The Top 12 Greatest Men’s Tennis Players of All Time
The battle for the title of ‘Greatest of All Time’ is fiercely contested. However, Roger Federer certainly has a strong case to be the man in possession of that particular honor!
The ‘Fed Express’ holds the Open Era record for grand slam singles titles won, with 19 grand slams to his name, and has spent a record 302 weeks at the top of the ATP Rankings.
The Swiss’ all-round game has been mentioned as one of the reasons for his longevity, with his ability to compete on all surfaces – he boasts a career Grand Slam – and versatility being key to his success.
Federer broke onto the tennis scene as a teenager, and won his maiden grand slam at Wimbledon in 2003 at age 22.
he won 14 grand slam titles in the six years that followed.
The emergence of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, and the continued presence of Rafael Nadal, saw Federer struggle to go the distance at the grand slams, and he won just two grand slams between 2010 and 2012 before a drought of four years followed.
Hounded by talk of a possible retirement, and having spent the second half of 2016 sidelined by injury, Federer responded as only a legend could: he won the 2017 Australian Open and the 2017 Wimbledon title in a resounding statement to his doubters.
Federer’s rivalry with Nadal has produced some matches of legendary status – unfortunately for Federer, he has been on the losing end of many! Together with Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray, Federer forms part of the group dubbed the ‘Big Four,’ which has dominated men’s tennis for much of the past decade.
The affable Swiss has a legion of fans across the world, and his professionalism on and off the court, coupled with his philanthropic efforts with the Roger Federer Foundation, have seen him win 14 ATP Fans’ Favourite Awards, the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year for 4 consecutive years from 2005 to 2008, and named the recipient of the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award 12 times.
Tennis’ first one-million-dollar-man, Laver earned a touch shy of $1.5 million in his entire career – a far cry from the prize money on offer in the modern game, but at the time, the Australian was a trailblazer.
Blessed with speed, agility, and a game that had few – if any –weaknesses, Laver has one of the strongest claims for the greatest ever, but is just edged out on our list by Federer.
Laver won 11 grand slam singles titles, and was the first player to complete the career Grand Slam, a feat he achieved in 1962. Not content with winning all four grand slams in the same year once, he managed it twice!
For good measure, he claimed a further six grand slam doubles titles, and three in mixed doubles. Had Laver not been barred from the grand slams after turning pro in 1963 and before the dawn of the Open Era in 1968, he would surely have racked up a grand slam total that would have been near-impossible to match.
The main show court at Melbourne Park, the venue for the Australian Open, was renamed in Laver’s honor in 2000. Not surprisingly, Laver was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1981.
Rafael ‘The King of Clay’ Nadal is considered one of the best players ever to grace a tennis court, and he clocks in at three on our list of the greatest ever.
Nadal is the only player to have won 10 titles at a single grand slam, having triumphed at the French Open a record 10 times.
It’s not just at Roland-Garros that Nadal has dominated, though; the Spaniard is also the winner of one Australian Open title, two Wimbledon titles, and three US Open crowns, placing him second on the all-time list of grand slam winners, with 16 grand slam titles.
Nadal’s glory has not just been on the individual front, either, with the Spaniard having won the Davis Cup on four occasions, while also securing gold at the Olympics in singles in 2008 and doubles in 2016.
Nadal’s rivalry with Roger Federer has produced many highlights for tennis fans, and stands as a defining point in the careers of both players. Nadal is the only player to have beaten Federer at a grand slam on all three surfaces, and leads the Swiss 23-14 in head-to-head matches.
An aggressive hitter from behind the baseline, Nadal has always been heavily reliant on his ability to race around the court and charge down balls that no other player could reach. As a result, Nadal’s career appeared on the ropes in 2014 and 2015 when a host of injuries hampered his unrivaled athleticism.
However, underlining his legendary status, Nadal notched up his first grand slam title since 2014 when he won the 2017 French Open, a feat he followed up with success at the US Open the same year.
A powerful serve that was backed up by a great volley and precise groundstrokes helped Pete Sampras to triumph in 14 grand slam singles finals, an account he opened at the 1999 US Open as a 17-year-old and closed at the same venue in 2002, the final match of a glittering career.
Success at Flushing Meadows may have bookended Sampras’ career, but it was at Wimbledon that ‘Pistol Pete’ was in his element. The American lost just one match at the All England Club in an eight-year period from 1993 to 2000, winning an incredible seven titles on the hallowed grass courts.
It was only on clay that Sampras looked fallible, with a semi-final appearance at the 1996 French Open his best effort at Roland-Garros as he failed to complete the career Grand Slam.
Sampras followed in the footsteps of fellow Americans Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, and shared the spotlight with Andre Agassi, but he was a very different character to his compatriots; constantly questioned by the media as to why he did not show more emotion on court, Sampras responded:
“I never wanted to be the great guy or the colorful guy or the interesting guy. I wanted to be the guy who won matches.”
With 66 career titles and a grand slam singles tally that stood as the mark to beat for many years, Sampras was certainly successful in his pursuit.
With good looks, an ice-cool demeanor, and athleticism and skills that few could match, Björn Borg was tennis’ first rockstar, and perhaps fittingly his story was packed with drama.
It was also packed with plenty of success, and that’s why he features at five on our list. A teenage sensation, Borg won his first grand slam title at the 1974 French Open just weeks after his 18th birthday.
He would go on to win 11 grand slam singles titles in just seven years between 1974 and 1981, including a monopoly on the French Open and Wimbledon from 1978-1980.
During this run, in 1979, Borg became the first player to win a million dollars in a single season. And then, at the age of just 26, Borg shocked the tennis world by announcing his retirement.
Many tried to convince the Swede to return to the circuit, but without success – until 1991, that is. Having grown out his hair once more, and with wooden rackets still in his bag (others had moved on to graphite rackets), Borg attempted a comeback.
However, the topspin-laden forehand and double-handed backhand that had served him so well in the first stanza of his career deserted him on his return, and he struggled to win a match. Borg would later join the Champions Tour – this time with graphite rackets and a streamlined haircut!
The 2000s were the years of Federer and Nadal, but the start of the next decade saw the emergence of a new dominant force: Novak Djokovic.
The Serb won 11 grand slam titles between 2011 and 2016 as he propelled his way to the top of the world rankings, having won his first grand slam in 2008.
An aggressive baseline player, Djokovic is supremely strong from both sides of the court, and boasts perhaps the best backhand in the business.
It’s a style of play that has proved particularly successful at the Australian Open, where, starting in 2011, Djokovic won five titles in six years to start each year strongly.
However, in his quest for the career Grand Slam, he stumbled each year at the French Open until finally breaking his duck at Roland-Garros with victory in 2016, becoming just the eighth player to win all four grand slams.
A tumultuous period followed that milestone, with Djokovic going without a grand slam in 2017. Despite this, by the end of 2017, Djokovic still boasted the best win-loss ratio in ATP Tour history (783-163).
While Djokovic is sixth on our list, the Serb’s success is still far from over, so don’t be surprised to see him finish his career even further up this list of tennis greats.
Richard ‘Pancho’ Gonzales may have won just two grand slam titles, but such was the nature of tennis in the 1950s that the American was the dominant player of the decade – at least statistically – and that’s why he’s up at seven on our list of the best players in men’s tennis.
The happy-go-lucky youngster who joined the pro circuit in 1949 soon became as well known for his temper as his tenacity.
Gonzales was lured to the professional circuit at the age of 21, and on the back of a booming serve and well-rounded groundstrokes, he overcame a rocky start to life as a pro to notch up 15 Pro Slam titles.
Gonzales rose to prominence as a youngster, but he showed he had longevity, too, competing into his 40s. In 1970, at the age of 41, Gonzales beat Rod Laver – widely regarded the best player in the world at the time – in front of 15,000 fans at Madison Square Garden in a $10,000 winner-takes-all contest.
At Wimbledon in the same year, Gonzales defeated Charlie Pasarell 22–24, 1–6, 16–14, 6–3, 11–9 in a five-hour-and-12-minute marathon match that resulted in the introduction of the tiebreak.
Coming in at eight is Jimmy Connors, a player who divided opinion: fans either loved or loathed the American. The reason? Connors was relentlessly driven, a fiery maniac on the court and a controversially outspoken recluse off of it. He made few friends on tour, and didn’t seem to care that that was the case.
Eight grand slam titles certainly would have helped with that, with Connors victorious five times at the US Open, twice at Wimbledon, and once at the Australian Open.
In total, Connors claimed 109 titles, and was world number one for 160 consecutive weeks in the late 1970s, and 268 weeks in total.
Connors enjoyed intense rivalries with compatriot John McEnroe, Björn Borg, and Ivan Lendl, and thrived on fierce battles, asserting that “the tougher the battle and the longer the match, the more fun I had.”
Following his retirement in 1996, Connors made a very successful transition to broadcasting, and he continues to lend his voice to some of tennis’ biggest events.
If tennis matches were won on charisma alone, then Andre Agassi would likely have ended his career undefeated! The Las Vegas native was a true entertainer and led a tennis rival of sorts in the early 1990s.
With a Nike range crafted for him, Agassi was impossible to miss out on court with neon outfits, bright shoes, and a mullet kept in place by a headband. The American was a showman like no other – and fans couldn’t get enough.
Agassi was not just a showman, though; he had the game to back up his bold appearance. Devastating from the back of the court, Agassi played with great power that overwhelmed many opponents and helped him to eight grand slam singles titles and a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics.
Having burst onto the scene in 1986as a 16-year-old, Agassi made his grand slam breakthrough with the 1992 Wimbledon title. Further success followed at the US Open (1994) and the Australian Open (1995), before his career appeared set for a premature end in the mid-1990s when a personal problem saw him nosedive from world number 1 to world number 141 in 1997.
However, Agassi was far from finished, and enjoyed a renaissance beginning in 1998 that heralded the most successful period of his career, including victory at the 1999 French Open to complete the career Grand Slam.
Agassi now spends his time working on a number of charitable projects with his wife, women’s tennis legend Steffi Graf.
Standing at 6ft 2in with a muscular build, the stoic Lendl was both physically and mentally imposing to those who were unfortunate enough to find themselves on the other side of the net.
Lendl’s baseline game – particularly his topspin forehand – was hard to compete with, and his power from the back of the court propelled him to the number one spot in the rankings for 270 weeks during the 1980s. That’s enough to see him round out our top 10.
The Czech-American won 8 grand slam singles titles and finished as runner-up on a further 11 occasions. A winner in Australia, France, and the US, it was only Wimbledon that stood in between Lendl and a career Grand Slam.
Chronic back pain put an end to Lendl’s career at 34, and he retired with 100 career titles to his name.
Lendl showed his skills were not limited to on-court action, as he would go on to make his mark as a coach. Lendl joined Andy Murray’s coaching team in late 2011, and he guided the Scot to his first grand slam title at the 2012 US Open, a resulted he backed up with the 2013 Wimbledon crown.
Rafael Nadal is the King of Clay, Roger Federer and Björn Borg have both mesmerized on grass, and Novak Djokovic has had a hold on the hard courts of Australia, but no player has dominated on all surfaces quite like Roy Emerson.
The Australian was the first man to win all four grand slam singles titles twice, amassing 12 grand slam singles titles, including five consecutive Australian Open titles.
Emerson’s serve-and-volley game was also well suited to doubles, and he turned out in 30 grand slam doubles finals, coming out on top 16 times.
Emerson’s record of 12 grand slam singles titles remained unmatched for 33 years before Pete Sampras surpassed him in 2000 (Federer and Nadal, too, have since passed the mark). Emerson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1982.
“You cannot be serious!”
– If you know one thing about John McEnroe, it’s probably his famous catchphrase!
The American argued with officials like no other, with his competitive spirit often getting the better of him as made his displeasure known.
However, while his on-court persona was brash and brutal, his play was quite the opposite; McEnroe played with great finesse and a subtly that seemed in contrast to his character.
McEnroe achieved great success in both singles and doubles, reaching the top of the world rankings in both disciplines, and winning 78 doubles titles to eclipse his effort of 77 singles crowns by the slightest of margins.
Four US Open singles success and three Wimbledon championships were mixed in that total, with victory over great rival Jimmy Connors in the 1984 Wimbledon finale perhaps his finest moment.
McEnroe was also part of the triumphant US Davis Cup team on five occasions. After taking two six-month hiatuses in the late 1980s, McEnroe retired from the game in 1992.
Post-retirement, McEnroe’s charisma has seen him become one of the game’s most prominent pundits. McEnroe, who was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1999, remains active on the ATP Champions Tour.