December 3, 2023

10. Andre Agassi

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

Who can forget the young, brash, long-haired Andre Agassi when he first arrived on the tennis scene in the late 1980s? I have to admit that at first I was put off by his seemingly “rock star” looks and attitude. But something happened along the way, and by the time he finished his 20-year career, I was not only a fan but I had also come to respect him as a great player and spokesman for the game. With those killer ground strokes and returns of serve, no top 10 list would be complete without Andre Agassi.

Off the court, Agassi has proven to be a champion as well. There may be no athlete out there who does more for their community than Agassi and his wife, tennis legend Steffi Graf.

John McEnroe
John McEnroeBy WolfRayet via Wikimedia Commons

9. John McEnroe

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

John McEnroe: What do we do about Johnny Mac? Well, for starters we include him on our list of all-time greats. When it came to hard courts, fast surfaces, and creative shot-making, there may have been no one better.

His fiery attitude and occasional bad-boy behavior made tennis fans either hate him or love him. Underneath was a highly competitive athlete who hated to lose, and he sometimes let his emotions get the best of him.

Who can forget his epic battles with rival Jimmy Connors and his five-set loss to Bjorn Borg in the 1980 Wimbledon final, one of the greatest matches in Wimbledon history?

Jimmy Connors
Jimmy ConnorsBy Suyk, Koen / Anefo via Wikimedia Commons

8. Jimmy Connors

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

No one dominated tennis more during the mid-1970s than Jimmy Connors. In 1974 alone, Connors had a staggering 99-4 record and won the three Grand Slam tournaments that he entered. Connors was banned from playing in the French Open in 1974 due to his association with World Team Tennis, and this prevented him from a possible Grand Slam sweep. Despite peaking in the 1970s, Connors had a long and impressive tennis career, retiring in 1996. Connors still holds the record for ATP tour titles with 109.

Ivan Lendl
Ivan LendlBy Anefo / Croes, R.C. via Wikimedia Commons

7. Ivan Lendl

  • Born: March 7, 1960
    Ostrava, Czechoslovakia
  • Resides: Goshen, Connecticut
  • Turned pro: 1978
  • Retired: 1994
  • Career prize money: $21,262,417
  • 144 career titles
  • 8 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 2 Australian, 3 French, 3 US Open
  • Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame: 2001

The quiet and stoic Czech with the big serve was the most dominant player of the 1980s. Lendl wore down his opponents with his powerful ground strokes, topspin forehand, and incredible level of conditioning. He was the world’s top-ranked player for four years, and he held the number one ranking in the world for 270 weeks, a record in that day. In contrast to many of his more outspoken peers, Lendl was known for letting his game do his talking.

Bjorn Borg
Bjorn BorgBy Anefo / Croes via Wikimedia Commons

6. Bjorn Borg

  • Born: June 6, 1956
    Sodertalje, Stockholm County, Sweden
  • Resides: Stockholm, Sweden
  • Turned pro: 1973
  • Retired: 1983
  • Career prize money: $3,655,751
  • 101 career titles
  • 11 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 6 French, 5 Wimbledon
  • Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame: 1987

What was not to love about the long-haired, blonde Swede with the killer ground game? With ice water in his veins, the quiet Borg dominated tennis in the late 1970s, and he had some memorable matches with the likes of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. Borg dominated Wimbledon, winning the title five consecutive years from 1976 to 1980.

Despite his relatively brief career (he retired in 1983 at the age of 26), Borg won 11 Grand Slam titles, all at Wimbledon and the French Open. Borg was the first player of the modern era to win more than 10 majors. In my book Bjorn Borg could have been a top five all-time had he continued to play and not retired while seemingly in the prime of his career.

Pete Sampras
Pete SamprasBy Craig ONeal via Wikimedia Commons

5. Pete Sampras

Born: August 12, 1971
Potomac, Maryland

  • Resides: Lake Sherwood, California
  • Turned pro: 1988
  • Retired 2002
  • Career prize money: $43,280,489
  • 64 career titles
  • 14 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 2 Australian, 7 Wimbledon, 5 US Open
  • Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame: 2007

Pete’s place in tennis history is difficult to judge as he only won three of the four Grand Slam events over the course of his career. Clearly more comfortable on hard courts and grass, how do we decide one’s place when they dominate on one surface and struggle on another? When Pete retired in 2002, he was considered to be the best player of all time, although some would dispute this. He was number one in the world rankings for six consecutive years, and his 14 Grand Slam titles was a record at the time. Who can forget his epic battles with Andre Agassi that made the 1990s a great decade for tennis? Pete went out on top when he won the 2002 US Open, his last Grand Slam tournament. But without a French Open title, or even a final, how do we decide where he belongs in the list of best ever? For now, I think he comes in at the number five spot.

Rod Laver
Rod LaverBy Evers, Joost / Anefo via Wikimedia Commons

4. Rod Laver

  • Born: August 8, 1938
    Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia
  • Resides: Carlsbad, California
  • Turned pro: 1962
  • Retired 1979
  • Career prize money: $1,565,413
  • 200 career titles
  • 11 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 3 Australian, 2 French, 2 US Open, 4 Wimbledon
  • 9 Pro Slam Singles Titles: 3 US Pro, 4 Wembley Pro, 1 French Pro, 1 Wimbledon Pro
  • Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame: 1981

It’s difficult to assess how Rod Laver would have fared against the players of today, but I suspect the redheaded Aussie would have done just fine. It’s hard to argue with the “Rockets” record. He was ranked number one in the world for seven straight years (1964 – 1970), and he has more career titles (200) than anyone in the history of the game.

He is the only player to have twice won the Grand Slam, doing it once as an amateur in 1962 and again as a pro in 1969. If Laver was not excluded from the Grand Slam tournaments during a five-year period in the mid-1960s, who knows how many he would have won. During this time period, the pre-open era, the Grand Slam tournaments were for amateurs only. The “open era” in tennis did not begin until 1968, when professionals were finally allowed to compete in the Grand Slam events. Given that Laver was ranked number one in the world during this five-year period, it’s likely he would have won many more Grand Slam titles.

Roger Federer
Roger FedererMike McCune, CC BY-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

3. Roger Federer

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

For many years, it was easy to select Roger Federer as the greatest of all time. His 20 Grand Slam titles and 310 weeks ranked as number one speak for themselves, and even at the age of 40, he was still capable of competing at the highest levels. From 2004 to 2008, Federer went 237 consecutive weeks being ranked number one in the world, a record that may never be surpassed. His 24-year career playing at the highest level was certainly a testament to his superior conditioning and ability.

Winning the 2018 Australian Open after his outstanding 2017 season that saw him win Wimbledon and the Australian Open proved without a doubt that Roger Federer was the greatest of all time as of 2018. But with Nadal and Djokovic adding to their Grand Slam count since, it may be impossible to declare a GOAT until all three have finished their careers. His dramatic five-set loss to Novak Djokovic at the 2019 Wimbledon Championship proved that he could still compete with anyone even as he approached the age of 40. Roger certainly had his chances to secure Grand Slam number 21, a loss that will haunt him now that his tennis career has come to an end.

It would appear that we are on the verge of a new era in men’s tennis. With Federer retiring, Nadal facing injuries and age, and Djokovic in the late stages of his tennis career, we may see more opportunities for the batch of young players now infringing on the domain once dominated by the big three.

Rafael Nadal
Rafael NadalBy Brett Marlow via Wikimedia Commons

2. Rafael Nadal

  • Born: June 3, 1986
    Manacor, Majorca, Balearic Islands, Spain
  • Resides: Manacor, Majorca, Balearic Islands, Spain
  • Turned pro: 2001
  • Career prize money: $134,640,719
  • 92 career titles
  • 22 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 2 Australian, 14 French, 4 US Open, 2 Wimbledon
  • 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist – Beijing Summer Olympics
  • Current active player

At 37 years of age, the fiery Spaniard, known as Rafa and “The King of Clay,” has won 22 Grand Slam titles, which trails only Novak Djokovic with 23 for most all-time among men. Rafael is widely regarded as the greatest clay-court player of all time, although fans of Bjorn Borg may dispute this claim. His record 14th French Open title in 2022, in dominating fashion, certainly makes it difficult to imagine anyone being better on clay.

Nadal has proven that he deserves serious consideration in the discussion for the greatest of all-time. His impressive start to the 2022 season with wins at the Australian Open and French Open gave Rafa 22 Grand Slam Championships to surpass Federer with 20, and tie him with Djokovic, for the moment. Winning 14 French Open titles is an amazing accomplishment, one that may never be surpassed.

An unfortunate abdominal injury forced Rafa to withdraw from the 2022 Wimbledon semifinals. This denied fans a dream final against Djokovic. Nadal was able to compete in the 2022 US Open; he lost in the fourth round to Frances Tiafoe.

2023 may prove to be a pivotal year for Rafa. A second round loss in the Australian Open following a hip injury, which led to surgery, has Rafa out for the remainder of 2023. While he has indicated that he will return in 2024 for once last season, we will have to wait to see if he can recover and recapture his form. Stay tuned!

Novak Djokovic
Novak DjokovicBy Yann Caradec via Wikimedia Commons

1. Novak Djokovic

  • Born: May 22, 1987
  • Born in Belgrade, Serbia
  • Resides: Monte Carlo, Monaco
  • Turned pro: 2003
  • Career prize money: $169,762,762
  • 94 career titles
  • 23 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 10 Australian, 7 Wimbledon, 3 US Open, 3 French Open
  • Current active player

At 36 years of age and in the late stages of his career, Djokovic certainly has the potential to win more Grand Slam titles. With 23 Grand Slam titles already under his belt, he now stands alone with more than any other male. And with a record 390 weeks ranked as number one, it’s hard not to give Djokovic serious consideration as the greatest of all time.

The tennis world eagerly watched to see if Djokovic could make history by winning the calendar Grand Slam in 2021 (all four majors in the same year). Alas, it was not to be. His straight set loss to Daniil Medvedev in the finals of the 2021 US Open proved that Father Time was catching up with Djokovic. It also showed that the hungry herd of next generation contenders had arrived.

2022 was a tumultuous year for Djokovic. He was unable to play in Australia due to his vaccination status, and he was beaten in Paris by Rafa in the quarterfinals. Novak rebounded nicely to win Wimbledon in dominating fashion. However, Djokovic would have to withdraw from the 2022 US Open due to his vaccination status. This would end a season that saw him compete in only two of the four Grand Slam tournaments.

The start of the 2023 season had Novak back in top form as he dominated the 2023 Australian Open. He only lost one set on his way to securing Grand Slam title number 22. At Roland Garros, with Rafa out with an injury, Djokovic served up Grand Slam title number 23, putting him alone atop the Grand Slam leaderboard. He is now the only man in the history of the game to win each of the Grand Slam titles at least three times.

The 2023 Wimbledon Championships saw Djokovic come close to securing Grand Slam title number 24, but Carlos Alcaraz prevailed in a back-and-forth 5-set final that may signal a new reign in men’s tennis. Certainly, Alcaraz looks set to become the next dominate player in men’s tennis, but at only 20 years of age, he has plenty of work ahead of him.

With his record of winning multiple Major titles on all surfaces, and his advantage in head-to-head matches against both Federer and Nadal, Novak Djokovic has earned the title of greatest of all time.

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