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The 11 Greatest Tennis Player Of All Time

From my days as a competitive junior player to now following the world’s top players, I’ve had a lifelong enthusiasm for the game of tennis.

I grew up playing tennis in the 1970s, a golden age for the sport. Tennis became more of a mainstream sport than a luxury sport during this period, particularly in the United States. With names like Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, and Chris Evert among others, there were plenty of personalities to fuel the on- and off-court conflicts. 

Numerous great players have come and gone since that time. Due to the difficulty of comparing players from different eras in any sport due to technological advancements and increased fitness standards, determining the greatest player of all time can be a difficult and subjective endeavor.

One thing that I believe the majority of fans agree on is that we are now experiencing three of the best players of all time Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic.

Regardless of the difficulty, here is my selection of the ten greatest male tennis players from 1968 to the present. I’ve listed 11 players here, with two legends tied for the tenth spot.

With a lengthy career spanning both the pre-and post-Open eras, Ken Rosewall is unquestionably deserving of a position among tennis’ all-time greats. Rosewall’s eight Grand Slam championships and fifteen Major Championships unquestionably qualify him for tennis immortality. With a career spanning the early 1950s to 1980, the swift and agile Australian was famed for his backhand and crisp, accurate volleying. His final Grand Slam championship came in 1972 at the Australian Open, when he was 37 years old, which remains the record for the oldest Grand Slam winner.

I watched Ken Rosewall play in the latter stages of his career and was probably unaware of the magnificence I was witnessing at the time. To compete against the next generation of tennis greats at his age demonstrates his conditioning and mental fortitude. I’m ranking him alongside Andre Agassi in the tenth spot because I believe both players are deserving of inclusion on this list.

11. Ken Rosewall

  • Date of birth: November 2, 1934, Sydney Australia
  • Lived in: Sydney, Australia
  • Become a pro: 1957
  • Retirement d: 1980
  • Career bonus money: $1,602,700
  • 133 mission titles
  • 8 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 4 Australian, 2 French, 2 US Open
  • 15 Pro Majors: 2 US Pro, 5 Wembley Pro, 8 French Pro
  • Inaugurated into Tennis Hall of Fame: 1980
Ken Rosewall

Who can forget Andre Agassi as a youthful, arrogant, long-haired player in the late 1980s? I have to admit that I was initially taken off by his allegedly “rock star” appearance and demeanor. However, something occurred along the road, and by the end of his two-decade career, I had grown to respect him as a tremendous player and representative of the game. Without Andre Agassi’s devastating groundstrokes and serve returns, no top ten list would be complete.

Agassi has also established himself as a champion off the court. Agassi and his wife, tennis legend Steffi Graf, may be the only athletes who give back more to their community than anybody else.

10. Andre Agassi

  • Born: April 29, 1970 Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Live in: Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Become pro: 1986
  • Retirement: 2006
  • Career prize money: $31,152,975
  • 61 career titles
  • 8 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 4 Australian, 1 French, 2 US Open, 1 Wimbledon
  • Olympic Gold Medalist 1996
  • Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame: 2011
Andre Agassi

9. John McEnroe

  • Date of birth: February 16, 1959Wiesbaden, West Germany
  • Live in: New York City
  • Become pro: 1978
  • Retired: 1992
  • Career prize money: $12,547,797
  • 105 career titles
  • 7 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 3 Wimbledon, 4 US Open
  • Inaugurated into Tennis Hall of Fame: 1999

In the words of John McEnroe, Is there anything we can do for Johnny Mac? For starters, he’s one of the best of all time. In terms of playing on quick, hard courts with innovative shot-making ability, no one was better.

John McEnroe

Tennis fans either adored or loathed him for his fiery demeanor and occasional bad-boy antics. On the inside, he was a fierce competitor who dreaded defeat and was prone to outbursts of frustration.

When it comes to tennis, few people can forget his dramatic clashes with Jimmy Connors and his epic five-set loss to Bjorn Borg in Wimbledon’s 1980 final.

8. Jimmy Connors

  • Date of birth: September 2, 1952East St. Louis, Illinois
  • Live in: Santa Barbara, CA
  • Turned pro: 1972
  • Retirement: 1996
  • Career prize money: $8,641,040
  • 147 career titles
  • 8 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 1 Australian, 2 Wimbledon, 5 US Open
  • Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame: 1998

Jimmy Connors was the greatest tennis player of the 1970s. In 1974, Connors had a record of 99-4 and won all three Grand Slam tournaments he contested, including Wimbledon. In 1974, Connors was banned from the French Open because of his affiliation with World Team Tennis, which prevented him from completing a Grand Slam. His career was long and impressive, despite his peak in the 1970s. There are currently 109 ATP tour titles to his name.

Jimmy Connors

7. Ivan Lendl

  • Date of birth: March 7, 1960 Ostrava, Czechoslovakia
  • Live in: Goshen, Connecticut
  • Become a pro: 1978
  • Retirement: 1994
  • Career prize money: $21,262,417
  • 144 career titles
  • 8 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 2 Australian, 3 French, 3 US Open
  • Inaugurated into Tennis Hall of Fame: 2001

The 1980s were dominated by the calm and stoic Czech with the massive serve. Lendl wore down his opponents with his ferocious groundstrokes, topspin forehand, and unmatched conditioning. For four years, he was the world’s top-ranked player, and he held the top spot for 270 weeks, a record at the time. Unlike many of his more talkative contemporaries, Lendl was known for letting his game speak for him.

Ivan Lendl

6. Bjorn Borg

  • Date of birth: June 6, 1956 Sodertalje, Stockholm County, Sweden
  • Live in: Stockholm, Sweden
  • Turned pro: 1973
  • Retirement: 1983
  • Career prize money: $3,655,751
  • 101 career titles
  • 11 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 6 French, 5 Wimbledon
  • Inaugurated into Tennis Hall of Fame: 1987

What was there not to admire in the long-haired, blonde Swede with the lethal ground game? With ice water coursing through his veins, Borg dominated tennis in the late 1970s, winning famous matches against John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. Borg dominated Wimbledon from 1976 through 1980, winning the trophy five consecutive years.

Borg won 11 Grand Slam titles, all at Wimbledon and the French Open, despite his brief career (he retired in 1983 at the age of 26). Borg was the first player to win more than ten majors in the modern era. Bjorn Borg, in my opinion, could have been a top-five all-time player had he continued to play and not retired during what appeared to be his heyday.

Bjorn Borg

5. Pete Sampras

  • Date of birth: August 12, 1971 Potomac, Maryland
  • Live in: Lake Sherwood, California
  • Become pro: 1988
  • Retirement 2002
  • Career prize money: $43,280,489
  • 64 career titles
  • 14 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 2 Australian, 7 Wimbledon, 5 US Open
  • Inaugurated into Tennis Hall of Fame: 2007

Pete’s place in tennis history is debatable, considering he won only three of the four Grand Slam tournaments during his career. While they are hard courts and grass, how can we determine a player’s standing when they excel on one surface but struggle on another? When Pete resigned in 2002, he was widely regarded as the greatest player of all time, although this is debatable. For six straight years, he was ranked number one in the world, and his 14 Grand Slam wins were a record at the time.

Who can forget his spectacular fights with Andre Agassi, which helped transform the 1990s into a golden era for tennis? Pete ended his career on  a high note by winning the 2002 US Open, his final Grand Slam competition. However, without a French Open title, or even a final, how do we determine his place among the all-time greats? For the time being, I believe he ranks fifth.

Pete Sampras

4. Rod Laver

  • Date of birth: August 8, 1938 Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia
  • Live in: Carlsbad, California
  • Become pro: 1962
  • Retirement 1979
  • Career prize money: $1,565,413
  • 200 career titles
  • 11 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 3 Australian, 2 French, 2 US Open, 4 Wimbledon
  • 9 Pro Slam Singles Titles: 3 US Pro, 4 Wembley Pro, 1 French Pro, 1 Wimbledon Pro
  • Inaugurated into Tennis Hall of Fame: 1981

It’s difficult to judge how Rod Laver would have fared against today’s players, but I believe the red headed Australian would have fared well. It’s difficult to argue with the “Rockets” album. He was world number one for seven consecutive years (1964–1970), and he has more career titles (200) than any other player in the game’s history.

He is the only player in history to have won the Grand Slam twice, first as an amateur in 1962 and then as a professional in 1969. Who knows how many Grand Slam titles Laver would have won had he not been barred from the Grand Slam events for a five-year stretch in the mid-1960s. During this era, known as the pre-open era, Grand Slam competitions were exclusively for amateurs. Tennis’s “open era” began in 1968, when professionals were officially permitted to compete in Grand Slam events. Given Laver’s world number one ranking during this five-year span, it’s possible he would have won numerous additional Grand Slam titles.

Rod Laver

3. Rafael Nadal

  • Date of birth: June 3, 1986Manacor, Majorca, Balearic Islands, Spain
  • Live in: Manacor, Majorca, Balearic Islands, Spain
  • Become pro: 2001
  • Career prize money: $127,121,385
  • 90 career titles
  • 21 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 2 Australian, 13 French, 4 US Open, 2 Wimbledon
  • 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist – Beijing Summer Olympics
  • Current active player

At 35 years old, the flamboyant Spaniard known as Rafa and “The King of Clay” has won his 21st Grand Slam championship, surpassing close rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Rafael is largely regarded as the greatest clay-court player of all time, however Bjorn Borg supporters may take issue with this assertion. In 2020, he will win a record 13th French Open championship in dominant way, making it difficult to envisage anybody being better on clay.

Nadal has established himself as a viable contender for the title of greatest of all time. Rafa’s amazing 2021 Australian Open victory brings him 21 Grand Slam titles, surpassing Federer and Djokovic tally of 20. With Federer injured and Djokovic deported from Australia, some may argue that the path to victory was made simpler. Daniel Medvedev, I believe, has established himself as a worthy opponent and is the leading contender to dominate the game once the “Big Three ” have departed. This simply serves to exacerbate the dispute over who is the actual GOAT. With a lengthy season ahead of them and three additional Grand Slams to be played in 2022, we’ll have to wait and observe how the season unfolds before passing judgment.

Rafael Nadal

2. Roger Federer

  • Date of birth: August 8, 1981
  • Basel, Switzerland
  • Resides: Bottmingen, Switzerland
  • Turned pro: 1998
  • Career prize money: $130,594,339
  • 103 career titles
  • 20 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 6 Australian, 1 French, 5 US Open, 8 Wimbledon
  • Current active player

For many years, it was straightforward to declare Roger Federer the greatest player of all time. His 20 Grand Slam victories and 310 weeks atop the rankings speak for themselves, and he is still winning and fighting at the highest levels at the age of 40. Federer held the world number one ranking for 237 consecutive weeks from 2004 to 2008, a record that may never be surpassed. Even if newer players are suddenly finding a method to beat him, his sustained high level of play during a two-decade career speaks much about his conditioning and ability.

Winning the 2018 Australian Open following an incredible 2017 season in which he won Wimbledon and the Australian Open establishes beyond a shadow of a question that Roger Federer was the best player of all time in 2018. However, with Nadal and Djokovic adding to their Grand Slam totals since, declaring a GOAT may be impossible until all three have completed their careers. His epic five-set defeat to Novak Djokovic at the 2019 Wimbledon Championship demonstrates that he is still a force to be reckoned with. Roger undoubtedly had his chances to win the 21st Grand Slam, a missed opportunity that will haunt him given his remaining opportunities, but he is creating a new standard for brilliance at an age when the majority of players have long since departed.

Roger was hampered by injuries throughout the entirety of the 2020 season and a big chunk of the 2021 season. Fans will be waiting with bated breath for his comeback in 2022. For the time being, Roger is ranked second all-time, but you should never count him out.

Roger Federer
  1. Novak Djokovic
  • Born: May 22, 1987
  • Born in Belgrade, Serbia
  • Resides: Monte Carlo, Monaco
  • Turned pro: 2003
  • Career prize money: $154,756,726
  • 86 career titles
  • 20 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 9 Australian, 6 Wimbledon, 3 US Open, 2 French Open
  • Current active player

At 34 years of age and in the late prime years of his career, Djokovic is clearly the best player in the world at the moment, and he has the potential to win more Grand Slam titles. With 20 Grand Slam titles already under his belt he trails just Rafael Nadal who stands at 21. And with a record 361 weeks ranked as number one, it’s hard not to give Djokovic serious consideration as the greatest of all time.

Djokovic, 34, is definitely the top player in the world at the moment, and he has the potential to win additional Grand Slam titles. With 20 Grand Slam victories to his credit, he trails only Rafael Nadal, who has 21. And with a record 361 weeks at the top, it’s difficult not to view Djokovic as the greatest player of all time.

Djokovic became the seventh man to win a career Grand Slam with his 2016 French Open victory. Djokovic’s dominant start to the 2021 season with victories at the Australian Open, French Open, and Wimbledon establishes him as the world’s best player at the present. Beating Rafael Nadal in the 2021 French Open semi-finals demonstrates that he is capable of defeating Rafa on his finest surface. Djokovic dominated the 2021 Wimbledon Championship, dropping just two sets in route to a four-set victory over Italy’s Matteo Berrettini.

Novak Djokovic has earned the title of greatest of all time, for the time being, based on his record of winning multiple Major titles on all surfaces and his edge in head-to-head encounters against both Federer and Nadal.

Novak Djokovic

With the tennis world waiting in anticipation to see if Djokovic could complete the calendar Grand Slam, winning all four majors in the same year, it was not to be. Djokovic’s straight set loss to Daniil Medvedev in the 2021 US Open final demonstrates that either Father Time is catching up with him or the hungry herd of next generation challengers has arrived. The answer to this question, as well as whether Federer and Nadal can fully recover from their injuries and compete at the highest levels, will have to wait until 2022. Keep an eye out.

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