With the clay dust having barely settled on the 2013 French Open I thought it would be a good time to look at the greatest tennis players of all time. Today, I’ll be counting down the top 10 male tennis players of all time, and will be following up in a day or two with the ten greatest women. Without further introduction, let’s get to the list.
10 – Andre Agassi
I agonized over this pick. In making it I was forced to leave off the list such legends as Bill Tilden and Boris Becker, as well as current superstar Novak Djokovic. With the way he is playing, there is a very good chance that Djokovic will one day supplant Agassi on this list but he is not quite there yet.
At the start of his career, Agassi seemed to be more about style over substance, sporting long flowing hair, earrings and his trademark pair of stonewashed shorts. However, as he matured he swiftly grew into one of the game’s most dominant players. He was known as the best returner in the game in his prime, and is one of only a handful of players to win titles at all four Grand Slam events. Ultimately he won eight slams in total before calling it a career.
9 – John McEnroe
If this was a list of the fieriest tennis players of all time there’d be no doubt you’d find this man at the top of the list. McEnroe was more famous for his temper and his on-court antics than his tennis ability. That’s really saying something as he was one of the most dominant players of his era as both a singles and a doubles player. His aggressive serve and volley style helped him win seven singles Grand Slam titles to go along with nine doubles titles. Though often controversial, McEnroe was rarely boring, and his personality brought a much needed spotlight to the sport during his day.
8 – Jimmy Connors
It is only fitting that this gentleman would be back-to-back with McEnroe on this list. Connors vs. McEnroe was one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports back in the 1970s and 1980s. Though not as prone to chewing out chair umpires as Johnny Mac was, Connors had plenty of fire of his own. He was known for his relentless determination, and his ability to stay in points, time and again denying his opponents what looked to be clear winners. Despite playing in an era which featured other legends like McEnroe, Borg and Lendl, Connors racked up not only eight Grand Slam titles, but an amazing 109 single titles overall – a mark that not even the great Roger Federer has come close to eclipsing.
7 – Roy Emerson
Though he often dwells in the enormous shadow of countryman Rod Laver, Roy Emerson was very much an Australian tennis legend in his own right. This pick might be somewhat controversial because Emerson earned his amazing 28 Grand Slam titles (12 singles, 16 doubles) before the Open Era, meaning before professional tennis players were able to compete in those tourneys. That said, those tourneys weren’t exactly a walk in the park for the man they called Emmo. In fact, he met Laver in five different slam finals, prevailing in two of those matches. His ten straight Grand Slam wins still stand as a record today.
6 – Ivan Lendl
There is some that would deny Lendl a spot on this list because of the one glaring omission on his impressive resume: the lack of a Wimbledon title. Yes, Lendl failed to win on what most consider to be tennis’s greatest stage. However, he was a two-time Wimbledon finalist, and managed to win eight Grand Slam titles over his career. Perhaps his greatest achievement was holding the #1 ranking in tennis for an amazing 270 weeks! Only Pete Sampras and Roger Federer have enjoyed longer runs at the top.
5 – Bjorn Borg
Until Rafael Nadal came along it was this amazing Swede who was the undisputed King of Clay, having won at Roland Garros six times in his career. Not only that but he added five Wimbledon titles as well. With that kind of resume it is hard to imagine this man retired from the sport at the tender age of 25!
4 – Rafael Nadal
This athletic Spaniard continues to amaze and move up the list of the greatest tennis players of all time. Yesterday he became the first player to win a single Grand Slam title eight different times, further establishing his legend as the King of Clay with yet another French Open win. Though clay is obviously his surface of choice, Rafa has shown time and again he is not a one-trick pony, capturing two Wimbledon crowns, an Australian Open victory and a U.S.Open title to give him the rare Career Grand Slam. At just 27 years of all he still has plenty of tennis left, and if he can stay healthy there is a chance that he can one day eclipse Roger Federer’s record 17 career Grand Slam titles.
3 – Rod Laver
The only man in the Open Era to win all four Grand Slam singles titles in a single year on two separate occasions, Rod Laver set a gold standard of tennis that wasn’t eclipsed until a gentleman by the name of Pete Sampras came along. In all, Laver won 11 Grand Slam titles and many longtime followers of the sport still contend he is the greatest of all time.
2 – Pete Sampras
Ridiculously talented, Pete Sampras at times looked like he was winning Grand Slam titles without even trying. He set a record – later eclipsed by Roger Federer – by winning 14 Grand Slam singles titles, including seven Wimbledon crowns. He still holds the record for the longest run at #1 on the tour, holding the spot for 286 weeks. This superman’s only kryptonite was clay. He never reached the French Open final, the only blemish on an otherwise stellar resume.
1 – Roger Federer
Laver and Sampras fans can argue all they want, but they’ll never convince me to supplant this man for top spot on the list of the best men’s tennis players of all time. This Swiss superstar’s incredible precision helped him pick apart most opponents with ease between 2003 and the present. Only the emergence of greats like Nadal and Djokovic managed to keep this man from setting records that might have been untouchable for all time. As it is he holds the record for most career Grand Slam singles titles with 17. Perhaps even more amazing is his incredible consistency. With his appearance in this year’s French Open quarterfinals, Federer reached his 36th consecutive quarter finals at a Grand Slam event, far and away the record in the Open Era.