Back in January 2008, I wrote:
Tiger Woods has always focused on breaking his idol Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championships. He currently has 13. By this age, Nicklaus had 9, so that would put Woods on pace for 26.
Woods limped to a 14th major in June of 2008 at the U.S. Open that June at Torrey Pines, but has been stuck at 14 ever since. I also wrote:
Yet, Woods has a worthy contemporary competitor — not on the golf course, but on the tennis court. Swissman Roger Federer, who won’t turn 27 until August, has won 12 Grand Slam titles. If he stays hot, he could overtake Woods, at least for a few years.
There are four Grand Slam tournaments each year — Australian, French, Wimbledon, and US — so they are a fair comparison to golf’s four major championships.
The tennis record for most Grand Slam victories is 14 by American Pete Sampras, who is now retired. Federer (born 8/8/81) is almost exactly 10 years younger than Sampras (born 8/12/71), and by early 1998, Sampras had won 10 of his 14 Grand Slam victories. So, if Federer maintains the same pace as Sampras, he’ll win about 17 Grand Slam titles.
Federer won his 16th major in January 2010 at age 28, his 17th in 2012 at 30, and then … at age 35 this winter in Australia, his 18th, tying Nicklaus.
That Nicklaus holds the golf record with 18 while Sampras holds the tennis record with only 14 mostly shows how much better Nicklaus was than all other golfers before Tiger, whereas it’s not at all clear who was the best tennis player before Federer. The top ten tennis players in terms of major championship victories have won 102, while the top 10 golfers have won 96, so the two sports are directly comparable.
Tennis players get old much faster than golfers, but major titles are easier to win in tennis for superstars at their peaks than in golf. That’s probably due to four factors:
Tennis has been going through an era of all-time great superstars. Rafael Nadal, age 30, is now tied with the retired Sampras with 14 major championships. Novak Djokovic, age 29, has won 12 major championships, including five of the last nine.
There is probably some kind of optimal number of superstars for maximizing a sport’s popularity. Too few and things get repetitious, too many and marginal fans can’t follow the storylines. Superagent Mark McCormack probably would have said three is ideal.
With just two superstars, fans have to pick one: Tom Brady or Peyton Manning?
But with three they can have lots of fun opinions like, I want to Federer to beat Nadal, I want Nadal to beat Djokovic, and I want Djokovic to beat Federer.
What? That’s not logical?
So what? I’m a fan.