Comparing the greatest players in tennis in different eras is a very subjective task, mainly due to the many changes in racket technology and higher standard of fitness and nutrition. Despite the challenge, some names stand out and are timeless when debating the top tennis players in history. Here’s a list of the greatest achievers in tennis history, ranked.
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Roger Federer has dominated the men’s tennis like none other. The Swiss star cemented his spot as the best male player till date by winning 20 Grand Slams, a record. He has held the No. 1 ranking for 302 weeks (another record in the Open era) and has own the highest number of consecutive major finals (U.S Open, 2004-2008 and Wimbledon Championship, 2003-2007).
This fiery Spaniard, also known as Rafa and the King of the Clay is breathing down Federer’s neck with 17 Grand Slams. Despite recurring wrist and knee injuries, Nadal has been the greatest rival to Federer, with a 23-14 record against him (till date) and also defeating him on hard court and grass. With his record 10th French Open title (2017), Nadal is regarded as the greatest clay court player of all-time.
Pete Sampras grabbed the attention of the world in the 90’s defeating Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe on his way to becoming the youngest man to win the U.S. Open. His victory at 2000 Wimbledon established his claim as the greatest player of all time, until his feats were eclipsed by those of Federer’s. Sampras won a total of 14 Grand Slams, including an impressive seven Wimbledon titles in eight years.
Throughout her 17 year-long career, Steffi Graf has been the model of consistency. Her 377 weeks as No. 1 in the rankings is a record for any tennis player, male or female. Graf was the first player to win all four Grand Slams and Olympic Gold Medal in the same year (1988). With her speed, grace and incredible foot movement, Fraulein Forehand was a complete athlete, the ultimate female tennis player.
With 23 Grand Slams to her name, Serena Williams claim the highest number of Grand Slam singles titles by a tennis player in the open era, male or female. One of the most powerful and strongest women to dominate the tennis court, her greatest weapon is her serve. Despite battling multiple injuries and illness, she is still going strong, thanks to her unrelenting determination.
Djokovic became the first man to defeat Federer at all four Grand Slams with his victory against the Swiss star in 2014 Wimbledon. With 14 major titles to his name and currently at the prime of his career, Djokovic has the potential to win many more Grand Slams titles and eclipse both Federer and Nadal.
The only male player to win the Career Super Slam (all four Grand Slams, Olympic Gold medal and ATP World Tour Finals), Andre Agassi stormed on to the tennis scene at the age of 16 and went on to win 8 Grand Slam titles. With his flamboyant style and flashy looks, Agassi made his mark in the endorsement world.
In his relatively short career, Borg won 11 Grand Slams and was the first player in the open era to have won more than 10 major titles. He dominated in the 1970’s with his four straight French Open titles and five straight Wimbledon titles. If this blonde Swede with ice in his veins and killer ground game had not retired at the prime of his career (aged 26), he would have definitely bagged more major titles.
Laver straddled both the amateur and open era in tennis, and pulled off the calendar-year sweep twice- in 1962 as an amateur and in 1969 as a pro. This Aussie with 11 Grand Slam titles claimed the No.1 rank for seven straight years and has won 200 career titles-more than anyone in history.
Connors dominated tennis during the mid-1970s, surging to the top of the ranking in 1974 after his first 3 Grand Slam victories in the same year. Connors was barred from playing in the French Open in 1974 for signing a contract with World Team Tennis, and this prevented him from a possible Grand Slam sweep. Despite peaking in the 1970s, Connors had a long and impressive tennis career, retiring in 1996. He is still the record holder for men’s career record for most single tournament wins (109).
Evert won 18 Grand Slam titles in her career, and she won them on all surfaces. Looked upon as the all-American girl, she dominated the court with her finesse, speed and impressive court sense and was the biggest rival of Martina Navratilova.
John McEnroe was one of the most boisterous, combative and controversial player in tennis history. He was either loved or hated by tennis fans for his fiery attitude and occasional bad-boy behaviour. A highly competitive athlete who loved winning, McEnroe was known for his epic battles with Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors. His loss to Borg in a five set tiebreaker at the 1980 Wimbledon final is one of the greatest matches in Wimbledon history. He defeated Borg in the finals of the 1980 US Open and Wimbledon in 1981. McEnroe holds the men's record with 149 tournament wins in the Open era: 77 in singles and 72 in doubles.
With a record of 24 singles, 19 doubles and 19 mixed doubles Grand Slam titles to her credit, many argue that Margaret Court is the most accomplished player in tennis history. She was the first woman in the open era to win the singles Grand Slam in 1970. Court was the first woman in the open era to win the singles Grand Slam in 1970. Undoubtedly the best player in the 1960s to early 1970s, her athletic physical conditioning, impressive serve and volleying and her incredible speed in the court distinguished her from all the other female players at her time.
King dominated the tennis court the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s with her hard charging aggressive style. She holds the record of 20 Wimbledon Championships- 6 in singles, 10 in doubles and 4 in mixed doubles. Many remember her for the weird and whacky Battle of Sexes in 1983, between King and Bobby Riggs, the outspoken former Wimbledon men’s champion. Riggs, who repeatedly disparaged female tennis players and boasted that he, could beat King at the age of 55, lost the match to Kings in two straight sets.
No one dominated the tennis scene more than Ivan Lendl in the 1980s. Lendl elbowed his way into the spotlight at a time when Connors and McEnroe were the big names in tennis, by claiming the No. 1 spot on the ranking in 1983.This quiet and stoic Czech wore down his opponents with his powerful ground strokes, topspin forehand and incredible level of conditioning. He held the No. 1 ranking for 270 weeks, a record at that time and third only to that of Roger Federer and Pete Sampras.
Boris Becker is a six-time major singles champion and the youngest Wimbledon men's champion ever at the age of 17. He also bagged five year-end championships, 13 Masters Series titles, and an Olympic gold medal in doubles. Becker's game was based on a fast and well-placed serve that earned him the nicknames "Boom Boom", "Der Bomber" and "Baron von Slam", and great volleying skills at the net.
In 1990, Seles became the youngest ever French Open champion at the age of 16. She went on to win eight Grand Slam singles titles before her 20th birthday and was the year-end world no. 1 in 1991 and 1992. With eight Grand Slam singles titles before her 20th birthday, Seles holds the record for most Grand Slam singles titles won as a teenager in the Open Era. However, on April 30, 1993, she was the victim of an on-court attack, when a man stabbed her in the back with a 9-inch long knife; Seles did not return to tennis for over two years. Some involved with the sport have declared that Seles could have become the most accomplished female player.
The year 1938 represents a landmark in tennis history. That's when Budge became the first player to achieve the Grand Slam, as he won each of the major championships in the same calendar year. If that weren't enough, he captured the Davis Cup as a member of the U.S. team and became the first player to win Wimbledon without losing a set that year. Budge also won 92 consecutive matches from early 1937 to late 1938.
In 1964, Emerson missed becoming the third man to achieve the Grand Slam. He won Wimbledon, the Australian and the U.S. championships but failed to defend his French title from the previous year. Emerson is the only man who won the career Grand Slam in both singles and doubles and the only man who won five consecutive Australian singles titles. He shares the record of six Australian Open men's singles titles with Novak Djokovic.
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