Top 10 Men’s Tennis Players of All Time
Top 10 Men’s Tennis Players of All Time
When it comes to any top 10 list, especially when it involves sports, there is often much debate as it is hard to compare different positions in team sports, and is especially difficult to compare eras that are often played under vastly different rules.
However, while a tennis top 10 list is still heavily debatable, it is different in the sense that it is an individual sport. And while training and equipment have evolved greatly over time, the inherent rules of the sport remain largely unchanged.
One thing most tennis fans will agree on is that we have witnessed three of the greatest players of all time dominate the sport for much of for more almost two decades. Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic are all contemporaries and are the only men with at least 20 Grand Slam titles. But where does each rank in our top ten list of all-time?
10. John McEnroe
Accolades: 7 Grand Slam Titles (3 Wimbledons, 4 US Opens), 105 career titles
McEnroe is lower on this list not because he isn’t an all-time great, but because he does not have the same versatility at winning majors on more than two surfaces as others on this list do. McEnroe never made the finals at an Australian Open or the French Open and reached the semifinals in each event just once. However, many players modeled their net play and volleying skills after McEnroe, and his on-court antics was always must-watch television. We should all be grateful McEnroe played in an era with no replay, as he may not have uttered the line, “You cannot be serious!”
9. Andre Agassi
Accolades: 8 Grand Slam Titles (4 Australian Opens, 1 French Open, 1 Wimbledon, 2 US Opens), 61 career titles, Olympic Gold Medal
Andre Agassi will best be remembered for his classic duels with Pete Sampras (also on this list), and for marrying Steffi Graf, one of the best female tennis players of all time. He also went from crazy hairstyles in his younger years to a completely shaved head as he got older, but we should also remember Agassi as one of the best players of all time. He is one of eight men to win the career Grand Slam and could be higher on the list if not for “only” playing 11 years, which was a shorter career than many of his contemporaries.
8. Jimmy Connors
Accolades: 8 Grand Slam Titles (1 Australian Open, 2 Wimbledons, 5 US Opens), 147 career titles
If you want to know what dominance for a calendar year looks like, no further than Jimmy Connors in 1974. He won 99 of his 103 matches that year and was a perfect three-for-three in Grand Slam championships. It was that year he started an impressive 160-week streak as the top-ranked player in the world. Connors’ career lasted more than two decades before retiring in 1996, but he should be rewarded for his longevity, and not viewed as a compiler.
7. Ivan Lendl
Accolades: 8 Grand Slam Titles (2 Australian Opens, 3 French Opens, 2 US Opens), 144 career titles
Though Lendl never completed the career Slam, his 144 titles are more than double that of Agassi’s, and the Czech is remembered for being the most dominant player of the 1980s. He was No. 1 in the world for 270 weeks, and never endured many lulls or droughts, as he won at least one Grand Slam every year from 1981 to 1991.
6. Bjorn Borg
Accolades: 11 Grand Slam Titles (6 French Opens, 5 Wimbledons), 101 career titles
While many on this list had plenty of dominant individual years, Borg was one of the first to dominate an event in consecutive years, as he won five consecutive Wimbledons from 1976-1980. All greats have their rivals, and Borg had some of the most memorable clashes with McEnroe and Connors. Borg and McEnroe split their head-to-head series 7-7, while he held a 15-8 lead over Connors, and beat him in eight of their 13 finals matches. Borg also retired young at age 26 but is rewarded for what he accomplished in that short span.
5. Pete Sampras
Accolades: 14 Grand Slam Titles (2 Australian Open, 7 Wimbledon, 5 US Opens), 64 career titles
Plain and simple, Pete Sampras is one of the most dominant servers the sport has ever seen, which likely explains his preference and better success on hard and grass courts. Until the “Big Three” arrived, Sampras was widely regarded as the most dominant player in the Open Era. However, not only did Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer all easily surpass him on the list of Grand Slam titles, but they arguably had much better competition having to outlast each other, than the supposed lack of talent that was able to push Sampras in his career. However, we prefer to view it as he was just head and shoulders above the rest.
4. Rod Laver
Accolades: 11 Grand Slam Titles (3 Australian Opens, 2 French Opens, 4 Wimbledons, 2 US Opens), 200 career titles
Not only did Rod Laver win all the Grand Slam events, but he is also one of four players to win all four majors multiple times. In fact, his two sweeps of the four Grand Slams in the same calendar year happened seven years apart. The Australian is so revered that his name is now synonymous with the Australian Open. Laver was the No. 1 ranked men’s player for seven years (1964-70) and is the only player with 200 titles to his name. Laver is not penalized for “only” winning 11 Grand Slams, as his career overlapped the pre-open era and the Open Era, and there were differences in rules on if amateurs or professionals were allowed to compete.
3. Roger Federer
Accolades: 20 Grand Slam Titles (6 Australian Opens, 1 French Open, 8 Wimbledons, 5 US Opens), 103 career titles
There was a time when many (myself included) were convinced Roger Federer would retire as the greatest men’s player of all time. Maybe we are prisoners of the moment in dropping Federer to No. 3 on our list, but injuries derailing him for much of the last two seasons has not helped his case. Nevertheless, there is much to be celebrated in his career, like being ranked No. 1 for a record 237 consecutive weeks. However, he is 23-27 head-to-head against Djokovic and 16-24 head-to-head against Nadal, and that has to count for something.
2. Rafael Nadal
Accolades: 21 Grand Slam Titles (2 Australian Opens, 13 French Opens, 2 Wimbledons, 4 US Opens), 90 career titles
Nadal is on the precipice of winning his 22nd Grand Slam title if he can finish what he started at the 2022 French Open, and that would put him two clear of Federer and Djokovic. Many who want to rank Nadal lowest of the “Big Three” will be quick to argue he is the “King of Clay”, who boosted his record number of Grand Slam titles by winning 13 times at Roland Garros. However, Nadal has won multiple times at every other Slam and owns the head-to-head against Federer. Perhaps ranking him higher than Federer also comes with some guesswork that he has more left in the tank at this stage of their careers, which means he has more time to add to his resume while Federer remains absent.
1. Novak Djokovic
Accolades 20 Grand Slam Titles (9 Australian Opens, 2 French Opens, 6 Wimbledons, 3 US Opens), 86 career titles
Djokovic has the least amount of career titles of the “Big Three”, but he also seemingly has the most tennis still yet to play ahead of him. Djokovic and Federer are the only two players in history to win three of the four Grand Slams at least three times and has spent 372 weeks total ranked No. 1, which may never be broken. Djokovic also can claim the head-to-head advantage over both Federer and Nadal, and the fact that he has won 20 Grand Slams in a span of 13 years compared to Federer’s 15 and Nadal’s 17 speaks further to his immediate dominance.
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