30 Best Tennis Players Of All Time
Who is the greatest tennis player of all time? We’ve compiled the ‘Top 30’ male and female players ever. You might agree or disagree with the order or #1. But what is sure, is how hard it is to get into the top 30. There was no space for Djokovic, Hingis or Courier. Below are the ‘Best players of all time’….
Who Are The Best Tennis Players Of All Time?
Without doubt, people across the world have their own ideas and views on who is the greatest tennis player of all time. And I am sure that many of you will have an absolute and personal favorite player, one that you know for sure is the very best! But when you really think about it, there are so many great and phenomenal players that spring to mind. How can you possibly choose the greatest or best?
Everyone who knows me will say that I am obsessed with tennis. And it is not just the game, scores or play that is important. As much as anything else, it is the players. The struggles, personalities, the decade long rivalries, the comebacks, and triumphs. Tennis is all about the players. That is why discussing who is the best player is something well worth debating.
I think that most tennis fans would agree with me when I say that we currently have 3 of the best tennis players in Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Rafael Nadal. But in what order? And what about some of the other greats. And I mean incredible, unbelievable greats! Steffi Graf, Rod Laver, Martina Navratilova, Pete Sampras. Yes, you know what I am talking about!
Now I know that we will never all agree on who is the greatest player and you will probably disagree with my player rankings. But hear me out! Believe me when I say that I have really thought this through.
So, let us get the GOAT debate started.
John Newcombe #30
I would like to start my top 30 players with John David Newcombe (May 23rd, 1944). Australian player Newcombe achieved a World No. 1 ranking in both singles and doubles, a rare accomplishment.
Known for his powerful serve and volley, Newcombe won a stomping seven singles titles at the majors, and 17 men’s doubles titles, a former record that he held for many years. He also won five Davis Cup titles for Australia. In singles, doubles, and mixed doubles, Newcome won a sensational 26 total majors. This is just two short of record holder Roy Emerson’s 28 championships.
Sports journalist, historian and tennis writer Lance Tingay ranked Newcombe as the top amateur in the world in 1967. Later in 1970 and 1971, Newcombe was ranked professionally as the joint world No. 1 player.
Phenomenal Doubles Success
Newcombe won his first Grand Slam title in 1965 at the Australian Championships double title alongside Tony Roche. The duo then went on to win the Wimbledon doubles title later in the year. Together, they won the Australian doubles championship three more times and Wimbledon four more times. In 1967, they won the U.S. Championships as well as the French Championships. In 1969, they won the French Open. All in all, Newcombe and Roche won 12 Grand Slam titles. This record for a men’s doubles team was finally broken in 2013 by Bob and Mike Bryan.
Spectacular Singles Triumphs
In terms of singles tennis, Newcombe twice won the Australian Open, three times at Wimbledon and twice at the U.S. Open.
Newcombe was a brilliant player that dominated tennis for three decades (1950 – 1970). Australia has not seen such a domineering player since.
Captain of the Australian Davis Cup team from 1995 to 2000, Newcombe was celebrated in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985 and in 1986 by the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Named affectionately as “Newk” by his enormous multitude of fans and known by his trademark thick moustache, Australia fanatically loved and adored Newcombe. And deservedly so.
Helen Wills #29
American tennis player Helen Newington Wills is my number 29. Born October 6th, 1905 (to 1998), Wills was also known as Helen Wills Moody and Helen Wills Roark. She held the top position in women’s tennis for almost 10 years. She won an outstanding 31 Grand Slam tournament titles (singles, women’s doubles, and mixed doubles) which included 19 singles titles.
Known and admired for her graceful physique, Wills displayed unrivalled power and accuracy in her play. Wills adopted and promoted the fashion for wearing knee-length pleated skirts, a move away from her predecessors who wore longer skirts. Also unusual for the time, Wills enjoyed practicing against men as part of her training. In an exhibition match in 1933, Wills won against the eighth ranked male player from the U.S.
“Little Miss Poker Face”
So focused on her play, Wills was legendary for never displaying emotion, whether she was winning or losing, on court or off. Her stoic demeanour and emotional detachment led to nick names such as “Little Miss Poker Face”, “Queen Helen” and even “The Imperial Helen”. Despite being such a private and introverted character, Wills became a global celebrity, mixing with royalty and film stars. She was the first American woman athlete to achieve such a status.
Top female competitor in the world for eight years (1927–33 and 1935)
At Wimbledon, Wills set a record of eight wins. This record was not beaten until Martina Navratilova won her ninth in 1990. Many dominant tennis names including Jack Kramer, Harry Hopman, Mercer Beasley, Don Budge and AP News. have called Wills the greatest female tennis player in history.
September 1921 saw Wills win the singles and doubles titles at the California State Championships where she defeated Helen Baker in the final in three sets.
Wills was the U.S. girls’ singles champion in 1921 and 1922. In 1923, aged 17, she won her first women’s national title, making her the youngest champion at that time.
In 1924, in Paris, Wills won two Olympic gold medals. This was the last year that tennis was an Olympic sport until 1988.
Wills accomplished a 398-35 (0.919) match record during the period 1919 to 1938. This included successive wins of at least 158 matches when she did not lose a set.
Wills vs Lenglen
February 16th, 1926 saw Wills play against Suzanne Lenglen, six-time Wimbledon champion in a small tournament in the South of France. Although they were the two dominant female tennis players of the time, this was the only time they played each other. This was such a highly anticipated match that attracted crowds of spectators and fans. 3000 spectators and a world-wide media following watched from the packed stands at the Carlton Club. Lenglen won the match but Lenglen’s father warned her that she would lose her next match to Wills if she played again soon. Unfortunately for Wills, she never got that second chance.
During the 1926 French Championships, Wills needed an emergency appendectomy. This resulted in her defaulting her second-round match and withdrawing from Wimbledon, also regarded as a default.
Victorious at Wimbledon
Wills lost two matches following her appendectomy but in 1927, proved herself to be back to full form. Wills began her streak of not losing a set until the 1933 Wimbledon Championships. In 1933 Wills suffered with a back injury. She returned to tennis in June 1935 and in September 1935, won her seventh Wimbledon title against Jacobs. She returned to Wimbledon in 1938 to defend her title, again against Jacobs. She won her eight Wimbledon title but afterwards retired.
Wills played a merciless and strategic game. She used a slice serve to force her opponent out wide and would then follow this up with a finishing volley or powerful overhead smash that was virtually impossible to return.
Stefan Edberg #28
Known as one of the best and phenomenal serve and volley players of his era. Swedish Stefan Edberg (January 19th, 1966) won an astonishing six Grand Slam singles titles and three doubles titles between 1985 and 1996. He was part of the Swedish Davis Cup winning team on four occasions. He won the Masters Grand Pris, the Masters Grand four Master Series titles, four Championship Series titles and the unofficial 1984 Olympic tournament. And if that is not enough for you, he was also ranked in the singles top 10 for ten consecutive years. For nine of those, he was in the top five.
Triumphant Junior Edberg
Achieving great success as a junior player, Edberg won all four Grand Slam junior titles in 1983. He was the first (and to date last) player to achieve the Junior Grand Slam in the open era.
The following year, Edberg won his first top-level singles title in Milan and the tennis tournament at the Summer Olympics. He played doubles with Anders Jarryd where they reached the finals in the U.S. Open. He played again with Jarryd in the French Open doubles final in 1986 and became the world No. 1 in doubles.
Success at the Australian Open
Edberg won his first two Grand Slam singles titles at the Australian Open. First in December 1985 when he defeated Mats Wilander in straight sets. Then in January 1987, he defended his title, winning against Pat Cash. This was the last Australian Open to be held on grass courts.
Back to doubles and again partnering with Anders Jarryd, Edberg won the Australian Open and U.S. Open men’s doubles titles in 1987.
Edberg rivals Boris Becker
Edberg competed and reached the finals at Wimbledon for three successive years (1988, 1989 and 1990). In each of these dramatic finals, he played against German player Boris Becker. The pair became one of Wimbledon’s greatest rivalries and attracted great crowds and media attention. Edberg won in 1988, Becker in 1989 and Edberg again in 1990.
At the 1987 Wimbledon Championships, Edberg became one of only six players in history to achieve a triple bagel victory. This was in his opening round match where he played fellow Swede Stefan Eriksson. Incredibly, he won 6-0, 6-0, 6-0. Edberg was subsequently knocked out of the semi-finals by Lendl in four sets.
Reaching the French Open final in 1989, Edberg lost to Michael Chang (then aged 17). This was the only male singles title that Edberg didn’t win.
During the Australian Open Finals of 1990, Edberg had to pull out due to an abdominal muscle injury.
Becoming the World No. 1
13th September 1990 saw Edberg become the world number 1. He took the ranking from Lendl when he won the Super 9 tournament in Cincinnati. He remained the world number 1 for the rest of that year and for much of 1991 and 1992.
Edberg won two more Grand Slam singles titles in the U.S. Open. First in 1991 where he played and won the final against Jim Courier. He defended his title the following year playing against Pete Sampras.
In the Australian Open of 1992 and 1993, Edberg reached the finals both times, but both times losing to Jim Courier in four sets. Despite his disappointment, Edberg remains one of the few players to have reached the finals of the Australian Open five times. The Australian Open 1993 turned out to be Edberg’s last time to perform in a Grand Slam singles final.
At the Australian Open in 1996, Edberg won his third (and last) Grand Slam doubles title when he partnered with Petr Korda.
Edberg began to be a coach for Roger Federer in December 2013.
During his time as a competitor, there was a lot of strong competition. His success of six Grand Slam Singles titles and three doubles is testament to his dominating net play, technical skill and ability and smooth fast accurate volleying. What a champion.
Arthur Ashe #27
Winning three Grand Slam singles titles, American professional tennis player, Arthur Robert Ashe Jr (September 10th, 1943 – February 6th, 1993) comes in at my number 27 of Greatest of All Time.
Ashe broke records in being the first black player to be selected to the United States Davis Cup Team. To date, he has been the only black man ever to win the singles title at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open. He was also the first black player to achieve the No. 1 ranking in the world (1975), and the first to be inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame (1985).
Ashe the Activist
Ashe contracted HIV reportedly from a blood transfusion he received during heart bypass surgery in the early 1980’s. Ashe worked tirelessly educating others about HIV and AIDS, setting up the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS and the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health. Ashe’s life was tragically cut short from AIDS related pneumonia on 6th February 1993, aged 49.
Ashe grew up with his brother and father in Richmond Virginia, his mother dying when he was just 6 years old. He discovered tennis a year later. His talents were soon recognised by tennis coach Dr Robert Walter Johnson Jr. who helped him hone his skills.
Reaching the junior national championships in his first tournament, Ashe eventually moved to St. Louis where he worked with coach Richard Hudlin. He soon won the junior national title in 1960 and then again in 1961.
1963 saw Ashe become part of the U.S. Davis Cup Team. Here he continued to train and attracted the attention of his tennis hero, Pancho Gonzales. Under his direction, Ashe perfected his serve and volley attack. In 1968, the still amateur Ashe won the U.S. Open title, the first and only African American player to do so to date. And in 1970, he won the Australian Open. In a dramatic match against Jimmy Connors in 1975, Ashe won the Wimbledon finals.
Inspirational and Pioneering
In a game completely dominated by white players, Ashe enjoyed immense success against the odds. He worked to create inner-city tennis programs for children and helped to establish the Association of Men’s Tennis Professionals. He also was an outspoken critique of apartheid in South Africa. He managed to lobby for a visa so that he could visit South Africa and play tennis there. Pioneering not just in his tennis career, Ashe was a truly inspirational character.
Maureen Connally #26
Number 26 is “Little Mo”, Maureen Catherine Connolly-Brinker (September 17th, 1934 – June 21st, 1969) who won nine Grand Slam singles titles in the early 1950’s. This astounding American tennis player was born September 17th, 1934 and died at the early age of 35 in 1969 from ovarian cancer.
San Diego sportswriter Nelson Fisher named Connolly as “Little Mo” when she was just 11 years old, comparing the power of her forehand and backhand to the firepower of the USS Missouri known informally as “Big Mo”.
At 16 years old, Connolly (then coached by Eleanor Tennant) defeated Shirley Fry at the 1951 U.S. Championships. This made Connolly the youngest ever player to win at America’s most highly esteemed tennis tournament.
In the New York Times, highly respected tennis writer Allison Danzig commented “Maureen, with her perfect timing, fluency, balance and confidence, has developed the most overpowering stroke (forehand) of its kind the game has known”.
Winning at Wimbledon
1952 saw Connolly win her first Wimbledon title where she defeated Louise Brough in the final. This was also when Connolly ended her time with her coach Tennant. Connolly had been instructed by her coach to withdraw from competing at Wimbledon due to a shoulder injury. Connolly refused to withdraw, and they soon parted ways.
Defending her Title
In the 1952 U.S. Championships, Connolly successfully defended her title, winning in the final against Doris Hart.
Setting Spectacular Records
1953 saw Connolly achieve phenomenal new records. With Australian coach Harry Hopman, Connolly entered all four Grand Slam tournaments. She became the first woman (and only the second player after Don Budge) to win the world’s four major titles in the same year, the Grand Slam. The only other female players to achieve the same have been Margaret Court in 1970 and Steffi Graf in 1988. Throughout these four tournaments, she lost only one set.
Incredibly, Connolly won the last nine Grand Slam singles tournaments she played. This included winning 50 consecutive singles matches.
Female Athlete of the Year
Connolly was loved by the media and the public. She was one of the most popular personalities in the U.S. at the time and was named Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press for three successive years (1951 – 1953).
A Premature and Tragic Ending
Tragically, after such immense success and clear talent, Connolly had a horse-riding accident shortly after her triumph at Wimbledon. Due to a catastrophic leg injury, her competitive tennis career came to a premature end at the age of just 19.
Connolly was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1966 and died three years later in 1969.
With a career lasting just four years but achieving such phenomenal success. Could it be that without the horse-riding accident and early loss of life, perhaps Connolly would have been the best-ever female player in tennis history.
Justine Henin #25
Winning seven Grand Slam singles titles, a gold medal in the Olympic Games and the year-ending WTA Tour Championships, Henin (June 1st, 1982) is undeniably a world class legend. She spent an impressive 117 weeks as the world No. 1 and was the year-end No. 1 in 2003, 2006 and 2007.
From Belgium, Henin helped to secure Belgium’s position in women’s tennis, along with Kim Clijsters. In 2016, she became the very first Belgium tennis played to be inducted in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Famous for and well known to be one of the few female players to use a single-handed backhand, Henin is also known for her superb mental strength, variety of game, incredible speed, and footwork. Henin most earnestly deserves her position as one of the greatest female tennis players of all time.
The Early Years
At two years old, Henin’s family moved to a house located next to the local tennis club. It was here that she began to play. As a child, Henin would travel with her mother to France to watch the French Open. Henin’s mother died in 1995, when Henin was 12 years old. Around this time, Henin began to be coached by Carlos Rodriguez. Due to personal issues with her father, Rodriguez became like a second father as well as coach to Henin.
Henin married Pierre-Yves Hardenne in 2002 whom she separated from in 2007. At this point in 2007, Henin retired from play but made a hugely successful comeback in 2010.
Henin went on to marry again (Belgium cameraman Benoît Bertuzzo) and together, they started their own family.
Coached by Carlos Rodriguez, Henin won the junior girls’ singles title at the French Open (1997). She went onto to win five International Tennis Federation tournaments as a junior by the end of 1998.
2001 saw Henin begin to make herself known as a powerful force to be reckoned with. She reached the women’s singles semi-finals of the French Open and then defeated the reigning Australian Open and French Open champion Jennifer Capriati in the semi-finals of Wimbledon. Here Henin reached the finals but lost to defending champion Venus Williams.
World’s Number One and Grand Slam Wins
Henin won her first Grand Slam title in 2003 at the French Open, defeating Serena Williams in the semi-finals and Clijsters in the final. Henin was the first ever Belgium to win a Grand Slam singles title. Next came her spectacular triumph at the U.S. Open. Here she secured her place in the finals by winning against Anastasia Myskina in the quarter finals and Jennifer Capriati in the semi-finals. Her match with Capriati lasted in excess of three hours and did not finish till past midnight. After being treated for dehydration and muscle cramp overnight, she played in the finals against Clijsters in straight sets. This extraordinary win meant that Henin’s ranking rose to No. 2, just behind Clijsters. By the end of 2003, Henin closed the season as world No. 1 for the first time. ITF named Henin as the women’s singles champion for 2003.
2004 was notable for her win at the Australian Open where she defeated Clijsters. The same year, she won a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Athens. Suffering with an infection, Henin was unable to play tennis for a significant period throughout and had to withdraw from competition tennis.
Three Successive French Open Triumphs
The following year, Henin returned to competition, winning the French Open against French player Mary Pierce. This win re-established Henin’s dominance in world tennis. She successfully reached the finals of every other Grand Slam tournament in 2006. Pausing from competition due to her divorce, Henin returned to the French Open in 2007. This marked her third successive French Open triumph and made her the second woman to have achieved this since 1937. She managed to set a record at the French Open by winning 35 consecutive sets. 2007 saw Henin win her second U.S. Open singles title.
Retirement Disappoints Fans
In May 2008, Henin decided to retire from tennis. This shocked fans and media as she was ranked the number 1 player at the time. But then, Henin made a return to competitive tennis in 2010 and reached the Australian Open final. Here she was defeated by Serena Williams. Suffering with an elbow injury, Henin was forced to retire for good.
Henin left an incredible record which proves herself as a true tennis legend.
Fred Perry #24
British tennis player Frederick John Perry (May 18th, 1909 – February 2nd, 1995) won an astonishing 10 Majors, including eight Grand Slam titles and two Pro Slams singles titles and six Major doubles titles. Winning three successive Wimbledon Championships from 1934 to 1936, Perry became the World No. 1 Amateur tennis player.
Perry was the last British tennis player to win the men’s Wimbledon Championships in 1936 until Andy Murray broke his record in 2013. He was also the last British player to win a men’s singles Grand Slam title until Andy Murray won the U.S. Open in 2012.
Career Grand Slam
Perry also made his mark in tennis history for being the first player to win a Career Grand Slam where he won all four singles titles at the Grand Slam tournaments. He is the only British player to have ever achieved this.
Playing for the GB Davis Cup team, Perry helped lead the team to victory again France. This was the team’s first win since 1912. Their winning streak continued with wins against the U.S. in 1934, 1935 and then against Australia in 1936.
Working-class Perry became dissatisfied with the class-conscious nature of the Lawn Tennis Club of Great Britain and became professional at the end of the 1936 season. Being professional meant that Perry could earn money from tennis. He soon moved to the U.S. where he became a naturalized citizen.
At this time, being professional meant that you could not play at Wimbledon and other major championships. Perry’s move to professional tennis caused great upset to the British Tennis establishment and it seemed that they did not recognise his great achievements. When he won his first Wimbledon title in 1933, he beat Australian Jack Crawford. It was traditional for players to be presented with a special Wimbledon tie. But Perry did not have the tie presented to him, it was simply left on the back of his dressing room chair. Understandably this caused Perry grievance.
As the decades went on without another victory for a British player (until 2013), Perry gradually began to receive the recognition that he so rightly deserved. 50 years on from his Wimbledon win, a statue of Perry was erected at Wimbledon to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the match.
Perry was later drafted into the U.S. Army Air Force during the Second World War (in 1942).
Perry’s first love was table tennis. A formidable player, Perry won numerous medals in the singles, doubles, and team events in the World Table Tennis Championships of 1928 and 1929 as a junior.
After 1929, Perry decided to concentrate on tennis and left his table tennis career behind.
Perry was from a working-class background. Born in Stockport, his father was a cotton spinner and became involved in working-class politics. Perry first came to play tennis on the public courts near the housing estate where he lived. At this time, working class players were extremely rare.
In an interview, Perry said that he was not resented as such but was met with surprise that someone from his background could succeed at the top of tennis. Competitive to the absolute core, Perry was known to call out “very clever” when his opponent hit a good shot.
Off the court, Perry enjoyed a succession of romances with leading actresses and models including Marlene Dietrich. He became friends with Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx and Betty Davis. Perry married three times. The first two marriages ended quickly but his third marriage to Barbara Riese in 1952 lasted for 40 years, and together they had two children.
Fred Perry the Clothing Brand
It was in the 1940’s that the iconic Fred Perry clothing label began. Tibby Wegner, an Australian football player and Perry’s future business partner, approached Perry to ask to use his name in a new clothing label. Beginning with the first sweat band and then a tennis shirt. The logo for the Fred Perry brand is a laurel wreath which was based on the original symbol for Wimbledon. Perry’s image helped promote the brand massively, appealing to the teenagers of the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s. It quickly became a phenomenal success.
Suzanne Lenglen #23
One of the biggest names in tennis during the 1920’s, French super sport star Suzanne Lenglen (May 24th, 1899 – September 4th, 1938) wowed fans with her extraordinary tennis as well as her flamboyant style and personality. Her popularity was simply enormous. She is often noted as the first female athlete to become a global sport celebrity. She played in front of sell-out crowds time and time again and was often pictured on the front page of the newspaper. The French media named her “notre Suzanne” meaning our Suzanne or “La Divine” meaning the Goddess. Lenglen died prematurely at the age of 39.
Lenglen’s love for tennis began when she was around 11 years old. When her father saw her incredible talent, he began to play with her and came to her coach which he continued to do throughout her entire career. In just four years from first playing tennis, Lenglen won her first major title at the 1914 World Hard Court Championships when she was just 15 years old.
World War 1 effectively put Lenglen’s career in tennis on hold for four years. Returning to competitive tennis in 1919, Lenglen triumphed at Wimbledon, in what was the second- longest final in history by games played. When Lenglen ended her amateur career, she had won 179 matches in succession. She never lost more than three games in a set in any of her 12 major singles finals (excluding her first final at Wimbledon).
Lenglen won an astonishing six Wimbledon singles titles, even winning five in succession, from her debut win in 1919 to 1923. She also won triple crowns at the open French Championships in 1925 and 1926.
Triumphant at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, Lenglen won two gold medals and one bronze medal for France. She won the singles event where she played against British player Dorothy Holman and she also won the mixed doubles, pairing up with Decugis. Lenglen entered the doubles with d’Ayen where they took the bronze medal.
Outstanding Doubles Success
As well as her incredible reign of singles wins, Lenglen racked up 12 doubles and 10 mixed doubles major titles. With her long-standing tennis partner Elizabeth Ryan, Lenglen was never beaten, together achieving six titles at Wimbledon.
Match of the Century Lenglen vs Helen Wills 1926
Towards the end of her career, Lenglen finally played Helen Wills. This was widely referred to as the Match of the Century as they were the two dominant female players of the time. Lenglen secured victory although her father warned her that if they were to play again, he predicted that Wills would win.
So that she could earn money from tennis, Lenglen turned professional in 1926, retiring from amateur tennis. Beginning her professional tennis career, she signed up to a tour of the U.S. The tour was financially successfully and Lenglen certainly helped to draw in the crowds. Soon after, Lenglen signed up for a smaller tour of the U.K. where Lenglen won all seven of her singles matches. Remarkably, she never lost more than five games in any of them.
Style of Play
A phenomenal and formidable player, Lenglen had incredible control of the ball. As well as her supremely accurate control, her shots were often notably powerful. She coupled this up with unparalleled grace. She had a brilliantly powerful serve and excelled at rallies.
Influenced by her father, Lenglen was taught a style of play used by leading men’s tennis players. She embraced this aggressive style with incomparable confidence and pizzazz.
Adored by her fans and by the media, Lenglen was both daring and bold. In the 1982 September issue of Sports Illustrated, the magazine wrote about Leglen “Suzanne Lenglen drank, swore and had lovers by the score – and played tennis incomparably, losing only once in seven years”.
Controversially, Lenglen refused to wear bulky undergarments. She had her hair cut short and styled in a bob. She painted her nails and wore bright red lipstick. Her tennis dress was short for the time and she wore short sleeves, daring to show her bare arms. Her father would pass her sugar cubes soaked in brandy or cognac between sets (which he threw to her from the stands) and she was frequently seen to take sips from a flask that she carried with her.
An Incredible Legacy
When formal annual women’s tennis rankings began to be published in 1921, Lenglen featured as No. 1 in the world in each of the first six editions on rankings. She won a stomping 250 titles, 83 in singles, 74 in doubles and 93 in mixed doubles. After World War 1, she won 287 of 288 matches.
Her eight Grand Slam women’s singles title wins are tied for the tenth most of all time. This puts her tied in fourth for the amateur era just behind Maureen Connolly who had nine. Lenglen’s six Wimbledon wins are tied for the sixth most in tennis history. Her former record of five successive Wimbledon wins was matched by Martina Navratilova in 1987.
Boris Becker #22
My number 22 slot goes to German born Boris Becker (November 22nd, 1967). This phenomenal player made records when he triumphed at Wimbledon in 1985 and 1986 at aged 17 and 18. In 1985, unseeded Becker beat eighth-seeded Kevin Curren in the final. This made him the first unseeded player to win at Wimbledon, the first German, and at 17 years, 7 months, the youngest male (Michael Chang broke this record four years later when he won the French Open at 17 years, 3 months). In 1996 Richard Krajicek, and then in 2001, Goran Ivanisevic also became unseeded champions.
This impressive win at the very start of his career turned out to be the first of his six major singles titles. Becker’s Grand Slam singles titles included three at Wimbledon, two Australian Opens and one U.S. Open. He successfully won five-year end championships, 13 Master Series titles and an Olympic Gold medal in doubles.
Voted Player of the Year by both the ATP and ITF in 1985, following his retirement Becker went on to be a coach for Novak Djokovic for three years. Arguably due to his early fame and remarkable success, Becker’s personal life has been somewhat turbulent.
Success as a Junior
Born in the town Leimen, Becker’s father, an architect, founded a tennis centre in their home-town. This is where Becker learned to play. In 1977, Becker joined the junior team at the Baden Tennis Association. He successfully won the South German championships and the first German Youth Tennis Tournament. In 1978, Becker was invited to join German Tennis Federation’s top junior team. He went on to win doubles at the Orange Bowl International Tennis Championships, turning professional in 1984.
In a later interview, Becker said, “the plan from my parents for me was to finish school, go to university, get a proper degree and learn something respectful. The last thing on everyone’s mind was me becoming a tennis professional.”
Becker came into contact with Steffi Graf who grew up not too far away in Bruhi. The two apparently played together on occasion.
Style of Play
Famed for powerful serves, heavy forehand, incredible volleys, and diving saves. Becker was loved by the crowds and soon became a national hero. Becker showed maturity when given an early nickname “Boom Boom” saying that is was “too warlike”.
Becker had most of his successes on fast playing surfaces, notably grass courts and indoor carpet (where he won 26 titles). Despite reaching finals on a clay court, he never won a tournament on a clay court in his professional career.
After making his mark in tennis history in 1985 with his extraordinary win at Wimbledon, Becker successfully defended his title the following year.
In the Davis Cup of 1987, Becker played John McEnroe in what was one of the longest matches in tennis history. After 6 hours 22 minutes, Becker triumphed over McEnroe.
1988 saw Becker return to Wimbledon where he was defeated by Stefan Edberg. Becker and Edberg became one of Wimbledon’s greatest rivalries. Becker helped West Germany gain its first Davis Cup in 1988 and won the season ending WCT Finals for the rival World Championship Tennis tour where he defeated Edberg.
The following year Becker won two Grand Slam singles titles. Losing to Edberg in the French Open semi-finals, he went on to defeat Edberg in the Wimbledon final, also winning at the U.S. Open final.
In 1990 Becker came head to head with Edberg again at the Wimbledon final but this time Edberg was victorious. At the Australian Open of 1991, Becker beat Lendl, allowing him to take the No. 1 ranking. He stayed at No. 1 for 12 weeks during 1991. Facing fellow German and rival Michael Stich at the Wimbledon finals, Becker was defeated. Teaming up with Stich the following year, together they won the men’s doubles gold medal at the Olympic Games in Barcelona.
Personal issues interfered with Becker’s career success for the next few years. In 1995, Becker managed to reach the Wimbledon final for the seventh time but lost to Pete Sampras. In 1996, Becker’s won his sixth and final Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.
In an impressive and dominating career, Becker won an extraordinary 49 singles titles and 15 doubles titles. This included six Grand Slam titles, a singles winner in the year-end Masters / ATP Tour World Championships in 1988, 1992, and 1995, the WCT Finals in 1988 and the Grand Slam Cup in 1996. He was the first male player to reach the Wimbledon finals seven times (Sampras matched this record) and is behind Federer who has reached the Wimbledon finals 11 times. Becker sometimes commentates at Wimbledon for the BBC.
Ken Rosewall #21
Australian player, Rosewall (November 2nd, 1934) won an astounding 8 Grand Slam singles titles and 23 tennis Majors. Overall, he reached a record 35 Major finals. As well as being a terrific singles player, Rosewall achieved immense success in doubles, winning 9 slams in doubles, including a career doubles grand slam.
Famed for his unmatchable backhand, remarkable speed, agility, and quickness. At the start of his career, he was a backcourt master striking ball after ball. As his career went on, he also brought the serve and volley technique into his speciality.
With incredible resilience and adaptability, Rosewall competed at the highest levels from the early 1950’s, 1960’s and early 1970’s. Rosewall ranked as the world No. 1 player for a number of years throughout the 1960’s.
Proving his versatility, Rosewall is the only player to have won Grand Slam titles on three different surfaces in the 1960’s. He broke records at the 1971 Australian Open when he became the first player in the open era to win a Grand Slam tournament without dropping a single set.
Rosewall also won world professional championship tours in 1963, 1964 and WCT titles in 1971 and 1972.
A Natural Left-Hander
Coming to tennis at just 3 years old, Rosewall naturally played tennis with his left hand. His father taught him to play right-handed. It is often considered that Rosewall’s ambidextrous ability massively benefitted his famous backhand.
Rosewall is 1.70 m (5 ft 7 in) tall and weighed 67 kg (148 lb). Fellow players gave him the nickname “Muscles” as an ironic reflection of the fact that he was not a muscular or big player. He made up for this with his incredible speed, agility, tirelessness and extreme resilience.
The Beginnings of Success
Rosewall played his first tournament at aged 9 and won the Metropolitan Hardcourt Championships for under fourteens when he as 11. At age 14, he won the Australian Hardcourt Championships in Sydney making him the youngest player to win an Australian title.
Three Decades of Tennis Dominance
Winning his first singles title at finals of the Australian Championships at age 18, he went on to win at the Australian Open in 1972, an incredible 19 years later. This fantastic record is yet to be broken.
In 1974, Rosewall competed in both the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals. Despite being unsuccessful in the finals, this did make him the oldest player to compete in two major finals in the same year.
Rosewall’s career spanned the amateur, professional, and Open eras. He was astonishingly successfully throughout all these stages. He won 18 majors which included eight singles and nine doubles. This makes him the sixth highest male in terms of majors and he additionally won 15 titles in professional tournaments.
Even towards the end of his career, Rosewall remained ranked in the Top 10 players. 1977 saw Rosewall’s last year in the Top 20. He was ranked as one of the best players for an outstanding 26 years. Rosewall made his last attempt at Wimbledon in 1968, aged 40. Strangely, as in his first Wimbledon in 1968, Rosewall lost in the same round (4th) to the same player (Tony Roche).
Rosewall’s major rivalries were with Gonzales and Laver.
Now living in northern Sydney, Rosewall is a father of two and grandfather of five.
Venus Williams #20
The winner of seven Grand Slam titles and four Olympic gold medals (one in singles and three in doubles), Venus Williams (June 17th, 1980) has undoubtedly redefined women’s tennis with her phenomenal strength and athletic ability. Williams is a former World No. 1 in both singles and doubles and I have put her as my number 20.
Venus Williams ranked No. 1 in singles in February 2002, making her the first African American women to achieve this in the Open Era, and the second ever since Althea Gibson. Along with her sister Serena, Venus Williams became the world No. 1 in doubles for the first time in 2010.
Growing up in Compton, Los Angeles, Venus was introduced to tennis along with her sister Serena Williams, by their father Richard Williams. They played on the public courts of Los Angeles where their father would teach them based on what he learned from books and videos.
The exceptional talent of Williams was clear early on. A professional local tennis player spotted the 7-year-old Venus Williams and identified her as potential champion. The family moved to Florida when Venus was 10 so that the two sisters could attend the tennis academy of Rick Macci. Their father stopped sending the two sisters to national junior tennis tournaments when Venus was 11, saying that he wanted them to focus on their schoolwork too. It is sometimes considered that this decision was also to protect his daughters as he had allegedly heard other parents belittling the sisters because of their race.
At that time, Williams held a 63-0 record on the U.S. Tennis Association junior tour and was ranked as No. 1 among the under 12 players in Southern California. In 1995, Richard Williams pulled his daughter’s out of Macci’s academy and took sole charge of their coaching.
Gaining seven Grand Slam singles titles make Venus Williams 12th on the all-time list and 8th on the Open Era list. This is more than any other current player amongst women apart from Serena Williams.
Venus competed in the finals in 16 Grand Slam tournaments. Her five Wimbledon singles titles put her in joint eighth place (with two other women) on the all-time list – and fourth on the Open Era list.
Venus Williams won four of her six Grand Slam singles titles between 2000 and 2001. She broke records in 2020 as the all-time leader (both male and female) in number of Grand Slams played (with 86).
Achieving wonderful success in doubles, Venus Williams has also won 14 Grand Slam Women’s doubles titles along with her sister Serena. The pair remain unbeaten in Grand Slam doubles finals. Venus also has two Mixed Doubles titles.
Achieving a total of 23 Grand Slam titles, Venus Williams ties with Steffi Graf for the fourth most by a female in the Open Era – behind Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams and Martina Hingis.
An Olympic Hero
Williams boasts four Olympic gold medals, one in singles and three in women’s doubles. She also won a silver medal in mixed doubles. This ties her with Kathleen McKane Godfree for the most Olympic medals, either male or female, in tennis history. In the 2000 Sydney Olympic games, Williams became only the second player to win Olympic gold medals in both singles and doubles in the same Olympic Games (after Helen Wills Moody in 1924).
Venus and Serena also make records at being the only tennis players to have achieved four gold Olympic medals in tennis history and are the only ones to have won Olympic gold in the same event at three different Olympic games. Winning silver in mixed doubles at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic games, Venus became the first player to win a medal at four separate Olympic games. She was also the first player in the Open Era to win an Olympic medal in all three events – singles, doubles, and mixed doubles.
Aged 39, Williams was the oldest player to enter the 2019 Wimbledon championships.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused Williams to take a break but soon returned to competition with the World Team Tennis. In her first official tournament being the 2020 Top Seed Open, she defeated Victoria Azarenka in the first round but lost to her sister in the second round.
Style of Play
With immense strength and power, Williams holds the record for the fastest serve in three of the four Grand Slam tournaments. Often staying near the baseline, Williams has a proactive style, often being on the attack and covering the entire court. Williams has had most success playing on grass.
Aside from Tennis
In 2011, Venus was diagnosed with Sjogrens Syndrome, an autoimmune disease which left her feeling fatigued and sore. Switching to a vegan diet and making changes to her training routine, Venus was able to come back to Wimbledon the following year to win the doubles title.
Venus Williams started a line of clothing called EleVen and released a collection of women’s clothing for Wilson’s leather.
She has also started her own interior design company called V*Star.
Venus has been involved in numerous social causes. She worked alongside UNESCO where she helped to promote gender inequality around the world.
Ivan Lendl # 19
World No. 1 for 270 weeks, Lendl (March 7th, 1960) is a retired Czech-American professional tennis player. Born in Czechoslovakia (now known as the Czech Republic), Lendl moved to the U.S. in 1981.
Lendl has 94 singles titles to his name including eight titles at the Majors. Lendl also won seven year-end championships. An incredibly focused, dedicated and strategic player, Lendl build his game around his forehand. His success is seen to have heavily influenced the current style of play which features aggressive baseline power.
In the Beginning
Lendl was born to a tennis loving family, his parents being top players in Czechoslovakia.
Achieving success as a junior, Lendl won the boys’ singles titles at the French Open and Wimbledon in 1978, aged 18. That year, he was ranked as the World No. 1 junior player.
Turning professional in 1978, Lendl reached his first top-level singles final in 1979 and won seven singles titles in 1980. This included three tournament wins in three successive weeks on three different surfaces.
Lendl was part of Czechoslovakia’s Davis Cup winning team in 1980. He was also part of the Czechoslovak team that won the World Team Cup in 1981. Moving to the U.S. in 1981, Lendl later stopped representing Czechoslovakia as the Czechoslovakia’s Tennis Association regarded him as an “illegal defector” from their country.
1982 marked the start of a 44-match winning streak and he won 15 of the 23 tournaments that he entered.
Triumphing at the 1984 French Open, this was Lendl’s first Grand Slam title win. Here he defeated one his greatest rivals, John McEnroe in a particularly long final. McEnroe went on to beat Lendl at the U.S. Open of 1984.
Facing McEnroe the following year in the U.S. Open, this time it was Lendl who was victorious. This marked the first of three successive wins at the U.S. Opens, and the first of eight consecutive appearances in the U.S. Open finals. He also reached the WCT Finals and won the Masters Grand Prix title for the third time (defeating Boris Becker in straight sets).
Lendl had success at the French Open titles in 1986 and 1987 and won the season end 1986 and 1987 Masters Grand Prix championship titles (defeating respectively Becker and Wilander).
In 1989, Lendl won his first Australian Open title and went on to win 10 titles of the 17 tournaments that he entered. The following year, Lendl defended his Australian Open title.
Lendl’s match-winning percentage was over 90% in years 1985 and 1986. This record has been matched by Roger Federer in 2004 to 2006 but Lendl has the record for the only male tennis player with over 90% match wins in five different years.
Lendl reached ten success Grand Slam singles semi-finals from 1985 to 1988. This record was broken by Federer in 2007.
Although unsuccessful at winning the Wimbledon Open, He did reach the semi-finals on seven occasions and the finals twice.
Tennis Magazine ranked the 40 Greatest players of the Tennis era where Lendl appeared in the top ten.
Style of Play
Famed for his meticulous and intensive training, he took a methodical and somewhat scientific approach to play. When training for the U.S. Open, he hired the same workers to make an exact copy of the court in the grounds of his home.
Lendl was given the nickname “The Terminator” and “Ivan the Terrible”. His attack style of play made use of a heavy topspin forehand which tended to dominate play. His signature move was his running forehand.
During the 1980’s, Lendl developed a backhand with a significant topspin. It was, in part this, that allowed him to defeat John McEnroe in 1984 at Lendl’s first Grand Slam triumph.
Chronic back pain led Lendl to decide to retire from professional tennis in 1994, aged 34. Since retiring, Lendl has been a tennis coach for several players including Andy Murray.
Monica Seles #18
Born in Yugoslavia (now known as Serbia), Seles (December 2nd, 1973) became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1994. She also received Hungarian citizenship in 2007. Seles was a world No. 1 player winning nine Grand Slam singles titles and achieving very early success. She won eight of these titles as a teenager (representing Yugoslavia) and a later one when she represented the U.S.
Seles began playing tennis from just 5 years old. Her father helped to coach her in her early years and she later became coached by Jelena Gencic. At 11 years old, Seles won the Junior Orange Bowl tournament in Miami. Here her talents were spotted, and she soon joined the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida.
Seles was ranked as the No. 1 junior tennis player in the world when she was aged 13.
Her first professional tournament as an amateur was in 1988 at age 14. The following year she became professional. She met the then World No. 1 Steffi Graf at the semi-finals of the French Open, this was her first Grand Slam singles tournament.
Seles broke records when she defeated Steffi Graf at the French Open in 1990. At just 16 years old, she was the youngest player ever to win the tournament. She made tennis history again the following year when she became the youngest play to rank as World No. 1. She ranked as year-end World No. 1 in both 1991 and 1992.
Winning eight Grand Slam titles before she was 20, Seles had already proved herself as a tennis legend.
Tragically, Seles was the victim of an on-court knife attack in 1993. A crazed Steffi Graf fan attacked her causing her irreparable psychological damage. Seles was unable to return to tennis for the next two years.
Many consider Seles to be one of the greatest tennis players of all time. Numerous tennis players, analysts and sport historians predict that Seles showed genuine and convincing potential for becoming the most talented female player of all time had she not been stabbed.
Martina Navratilova predicted that if Seles had not been stabbed, “”We’d be talking about Monica with the most Grand Slam titles [ahead of] Margaret Court or Steffi Graf.” In her early days she won a spectacular eight of the eleven Grand Slam tournaments that she competed in.
Re-joining the Tour
Returning to tennis in 1995, Seles gained a fourth Australian title victory in 1996. Although this was her last Grand Slam title, she did reach numerous semi-finals and quarterfinals in major tournaments. Following the attack, Seles was never truly able to regain her form from earlier years, at least not consistently. Seles achieved Olympic success at the 2000 Sydney games where she gained a bronze in the singles event.
In 1996, 1999, and 2000, Seles helped the U.S. team win the Fed cup.
Approach to Play
Seles was famed for her highly aggressive playing style. A baseline player, she used a double-handed forehand and backhand which she hit with breath taking speed, power, and intensity. Her serve speed reached 109 mph (174 km/h). She played aggressively to return shots, standing within the baseline to return serves.
She played tirelessly, covering the entire court with great speed and agility. Following the unfortunate stabbing, Seles style became far less confident and much more unsettled.
With her remarkable strength and aggressive game style, she is widely regarded as the inspiration behind players such as Serena and Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka.
What a star and what a phenomenal legend in tennis.
Seles married Tom Golisana, billionaire businessman and philanthropist.
Following her attack, Seles struggled with personal issues including periods of depression as well as a binge eating disorder. Seles released a memoir in which she describes this as well as her father being diagnosed with cancer and then dying.
Suffering with a foot injury, Seles lost in the first round of the 2003 French Open. This was the only time she lost a first-round match at a Grand Slam and she never played an official tour match again.
Despite success in following matches, Seles announced her official retirement from professional tennis in 2008.
The following year, Seles was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Bill Tilden #17
My number 17 is American tennis great, 6-foot 2-inch Bill Tilden (February 10th, 1893 – June 5th, 1953), nicknamed “Big Bill”. Tilden was ranked the World No. 1 tennis player for six years (1920 to 1925). He won an impressive 14 Major singles titles which included ten Grand Slam championships, one World Hard Court Championships, and three professional majors.
Tilden broke records when he became the first ever American to win at Wimbledon in 1920. He also broke records by winning seven U.S. Championship titles (he shares this record with Richard Sears and Bill Larned).
From 1920 through to 1925, Tilden was the dominant force in international tennis. In his 20-year amateur period (between 1911 and 1930), he won 138 out of 192 tournaments. Tilden became the first player to reach 10 finals at a single Grand Slam event, for him at the U.S. Opens. He kept this record to himself until 2017 when Roger Federer reached the Wimbledon final 11 times.
Style of Play
Taking an analytical approach to his games, Tilden was a methodical and exceptionally strategic player. With a fast serve, perfect use of spin, remarkable drop shot and phenomenal backcourt play, it can be said that he revolutionized tennis.
Born in Philadelphia and bought up in a wealthy home, Tilden’s family was bereaved by the death of his three older siblings. He then lost his mother when he was 18 and was sent to live with his aunt. Shortly after, his father died when he was 22 as well as his older brother, Herbert.
After these family deaths, Tilden struggled to cope and suffered with deep depression. Tilden had taken up tennis from the age of around six and turned to tennis to cope with his depression, supported and encouraged by his aunt. Tennis became his road to recovery.
Tilden did not show any remarkable aptitude for tennis at school. He went on to study at the University of Pennsylvania but soon dropped out. Tilden was known to be shy, introverted and sometimes arrogant.
In 1910, Tilden began to play tennis against a back-board, and he began to study the game of tennis. The following year saw Tilden win his first tournaments, the junior singles, and doubles title of Germantown. His first national title win was at the mixed doubles championships in 1913, with Mary Browne. They defended their title the following year.
Winning six successive U.S. singles championships from 1920 to 1925 and seven in total, he is a record holder (along with Richard Sears and Bill Larned). At the end of 1919, Tilden began to master his backhand. With this change, Tilden soon became the World No. 1 tennis player and the first American to win the Wimbledon singles championship.
In the late 1920’s, Tilden began to lose his domination in international tennis. He won his last major championship at Wimbledon in 1930 when he was 37 years old.
Tilden and Hollywood
Much loved and admired by his fans and the public, Tilden was one of the most famous athletes in the world for many years. Tilden had great style, he was handsome, dashing and bold. In the 1920’s U.S. singles championship finals, he appeared wearing a striking camel hair coat.
He came to be part of the Hollywood scene, acting in movies and plays. Tilden earned large sums of money throughout his long career. Spending it on a luxurious lifestyle, he also spent much of his income on financing Broadway shows that he wrote, produced, and starred in. He also wrote seven tennis books.
Tilden was often in conflict with the directors of the United States Lawn Tennis Association. They made it clear that they disapproved of the fact that he earned income from newspaper articles about tennis.
Tilden had two arrests for public misconduct involving teenage boys in the late 1940’s. These led to time in prison at which point the public as well as Hollywood and the tennis world began to turn their back on Tilden. Facing five years of strict parole conditions, Tilden was barely able to earn an income from his private lessons. He was unable to give lessons at most tennis clubs and had far fewer clients even on public courts.
Some suspect that Tilden was ultimately a victim of the homophobic society of the era. The public was more shocked that Tilden was both a sport legend and a homosexual than they were about the convictions themselves. It was reported by George Lott, a player and tennis coach, that there is no evidence or suggestion that Tilden made any advances to players (adults or children). Jack Kramer remarked that “Bill had all the rumors floating about his sexuality”. It is possible that his prosecutions centred more around these rumors than evidence and fact. Tilden lived at a time when homosexual sex was illegal and was not tolerated by society. California did not change its sodomy law until as late as 1976.
After winning his Wimbledon singles title in 1930, Wilden turned professional. He toured with other professional players for the following 15 years.
In 1950, despite his public disgrace, Tilden was named as the greatest tennis player of the half-century by an Associated Press poll (winning 310 out of 391 votes). Tilden was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1959.
Tilden won 138 of his 192 tournaments between 1912 and 1930. He lost 28 finals and had a 907 – 62 match record. This gives him a 93.6% winning percentage. Tilden was the first male tennis player to win four successive Grand Slam titles.
Tilden suffered heart complications and died at the age of 60 leaving an incredible legacy behind him.
Jimmy Connors #16
My number 16 is American former World No. 1 tennis player, Jimmy Connors (September 2nd, 1952). Connors made records for ranking a then record 160 successive weeks as No. 1 from 1974 to 1977, making this a career total of 268 weeks. With a career spanning many years, Connors still retains three singles records for the Open Era: 109 titles earned, 1,557 matches played, and 1,274 matches won.
The astonishing triumphs of Connors includes eight major Grand Slam wins. He won five U.S. Open titles, two Wimbledon titles and one Australian Open title. This makes him tied in 5th place in tennis history. He won three year-end championships and 17 Grand Prix Super Series titles.
1974 saw Connors become only the second male player in the Open Era to win three majors in one calendar year. In 1982, he won both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and was ranked as World No. 1 player for that year (and in 1974 and 1976).
Jimmy Connors, The Man
Intensely competitive, driven and focused, Connors played an aggressive game where he showed himself to be completely tireless, relentless and focused. Connors tended to distance himself from other players and was generally seen as a bit of an outsider. Connors was a character who was either loved fanatically or disliked.
Connors was known to say “I was not about establishment,” ….. “Being an outsider drove me to being able to play better. It became me against everyone else. I wasn’t going out there to win friends. I was going out there to win tennis matches.”
Connors began to get a reputation as a maverick as early on in his career as 1972. He refused to join the newly formed Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), a union that was made up of most of the professional players of the time. This was so that he could play in a range of smaller tournaments that were organized by his then manager Bill Riordan.
Connors conflicted with the ATP and French officials over scheduling conflicts (after he had signed a contract to play World Team Tennis) and was not able to play in the 1974 French Open. Connors remained at odds the tennis world, declining to participate in a parade of former champions at Wimbledon in 1977. In 2000, he also declined to join a gathering of 58 former champions to mark the millennium.
Sponsors and tennis officials were also disappointed that Connors did not participate in the end of year Master’s championships from 1974 to 1976. He did enter this a few years on, in 1977.
Early Life and Background
Growing up in Illinois, Connors was initially coached by his mother and grandmother. He played his first U.S. Championships for juniors when he was nine years old. Connors won the Junior Orange Bowl when aged 12 and 14 years. He is only one of nine other players to win this twice in its 70 years.
He began to be coached by Pancho Segura when aged 16 in Southern California.
Connors is the winner of eight Grand Slam singles championships, five U.S. Opens, two Wimbledon’s and one Australian Open.
Connors remained the undisputed dominant player in 1974, holding the ATP World No. 1 ranking at the end of the year. In this year he won 15 of the 21 tournaments he entered, including three of the four Grand Slam singles titles.
Showing his exceptional talents, Connors reached the final of the U.S. Open in five consecutive years (from 1974 to 1978). In these five finals, he won three times, each on a different surface (grass, clay and hard). He also reached the Wimbledon finals four out of five years (also between 1947 and 1978). He was either not allowed to play or chose not to play in the French Open until much later in his career where he reached the semi-finals.
Reaching the finals of Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and Australian Open in 1975, he earned enough points to retain the ATP No. 1 ranking for most of the year. Because of his conflict with the tennis authorities including the ATP however, Arthur Ashe was officially named as the Player of the Year.
1976 saw Connors triumph at the U.S. Open once again. He reached the finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open the following year. In 1978, he reached the finals at Wimbledon but was defeated by Bjorn Borg. At the U.S. Open of the same year, Connors defeated Borg.
Between 1979 and 1982, Connors reached most of the semi-finals of the three top Grand Slam singles events. In these years, he was generally ranked third in the world.
Seeing a comeback in 1982, Connors defeated John McEnroe to win at Wimbledon and defeated Ivan Lendl to win at the U.S. Open. At this point, he reclaimed his ATP No. 1 ranking.
In 1983, the World No. 1 ranking switched between Connors and his main rivals McEnroe and Lendl. It was in this year that Connors won his record 5th U.S. Open singles title.
In another successful year, 1984 saw Connors at the Wimbledon finals and the WCT finals. He was also in the semi-finals of the French Open, the U.S. Open and the Master’s Cup.
Connors continued to play at the top of the game reaching the semi-finals of the U.S. Open in 1991 at the age of 39.
In the early part of his career, Connors’ main rivalries were with Arthur Ashe, Rod Laver, John Newcombe, and Ken Rosewall. Later his main rivalries were Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl, and John McEnroe.
Retiring in 1996 (aged 43), Connors organized a Champions Tour for men over 35 years old. He dominated that field for numerous years. In 2001, he was still ranked in the top twenty of the seniors’ tour. Connors began enjoying and playing golf in his retirement. He also developed some business interests.
Roy Emerson #15
Australian Emerson (November 3rd, 1936) dominated tennis throughout the 1960’s. His career spanned over Amateur and Open Era tennis. Australia had a great many top players at that time, but Emerson topped them all, breaking and making record success over a ten-year period. He won a phenomenal 12 Grand Slam singles titles and 16 Grand Slam doubles titles.
He won a career Grand Slam (winning titles at all four Grand Slam events) in both singles and doubles. He is the only male player to have ever done so. He broke records when he completed a double career Grand Slam in singles (this record was matched by Rod Laver). His 28 major titles fundamentally make him the record holder for a male player of all time.
Emerson held the record for 12 major titles wins for 33 years when it was passed by Pete Sampras in 2000, and then later by Federer, Nadal, and Djokoivic. He also held the record of six Australian Open wins in the singles until 2019 when Djokoivic won his seventh title.
Emerson won five of his Australian Opens in five successive years (1963 – 1967). He still retains this as a record. There have only been five other tennis players to win multiple slam sets in two disciplines (also Frank Sedgman, Margaret Court, Martina Navratilova and Serena Williams.
And if that is not enough, Emerson was also the first male player to win each major title at least twice in a career.
His combined singles and doubles major titles amounts to 28. This is a record in men’s tennis and makes Emerson an absolute legend.
Emerson was ranked in the World Top 10 nine times between 1959 and 1967, holding the No. 1 ranking in 1964 and 1965.
The Young Emerson
Emerson grew up on a dairy farm in Queensland, Australia where he helped to milk cows. Developing an interest in tennis from an early age, there was a tennis court on the farm where Emerson was able to play.
As a family, they later moved to Brisbane with his family, where Emerson began to receive coaching in tennis.
Triumph for Emerson began in 1959. Partnering with Neale Fraser, Emerson won his first Grand Slam doubles title at Wimbledon. Emerson quickly came to be known as a formidable double’s player, doubtless the best of the time and one of the very best of all times. Tennis expert Jack Kramer wrote in his 1979 autobiography, “Emerson was the best doubles player of all the moderns, very possibly the best forehand court player of all time. He was so quick he could cover everything. He had the perfect doubles shot, a backhand that dipped over the net and came in at the server’s feet as he moved to the net.”
The Australian Championships (now known as Australian Open) saw Emerson win his first Grand Slam tournament singles title winning against Rod Laver. He went onto win against Laver again at the U.S. Championships (later known as U.S. Open).
Winning five successive men’s singles titles at the Australian Championships between 1963 and 1967, Emerson was already making records in tennis history. In 1963, Emerson also won his first French Championship singles title.
Phenomenally successful, Emerson won 55 consecutive matches during 1964. He finished the year with 109 triumphs out of 115 matches. In this year, he also won the Wimbledon singles final. Not surprising that he became ranked as the World No. 1 amateur player in 1964 and 1965.
Continuing his domineering success rate, in 1965, Emerson defended his Australian and Wimbledon singles titles.
Turning professional in 1968, Emerson went on to win the Grand Slam doubles title in 1971 when he teamed up with Rod Laver. Emerson was an unstoppable in the doubles. He won 16 Grand Slam doubles titles with five different partners.
Winning his 105th and final career title at the Pacific Coast Championships in 1973, Emerson went on to play only a few tournaments through till 1977. His very last tournament was in the Gstaad, Switzerland in 1983.
Emerson was popular with other players and was often called by his nickname “Emmo”, especially by his Australian Davis Cup teammates.
Six-foot-tall Emerson was an absolute powerhouse of tireless strength. He was well known to train hard which prepared him for long and strenuous matches.
Under the coaching of Harry Hopman, Emerson came to perfect a serve and volley game, but he was extremely proficient at a variety of other playing styles. As a coach, Hopman always put great emphasis on good fitness and under Hopman’s direction, Emerson adopted a rigorous training regime which helped him develop such extreme stamina.
Emerson never formally retired but did stop competing in the tournament circuit. Emerson became a player (mostly doubles with Tony Roche) and coach in the late 1970’s for the Boston Lobsters in World Team Tennis. He also coached in Florida for a brief period.
Place in Tennis History
Emerson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1982. In the Tennis Channel series entitled “100 Greatest of All Time” in 2012, Emerson ranked as the 11th greatest male of all time, and the second highest rated Australian (behind Rod Laver).
Serena Williams #14
American Serena Williams (September 26th, 1981) has completely revolutionized women’s tennis with her powerhouse style of play. With 23 Grand Slam singles titles to her name, she has won more than any other player, male or female, in the Open Era (and the second most of all time behind Margaret Court). Her total of 39 Grand Slam titles, including singles, doubles, and mixed doubles, puts her in tied third position in the all-time list and second in the Open Era.
Success at the Singles
In 2015, Serena Williams became the most recent player to have won a Grand Slam title on each surface (hard, clay and grass) in one calendar year.
Winning seven titles at the Australian Open (in the Open Era) gives Serena another record to her name. She also shares the Open Era record for most titles won at the U.S. Open. She shares this record of six with Chris Evert.
She also achieved a record for most women’s singles matches won at majors (356).
Between 2002 and 2017, the Women’s Tennis Association have ranked her as the World No. 1 in singles on eight separate occasions. Overall, she has ranked as No. 1 for 319 weeks. For women in the Open Era of tennis, this puts her in 3rd place, just behind Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova.
Success with Doubles
Serena partnered up with her sister Venus, to win 14 Grand Slam doubles titles. A formidable force, the two sisters remain undefeated in Grand Slam doubles finals. As a partnership, Serena and Venus have the third most women’s doubles Grand Slam titles in tennis history.
Serena’s triumph at the Olympic Games began in Sydney 2000, winning the first of three women’s doubles gold medals (partnering with her sister Venus). This is a record of all time that she shares with her sister Venus. She also won a Gold Medal for singles in the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Early Years and Background
The youngest of five daughters, Williams grew up in Compton, California where Serena Williams began to play tennis at the age of four. Williams received coaching from her father and mother and later from other mentors such as Richard Williams (not related).
When Serena was nine, she moved with her family to Florida in order to receive coaching at the Rick Macci tennis academy. During this time, Williams had a phenomenal record of a 46 – 3 win-rate on the U.S. Tennis Association junior tour. She was ranked as the number one player amongst the under tens in Florida.
In 1995, when Serena was 14, she left Macci’s academy and her father took on full coaching. Serena’s parents decided that it was in her best interests to wait until she reached 16 to compete in professional tournaments.
With supreme athleticism, Serena specialises in powerful serves and ground strokes. Predominately a baseline player, Serena dominates rallies with her powerful and dependable serve, return of serve and commanding groundstrokes from her forehand and backhand swings.
Both her forehand and her double-handed backhand are generally regarded as the most powerful shots in the women’s game.
Serena plays an aggressive game and her serve is considered by many to be the greatest in women’s tennis history. In the 2013 Australian Open, she had a peak serve of 128.6 m.p.h. (207.0 km/h). This is third fastest of all-time among female players but what adds pizzazz to her serve is her ball placement and ability to reliable make powerful shots with brilliant accuracy.
Although an aggressive player, Serena also plays a strong defensive game as well. She has been known to say that her preferred surface to play on is clay because it allows her time to set up her shots.
Finding her strength in extreme pressure, Serena is famous for making incredible comebacks in games, notably in numerous Grand Slam matches. She won three Grand Slam singles titles after saving match points.
Serena, The Tennis Legend
Countless coaches, players and sports commentators view Serena as one of the best female tennis players of the Open Era. In 2018, Serena was selected as the greatest female tennis player in the Open Era by a Tennis.com panel. Her spectacular array of triumphs and successes make Serena a positive role model for young generations and she is widely seen as an ambassador of tennis. There are of course some who would disagree with this view.
Serena holds the all-time Open Era record of 23 Grand Slam titles which is just one away from the all-time record of 24 titles held by Margaret Court. Only history will tell if Williams will surpass this record.
The Association Press named Serena Williams Female Athlete of the Decade for the 2010’s.
Andrea Agassi #13
At my number 13 is former World No. 1 player, American Andre Agassi (April 29th, 1970). An eight-time Grand Slam champion and gold medal victor of the 1996 Olympic Games.
Agassi made records when he became the first male player (from the Open Era) to win four Australian Open titles. This record was later surpassed by Novak Djokovic in 2015, and Roger Federer in 2017.
Agassi is one of five male singles players to have accomplished the Career Grand Slam in the Open Era and was the second player to do so after Rod Laver. With his Olympic gold medal triumph, Agassi also achieved the Career Golden Slam which means winning the Career Grand Slam as well the Olympic Gold. He is one of only two players to achieve this, the other being Rafael Nadal. And, because Agassi also won the ATP Tour World Championships, he is also known to have won the Career Super Slam.
Winning all four Grand Slam majors on three different surfaces (hard, clay, and grass), Agassi made records by being the first male player to do so. He was the last American player to win at both the French Open and the Australian Open.
Agassi also won 17 ATP Masters Series titles and was part of the winning Davis Cup teams in 1990, 1992 and 1995. Agassi was ranked as World No. 1 for the first time in 1995. Following this, personal issues seemed to interfere with his play, and many assumed that Agassi’s career was in permanent decline.
Surprising and delighting fans, Agassi returned to his top form and regained his World No. 1 ranking in 1999. This year saw him win his first French Open and a second U.S. Open. Winning the French Open meant that he had achieved a Career Grand Slam. Agassi started the following year by achieving his second Australian Open title where he defeated Pete Sampras. This year, he reached the finals at all the Grand Slam tournaments (the first player to do so since Rod Laver in 1969).
Born in Las Vegas, Nevada, Agassi was introduced to tennis at a very early age by his father a former Olympic boxer. Agassi was taught to hit the ball as hard as he could and at the age of 12 (with his doubles partner Roddy Parks) won the 1982 National Indoor Under 14’s Boys Doubles Championship in Chicago.
Agassi joined Nick Bollettieri’s Tennis Academy in Florida when he was 13. Being such a talented player, Agassi was permitted to attend with no costs.
In his autobiography, “Open: An Autobiograhy” written with assistance from J. R. Modhringer, Agassi discusses his childhood and his unconventional father who came to the U.S. from Iran. A professional boxer, his father was reportedly demanding and emotionally abusive to the entire family, grooming the young Agassi for tennis success.
When he turned 16 years old, Agassi became professional.
With strength and power on his side, Agassi was able to dominate play from the baseline. He consistently hit the ball on the rise as he had been trained by his father and Bollettieri.
Later, Agassi came to strategically play to make his opponent run more. He played methodically as well as aggressively. Agassi became well known for his two-handed backhand down the line.
During his twenty-year career, Agassi was known by the nickname “The Punisher”. Agassi was raised training on hardcourts. Although he had immense success with all surfaces, hardcourts were where he felt most confident. This is where he won six of his eight championship titles.
With such a long career spanning over 20 years, Agassi has quite a collection of major rivalries. But perhaps his most fascinating and intensely competitive rivalry was with Pete Sampras. Widely seen as the two most successful players throughout the 1990’s, their rivalry has been noted as the greatest of the generation of players competing in this period. Agassi and Sampras had contrasting styles of play. Sampras was regarded as the player with the finest serve and Agassi as the player with the finest serve returned. Agassi and Sampras met 34 times with Agassi falling behind at 14 – 20.
The next most prominent opponent was Michael Chang. With a similar playing style to his own, matches between Agassi and Chang tended to be built on long and compelling rallies. Chang and Agassi met 22 time on the tour level and Agassi won 15 – 7.
Other main rivalries included Boris Becker, Pat Rafter, Roger Federer, Ivan Lendl, and Stefan Edberg.
Personal Life and Retirement
Following his loss at the 2006 U.S. Open against Benjamin Becker, Agassi announced his retirement. His decision was partly due to his suffering with sciatica, a vertebral displacement, and a bone spur that interfered with the nerve.
After retiring, Agassi has played in a series of charity tournaments and is involved with his own charity. Agassi also took on the role of coach for Novak Djokovic for about one year.
In 1994, Agassi set up the Andre Agassi Charitable Association designed to support young and disadvantaged young people in the Las Vegas area. Awarded the ATP Arthur Ashe Humanitarian award in 1995 for his efforts to help young disadvantaged people, Agassi has been named as the most charitable and socially involved player in professional tennis. It has also been noted that he may be the most charitable athlete of his entire generation.
Agassi married Steffi Graf in 2001 and they have two children.
Agassi will be remembered by generations to come. What a true genius and legend.
John McEnroe #12
American tennis player John McEnroe (February 16th, 1959) was famed for his impressive delicacy and volley skills. With incredible talent, McEnroe had the potential to defeat any competitive style he faced.
Fiercely competitive and prone to loud emotional outbursts, McEnroe became a controversial figure and he often got in trouble with umpires and the tennis authorities.
Ranking World No. 1 in both singles and doubles, McEnroe won an outstanding 77 singles and 78 doubles titles. This gives him to highest combined total for men in the Open Era. He won seven Grand Slam singles titles and nine Grand Slam doubles titles. His match record of 82 – 3 for singles in 1984 is the greatest single season win rate of the Open Era.
McEnroe also had fantastic success at the end of year tournaments. Making records, he won eight singles (three at Masters Grand Prix and five at World Championship Tennis) and seven doubles titles. ATP named McEnroe as Player of the Year and he was named the ITF World Champion in 1981, 1983, and 1984.
McEnroe helped to obtain five Davis Cup titles for the U.S. and later became the team captain. In retirement, McEnroe has continued to play in senior events and has worked as a television commentator for some of the majors.
Early Life and Background
American McEnroe was born in Germany where his father was at the time stationed with the U.S. Air Force. While still a baby, his father was transferred back to the U.S. where McEnroe grew up, mostly in New York with his parents and two younger brothers (youngest brother Patrick also became a professional tennis player).
McEnroe began to play tennis when he was eight years old and he soon started playing regional tournaments and then later national junior tournaments. McEnroe showed his extreme talent when he became the junior champion at the French Open of 1977.
1977 also saw 18-year-old amateur McEnroe win the mixed doubles at the French Open with Mary Carillo. He subsequently made it through the qualifying tournament at Wimbledon but lost in the semi-finals to Jimmy Connors in four sets. It was an epic display of talent and arguably the best performance by a qualifier at a Grand Slam tournament and the greatest by an amateur in the Open Era.
Turning professional in 1978, McEnroe experienced early success and triumph when his won five tournaments, defeating Arthur Ashe in his first of three Masters Grand Prix championships.
1980 was a phenomenal year for McEnroe when he played back-to-back extraordinary major singles finals against Bjorn Borg. The 1980 Wimbledon final (McEnroe’s first ever Wimbledon final) is often regarded as one of the most superb matches in tennis history. “It’s a match I will remember for the rest of my life,” Borg noted of the 4 ½ hour classic match.
Another classic match followed in the same year again between McEnroe and Borg. In the U.S. Open, McEnroe was triumphant. With massively different playing styles and on-court presence, McEnroe and Borg became formidable rivals.
McEnroe won 10 championships in 1980 and at the end of the year was ranked as the number 2 player behind Borg. The following year, McEnroe faced Borg in what would be their last match at the 1981 U.S. Open. McEnroe won making him the first player since the 1920’s to win three successive U.S. Open singles titles and was ranked as World No. 1 at the end of the year.
1984 is widely considered as McEnroe’s best season. He struck up an 82 – 3 match record that is still the highest single season win rate of the Open Era. He won 13 singles tournaments, including Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and achieved the World No. 1 ranking. He also played on the winning U.S. World Team Cup and contributed to the Davis Cup team.
As well as Borg, other main rivals included Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl.
McEnroe was the top ranked player on 14 different occasions between 1980 and 1985. He finished the year ranked No. 1 for four consecutive years from 1981 to 1984. He spent a grand total of 170 weeks at the top of the rankings. He was also ranked as No. 1 for doubles for 270 weeks. He was an incredible doubles player, often teaming up with Peter Fleming. Being humble about the part he played, Fleming once said, “the best doubles partnership in the world is McEnroe and anybody.”
With a clear and strategic game-plan, McEnroe would base play around his strengths of serving and volleying. He proved himself to be one of the best net players of all time. With an unusual serve motion where he would turn his back almost entirely to the net, it was very difficult for his opponents to gauge where he was going to serve. McEnroe kept himself extremely fit and moved around the court very quickly.
Well known for his angry outbursts on court, McEnroe created many arguments with umpires, linesmen, opponents and even fans! At his first-round match at Wimbledon in 1981, McEnroe was fined $1,500 and came close to being disqualified when he called the umpire “the pits of the world” and then swore at the tournament referee. Famous for the line “you cannot be serious”, McEnroe would often call this out after several umpires’ calls during his matches.
Interestingly, McEnroe never lost his temper while playing Borg who was so remarkably unflappable that he was known as “Ice Man”.
Staying active in his retirement, McEnroe often competes in senior events on the ATP Champions Tour. He also provides television commentary during some of the majors. At the 2014 French Open, McEnroe partnered up with his brother Patrick for the over 45 legends double competition to achieve victory.
Currently married to Patty Smyth, rock singer, McEnroe has two daughters from this marriage and three children from his first marriage.
McEnroe was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1999.
Margaret Court #11
Australian World No. 1 tennis player, Court (September 16th, 1942) won a total of an astonishing 24 Grand Slam women’s singles titles, 19 Grand Slam doubles titles, and 21 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles (64 Grand Slam titles in total). This is more Grand Slam titles than any other player has won in tennis history. She is widely considered to be one of the greatest players of all time.
Court made records in 1970 when she became the first female player (of the Open Era) to win the singles Grand Slam: Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the Australian Open, and the French Open titles in the same year. Maureen Connolly also achieved this in 1953, before the Open Era. Court’s singles career winning percentage in the Open Era of 91.37% remains unbeaten as is her record of winning percentage of 91.7% in Grand Slam finals.
She also set the record for the most titles won in a single Grand Slam event with 11 Australian Open wins. Rafael Nadal beat this record in 2019 when he secured his 12th French Open victory, but Court keeps the record for most titles by a woman in a single Grand Slam event.
One of only three other players, Court achieved the Grand Slam Boxed Set. This is every Grand Slam title (singles, doubles, mixed doubles). She is the only one to have achieved this twice. She won all 12 as an amateur. She had a short period of retirement before she returned to play as a professional and incredibly won all 12 again.
Court is the only player to have triumphed at the Grand Slam doubles as well as singles. She won all four Grand Slam tournaments with her fellow Australian Kenneth Fletcher in 1963.
Despite leaving such a legacy behind her, Court is a very controversial figure. In 1995, Court began serving as a pastor in the Pentecostal Christian Church that she founded. She has made a series of extremely controversial comments against homosexuality and same sex marriage. There has been increasing criticism of her and many have argued that the Margaret Court Arena at Melbourne Park (venue for the Australian Open) should be given a new name.
One of four children, Court grew up as Margaret Smith, in New South Wales. She began playing tennis when she was eight years old. Naturally left-handed, she was encouraged to change to a right hand grip.
In 1960, when Court was just 18 and still Margaret Smith, she won the first of her seven successive single title wins at the Australian Championships.
Early on in her career, Court began to make records and become a significant part of tennis history. She became the first female player from Australia to win a Grand Slam tournament overseas when she won the French and U.S. Championships in 1962. The following year, she won at Wimbledon. This same year, Court and Ken Fletcher became the only partnership to win all four Grand Slam mixed-doubles titles during the same calendar year.
Including singles, doubles, and mixed doubles, she won a staggering 64 Grand Slams.
After losing to Billie Jean King at Wimbledon in a semi-final match in 1966, Court temporarily retired, marrying Barry Court in 1967. Returning to tennis, she won all four Grand Slam singles titles in 1970. Court had four children but continued to play. She retired in 1977 when she announced that she was pregnant with her fourth child. Her last Grand Slam singles appearance was at the 1975 U.S. Open and last Grand Slam doubles at the 1976 Australian Open.
Only three other players have accomplished Courts career “boxed set” of Grand Slam titles. This means she won every possible Grand Slam title, singles, doubles, and mixed doubles, at all four Grand Slam events. The others to have achieved this are Dorks Hart and Martina Navratilova. But Court remains the only player to have accomplished this twice.
Women’s top ranked player at the time, Court lost to former World No. 1 male player Bobby Riggs in a televised match which attracted lots of public attention. It was thought that she did not take the match seriously because it was an exhibition game. That same year, Billie Jean King beat Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes match.
Reported by London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, Court was ranked as the year end World No. 1 six times (1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1969 and 1970). Later when the official rankings were released by the Women’s Tennis Association, she was ranked as World No. 1 again in 1973.
In 1979, Court was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. The International Tennis Hall of Fame states: “For sheer strength of performance and accomplishment there has never been a tennis player to match (her).” In 2010, the Herald Sun newspaper of Melbourne, Australia called her the greatest female tennis player of all time, a view supported by Evonne Goolagong Cawley.
With a particularly long reach, Court is seen to have added a new angle to women’s volleying. Tall and with great reach, combined with being remarkably strong, she was completely unstoppable at the net and had a highly effective overhead shot. Especially for her size, Court was exceptionally agile. She played an aggressive serve and volley style which completely overpowered more defensive players.
Court was committed to fitness training which undoubtedly helped her game massively. She would do weights, circuit training, and running along sandy hillsides.
Bought up as a Roman Catholic, Court became involved with Pentecostalism during the mid-1970’s. In 1991, she was ordained as a minister and speaks publicly about her faith. She founded her own Pentecostal church in Perth where she remains the senior pastor.
As a religious minister, Court has stood as a critic of LGBT rights and same sex marriage and has made a series of offensive comments against homosexuality. She has been widely criticised for her comments and critics argue that the Australian Open venue ‘Margaret Court Arena’, should be renamed. It should be noted that Court made extremely controversial comments much earlier in her career. She supported apartheid in 1970 saying, “South Africans have this thing better organised than any other country, particularly America”. She was also openly critical of Navratilova in 1990, saying of her, “a great player but I’d like someone at the top who the younger players can look up to. It’s very sad for children to be exposed to homosexuality”.
Billie Jean King #10
American former World No. 1 professional tennis player, King (November 22nd, 1943) won a formidable 39 Grand Slam titles including 12 in singles, 16 in women’s doubles and 11 in mixed doubles. In Federation Cup finals, she was on the winning U.S. Team seven times. For three years, King was the U.S. Captain in the Federation Cup. In Wightman Cup Competition, the U.S. Team won ten of the 11 years that she participated.
In 1967, Billie Jean King became the top-ranked women’s tennis player. In 1973, she formed the Women’s Tennis Association and successfully defeated Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes match. King is widely seen as the first prominent female athlete to announce her homosexuality and has long been an advocate and activist for gender equality and social justice. She is the founder of the Women’s Sports Foundation.
King is doubtless seen by many to be one of the greatest female tennis players of all time.
In the Beginning
Growing up in California with her parents and younger brother (Randy Moffitt who became a Major League Baseball pitcher), King excelled at baseball and softball as a child. Playing on a team at 10 years old with girls 4-5 years older, her team went on to win the Long Beach softball championship,
Her parents encouraged her to change to a more ‘ladylike’ sport and King switched from softball to tennis at age 11. Playing on the free public courts in Long Beach California, King benefited from free tennis lessons from tennis professional Clyde Walker. When King was asked at 13 or 14 years old by her Church minister, what she wanted to do with her life, King replied “Reverend, I’m going to be the best tennis player in the world”.
King left school before graduating to focus on tennis, marrying in 1965 to Larry King (who went on to be one of the founders of World Team Tennis).
In 1971, King became only the fifth women in tennis history to win the singles titles at all four Grand Slam events giving her a Career Grand Slam. She also won a career Grand Slam in mixed doubles. She just fell short of this in women’s doubles, not winning at the Australian Open.
King made records by winning 20 titles at Wimbledon – six in singles, ten in women’s doubles and four in mixed doubles.
Between 1959 and 1983, King played a remarkable 51 Grand Slam singles events. She reached the semi-finals 27 times and at least the quarter finals in 40 of these events.
King won an extraordinary 129 singles titles in total, 78 of which were WTA titles. King also had immense success with the Federation Cup Finals and Wightman Cup competition.
Experiencing great success at Wimbledon, King won six of her Grand Slam singles titles here. She won four at the U.S. Open, one at the French Open, and one at the Australian Open. In her Grand Slam singles tournaments, she reached the finals 16 out of 25 times (between 1966 and 1975). From 1971 to 1975, she won seven out of the ten Grand Slam singles tournaments that she played. Excepting one, all her Grand Slam singles titles were played on grass.
King was ranked as year ending World No. 1 in six of the ten years between 1966 and 1975. And for the other four years, she as World No. 2 (for three years) and World No. 3 (for one year).
Margaret Court was undoubtedly the main rival to King. They faced each other 32 times, with Court winning 22. They played each other in the finals of five Grand Slam events, two prior to Court’s brief retirement and three afterwards. King was defeated at all but one of these matches.
The two most striking matches between King and Court were both at Wimbledon. The first being when 18-year-old unseeded King faced Margaret Court, then World No. 1 and top seed. In their opening match, King stunned the world by defeating Court. Later in the 1970 final, King and Court had the longest women’s final in Wimbledon history in terms of games played.
King came to tennis as somewhat an outsider to this upper-class sport. The daughter of a firefighter, King learnt to play tennis on the public courts of Long Beach, California. To the annoyance of junior tennis authorities, she reportedly wore a home-made pair of shorts rather than a skirt, for a junior group photo. And at 5 foot 5, King impressed everyone with her immense skill and talent.
King favoured an aggressive style of play, hitting the ball hard and covering the court with superb speed and agility.
King was far more passionate and emotional than her opponents of the time who tended to be rather reserved. She gave her all to every match and even to every single shot. As she displayed in her defeat of Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes match, she could also adapt her game to her opponent.
Speaking out against the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association in 1967, King released a series of press conferences where she criticized the USLTA of “shamateurism”. This was in reference to the fact that top players were paid under the table to guarantee their entry into tournaments. King protested that this was corrupt and kept the game as an elitist sport. King played a key role in the opening of tennis to professionalism.
King made a push for gender equality when she campaigned for equal prize money for men and women when the Open Era of tennis began.
King played a huge role in supporting and promoting the first professional women’s tennis tour in the 1970’s. She became the first President of the women’s players union, the Women’s Tennis Association, she co-founded Women’s Sports Magazine and started the Women’s Sports Foundation. She became league commissioner of World Team Tennis and major owner in 1984.
Married to Larry King when she was 22, King realised that she was attracted to women a few years later when she was 25. King became the first prominent professional female athlete to come out openly as homosexual. King fell in love with her doubles partner Ilana Kloss and her marriage to Larry King ended in 1987. King lives with her life partner Kloss in New York City and Chicago.
Announcing her retirement in 1975, King restarted singles competition two years later and continued until 1983. She maintained a dominant player in doubles for many more years, winning Wimbledon in 1979 and the U.S. Open in 1980. She retired for good as late as 1990.
Throughout the 1990’s, King has provided television commentary and served as captain of the U.S. Team at the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympics. In 2006, the New York City venue that hosts the U.S. Open was renamed the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
In 1987, King was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Don Budge #9
American born Budge (June 13th, 1915 – January 26th, 2000) became the first player in tennis history to achieve what then seemed impossible. In 1938, he won the singles championships at the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, the French Open, and the Australian Open, all in the same calendar year. This was the first ever calendar Grand Slam by a male or female and he remains the only American male to have done so. This remarkable feat has only been accomplished six times by five different players, Budge being the trailblazer.
After Fred Perry, Budge was the second male player to win all four Grand Slam majors in his career. Overall Budge won an outstanding ten majors, six of which were Grand Slam tournaments. The other four were Pro Slams which he won on three different surfaces.
Budge was famous for his remarkable backhand and it is often considered as the best backhand seen in the history of tennis (arguably along with Ken Rosewall).
Born in California, Budge played a range of sports before settling on tennis. 6 foot 1, Budge was able to deliver one of the most powerful serves of all time.
In late 1933, Budge began studies at the University of California but later left to play tennis with the U.S. Davis Cup auxiliary team.
1937 proved to be a phenomenal year for Budge. He won the Triple Crown at Wimbledon, triumphing at the singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. And incredibly, he achieved this again the following year and again at the 1938 U.S. Championships. Budge made records by being the first man in tennis history to have accomplished the Triple Crown at a Grand Slam tournament three times.
1938 saw Budge win his terrific Grand Slam, the first person to have achieved this. He remains the youngest player to have won the Career Grand Slam (four majors in his career). He completed that when he won the French singles, just 2 days before he turned 23.
Budge also played a major role in the U.S. Team winning the Davis Cup for the first time in 12 years.
After winning the Grand Slam, Budge turned professional in October 1938. The following year, he defeated his two main competitors in professional tennis, Ellsworth Vines and Fred Perry. He also won two major pro tournaments, the French Pro Championship and the Wembley Pro tournament. He also finished in first place at the European tour.
In 1940, there was not a World series professional tour but seven principal tournaments. Budge won four of these events and the following year, he won another major tour beating Bill Tilden, then 48 years old. In 1942, Budge won his last major tour.
The War Years
1942 saw Budge join the U.S. Air Force to serve in WW2. During an obstacle course, Budge damaged his shoulder which permanently affected his ability to play tennis. At this time, he played some exhibition games for the troops, especially during the summer of 1945 towards the end of the war. During these war years, his main competitor was Bobby Riggs.
Following the War
Budge played for a few years following the war, his main opponent still being Riggs. During this time, Riggs established himself as the World No. 1, Budge not being the player he once was most likely due to his shoulder injury.
In 1954, Budge was successful in his North American tour and in 1955, he won the U.S. Pro Clay Court Championships, winning against Riggs in the finals.
Playing with style, great grace, and speed, Budge is undeniably one of the greatest players of all time. He had an almighty serve, and overpowering backhand that he hit with an edge of topspin. His play was remarkably consistent and mechanically perfect.
Kramer wrote in his autobiography in 1979 that the best player of all time would either be Don Budge (for consistency) or Ellsworth Vines (at the peak of his play).
Budge was a very popular player being both courteous, gracious, and good natured. He became known for his courage and integrity.
On retiring, Budge began coaching and started tennis sessions for children. He was also in high demand for speaking engagements and endorsed several lines of sporting goods.
With the start of the Open Era of tennis, Budge delighted fans when he played at Wimbledon for the Veteran’s doubles on two occasions.
In 1964, Budge was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Budge died at the age of 84 following an automobile accident which he had the previous year but never recovered from.
Chris Evert #8
Full name Christine Marie Evert (December 21st, 1954) – (known as Chis Evert Lloyd from 1979 to 1987), this amazing tennis genuis and former World No. 1 player, won 18 Grand Slam singles championships and three doubles titles. I am proud to have her at my number eight.
Evert was the year ending World No. 1 singles player seven times between 1974 and 1981. In total, Evert won 157 singles championships and 32 doubles titles. Making records, Evert reached 34 Grand Slam singles finals. This is more than any other player in the history of professional tennis. She also holds the record for the most consecutive years to win at least one Grand Slam title (13 successive years). Out of the 56 Grand Slams that she participated in, Evert reached at least semi-finals in 52 of these.
Winning seven championships at the French Open, Evert holds the women’s record for singles at the French Open. She is also joint record holder for the most wins at the U.S. Open. Both her and Serena Williams have six wins here.
Evert has an incredible winning percentage in singles matches of 89.97% This is the highest percentage of Open Era tennis for both men and women. And her percentage of wins is even higher on clay courts with 94.55% Unsurprisingly, this is a WTA record.
Playing tennis from as early as 5 years old, the young Evert was coached by her father Jimmy Evert. He was a professional tennis coach and player himself. In 1969, Evert established herself as the female junior No. 1 player.
The following year, she won the national 16 and under championships and was then invited to play in an eight-player clay court tournament. Evert defeated World No. 1 player Margaret Court in the semi-finals. From this, Evert was selected to play for the U.S. Wightman Cup team making her the youngest ever player in the competition.
Evert made her first appearance at a Grand Slam tournament at age 16 at the 1971 U.S. Open. Evert got through to the semi-finals where she was defeated by top seed Billie Jean King.
Turning professional in 1972 (aged 18), Evert began her record-breaking career. She won 18 major singles titles which is the fifth best in tennis history. Before turning 21, she had secured two wins at the U.S. Open, two wins at Wimbledon, two wins at the French Open, two wins at the Italian Championships and the Virginia Slims Championship three times.
Evert continued to dominate in women’s tennis for the next eight years, ranking as World No. 1 singles player seven times between 1974 and 1981. Overall, Evert spent 260 weeks at Number 1. Evert held the record for the oldest women to be ranked Number 1 (at age 30 years and 11 months) until Serena Williams broke the record in 2013.
With success at the doubles, Evert also won three major titles in doubles.
With a calm disposition, Evert played her game with remarkable consistency, accuracy, and precision. Showing immense concentration on court, Evert won the nickname “Ice Maiden” and “Ice Princess”. Margaret Court remarked that “she concentrates to the last point…..it makes her a champion. Even when she is losing she concentrates and never gives up”. Without doubt, Evert was a fearless and relentless opponent. No matter what happened in a game, she remained focused and determined.
Known to be an aggressive baseline player, Evert is often seen to have revolutionised tennis. She was one of the first players to play virtually exclusively from the baseline. Generally, she would only approach the net to retrieve short balls. Later in her career, Evert began to the net to end points more often.
There was much public interest when Evert and Connors became a couple in the 1970’s, especially when they both won the 1974 singles titles at Wimbledon. Occasionally, Evert and Connors would play mixed doubles together. However, the relationship did not last long and Evert married British tennis player John Lloyd in 1979, later marrying downhill skiier Andy Mill which whom she had three sons. Later she married golfer Greg Norman but they divorced only 15 months later.
Evert served as president of the WTA for eleven years (between 1975 and 1976 and 1983 and 1991). She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1995.
After retiring from professional tennis, Evert became a tennis coach and an analyst for ESPN. She has a line of tennis and sports clothing.
Bjorn Borg #7
Swedish tennis player Bjorn Borg (June 6th, 1956) is undoubtedly one of the greatest competitors of the modern era. He made records when he became the first man to win the Wimbledon singles championship five consecutive times between 1976 and 1980. He won the French Open men’s singles championship four times in succession and six times in total (being the first player to do so). Remarkably, between 1974 and 1981, he became the first man in the Open Era to achieve 11 Grand Slam singles titles.
Borg shares a record tie with Roger Federer for appearing in the French Open and Wimbledon finals for four successive years (1978 – 81), both winning for three successive years (1978 – 80).
Borg won three year-end championships and 16 Grand Prix Super Series titles. He was ranked as World No. 1 in 1977, 1978, 1979, and 1980.
Learning to play tennis from a very early age, by the time he reached 13 years old, he was beating Sweden’s top junior under 18 players. Already playing with his powerful serve and two-handed backhand, Borg joined the professional tour at age 14. He won the Italian Open at age 17 and the French Open at age 18.
In 1972, Borg represented Sweden in the Davis Cup and later that year, won the Wimbledon junior singles title. That same year, he also won the Orange Bowl Junior Championship for boys under 18.
Borg helped Sweden win its first Davis Cup in 1975. By this point, he had won 16 successive cup singles which passed Bill Tilden’s record of 12. By 1981, Borg had won 41 singles matches and 5 championships in a row.
Despite his incredible success and phenomenal achievements. Borg never won at either the U.S. Open or the Australian Open.
Winning eleven Grand Slam titles, Borg is sixth in the list of male tennis players who have won the most singles titles at Grand Slam tournaments.
Winning at the French Open and Wimbledon which he did three times in successive years is often referred to by Wimbledon officials as “the most difficult double in tennis…and a feat considered impossible among today’s players” This double has only been achieved by two other players, Rafael Nadal (in 2008 and 2010) and Roger Federer (2009). And only Agassi, Nadal, Federer and Djokovic (amongst male players) have won the French Open and Wimbledon men’s singles titles over their career, since Borg.
Borg was ranked as World No. 1 by ATP for a total of 109 weeks. This was in six periods between 1977 and 1981. Throughout his career, he won a total of 77 top level singles and four double titles.
ESPN conducted a survey in 2008 where they asked tennis analysts, writers, and former players, to build the perfect Open Era player. Borg was the only player to be mentioned in all four categories: defence, footwork, intangibles and mental strength. His mental strength and footwork were seen to be the best in Open Era tennis history.
Borg won what turned out to be his last Grand Slam title at the French Open in 1981. In the Wimbledon finals of that same year, Borg lost to John McEnroe. Years later, Borg said of the final, “And when I lost what shocked me was I wasn’t even upset. That was not me: losing a Wimbledon final and not upset. I hate to lose”. It seemed that Borg had lost some of his passion and drive to win. In the 1981 U.S. Opens, Borg played again against McEnroe. After being defeated, Borg reportedly walked off the court and out of the stadium before the ceremonies and press conferences. Borg afterwards apologised to McEnroe. This game marked the last of Borg’s Grand Slam finals.
Borg’s first wife illustrates his mental approach to the game well when she said he was, “always very placid and calm, except if he lost a match – he wouldn’t talk for at least three days. He couldn’t stand losing”. It seems apparent that this mental approach changed in 1981 when he lost the Wimbledon final.
With a very distinctive and unique style and playing from the baseline, Borg was the master of powerful ground-strokes. With a somewhat unconventional backhand, Borg was one of the first top players to use heavy topspin on his shots with consistency. As well as his remarkable ground-strokes, Bork was relentlessly fit and agile.
Remaining calm under extreme pressure, Borg was often referred to as “Ice Man” or “Ice Borg”.
With such early success as a teenager, Borg became a teenage star and helped to drive the rising popularity of tennis during the 1970’s. With its rising prevalence, tennis also became more lucrative. Borg was the first player to earn more than one million dollars in prize money in a single season. He was also financially successful from endorsements throughout his career. However, the attention from the press and the heavy pressure caused Borg to withdraw from tennis, retiring at age 26.
Announcing his retirement at such an early age was a shock to the tennis world. McEnroe tried to encourage Borg to play on, but his attempts were unfruitful. Borg became the owner of Bjorn Borg fashion label which became very successful, particularly in Sweden.
In 2017, Borg became the captain and coach of Team Europe in the first ever edition of the Laver Cup, held in Prague, Czech Republic. Borg’s Team Europe triumphed against Team World who were coached by none other than his old rival John McEnroe! Europe won the contest 15 points to 9. Both Borg and McEnroe returned as coaches the following year and Borg was able to lead his team to victory again.
Borg was married three times and he has two children, Robin and Leo. Borg was close to personal bankruptcy when his business venture faced extreme difficulties.
Borg was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987. He won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Overseas Personality in 1979. In 2006. The BBC presented Borg with a Lifetime Achievement Awarded and in 2014, he was elected by a Swedish newspaper as Sweden’s top sportsperson of all time.
Pete Sampras #6
With an astonishing record, American Sampras (September 12th, 1971) won an exceptional 14 Grand Slam singles titles. This was a record for the Open Era when he retired in 2003. It has since been broken by Roger Federer in 2009. At the time of his retirement, Sampras was widely viewed as the greatest player of all time.
Sampras dominated tennis during the 1990’s and accomplished 64 top-level single title wins. This included seven victories at Wimbledon, two at the Australian Open, and five at the U.S. Open. He also won 11 Super 9 / ATP Master Series / ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles and five Tennis Masters Cup titles, and two doubles titles.
Sampras was ranked as World Number 1 for the first time in 1993. He held that ranking for a total of 286 weeks; this is the third of all time (behind Roger Federer’s 310 and Novak Djokovic’s 287 weeks). This also included an Open Era record of six successive year end No. 1 rankings from 1993 to 1998.
Style of Play
His precise and powerful serve secured him the nickname “Pistol Pete”. His accurate and powerful serve is widely considered to be one of the best of all times.
With a strong competitive impulse, Sampras played a consistent all-round game and would often serve and volley. In later years, he became a more instinctively offensive player. The best surface for Sampras proved to be grass which provided a fast-paced game. The seven singles titles won a Wimbledon puts him in joint second place alongside William Renshaw and behind Roger Federer who won his eighth at Wimbledon in 2017.
Many tennis analysts have cited Sampras as one of the greatest male grass-court players of all time.
Sampras was inducted in the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2007.
Born in the U.S. in Washington D.C. His mother had emigrated from Greece and his father who was born in the U.S. also had Greek heritage (through his father).
When aged 3, Sampras reportedly found a tennis racket in the basement of his home and he spent hours and hours hitting balls against the wall.
At age 7, Sampras and family moved to California where due to the good climate, Sampras was able to play tennis throughout the whole year. As a child, his great idol was Rod Laver whom he met when he was 11 years old and incredibly, they even played tennis together.
Marking his Arrival
Becoming professional in 1988, Sampras first made his mark in tennis when he defeated Andre Agassi at the 1990 U.S. Open. Agassi, one of the top tennis players at that time, soon became the main rival of Sampras. Aged just 19, Sampras was the youngest player to win the men’s singles title at the U.S. Open.
1993 saw Sampras rank as the World No. 1 player and he was the year end No. 1 for six back to back years from 1993 to 1998. This was an ATP record.
Generally seen as the two most successful players of their time, the rivalry between Sampras and Agassi has been cited as the greatest of rivalries competing in the 1990’s. With contrasting playing styles, Sampras was generally seen as the greatest server and Agassi as the greatest serve returner. Sampras won 20 of the 34 matches that he played against Agassi.
Another great rival was Patrick Rafter, Sampras winning 12 of the 16 matches they played against each other.
Sampras lives in California with his wife, American actress Bridgette Wilson. They have two sons.
In 2007, Sampras was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Announcing his retirement in 2003, Sampras has played in exhibition matches and World Team Tennis events. His exhibition matches have included some against Roger Federer, John McEnroe, and Patrick Rafter.
His magnificent record of 14 major title wins lasted for seven years and was an exceptional accomplishment.
Rafael Nadal #5
My number five is Spanish player Rafael Nadal (June 3rd, 1986), who has 19 Grand Slam single titles to his name. This is the second most in history for a male player. He also has 35 ATP Tour Masters 1000 titles, 21 APT Tour 500 titles and two Olympic Gold medals (one in singles and one in doubles).
Nadal has ranked as the World No. 1 player for a total of 209 weeks and has been the year-end No. 1 five times.
Grand Slam singles titles include a record twelve French Open wins, four U.S. Open wins, two Wimbledon wins, and one Australian Open win.
He won at least one Grand Slam every year for a record back to back ten years (between 2005 and 2014).
In total, Nadal has won 85 career titles. He holds the record for the most outdoor titles in the Open Era (83) and holds the record for the most title wins on clay with 59. Nadal achieved 81 successive wins on clay. This is a record for the longest single surface win streak in the Open Era.
Nadal also won the Davis Cup 5 times for Spain (2004, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2019). In international competitions, he won the 2017 and 2019 editions of the Laver Cup with Team Europe.
2010 saw Nadal become the seventh male player to obtain the singles Career Grand Slam, winning all four majors. With his Olympic success, Nadal is the second male player (after Andre Agassi) to accomplish the singles Career Golden Slam (and only one of four players including male and female). He was also the second male player to win at least two Grand Slams on all three surfaces (grass, hard court, and clay).
Olympic Success and Achievements
Nadal won gold at the Beijing 2008 Olympic games in singles and won gold at the Rio 2016 Olympic games in doubles.
Nadal has been named as the ATP Player of the Year five times. He won the tour Sportsmanship Award three times, and the ITF World Champion four times. Nadal was named as the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year in 2011.
Born on the island of Mallorca, Nadal grew up with his parents and younger sister. An uncle, Toni Nadal who was a tennis coach, noticed Rafael’s natural talent and introduced him to tennis when he was just three or four years old. Rafael also loved and excelled at football. Another Uncle, Miguel Nadal, was a professional association football player who competed in the 2002 World Cup. He was able to introduce him to Barcelona striker Ronaldo whom Nadal idolized as a child.
When he as 12, his father asked him to choose between tennis and football so that he could dedicate at least some of his time to schoolwork. From then on, Nadal stopped playing football and focused solely on tennis.
Early on, Nadal (who incidentally wrote with his right hand), played tennis with his left-hand, using a two-handed forehand and backhand. When he was around 12 years old, his uncle encouraged him to adopt a more conventional left-handed style. Nadal continued with his two-handed backhand but adopted what became his famed and highly effective one-handed forehand.
When he was 15, Nadal won against former Grand Slam tournament champion Pat Cash in an exhibition match played on clay.
Nadal had only appeared in one Grand Slam tournament as a junior competitor before he reached the semi-finals at the 2002 Wimbledon championships (after turning professional the year before).
Nadal The Legend
With such extraordinary achievements, Nadal is considered by many former tennis players and analysts as the greatest tennis player of all time. In the Open Era, he has the most clay court titles (59), the most single title wins at the French Opens (12), 11 Monte-Carlo Masters and 11 Barcelona titles. He has the record for the longest single surface win streak in matches on clay courts (81) and in sets (50) in the history of the Open Era.
Nadal has earned the nickname “The King of Clay”, and he is often viewed as the greatest clay court player in history.
2010 saw Nadal become the only male tennis player to date to win Grand Slams on three different surfaces, (clay, grass, and hard courts) in the same calendar year. He also holds the record for the most consecutive years winning a Grand Slam (between 2005 and 2014). He also has the record for the most outdoor titles (83).
An immensely competitive player, Nadal plays an aggressive behind the baseline game. His game and style are known for heavy topspin groundstrokes, consistency, speed and agility and tremendous court coverage.
While playing offensively, Nadal is also a supreme defender. He hits an excellent shot while on the run and has had many winning shots from what appeared to be a very defensive position.
Nadal is also the master of very effective dropshots. These work particularly well because his heavy topspin tends to force opponents to the back of the court.
Nadal is part of the ‘Big Three’ along with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Arguably unparalleled in tennis history, together they have dominated men’s singles for nearly twenty years; from the Wimbledon 2003 tournament to the Australian Open 2020.
Between them, the trio have won 56 of the 67 Grand Slam titles over that period. Federer lays claim to 20, Nadal to 19, and Djokovic to 17.
Nadal and Federer first played each other in 2004 and since then their rivalry has been magnificent. From 2005 to 2009, they held the top two rankings between them and again between 2017 and 2018. They are the only pair of men to have ever finished four back-to-back calendar years in these top positions.
Nadal and Federer have played against each other 40 times. Overall, Nadal leads 24 – 16 and in terms of Grand Slam events, 10 – 4. On clay, Nadal is the undoubted king with a lead of 14 – 2. He also has a lead of hard courts, 8 – 6. Federer rules on indoor hard courts, 5 – 1 and on grass, 3 – 1.
Nadal stands out as the only player who has won against Federer in a Grand Slam final on all three surfaces, grass, hard, and clay.
Meeting more than any other pair in the Open Era, Nadal has played against Djokovic a remarkable 55 times. Djokovic leads overall (29 to Nadal’s 26) but Nadal leads at the Grand Slams (9 – 6). Nadal has a lead on clay (17 – 7) and Djokovic on hard courts (20 – 7). They are tied on grass (2 – 2).
Nadal and Djokovic held a record (since broken by Federer and Juan Martin del Potro) for the longest match played in a best of three sets at 4 hours and 3 minutes in 2009. Nadal and Djokovic have also played in a record 13 Master Series finals.
Nadal trains at the Rafa Nadal Sports Centre which he owns in Mallorca. The Sports Centre is home to the Rafa Nadal Tennis Academy.
In 2008, Nadal set up a foundation that is designed to focus on social work and development aid, with a special focus on childhood and youth. He aims to concentrate on this on his retirement.
Martina Navratilova #4
Born in Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic), Navratilova (October 18th, 1956) is undoubtedly seen as the most superb female player of the late 1970’s and 1980’s, and as one of the best female tennis players of all time.
Spending a total of 332 weeks as World No. 1 for singles and a record 237 weeks as World No. 1 for doubles, she is the only player in tennis history to have been number one for both singles and doubles for over 200 weeks. She was year-end World No. 1 for singles seven times (including for five successive years) and year-end World No. 1 for doubles five times (including three successive years).
Navratilova accomplished 18 Grand Slam singles titles as well as 31 major women’s doubles titles, and 10 major mixed doubles titles. This makes a total of 59 major titles, an Open Era record for the most titles won at Grand Slam events, male or female.
Winning the Wimbledon finals nine times, she broke Helen Wills Moody’s record of eight. Navratilova achieved a Career Grand Slam in women’s singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. This extraordinary feat, known as a Grand Slam Boxed Set, has only been achieved by two other players, Margaret Court, and Doris Hart.
1982 saw Navratilova win 90 of her 93 matches (including 41 back to back wins) and 15 tournaments (including Wimbledon and the French Open. The next year, Navratilova won 86 of her 87 matches, including the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, and the Australian Open all for singles.
From her 1983 victory at Wimbledon, she won six successive Grand Slam women’s singles titles.
At four years old, Navratilova was already hitting a tennis ball off a concrete wall. She began to play regularly when she was 8.
1972 saw her win the Czechoslovakia national tennis championship, when she was 15 years old. Ranking as the number one player in Czechoslovakia from 1972 to 1975, she became internationally recognised when she led her country to victory in the 1975 Federation Cup.
In this same year, when aged 18, Navratilova asked the U.S. for political asylum and was granted temporary residence. This was because the Czech government had attempted to limit her tennis career. At this point, she was stripped of her Czechoslovakian citizenship. In 1981, she became an official U.S. resident and later in 2008, she applied for Czech citizenship so that she now has dual citizenship.
At 17 years old, Navratilova won her first professional singles title in Florida.
Navratilova holds the undisputed record of the most singles (167) and the most doubles titles (177) in the Open Era. She also has the record for holding the World No. 1 ranking in singles for the period 1982 – 1986.
For five back-to-back seasons, Navratilova won 428 out of 442 singles matches which gives her a phenomenal winning percentage of 96.8%. Winning 74 consecutive matches, she holds the record for the longest winning streak in the Open Era.
She also made records when she won the season ending WTA Tour Championships for top ranked players eight times, making the finals a record 14 times.
Including males and females, she is the only player to have won eight different tournaments at least seven times.
Incredible Doubles Success
Partnering up with Pam Shriver for doubles, together they have been one of the most successful partnerships in tennis history. They won 109 back-to-back matches, including all four Grand Slam doubles titles in 1984. Navratilova also won the WTA Tour Championships doubles title a record 11 times.
Navratilova won her last major title in mixed doubles in 2006 at the U.S. Open. This was just before she turned 50 and a remarkable 32 years after her first Grand Slam title in 1974.
The 1980’s saw the peak of what was an essentially friendly yet intense rivalry between Navratilova and Chris Evert. Their rivalry is often cited as the greatest rivalry ever seen in women’s tennis and did much to popularise women’s tennis.
The 1985 French Open final stands out as one of the best matches of all time when Evert, against the odds, defeated Navratilova. Overall, Navratilova leads against Evert 43 – 37 in total matches, 14 – 8 in Grand Slams and 10 – 4 in Grand Slam finals.
With an almighty serve, a rush to the net, and a relentless volley, Navratilova played with passion which included the odd emotional outburst.
Speaking about Navratilova, Evert commented “Martina revolutionized the game by her superb athleticism and aggressiveness … She brought athleticism to a whole new level with her training techniques — particularly cross-training, the idea that you could go to the gym or play basketball to get in shape for tennis”.
Throughout her long career, Navratilova had several coaches. She improved her game tactics perhaps most significantly under the coaching of Renee Richards (1981 – 1983).
In 1981, Navratilova came out in public as being bisexual and later identified as lesbian. It is speculated that this cost her millions in endorsement dollars, but she also received praise and recognition for candidness.
Navratilova was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in the year 2000.
Navratilova remains active with various charities that help disadvantaged children, gay rights, and animal rights.
Her autobiography was published in 1985, and she also went onto write a series of fictitious mystery novels based on a character that was a former tennis champion turned sleuth.
Steffi Graf #3
German tennis player, Steffi Graf (June 14th, 1969) won 22 Grand Slam singles titles. This ranks as second in the Open Era (behind Serena Williams with 23) and third of all time (Margaret Court had 24). In a magnificent year, 1988 saw Graf become the only tennis played to accomplish the Golden Slam. She won all four Grand Slam singles titles, and an Olympic gold medal, in the same calendar year.
In addition, she is the only tennis player to have won each Grand Slam tournament at least four times. With a win total of 107 singles titles, this is 3rd on the WTA’s all-time list, behind Navratilova (167 wins) and Chris Evert (157 wins). Along with Margaret Court, they are the only players to win three Grand Slam tournaments in a calendar year five times.
Graf was ranked as World No. 1 for a record making 377 weeks. This is the longest period for any player to hold the number one ranking since the WTA and ATP began issuing rankings.
Along with Boris Becker, Graf is widely credited to have bought tennis to widespread popularity and prominence in Germany, where it remains a popular sport.
Growing up in West Germany, Graf grew up with her parents who were both tennis players, and her younger brother. She had her own tennis racket before she turned 4 and by 6, she had already won her first junior tournament.
With her Dad as her coach, Graf saw early success. She won several esteemed junior tournaments, including the Junior Orange Bowl in Florida and the German under 14’s and under 18’s championships.
Remarkable for her success on all surfaces, Graf proved herself to be exceptionally adaptable and versatile. With noticeably quick footwork and an amazing powerful forehand drive, Graf was ready for any opponent. Graf played an aggressive game from the baseline and has been widely credited for developing the modern style of play that characterises today’s game.
To her name, Graf has six French Open singles titles (2nd to Evert), seven Wimbledon singles titles, four Australian Open titles, and five U.S. Open singles titles.
Graf played in thirteen back-to-back major singles finals, from the 1987 French Open through to the 1990 French Open, of which she won 9. She won five successive major singles tournaments (1988 Australian Open to the 1989 Australian Open). In total, she reached a major singles final 31 times.
And to top it all off, Graf won her gold medal at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. Her Olympic medal came in the same year that she had also won all four Grand Slam events giving her the ‘Golden Slam’. This incredible feat has not been achieved by any other player.
Graf regularly played in double events in Grand Slams and other tournaments. She won a total of 11 titles in the doubles but despite occasionally playing in mixed doubles, did not achieve any mixed doubles titles.
Graf’s most frequent partner in doubles was Gabriela Sabatini and together they won the 1988 Wimbledon finals. Commentators noticed that there was little communication between the pair when they played together, which was very unusual when playing doubles. Sabatini commented, “doubles is all about communicating with each other, and we didn’t communicate that much. We would just say the basic things, but nothing else”.
From 1991 until she retired, Graf played with a series of short-term partners, her last being at the 1999 Australian Open.
In the last few years of her career, Graf suffered with a series of injuries, particularly to her knees and back. While still ranked as World No. 3, Graf retired in 1999, aged 30.
Graf has been cited by many players and tennis analysts as being the greatest female player of all time. As she retired, Billie Jean King said of her “Steffi is definitely the greatest women’s tennis player of all time”. Also, in that year, a panel of experts assembled by the Associated Press named Graf as the greatest female tennis player of the twentieth century.
Graf’s father remained involved in her career, even aften he handed over coaching responsibilities. In 1995, German authorities accused Graf of tax evasion in the early years of her career. Graf defended herself stating that her father had been her financial manager and was responsible for all financial matters at that time. He was subsequently arrested and issued with a 45-month jail sentence. Prosecutors dropped their case against Graf when she paid a fine of 1.3 million Deutsche Marks to the government and an undisclosed charity.
In 2001, Graf married fellow World No. 1 tennis player Andre Agassi. They have two children together. Since her retirement, Graf has played in several exhibition matches.
Rod Laver #2
My number two greatest player is Australian tennis player, Rod Laver (September 9th, 1938). He was ranked as the No. 1 professional player from 1964 to 1970 and as the No. 1 ranked amateur in 1961 – 1962. His career began four years before the start of the Open Era of tennis which began in 1968.
Laver holds 200 singles titles to his name which is the most in the history of tennis. He also holds a men’s record of achieving ten or more titles per year for seven consecutive years (between 1964 and 1970). A versatile player, he had immense success on grass, clay, hard, carpet, and wood / parquet.
With 11 Grand Slam singles titles to his name, it should be noted that he was unable to play these tournaments for the five years prior to the Open Era when he was a professional player.
Laver is the only player to achieve two calendar Grand Slams, in 1962, and in 1969.
Furthermore, Laver won eight Pro Slam titles, including the pro Grand Slam in 1967. He helped lead Australia to five Davis Cup titles and this was at a time when the Davis Cup was on an equal level to the four majors. Australia won the Davis Cup championships in all the five times that Laver participated.
Born in Australia, Laver was one of four children to his parents Roy Laver, a cattle rancher and Melba Roffey, a proficient tennis player herself. Tennis was an important part of family life and there was always a tennis court nearby where Rod could play. He started at age 6 and played against his two older brothers. At age 13, he lost to his brother Bob in the Central Queensland junior final.
Shortly after this, Laver was selected to attend a tennis camp that was run by world acclaimed tennis player and coach Harry Hopman. Under Hopman’s direction, Laver was able to improve dramatically. He had enormous talent that Hopman was able to refine. Hopman gave the nickname “Rocket” to Laver. Despite this being in jest to start with (as Laver was not the quickest player), as he got stronger, he also became much faster and ended up living up to his nickname.
In 1953, aged 15, Laver left school to focus on tennis full time and he went on to win the 1956 U.S. junior championship and in 1957, he was both Australian and U.S. Junior champion.
Laver played at Wimbledon in 1959. The unseeded Laver unexpectedly reached the finals in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles, winning the mixed doubles alongside Darlene Hard. The following year, he won at the Australian Championships and in 1961, he won at Wimbledon, defeating his opponent Chuck McKinley in straight sets in the final in just 53 minutes (one of the shorts men’s singles games at the finals of Wimbledon).
In 1962, Laver won all four Grand Slam singles titles in the same year. He was the second player to do this, after Don Budge in 1938.
Professional Before the Open Era
After leading Australia to victory in the Davis Cup in 1962, Laver became professional. For the following seven years, he won the U.S. Pro Tennis Championships five times.
By 1965, Laver had established himself as the No. 1 professional player. He began winning against his main opponent, Ken Rosewall and this year won 13 of the 18 matches he played against him.
1966 saw Laver win 16 events including the U.S. Pro Championships and the Wembley Pro Championship. The following year, he won 19 titles and won most of the important professional titles, known as a professional Grand Slam.
The Open Era
The start of the Open Era in 1968 meant that professional players could compete in Grand Slam events against both amateurs and professionals. Laver became Wimbledon’s first Open Era champion in 1968.
The following year, Laver won all four Grand Slam tournaments in the same year; this was the second time he achieved this remarkable feat.
In total, he won, what is still a record, 18 of the 32 singles tournaments that he entered. Laver proved his skill and adaptability by winning the Grand Slam tournaments on grass and clay. In addition, he won the two most significant hardcourt titles (South African Open and the U.S. Professional Championships) as well as the leading indoor tournaments (Philadelphia, U.S. and Wembley, UK).
Laver had less success at the major tournaments in the early 1970’s, playing only five Grand Slam Opens from 1970 to 1972. This was largely due to his contracts with NTL and WCT and indeed, on the WCT tours, he remained the dominating player with the most wins as well as the most prize money.
1971 saw Laver win seven titles and he proved triumphant again the ‘Tennis Champions Classic’ when he won 13 back-to-back matches against highly ranked players. For that year, Laver achieved more tournament prize money than any other player.
Winning seven titles in 1973 and six in 1974, he ended the year ranked as World No. 4, then aged 36. In 1975, Laver made records again, winning four titles at WCT tournaments and a remarkable 23 consecutive matches. The following year, Laver stepped back from the main tour and only played at a few events.
Laver turned 30 just after the Open Era began. Despite this, he had incredible success, winning 74 singles titles. This remains the seventh most of the Open Era. He also won 37 titles playing doubles.
There was a long and friendly rivalry between Laver and Ken Rosewall. In total, they played 130 matches, but some results were either lost or badly recorded. From the information available, it seems that Laver had the lead, 79 – 63.
Another, even longer rivalry, was between Laver and fellow Australian Roy Emerson. They met on the senior amateur tour in 1958 where they both dominated amateur tennis before Laver turned pro. When the Open Era began, Laver and Emerson faced each other on many occasions. Laver leads with wins 49 – 18.
Laver also faced intense rivalries with Pancho Gonzales, Lew Hoad, Arthur Ashe, and John Newcombe.
Marrying Mary Benson in 1966, Laver became part of a family with three children, from Mary’s previous marriage. Many fellow tennis players attended the wedding and made an archway with their tennis rackets for the newly wedded pair to walk through. Together they had a son and resided in California.
The Laver Cup tournament as well as the Rod Laver Arena have been named after this legendary tennis great.
Laver is distinctive for his technically sound way of playing. He would play a perfectly executed serve and volley game, along with aggressive groundstrokes. This highly effective technique clearly made up for the fact that he was shorter than most of his fellow opponents, at 5 ft 8” (1.73 m) as well as being quite a light build.
One of the All Time Greatest Tennis Players
Undoubtedly one of the greatest tennis players in the history of tennis, Laver won the Grand Slam as an amateur and the Grand Slam as a pro. In total, Laver won an extraordinary 184 singles titles. He holds the record for the most titles won in single year during the amateur era, the touring Pro Era, and the Open Era. And he won a Professional Grand Slam by winning the four major professional tournaments in 1967 as a pro.
In various polls where experts have been consulted, Laver has frequently earned himself the number one position. In 1986, for example, the U.S. magazine, Inside Tennis, resulted in Laver being the number one player in front of John McEnroe, Don Budge, Kramer, Bjorn Borg, Gonzales, Tilden, Jimmy Connors, Fred Perry, and Lew Hoad. In another poll in 2000 by the Associated Press, Laver came out on top, and again in 2007 by tennis historian Raymond Lee. The great Roger Federer himself, has called Laver the greatest of all time.
Roger Federer #1
From Switzerland, Federer (September 8th, 1981) boasts the most singles titles in Grand Slam tournaments for a male in the history of tennis. With 20 Grand Slam titles to his name, he has held the World No. 1 ranking for a record total of 310 weeks; this includes a consecutive record run of 237 weeks. He has achieved the year-end No. 1 ranking five times which includes 4 back-to-back years. Federer has been ranked in the top 10 for just over 15 years, from October 2002 to November 2016.
His collection of Grand Slam singles title wins includes eight at Wimbledon, six at the Australian Open, five at the U.S. Open (in a record 5 consecutive years), and one at the French Open. Federer stands as one of one of only eight men to have achieved a Career Grand Slam. He also makes records in reaching 31 men’s singles Grand Slam finals. 10 of these finals were back-to-back victories (from the 2005 Wimbledon Champions to the 2007 U.S. Open).
In addition to his Grand Slam accomplishments, Federer has a achieved a record six ATP Finals titles, 28 ATP Tour Masters 1000 titles, and 24 ATP Tour 500 titles. In total, Federer has clocked up 1,200 wins and has won over 100 career singles titles; this makes him second after Jimmy Connors in the Open Era.
As well as being a hugely popular and well-loved tennis player, Federer, rightly so, has earnt many awards and recognition for his brilliance. Federer has been given the tour Sportsmanship Award 13 times and has been named the ATP Player of the Year and ITF World Champion five times. He has been given the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year award a record five times; this was given four years in a row from 2005 to 2008. Additionally, Federer stands as the only person to have won the BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year award a remarkable four times.
Early Years and Childhood
Born to his Swiss Father and South African Mother, Federer has dual citizenship of Switzerland and South Africa. He grew up living in Switzerland with his parents and older sister. As a child, Federer participated in a wide range of sports including badminton and basketball. He began to play tennis when he was aged eight.
At age 14, Federer became Switzerland’s junior champion. He won the boy’s junior singles final and doubles at Wimbledon in 1998 (aged 17), and in the same year, won the highly esteemed Orange Bowl tournament.
The following year, he joined the Swiss Davis Cup team and became the youngest player to end the year among the world’s top 100 players (number 64), at age 18 years, 4 months.
In 1998, he ended the year ranked as the World No. 1 Junior male player. During this same year, he was award ITF junior World Champion.
Making a Breakthrough
Federer began to make his mark in the tennis world when he won his first Grand Slam title at the 2003 Wimbledon tournament. The following year, he went on to win at the Australian Open and then at the U.S. Open, and successfully defended his Wimbledon title. Another victorious year followed when in 2004 he won 11 of the 17 tournaments that he played. He finished the year ranked as the World Number 1 player.
2005 was yet another astonishing year for Federer. This year he won 11 of the 15 tournaments that he played which included Grand Slam events Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Early on in his career, Federer had already left a legacy behind him. Between September 2003 and November 2005, he won 25 consecutive finals.
2006 Federer’s Career Best Season
Statistically, 2006 was the best season of Federer’s career. Triumphing at Wimbledon, the Australian Open, and the U.S. Open, he became the first player to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open for three years in a row. Reaching the French Open finals, he was defeated by Rafael Nadal, one of Federer’s fiercest competitors.
In total, Federer played in 17 tournaments in 2006 and won 12 titles. He reached the finals in all but one tournament.
Federer won his 10th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in 2007. Losing to Nadal at the French Open, Federer went on to win against him at Wimbledon. This made it Federer’s fifth consecutive win at Wimbledon. He is only the second player in more than 100 years to win five back-to-back Wimbledon titles (after Bjorn Borg). He then made another historic record (for the Open Era) when he won his fourth consecutive U.S. Open.
Rivalry with Rafael Nadal
Federer lost his winning streak at Wimbledon when he faced Nadal in 2008. This year though, Federer achieved Olympic glory in the men’s doubles when he played with Stan Wawrinka at the Bejiing in 2008. This year, Federer also won at the U.S. Open, defeating Andy Murray.
Achieving the Career Grand Slam
Federer completed his Career Grand Slam when he won at the French Open in 2009. Winning then at Wimbledon (6th Wimbledon championship title), he regained his World No. 1 ranking. At the beginning of 2010, he won at the Australian Open and in 2012, he won his seventh Wimbledon title.
In 2012, Federer faced Andy Murray at the final London Olympic Games. Murray was victorious and Federer came away with a silver medal.
Davis Cup Victory
During much of 2013 and 2014, Federer suffered with injuries. He reached one Grand Slam final in 2014 where he was defeated by Novak Djokovic. This year however, he was able to lead Switzerland to it first ever Davis Cup victory.
2015 saw Federer at the finals of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open but he lost both times to Djokovic. In 2016, Federer was forced to take a break due to a persistent knee injury.
Another Winning Streak
Despite signs that he was past his peak, Federer delighted fans with an impressive comeback. Federer came to the Australian Open in 2017 ranked as Number. 17. Playing against his major rival Rafael Nadal, Federer won in an epic five set final. He then went on to win his eighth Wimbledon singles title.
The following year, he won at the Australian Open. In 2019, Federer reached the finals of the French Open and at Wimbledon. The Wimbledon final, played against Djokovic, was the longest in Wimbledon’s history clocking at four hours and 57 minutes.
Federer began his 2020 by reaching the semi-finals at the Australian finals. Still plagued by his knee injury, he has vowed to make a return in 2021.
Federer is married to former WTA player Miroslava. They met while they were both competing at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games for Switzerland. Together, they have two sets of identical twins.
Style of Play
Federer is distinctive for his gracefulness, ease of play, and efficient movement. Playing an all-court game, he is highly versatile and adaptable as both a baseliner and volleyer. But what makes him unbeatable is arguably his absolute precision in every move. Every shot is perfectly calculated; serves, forehand shots, and volleys. He does not rely on aggression but more on accuracy and bold precision.
Federer, The Living Legend
With such an astonishing record of achievement, Roger Federer is generally considered to be one of the greatest tennis players of all time. But more than that, many players and analysts view him to be the actual greatest tennis player of all time.
Hugely popular, he is often referred to as the living legend in his own time. Many sport analysts have even called him the greatest athlete of his generation. Federer made the top spot when Tennis.com listed the greatest players of the Open Era.
Federer holds the most major singles title in the Open Era, totalling 20. He has also been in more major finals than any other male player (31). And he has held the World No. 1 ranking for longer than any other player and still managed to rank as No. 1 at age 36. Federer also has a record for the most Wimbledon titles with eight, and the most consecutive wins at the U.S. Open in the Open Era (5).
Peers have voted Federer to win the tour Sportsmanship Award a record thirteen times and tennis fans have voted him as the winner of the ATP Fans’ Favorite for a record breaking seventeen consecutive years.
Federer has won the Sports Personality of the Year in Switzerland for a record seven times. He has been the APT Player of the Year and the ITF World Champion five times. He has also won the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year a record five times, including for four back-to-back years. He also won the BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year a record four times.
The widespread popularity of Federer has boosted love of tennis across the globe.
As well as his tennis, Federer has strived to help in the wider community. He set up the Roger Federer Foundation in 2003 which has the fundamental aim of helping disadvantaged children and to improve their access to both education and sport. He also supports the South Africa-Swiss charity which helps children have access to sport as well as raising social and health issues.
Federer has also been heavily involved in supporting victims of natural disasters including Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake, 2010 Haiti Earthquake and the Queensland floods.
The most difficult thing about compiling this list has been including all those players that without doubt deserve a mention. Tennis has given us many greats to celebrate and commemorate. There are so many players with such immense achievements that I understand making a list is a subjective perspective. But I hope you have enjoyed reading through, whether you agree, or disagree.