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Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

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Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by Tenez on Thu Sep 11, 2014 10:27 pm

This is a good article to start a good debate. It was passed on between our club members regulars.
=======================
Is Roger Federer the greatest ever or the second best of his generation?
Federer has won 17 grand slams while playing a brand of tennis that would make the gods sing, but Rafa Nadal had his number

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer embrace after the Australian Open final in 2009 Photograph: Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images
Midway through the second week of this year’s US Open, the sports pages were once again rife with articles in praise of the tennis doyen’s tennis doyen, Sir Roger Federer. The Sir prefix is pure facetiousness on my part but it would not surprise me if a SW19 pressure group are currently lobbying furiously behind the scenes for Britain to invade and conquer Switzerland, incorporate it within the realm of the Commonwealth and open the door for Roger to be knighted.

At Flushing Meadows he had comfortably beaten Marinko Matosevic, Sam Groth, Marcel Granollers and Bautista Agut, ranked 76th, 104th, 42nd and 19th in the world respectively, and then saved match points to scrape past the world No24 and make the semi-finals. With a host of big names absent through defeat or injury, Federer only had to overcome the 16th best player in the world to reach the final. Instead he was soundly beaten in straight sets by Marin Cilic and sent packing back to his young family in Bottmingen. It is a story all too familiar throughout the past five years, despite how well it tends to be hidden amongst more heralded tales of infrequent and minor triumphs.

At 33 years of age, Federer is now well into the twilight of his career. He last won a big one when he was 30 and that major triumph arrived after a wait of two and a half years. You would have thought that with just one Grand Slam title in five years, the Swiss maestro would have been consigned to yesterday’s news in the fast-paced, unforgiving, winning-is-everything world of 21st century professional sports. But, much like his old shaving buddy Tiger Woods, Federer continues to captivate. Why? Simpley because he’s the greatest player ever to pick up a racquet. Isn’t he?

I’m not so sure. Not long after the red dust had settled on Roland Garros at the end of the 2011 French Open, Federer said of his rivalry with Rafael Nadal, “If I play well, I will most likely win in the score or beat him; if I’m not playing so well, that’s when he wins.” He had just lost the final to the Spaniard in four sets, presumably not playing so well for the 17th time in 25 meetings between the pair. Perhaps moved by the distinct lack of logic, not to mention grace, in Federer’s comment, it got me to thinking about the Swiss player’s assumed place in the history books as the greatest to ever play the game. I felt it a premature coronation back then and nothing has changed since to alter my view.

Attempting to compare individual sportspeople can be a thankless task, fraught with various pitfalls and insurmountable difficulties. Generational divides regularly render even the most informed debate pure conjecture as direct match-ups must take place within the realms fantasy. The majority of high profile sports being team events further muddy the waters.

A sport’s evolution, either naturally or through the onset of professionalism, also hinders a balanced evaluation of greatness as certain games can develop almost beyond all recognition. As rugby players in every position appear to have doubled in size in the last three decades, asking which of Ireland’s two outstanding centres, Mike Gibson from the 60s and 70s or 21st century Brian O´Driscoll, is the greatest is akin to comparing apples and pears.

Technological advancement in sports equipment is yet another obstacle to ranking greatness. Would Tiger Woods, standing on the tee gripping a steel shafted driver with a persimmon wood head a fraction the size of today’s clubs, have been able to match Jack Nicklaus around a golf course? The javelin has moved in the opposite direction. In 1984 Uwe Hohn’s spear flew for over 104 metres. Following adjustments to the design specifications two years later, no one has come within five metres of his mark since. We will never know how far Jan Zelezny could have hurled Hohn’s javelin.

The question of who is the greatest tennis player to have played the game encounters all of the above issues bar the team sport dilemma and this article therefore makes no attempt to answer it. Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg fans can relax. The question of who is the greatest tennis player out of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, however, encounters none of the above issues. This piece therefore aims to compare and contrast these two players alone. It intends to posit that the Swiss is not even as great as the Spaniard and can therefore not possibly be lauded as the greatest of all time.

Federer’s position at the head of the pantheon of greats appeared cemented in place when he became the most prolific winner of tennis grand slams in the history of the sport. To the majority of observers, this is the most significant statistic in tennis and the record book reads that Federer currently has 17 to his name, three more than his nearest challengers, Pete Sampras and Nadal. But as the great 19th century American statesman Henry Clay once said: “Statistics are no substitute for judgement.”

The same record book also reads that as well as being 23–10 down to Nadal in head-to-heads, Federer does not have a winning record against Andy Murray after 22 matches between them. Even so, I doubt even the most patriotic Scotsman would argue that Murray is the greater player. It is therefore necessary to look beyond the magic number 17.

A comparative study of the pair must deal with Federer being almost five years older than Nadal. Federer was winning titles while Nadal was still learning the game and it is likely that the Spaniard will keep triumphing in tournaments for several years after his great rival has hung up his racquet. Every tennis player is different, but if we assume that these two entered their peak years around the age of 22 – the time Federer won his first Grand Slam title (Nadal had already won three French Opens before he turned 22) – and both will compete somewhere around this level until their 30th birthday, that gives each an eight-year period at the top of their game. It also allows that both men faced each other in their simultaneous primes from the summer of 2008 until the summer of 2012.

Closer analysis of this window of time is telling. They met 14 times in that period, with Nadal winning on 10 occasions. Federer’s victories came on the clay of Madrid in 2009 and on the hard courts of London and Indian Wells – neither were grand slam events. Among Nadal’s 10 wins, three were on hard courts, one was on grass and the rest were on clay. Notably, four of his victories were when it mattered most, in grand slam finals. They also occurred on three different surfaces - the Mallorcan ceased being a clay court specialist very early in his career.

In total Nadal won eight grand slams in these four years, compared to the five Federer collected, and he amassed 12 Masters titles with Federer winning six. Nadal also won the Olympic gold medal in 2008, and in 2010 he became the only player in history to win three grand slams on three different surfaces in one season. He has already bypassed Federer on the all-time list of Masters triumphs - no one has more than Rafa’s 27 trophies in their cabinet.

It should also be noted that in 2009 Nadal, struggling with tendonitis in both knees, suffered the only defeat of his career at Roland Garros (in the fourth round to Robin Soderling) and was unable to defend his title at the Wimbledon Championships. In his absence Federer won both tournaments and in doing so completed the career grand slam of winning a Major on all four surfaces and broke Sampras’ record number of Grand Slam titles. Few believe he would ever have won the French Open had he had to contend with a fit Nadal.

Clearly, the majority of Federer’s achievements have come when Nadal is not around. Indeed, the Swiss already had twelve Grand Slam titles in the bag before Nadal entered his peak years. This is perhaps not surprising when a quick look at his major rivals pre-Rafa reveals a distinctly different calibre of opponent. Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin were all good players; but certainly no more than that. When one sees the names of Mark Philippoussis, Marco Baghdatis and Fernando Gonzalez also on the list of Federer’s victims in Grand Slam finals, it suggests that this was not exactly a golden age in men’s tennis.

Of course, none of this is Federer’s fault. As the old sporting adage goes, you can only beat what is put in front of you, and many will argue that the merits of Federer’s peers at this time should not be allowed to detract from his early achievements. Nevertheless, those that argue that Federer is the greatest cannot then deny that Nadal never had it so easy in his quest for titles. He has faced a potential meeting with Federer in every Grand Slam he has ever signed up for – indeed he has beaten his Swiss foe in nine of them and lost in only two. Then we have the current world number one Novak Djokovic. Already with seven Grand Slam titles to his name, the 27 year old Serb has more than the combined total Roddick, Hewitt and Safin managed in their entire careers and appears a safe bet to add to his tally before he retires.

So it is a fact that at this point in history, over the course of significantly less time, and with a clearly superior standard of opponent across the net, Nadal is already ahead of Federer in every relevant statistic you can think of - bar the big one. It begs the question, should Nadal go on to claim 18 Grand Slam titles and eclipse Federer’s record, will Federer advocates acknowledge that their man has been usurped?

The answer is probably not. The truth is that people do not like to admit they are wrong. Federer was hastily coronated in the midst of his domination because nobody foresaw the teenage clay-court sensation from Mallorca developing into the complete player. Roddick, Hewitt, Safin et al were happy to provide a tennis press, already enamoured with the multi-lingual Swiss (does anything impress a native English speaking sports journalist more than a sportsperson fielding questions in more than one language?), with monthly quotes extolling the greatness of the man that had seemingly effortlessly despatched them once again. It legitimised their own failings. It lessened their own sense of failure. Why simply say he was too good for me again today when you can wax lyrical about him being too good for anyone, anywhere, at any time?

The mainstream press soon followed suit and so long as Sir Roger kept gracing the manicured lawns of SW19 with his white blazer, Rolex watch and deferential acceptance of the Wimbledon trophy each July, few in the public felt moved to question his position at the head of the table. To backtrack a few years later would make a lot of people look rather foolish.

In an effort to head off the more lazy retorts that it is the way Federer wins that places him above Nadal in the all-time stakes, it is necessary to briefly consider the style dimension of this sporting greatness debate. It is often said that there are few things in the world of sport more aesthetically pleasing to look at than Roger Federer’s one handed backhand. If you ever wondered why striking a tennis ball is referred to as a stroke, then just watch him execute this shot. He isn’t hitting the ball, he is caressing it. It is a thing of beauty and, like almost everything Federer does on a tennis court, it is carried out with an effortless grace that belies the power and speed generated. Nadal on the other hand hits the ball. Relentlessly.

Federer continued his charm offensive in the press conference following his 2011 French Open defeat by disparagingly describing Nadal as being “content to do the one thing for the entire time” during a match. Leaving aside the fact that a one-dimensional tennis player could not possibly win 14 Majors, why on earth would Rafa change a winning style, regardless of what it is or how it looks? While his bludgeoning heavy top-spin blows may not be as easy on the eye, has there been a more devastatingly effective shot than his forehand in professional tennis over the past five or six years? It is hard to think of one. So should Federer’s perceived (beauty is in the eye of the holder remember) extra elegance swing the debate in his favour? I don’t think so.

Style may well constitute a factor to be considered, but only to the degree that other clichéd intangibles such as grit, determination, perseverance and will to win figure in the debate. They are all elements that make up or influence an individual player’s game. But success or failure is determined by the sum of all the parts. By the talent that each possess as a whole. It is not merely Nadal’s strength or passion that beats Federer any more than it is Federer’s flair or ballerina-like movement around the court that beats Nadal. Quite simply, over time, the greater tennis player will win more often than everyone else. For the current tennis generation, that player is undoubtedly Rafael Nadal.

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Re: Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by ... on Thu Sep 11, 2014 11:15 pm

I want to scream!
I have just lost a very long post.... Wah

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Re: Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by ... on Thu Sep 11, 2014 11:30 pm

I'll try again tomorrow...also just came back from the club, my cherry cake was a success!
After that, everyone was in good mood and talked about tennis shoes Laugh

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Re: Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by Snake_Eyes on Fri Sep 12, 2014 10:54 am

Tenez, you really studied all Federer's history  Big Grin
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Re: Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by Tenez on Fri Sep 12, 2014 1:34 pm

The main flaw in this article is that the author thinks Nadal and Federer are of the "same" generation when clearly they are not. 5 years is a big gap in tennis....nonetless Federer should have simply destroyed Nadal in all his early encounters as Fed was at his "peak" while Nadal was still young.

But in details things are much more complex. The technology evolution (racquet and diets) have completely revolutionised the game right when Federer started to dominate.

No different to McEnroe being stopped in his tracks in 1984, at the peak of his career by the young generation who learnt to play the game with bigger racquet frames. But unlike McEnroe, Federer was able to stay with the younger generation and even beat them at their peak...and he did that with a 90inch racquet.

How good Fed would had been had he trained young with a larger frame versus guys like  Nadal and Djoko? especially if the tournament authorities would have sped up the game to help Federer beat those guys?

That question is simple to answer...he would have crushed them like he crushed all the players of his own generation.

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Re: Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by ... on Fri Sep 12, 2014 3:19 pm

This is a very poorly written article: shallow and ignorant.
The author should do well to read our 2006 Domination thread.


Federer is probably the most coordinated athlete of all time, and that is the measure of his greatness.

Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, Blake, Safin, Nalbandian, Nishi, Gulbis, Cilic...they all have a measure of talent, and fortunately for most of them technology to mask the lack of its abundance.

I marvel at people whose hearts can't admire beauty. Must be pretty miserable all the time.

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Re: Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by Autumnleaf on Fri Sep 12, 2014 5:20 pm

This is the Guardian article by Paul Gibson.

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/the-balls-of-wrath/2014/sep/11/roger-federer-greatest-tennis-player-rafael-nadal

It makes me wanna weep. The author is right that stats don't say everything. If only he kept consistent with that. Instead he uses select facts that strengthen his poor reasoning, colour me surprised. Of course it's h2h and weak era, what else is new? Do these guys never even start to think about the logical fallacies of this kind of thinking?

Even worse are some of the comments, they're just gloating and find their opinion confirmed by a writer. Yes, Nadal is the greatest ever, he must be! The greatest ever warrior, ever humble. It's nauseating. 

Poor game that may have Nadal as greatest, should he manage to claw and cheat his way to 17 and more.

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Re: Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by Tenez on Fri Sep 12, 2014 5:42 pm

Autumnleaf wrote:

Poor game that may have Nadal as greatest, should he manage to claw and cheat his way to 17 and more.

Don't worry! Never gonna' appen! Cheers

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Re: Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by truffin1 on Fri Sep 12, 2014 6:35 pm

There is a thread on the old 606 where I have been arguing with the fanatical likes of Hawkeye and Amerit who has reappeared..   I've copied some of what I said below. From several separate posts.

"How can Federer be "second best of his generation" in comparison to Nadal when Federer and Nadal are not from the same generation?

The article is a joke and one sided. All greats had plusses and minuses on their resumes- no one is perfect. Federer has some negatives that swing the argument Nadals way, and Nadal has plenty of negatives on his resume that would swing the title back to Federer, but the author ignores those.

Both are all time greats in terms of success. Frankly- no one should care if Fed is 1 or 2, or Nadal is 1 or 2 because it means nothing and either way is incredibly impressive. Lets see how Nadal does in his tennis old age compared to Federer and then look at the careers when it's all said and done... and not just talk about head to head and majors. Weeks at #1, Year end #1s, WTFs, Masters, Wins spread out across a whole season and surfaces vs concentrated on one section, defending titles year in and year out..... all that matters."


"It's a flawed look at the bigger picture though.. Even you as a Nadal fanatic must see that. He has picked and chosen the years he wants to look at purely on his opinion.

There a distinct possibility that Nadal is going to finish with less weeks at #1, tied or less year end #1's, a losing head to head record (maybe overall, but def off of clay) than a player that is actually from his exact same generation in Djokovic..... but Nadal will have more Majors...... and with that we will all say that Nadal is the greater player..

Yet Federer actually beats Nadal in all those catagories except for losing record but is not as great as Nadal? Doesn't make sense.

The author uses Fed's late prime and Nadals emerging prime as a basis to compare-- which is nonsense. 1st- who is this author to decide the years when they were both playing at the same time and in their prime. people win at different times.... As Nadal has found, it's harder to keep defending year in and year out as you enter your later 20's.. At some point- you just lose an edge.. How many US Opens, Australian Opens, Wimbledons in a row was Federer supposed to win to make this guy happy? At some point- the pack catches you. So Federer started to slow down as Nadal came into full steam and that somehow should be the years for basis of comparison? Look what Nadal has done at this age. 1 Major, early exit in Wimbledon, broken down body, lost his #1 to a player of his own generation, and lost #2 to old man Federer--
but he's in his prime according to this guy."




"In tournaments where both Federer and Nadal have entered together.   So this excludes tournaments where only 1 was in the field, all the tournaments where Nadal has missed due to injury.    Both in the field together.

On Grass-   Federer won the title in more of those tournaments than Nadal.  In a tournament where neither won the title, Federer made it to a further round or deeper in the tournament more times than Nadal.

On outdoor hard courts-  Federer won the title in more of those tournaments than Nadal. In a tournament where neither won the title, Federer made it to a further round more times than Nadal.

On indoor hard courts- Federer won the title in more than Nadal. Where neither won, Federer made it to a further round more times than Nadal.

On clay- Nadal won the title more times than Federer. Where neither won, Nadal made it to a further round more times than Nadal.

Look at this year- at an age where most said Federer should be retired while Nadal is smack in the middle of what was supposed to be his dominating period across all surfaces, not just clay-- in the touraments off of clay.  Nadal made it farther at the AO,  at Miami.      Federer made it farther at Indian Wells, Halle, Wimbledon.   Only clay does Nadal perform better against the field...

The facts are clear-  Nadal is greater on clay than Federer, but Federer is greater all around across all surfaces than Nadal. The time at #1 tells us that, the titles tell us that, the fact that Nadal can't hold #1 even once every week of one continuous season start to finish, the inability to defend off clay, on and on..

The greats who played the game tell us that-   Laver, Sampras, Becker, Borg, Conners, Wilander, Edberg, Courier, etc,etc all say Federer is the greatest player..  Every great current player including Nadal himself tell us that.  The only hold outs or guys who have changed their mind are McEnroe who wavers month to month, and Agassi who was promoting a tennis league he and Nadal are both a part of and have ownership interest in and Agassi was being bombarded and aggravated with questions about why Federer had chosen to not take part in.     McEnroe changes his mind constantly- if any of you watched his USA broadcast of the US Open, you would know he has now said during each match that Federer has regained the edge in his mind over Nadal.

H2H does not trump all that.  A look at a small window of time some writer deems relevant does not trump all that.

When Federer and Nadal are both in a tournament- across a whole season, across a whole career (so far) Federer is more successful."

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Re: Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by Autumnleaf on Fri Sep 12, 2014 6:45 pm

The most annoying thing about H2H is the doublecounting. You are already punished when you lose vs. somebody because you lose the title either directly if the lost match is a final or don't get the chance to fight for a title when the lost match is in an earlier round. So H2H finds its expression in the title count. Why count it again? 

Besides, we all know how Nadal only shows up when he is 150% physically and able to destroy the field. So none of his rivals gets the chance to play him when he is not at his best (either because he skips the tournament or because he doesn't make the final), while they when not on their best are still good enough to meet him more often than not.

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Re: Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by Tenez on Fri Sep 12, 2014 9:18 pm

truffin1 wrote:There is a thread on the old 606 where I have been arguing with the fanatical likes of Hawkeye and Amerit who has reappeared..   I've copied some of what I said below. From several separate posts.

"How can Federer be "second best of his generation" in comparison to Nadal when Federer and Nadal are not from the same generation?
my very point above.

Both are all time greats in terms of success. Frankly- no one should care if Fed is 1 or 2, or Nadal is 1 or 2 because it means nothing and either way is incredibly impressive.

Actually, like Borg, I think it is all about being number 1! So it matters a lot what people think as it is the number of what people think that counts. More so almost than what the few experts think.
For instance the vast majority of people think Einstein is the brightest man ever...whereas the people who are smart enough to understand the most intelligent inventions might consider someone else.


Look what Nadal has done at this age. 1 Major, early exit in Wimbledon, broken down body, lost his #1 to a player of his own generation, and lost #2 to old man Federer-
Very true!

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Re: Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by luvsports! on Fri Sep 12, 2014 9:31 pm

Sir Isaac Newton is no1! Big Grin

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Re: Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by Tenez on Fri Sep 12, 2014 10:24 pm

Do you know about Poincare for instance?

He wrote the E=MC2 formula before Einstein for instance.

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Re: Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by luvsports! on Fri Sep 12, 2014 10:59 pm

Nope smiley interesting.

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Re: Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by ... on Fri Sep 12, 2014 11:33 pm

When Feddy & Rafito retire, tennis landscape is never going to be the same...Sad a bit like NY skyline without twin towers...
only Nole left as the Empore State Building Winking

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Re: Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by ... on Sat Sep 13, 2014 11:07 am

luvsports! wrote:Sir Isaac Newton is no1! Big Grin

Heard of Nikola Tesla?

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Re: Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by luvsports! on Sat Sep 13, 2014 11:54 am

Yup. Serbian-American guy ye? Tesla coil, electric motor, x rays, laser etc.

Still not in IN's league!

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Re: Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by ... on Sat Sep 13, 2014 11:58 am

luvsports! wrote:Yup. Serbian-American guy ye? Tesla coil, electric motor, x rays, laser etc.

Still not in IN's league!

Might is right.

The truth is bigger than might, though.

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Re: Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by summerblues on Sun Sep 14, 2014 3:00 am

Is it just me, or was there a bitter post from nitb here that is now gone?

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Re: Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by summerblues on Sun Sep 14, 2014 3:03 am

On the original topic:  I do not think this is the most interesting topic for this forum as none of us are very Nadal-friendly, so to speak, so there will not be much interesting discussion.  Also, the article itself is too openly biased to provide good enough substance to discuss anyway.

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Re: Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by ... on Sun Sep 14, 2014 9:41 am

summerblues wrote:Is it just me, or was there a bitter post from nitb here that is now gone?
I deleted it, along with a few others.
I do it quite regularly, one of my quirky habits.
Interesting you only noticed the "bitter" one.

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Re: Is Federer the Greatest ever...or the second best of his generation?

Post by summerblues on Mon Sep 15, 2014 3:07 am

noleisthebest wrote:Interesting you only noticed the "bitter" one.
That post stood out a bit, so was easy to notice and remember.

But that is not the only one I noticed - I also noticed your prediction game clean up - sort of like what they used to do in the Soviet Union with the photographs that had politicians gone out of favor in them.

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