Saqib Ali talked to Mert Ertunga about the comparison between Jimmy Connors — winner of 109 singles tournaments — and Roger Federer, who just won his 100th singles tournament this past weekend in Dubai.
Mert’s answer focused mostly on Connors, but it instructively made a larger point about generational attitudes and levels of awareness among tennis fans — not as a criticism of fans, but as a mere reflection of unavoidable realities of how any human person will process occurrences in the present moment:
It’s a valuable context… something to be revered, but we need to do the comparison, keeping in mind the nuances there that put the two accomplishments on different steps, so to speak, but the different steps lead to the same summit.
It’s fun to do these kinds of comparisons, because it increases interest not only in the game, but it increases interest in the history of the game.
I’m firmly in the camp that argues Connors’ 1974 accomplishment should not be diminished by any means. If I had to pick which had to face tougher competition, I’d probably give a slight edge to Federer.
The field in 1974 was definitely not depleted. I would argue that… from the period of the early 1970s until 1977, 1978, the field was not depleted. It WAS scattered. That’s why Connors’ accomplishment (109) gets underrated. He had to play some players who were of excellent caliber but did not have a no 1, No. 2, No. 3 ranking, simply because back then players didn’t travel all over the world and pick up points wherever they could. Many players stayed within their region or their preferred region where they would travel to a certain tournament and stay within that continent for a few months and therefore miss some of the bigger tournaments elsewhere.
I do believe that Connors’ 109 titles, as well as his 1974 season, both get underrated. It’s a simple sign of the times: We just don’t have a lot of people who watched Connors play. They don’t have any emotional tie to Connors… maybe his 1991 U.S. Open run, but most people in their 20s or 30s didn’t get to see that. A lot of times you lose touch. That’s why Rod Laver or Connors get overlooked. Today’s fan base is based on the Big Four, and quite frankly, they don’t want to hear what the older guys accomplished.
If we move forward 30, 40 years to the 2040s or 2050s, I am sure that by then there will be a whole generation which has never watched Federer, Nadal or Djokovic play, they will have their own favorites at that time, and I guarantee you that Federer, Djokovic or Nadal, as much as they are revered today, will be overlooked again, too.