Saturday, 26 June 2010

further on bradman

Possibilities about Bradmanesque, Isner-Mahut records (see post below for context) have been raised via Twitter:

1. Federer reached 22 consecutive Grand Slam semi-finals, and the next greatest runs were Lendl and Laver, both on 10.

I say: the magical thing about Bradman and Isner-Mahut is that they absolutely, definitively embody a very simple truth about a major sport. Who was the best batsman ever? What was the longest ever match?

Federer's record might be - history suggests is - just as unbreakable. Fair play, but it feels to me a fundamentally less interesting record. Injuries, one other player's miraculous day or other factors might break such a stat. Someone else, for instance, might have been a greater player than the Fed for longer and still not have the stat, and 'Who was the greatest player' is a more interesting question than 'Who reached the most consecutive grand slam semi-finals, indicating consistency of excellence over a long time.' It is A measure of that thing, but not THE measure. A cricket average is not a perfect measure of batting, but the astonishing gap between Bradman and everyone else means that it doesn't have to be.

For instance, tennis-wise, Rod Laver won the Grand Slam in 1962 before going pro, and in 1969 he won it when pros were allowed to play in the Grand Slam tournaments again (only player to have done it). That's another way of looking at longevity and durability.

2. Nadia Comaneci: 7x pefect 10s at Montreal Olympics. Scoreboards weren't built to cope; had to display as 1.0.

I say: I have problems with subjective scoring systems, and I don't know much about gymnastics. My question: is Nadia Comaneci* definitively, absolutely, unarguably the greatest gymnast of all time?

Any more? I'm really interested in this now.

* In 2006, aged 44, she had her first child. He's called Dylan. So is my cousin. You do the math.


jondrytay said...

Nottingham Forest went 42 games undefeated; Arsenal won the league without losing a match.

Neither was the greatest club side English football has seen.

Caroline Hardman said...

Not the greatest gymnast of all time, but then I’m not sure if that’s the right question to ask, in the same way that the Isner/Mauhut example doesn’t answer the question “who‘s the greatest tennis player of all time, ever?”. It’s more about a specific moment: *that* match for I-M, *those* Olympics for NC.

I’m on shaky ground here as I don’t know much about gymnastics either, but: best singular performance? Most perfect scores in one tournament?

I think the thing which makes the I-M and Bradman stats something special is how completely inconceivable they were before they existed. No one ever would have predicted Bradman’s 99, or a set of tennis lasting 138 games (certainly not Ronald McIntosh!)

Robert Hudson said...

Not the greatest players, certainly, or the greatest match. You could conceivably make an argument for the latter, though the point of this is looking for things about which there is no argument.

It's the answer to a simple question, though. Out of the hundreds of thousands of professional tennis matches ever played (could it be only tens of thousands? Maybe, but I doubt it and haven't time to think now), which was the longest? If you draw a curve linking all the others, they would form a curve. And then there would be this game. Ditto Bradman and the thousands of batsmen.

And the statistic enshrines a truth. This WAS the longest game. Bradman WAS the best batsman. The latter is a more interesting truth, but the former is the answer to a question lots of us have asked when watching a five setter full of tie breaks go to 9-9 in the fifth; and it is interesting enough that the BBC regularly shows the Passarell-Gonzales match (the previous record holder) during rain breaks.

Comaneci's routine is shown again, but gym is just more complicated to judge. I suspect the Federer fact will be a standard datum about his greatness, but more for convenience's sake than because it actually proves anything. It illustrates a truth neatly rather than in and of itself being the embodiment of that truth.

Maybe that last sentence is getting there.