Andre Agassi has no problem conceding that Pete Sampras, his "nemesis," was the best tennis player of their generation. But he won't confer upon his rival the title of "greatest of all time." That honor, according to Agassi, belongs to Roger Federer -- and Sampras isn't particularly close.
"I think Federer is a class above, quite frankly. I mean, you're talking about a guy who dominated pretty much on every surface, minus one guy on clay. He's won everything," Agassi told Marc Lamont Hill of HuffPost Live on Monday. "Pete was obviously off the hook on faster courts but during the clay season players wanted to play against him. It was opportunity to get a win over him, it was an opportunity to beat him. You didn't have that luxury with Fed. He was really the world class, all-around player."
A look at the performances of Sampras and Federer on clay backs up Agassi's case. Sampras' career winning percentage on clay (.625) certainly pales in comparison to his winning percentages on hard courts (.804) and grass (.835). The 14-time Grand Slam winner also never won the French Open and picked up just three clay titles during his 14-year career, according to ATP.com. Federer finished his 2013 season with higher career winning percentages on all surfaces, notably clay (.766). Through 2013, Federer has won 10 clay court titles, including the 2009 French Open.
Dominance on clay is the hallmark of the player who has given Federer the most trouble in recent years and who Agassi believes deserves consideration in the G.O.A.T argument. Rafael Nadal won his record eighth French Open title in 2013 and closed out the summer by raising the trophy at the U.S. Open, his 13th career Grand Slam title. The 27-year-old Spaniard needs just one more Grand Slam triumph to equal Sampras' career total and is just four behind Federer. Coming off an uneven 2013 at age 32, there are doubts that Federer will manage to add another.
"I personally think that Nadal has an argument to be made for the best of all time. If Nadal is sitting at a table with Federer and Federer says, 'I'm the best ever,' my first question would be 'well then how come you didn't beat me because I beat you twice as many times? And, hey, by the way, you know I won everything including gold medal and Davis Cup.'"
After sweeping their three 2013 meetings, Nadal holds a 21-10 edge in the rivalry.
"At the same token, Federer has separated himself during a few years, like nobody else, and he's done it more consistently," Agassi told Hill. "To be able to make the argument for both guys playing in the same generation is pretty remarkable."
Asked where he fits in the debate, Agassi insisted he wasn't in the discussion.
"It's not even close," Agassi said. "I'm way down the list from guys like that. I did manage to win all of them but that's just the first criteria in my mind."