

We should all appreciate the way he learned to value every point, every win, and every match and incorporate that zest in our own lives.

His gesture of blowing kisses to the crowd after matches at the US Open always seemed to me like an acknowledgment of all that was behind him, his awareness of the moment, and the hope it would never end.

Yes he was a great player, but as he got older, he beat people with his will, conditioning and brains. Watching him dissect and carve up opponents was amazing. Watching him jog on and off the court during change-overs while his opponents were fighting off dehydration was almost comical.

Lastly he managed to inject his personality and have fun with the game minus the nastiness of some of his predecessors. He retired with a rare career slam (winning at least once at the four majors) and eight wins total in slams.

Jimmy Connors – Andre Agassi gave so much in the second half of his career its hard to imagine someone giving that much over an entire career (that included making it to a US Open semi-final at age 39!) but that is exactly what Jimmy Connors did.

I generally don’t put people in the same sentence as Michael Jordan but when it comes to competitiveness that is exactly what I do with Jimmy Connors. His drive, obsession, and love of the game was every bit the equal to Jordan’s for basketball, maybe greater when you consider Jordan’s hiatus from basketball to play baseball.

Another thing impressive about Connors’ run was that it took place in an era when tennis greats burnt out faster than they do today. My theory is training methods are so much more advanced now that today’s player can stay fit and motivated longer. Connors was doing it on blood and guts.

He could fire up a crowd like no other. Jimbo still holds the record (by far) for most tournament wins at one hundred and nine, and count eight slams among them.

Bjorn Borg – Imagine winning the Olympic gold for the fifty yard dash in the same year as finishing with the fastest time in the New York City Marathon. Or being the best starting pitcher in baseball and its best closer. Back in Borg’s day the difference between the clay surface at Roland Garros and the grass of Wimbledon were so dissimilar (far more so than today) it was like dominating two different sports. The feat being more amazing when you consider there were only a few weeks separating the two events. Borg won both events in the same year three times and eleven times overall in an abbreviated career.

He was the Barry Sanders of his sport walking away with the all-time record for slams in his sights. His back-to-back Wimbledon finals with John McEnroe (in which they split) are classics.

Ivan Lendl – Perhaps the most under appreciated champion in tennis. He was Ivan Drago before Ivan Drago. The Czechoslovakian cyborg with the high ball toss on his serve and the laser passing shots who refused to be intimidated by the dominating personalities of John McEnroe or Jimmy Connors, even on their soil.

He went to a record eight straight US Open finals, winning three championships and eight overall grand slam events.

He was also Andre Agassi before Andre Agassi. He didn’t have the peaks and valleys of Agassi but he did change his diet and dedicate himself to fitness that helped take his game to the next level.

Perhaps his greatest career accomplishment was coming from two sets and a break in the fourth set in the finals at Roland Garros against McEnroe to win his first Grand Slam.

Pete Sampras – Whoever said defense wins championships never saw Pete Sampras’ offense.

I always felt Sampras received too much criticism for being too stoic. He followed the Connors / McEnroe generation where on court outbursts were lamented by the media and was classy as can be.

For baseball fans, he kind of reminds me of Mariano Rivera in temperament and delivery. You had an idea of what was coming, but good luck dealing with it.

In the decline phase of his career, his ability, mental toughness, and presence were enough to keep him winning. And when his game really dipped, he got a new coach, (Paul Annacone) dug deep and won one more slam, his fourteenth overall, at the US Open and then left the game on his terms a la John Elway.

He retired with the record for most grand slam wins (which was later broken by Roger Federer) and consecutive weeks being ranked number one in the world. If ESPN fawned over tennis in his day the way it does over golf, Sampras would be the bigger sports icon he deserves to be.

Andy Roddick – Tennis’ A-Rod is not on this list because he is great champion. However, an athlete who is never going to win as much as he wants or thought he would, but keeps fighting is also a warrior.

Roddick burst on to the seen with a booming serve, a winning personality, and with Sampras and Agassi aging, he was to be the next great American player. He did win a US Open, and he briefly reached number one, but maybe had a little too much of the young Agassi in him with the distraction of getting his own reality show.

Then that guy named Federer ascended and Roddick, as well as many others, were in for a rude awakening. From the outside looking in it seemed like a bucket of freezing water got thrown in Roddick’s face. What do you do from here? Accept mediocrity? There would still be a lot of money and fame in that. No. Roddick dedicated himself more so then ever, working harder, getting fitter, changing coaches, and trying new things. And while it has kept him relevant, (including a historical, epic Wimbledon final with Federer) he has yet to win another major.

To me there is something about training your ass off, getting beat, knocked down again and again and charging back for more that is impressive, for different reasons, as doing it when you have a reasonable expectation you’re going to get results. For all of us who aren’t going to accomplish what we want to A-Rod is on this list.

John McEnroe – Putting aside his sometimes boorish behavior, Johnny Mac is in the conversation of athletes who have done more for their sport than anyone.

He was a great singles player finishing the year ranked number one four times and winning seven grand slams. He and doubles partner Peter Fleming are arguably the greatest doubles tandem of all time. Mac was a part of nine men’s slam doubles teams and for good measure he won a mix doubles slam at the French as well.

In his prime he was as fierce a competitor as any yet always made time for Davis Cup, the tennis equivalent of the Fed Cup in golf. Mac dominated leading America to victory four times. In his time and since you do not see top players in the world dedicate themselves to their country the way Mac did.

Post playing days, he is the games best commentator and sports ambassador. He has dedicated his life to tennis and the sport is better for it. Oh and despite what I said about his behavior, McEnroe and challenges? That would have been fun to see if they had them in his day.

Roger Federer – The Swiss Maestro. If there were one reason not to include Federer on this list of warriors it would be because he is so incredible and moves so gracefully that he makes the game look easy.

He belongs in the conversation of most dominant athletes of all time. Holding the record for most grand slams with sixteen, he won three out of the four majors three years in a row and set remarkable records for reaching consecutive grand slam finals (10) and semi finals (23). For a sport with no real off-season, that demands so much physically and mentally, not to mention the worldwide travel, not to get burnt out, to stay healthy and play through injury and maintain that standard of excellence is phenomenal. It is an iron man streak worthy of inclusion with Cal Ripken, Brett Farve and A.C. Green.

Like Sampras in his prime, he is probably under valued due to the comparative popularity of other sports. The Tiger Woods fan club in the media in particular seeming to take offense at any comparison.

Let not Federer’s demeanor or grace on the court fool you, he has the fire in his belly of a true warrior and at age thirty though his game may be on a slight decline, don’t count him out, he has been written off prematurely before.

Oh and his matter fact confidence cracks me up.

Rafael Nadal – Toro toro toro. To me Nadal is like the Derek Jeter or Tom Brady of his sport. Very hard to dislike. At just twenty-four he already has nine slam wins and before all is said and done he could go down as the game’s best. And this is coming from a Federer fan! He is great, he is humble, and while Sampras and Federer may be under appreciated outside the tennis world, Rafa might be inside of it. Seemingly fans always finding a reason to root for his opponent.

Unsatisfied with being a clay court specialist Nadal has been relentless in improving his game on all surfaces and accomplished his career slam of winning all four majors at a much younger age than the previous two to accomplish the feat, Andre Agassi and Roger Federer. He plays with the heart of Jimmy Connors, the physicality of Agassi, the fitness of Borg, and the cerebralness of Federer.

Having dominated Federer on clay and perhaps gotten inside of his head it may have been in Nadal’s interest to keep Federer at arm’s length off the court. But these two great champions have developed a respect and friendship that’s serves them as individuals and the game for the better.

Novak Djokavic – I consider Novak to be a younger more talented version of Andy Roddick. Novak came on the scene with number one in the world talent and a number one in the world ego. Problem was Federer and Nadal were having none of it.

Djokavic broke through for a major in a year Federer had mononucleosis but then his game took a slide to the point where we began to wonder if he was going to be one and done in the majors. But he fought back and with his fun personality and Federer aging, the game is better for it.

Heat and stamina do seem to still be issues for the Serbian but he has corrected issues he was having with his serve and fought through the mental and physical barriers to be a champion again. Further, he has put together an impressive twenty-four match and counting winning streak (including two straight wins in finals over Nadal) to start the 2011-year.

It might be premature having him on the list but I like his on and off the court growth process so far so I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt that it will continue.

From Borg, Connors, McEnroe, and Lendl, to Sampras and Agassi to Federer, Nadal, and Djokavic you see the evolution of the game, one generation learning from the previous and taking the game to a new level. There are so many more warriors and great players in the sport, if you haven’t already check it out or better yet pick up a racket and give a try.

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Tennis giants who could have just as easily been included in this article are: Mats Wilander, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and perhaps the Jackie Robinson of the sport, the great Arthur Ashe.

Published by Jeff Schubert

Jeff Schubert is the Host/Executive Producer of the show Filmnut that airs on thestream.tv. Each webisode provides an in depth interview about the making, marketing, or distribution of film, TV or new media…

The Greatest Female Tennis Player Ever? Don’t Forget About Monica Seles

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It was 20 years ago today that the number one player in the world of women’s tennis, Monica Seles, was stabbed on-court during a quarterfinal tennis match in Hamburg with Magdalena Maleeva .  To this day it still surprises me that a bigger deal wasn’t made of this attempted murder of a top athlete in her prime.  Was it because this top athlete was a woman?  Not American?  Her ethnicity?

Ask yourself this: if God forbid, Michael Jordan, Jeff Gordon, Tiger Woods, Pete Sampras, Ken Griffey Junior, Chris Evert, Lance Armstrong, Serena Williams, Dwight Gooden, Roger Clemens, Jerry Rice or John Elway, got stabbed, on their meteoric rise to the top of their sport, do you think the media would have made more, less, or the same deal out if it?  My opinion is that in all cases it would have garnered more attention at the time of the incident.  And more attention long after.

selesstabBefore the stabbing, Seles was dominating women’s tennis and was starting to take command of her rivalry with Steffi Graf.   Graf, a legitimate champion and an all time great herself, was also robbed of the fair chance to regain the number one ranking and swing the balance of that rivalry back in her favor without the assistance of the stabbing.

Of course Graf was in no way connected or responsible, in fact she was shook up by the event herself.  But she still benefited from it.  Seles was a dominant number one in the world at the time and won a Roger Federer like 8 of the previous 11 grand slam events.

The assailant, Günter Parche, who did this was an obsessed Graf fan who wanted her to return to number one.  Graf had won two slams during the Seles run, and oh by the way won the next four, after the attempt of Seles’ life took her out of the game to recover.  Parche got his wish.

By comparison to Seles’ 8 of 11, Tiger Woods once won 7 out of 11.   Could you imagine if this happened to him during his reign?  Or if someone from Detroit stabbed Michael Jordan, so the Pistons could have won another championship or two?  Or maybe a NY Knick fan doing it so the Patrick Ewing led Knicks could have won one?

selesyoung_editedSeles was only nineteen at the time. Nineteen!  It took her over two years to recover physically from the stabbing and return to the tour.  However, in my opinion, all of the grand slams won for at least the following six years, after this vile event, unfortunately need to come with an asterisk.

Her issues with depression post the stabbing are documented.  Seles suffered injuries and never regained her physical form.

It is reasonable to infer her career would have unfolded vastly differently had she not lost time away from the tour.  I can’t say different obstacles may not have presented themselves, but most of the ones that did would not have, but for the stabbing.

Seles won one major, the Australian Open, after her comeback.  Her career total of grand slam wins is nine.  This still places her in the top ten all-time list for female singles champions.  Graf is number one with 22.

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Chris Evert & Martina Navratilova

Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert sit tied with 18 at number two.  I’m inclined to think that both Seles and Graf would have finished with between 14 and 19 had this crime never taken place.  But we’ll never know for sure, if one or both, would have finished with more, or passed fellow all-time greats Navratilova and Evert.

In March of 2012, the Tennis Channel ranked the 100 greatest tennis players. A list that combined men and women.  Graf is listed as number 3 and  Seles as number 19.  That degree of separation seems unjust.

On this 20th anniversary of this disturbing event, I think it is time we acknowledge and remember just how great Seles was.  How she, the players during, and even before and after, were robbed.

No conversation of the best to ever play the women’s game should take place without Seles being a big part of the discussion.  To do so would be to deprive her of her rightful place in history and give the German man who committed the attack, and served no jail time after being found guilty, one more victory he did not deserve.

Nadal’s Beyond Impressive Win at Indian Wells

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There are reasons why team sports have a preseason:

  • To get players back in shape from the off-season.
  • To implement and work on strategy.
  • To get in “game shape” which is different than physical condition.

And yes of course they want to tryout and integrate new players.  Generally the quality of play even from superstars is not what you get when players are in peak shape and forum.

In college football the long layoff between the last regular season game and the final bowl games, (this can be over a month),  is often talked about as being too long and it’s potential effect on the quality of play.

In pro football where some teams get a bye week off and others don’t, the team with the week off sometimes comes out flat.

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Rafael Nadal took seven months off the tour due to a knee injury.  This is by far longer than any team sport off-season.  He played against top players who were sharp and in form.  (Roger Federer was said to have “tweaked” his back) Nadal won a big tournament and is 17 and 1 overall since his comeback.

For some perspective, imagine if Lebron James was hurt and missed more than half of an NBA season and in his first eighteen games back he scored over 40 points and led the Miami Heat to an 17-1 record.  We’d make a big deal out of that.

In pro football, we had two truly amazing comebacks in the 2012 season.  Peyton Manning from neck surgery, and Adrian Peterson from knee surgery.

However, they were allowed to work themselves into game shape through a preseason against players and teams that were coming off of long rests themselves.  Further, whether it is returning from the off-season or recovering from injury you often hear analysts and experts say you cannot practice game speed.

Nadal is playing in big tournaments, with ranking, money and mano e mano ego on the line.  He is playing against players who are in “game shape” while he is readjusting to game speed.

His fast start off of his return speaks to his dedication, desire, skill and mental toughness.  All of which were required to come back this strong this fast.

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In the next two months Nadal’s game needs to get sharper, but barring an injury setback, I have no doubt it will.  The King of The Championships at Rolland Garros, (The French Open), will be ready in time to make him the favorite at the tournament he has owned.

With Novak Djokaovic in search of a career slam, Roger Federer still drinking from the fountain of youth, Andy Murray rising, and a handful of players like Juan Martin del Potro, Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and David Ferrer lurking… it should be a great tournament and rest of season in 2013.  Glad Nadal is coming to the party, he makes a great field even better.