Swiss tennis superstar Roger Federer is only two Grand Slam victories away from equalling the record of 14 wins by American Pete Sampras. On the face of it then, it would seem that, for the moment, Sampras has been more successful than Federer when it comes to Grand Slam wins. However, there is an argument to be made that it is not only the number of Grand Slam wins that matter but also the variety of wins. For example, Gustavo Kuerten won three French Opens, but he was pretty average at the other Grand Slams, and only racked up three Grand Slam trophies by being very good on clay. To show how hard it is to win on more than one Grand Slam surface, consider the following table:
Percentage of Grand Slams Won At Player’s Most Successful Venue: 1968-onwards
1st most successful venue – 59.4 per cent.
2nd – 28.1 per cent
3rd and 4th – 12.5 per cent.
So, in the Open era, it has been about twice as hard for a player to win at a second Grand Slam venue as it has been at their most successful venue, and about five times as hard to win at a third or fourth venue. Taking these probabilities into account, we come up with the following list of top Grand Slam performers:
Adjusted Grand Slam victories (Unadjusted in parentheses): 1968-onwards
Roger Federer 15.54 (12)
Pete Sampras 15.18 (14)
Ivan Lendl 10.57 (8)
Andre Agassi 9.95 (8)
Bjorn Borg 9.29 (11)
Stefan Edberg 8.82 (6)
Mats Wilander 7.91 (7)
Jimmy Connors 7.84 (8)
Rod Laver 7.64 (5)
Boris Becker 6.72 (6)
*Adjusted Grand Slam victories = Grand Slams at most successful venue*0.561 + Grand Slams at 2nd most successful venues*1.185 + Grand Slams at 3rd and 4th most successful venues*2.667
Roger Federer now pushes slightly ahead of Pete Sampras, who won half his Grand Slams at Wimbledon and another five at the US Open. Ivan Lendl takes Bjorn Borg’s place at No.3, with the Swede not managing to capture either the Australian Open or the US Open crowns. Other big winners are Edberg and Laver (who would do even better if we counted victories before the Open era), while John McEnroe falls out of the top 10 altogether.
On this basis, it looks as if Federer is already the greatest of them all. If he wins another Australian Open, he will move well clear of Sampras on the adjusted score, having won at least 4 trophies at three separate Grand Slam venues. However, one suspects that, should he capture that elusive French crown in 2008, these debates will stop altogether.