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Slam Results – Consistency and Era

Roger Federer Pete Sampras Bjorn Borg

I have often been struck by how amazingly consistent some of the contemporary great players are, and how it seems they are far more consistent in terms of Slam results than in past eras. I wanted to see if my hunch was correct, so I looked at all players who had won 4+ Slams in the Open Era (except for Ken Rosewall), plus Andy Murray added in the mix (as the player currently active with the best chance at 4+ Slams). I came up with a list of 16 players, who I then checked for a few statistics: total Slams, Quarterfinal appearances, % of Slams that were QF or better, Streaks of QF appearances at Slams, and years in which the player was in the QF of all Slams he appeared in (minimum 2 appearances).

The results were somewhat surprising. First of all, when I compared the Big Four to the previous generation of greats, namely Sampras and Agassi, but also Courier, I found that the Big Four are far more consistent. Here are those players:

QF% (longest QF streak, years of all QF)
Murray: 62% (15, 4)
Djokovic: 75% (22, 5)
Nadal: 69% (11, 4)
Federer: 69% (36, 8)
Sampras: 56% (11, 2)
Agassi: 59% (6, 5)
Courier: 36% (5, 0)

As you can see, the recent greats–in particular Djokovic and Federer–have been more consistent. Rafa’s QF% is the same as Roger’s, but his penchant for occasionally going out earlier has reduced his overall consistency. What really stands out for me in this list are two things:  Novak’s amazing QF%, and Roger’s ridiculous streak of 36 straight Slams, plus his eight years of making at least the QF in all Slams.

Let’s dial back to another generation plus:
Becker: 50% (5, 1)
Edberg: 48% (5, 1)
Wilander: 45% (7, 2)
Lendl: 60% (13, 5)
McEnroe: 58% (10, 4)

As always, Becker and Edberg are neck-and-neck. Wilander was great in spurts, but bad in other years. Lendl was remarkably consistent in a very competitive era. Overall it seems the numbers are in line with Agassi and Sampras.

One more jump:
Borg: 78% (12, 6)
Vilas: 39% (8, 3)
Connors: 72% (27, 12)
Newcombe: 55% (8, 2)

Clearly Borg’s numbers are skewed by his shortened career. Connors’s numbers are surprisingly good, but we need to remember that in a lot of years he (and Borg) only played two or three Slams, which is easier to make it far in every appearance.

So while it seems that the current group of greats are historically more consistent than most eras, there’s a range across the decades, so it doesn’t seem clear that the factors of the game today allow for greater consistency (the so-called court homogeneity), or if it simply could be that the current crop is just so damn good. I imagine its a combination of both.

What do you think?

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About Jonathan Northrop

Jonathan Northrop is the resident in-house analyst of numbers, trends and how they can be applied with an eye on tennis history. You can contact Jonathan via: eldude@tennisfrontier.com
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