Exclusive interview with Paul Annacone, Roger Federer’s coach, who used to work with Pete Sampras.
Annacone has told The Tennis Space that it is impossible to say whether Federer at his peak would have beaten Sampras at his peak: “If Roger played Pete at his peak, who knows what would happen? When people make strong arguments, I just laugh. I consider myself a tennis expert, but you just can’t compare two eras like that. It gets me emotionally frustrated when people make snap judgements like that.”
Annacone on how Sampras would fare in 2012: “I was talking about this the other day with Severin Luthi, who coaches Roger with me. We were talking about how the game has changed. I never saw Pete play in these conditions so I don’t know how he would play. I saw Roger when he was younger in fast conditions. What’s really intriguing is to wonder how Roger and Pete would have played if they had played against each other for, say, six years? That’s what was so great about Pete and Andre, and about Roger and Rafa. The players evolve, and the conditions evolve. Rod Laver would have been great whichever era he was in. He would have figured that out. Pete would have been great in this era but he would have had to figure it out. Roger would have been great back in Rod Laver’s era but it would have been a different time.”
Annacone on why he becomes frustrated when others make “snap judgements” about a match-up between two players from different eras: “The subjective evaluations… I consider myself a tennis expert, but I find it difficult to project because it’s two different games. If Pete was to play Roger or Rafa or Novak, here in 2012, it would be a totally different game. You don’t know how Pete would have evolved, and how his game would have changed. He wouid have been great. I don’t mean to give you a non-answer, but when people try to compare era, it’s apples and oranges. It’s a different game.
“What I do believe in, from the bottom of my heart, is that great players will be great players, whichever era they’re in. You can’t project or predict how Laver would have done against Roger. Who knows? The rivalries within the own eras are so interesting. I got to sit in the front row for eight years watching Andre and Pete, the ebbs and flows, the little subtle changes here and there, and what they were doing to adapt. That’s what made it great. If Roger played Pete at his peak, who knows what would happen? When people make strong arguments, I just laugh. People say, ‘Andre would never lose to Rafa on grass’, and I say: ‘Why? How do you know that?’ I’m a tennis expert and I don’t know that. People say, ‘Rafa would never ever lose to Borg on clay’, and you think: ‘Why?’
“The technology is so different now, and how good would Borg be with the technology? Who knows? It’s very easy to say, ‘that would never happen – he’s just a better version of that guy’. You don’t know that.
“That gets me emotionally frustrated when people are quick to made snap judgements. You see these lists of the 20 greatest players of all time, and they’re all ranked. You can put them in a pile, but just can’t rank them, you can’t do that. You can rank their accomplishments, on pure numbers of slams won, you can say that, that’s inarguable. But you can’t say he’s at No 7, and he’s at No 4, and Roger’s at No 1. It’s a totally different game. It makes for great conversation, though.”