The best men's tennis players of all time
From the amateur era to the Open era and beyond, Tennis players have always been one of the most recognizable sports stars on the planet. For good reason too considering that the sport is the expression of individual brilliance.
Sorting out a definitive list of tennis legends is one of the toughest prospects. So, we’ve listed five men’s tennis legends:
Of course, we begin with The Swiss Maestro. Roger Federer’s 20 Grand Slam titles is an incredible record, considering how competitive men’s tennis is.
What is even more remarkable is Federer’s longevity in a sport which is one of, if not the most grueling. Federer won his first Grand Slam title in 2003 and won his last one in January 2018, taking home the Australian Open.
Possessing some of the most graceful strokes in the business, and a deadly serve, Federer has been a dominant figure in the sport for close to 15 years now. From 2003 to 2007, Federer romped to 12 Grand Slam titles virtually uncontested.
He then developed a tussle for supremacy with Rafael Nadal (more on him later) but was able to surpass Pete Sampras’ record of 14 titles when he won at Wimbledon in 2009. In the same year, he captured an elusive French Open title to complete a career Grand Slam. By 2012, Federer had added another four grand slams to his name.
From 2012 onwards, advancing age and hungry younger rivals resulted in Federer enduring a Grand Slam drought of five years. That ended in 2017, however, as Federer won the Australian Open in 2017 with a win over perennial rival Rafael Nadal. The win down under sparked a career renaissance as Federer reached a feat hitherto unknown to men’s tennis: 20 Grand Slam titles.
Considered to be the greatest tennis player of all time, Federer has often been called the best ambassador the sport has had. He’s regularly been a feature in Forbes’ Highest Earning Sportspersons’ list and has been the face of global brands like Nike, Rolex, Gillette and more.
The 21st century has arguably given the best tennis players seen in men’s tennis. Roger Federer is considered to be the best, but his fiercest competitor is no less.
Rafael Nadal’s emergence and dominance changed the landscape of men’s tennis. Where Federer was seen as a hybrid of the serve-and-volley and baseline play styles, Nadal clearly liked to stay at the baseline. There was a very good reason for this. He could hit the ball much harder than his peers and his forehand topspin was almost unplayable. More importantly, he was able to return shots which at first was thought to be nearly impossible.
Nadal’s game based on sheer strength and stamina was in stark contrast to Federer’s graceful stroke-making. But, it delivered results in heaps. As it stands today, Nadal has won 17 Grand Slams, the second-most in history.
Rafa came to the forefront in 2005 when he won the French Open at the tender age of 19. That was the Mallorcan’s first ever French Open and he ended up becoming champion. Roland Garros is to Nadal what a home stadium is to a football club. From 2005 to 2018, there have only been three instances when the Spaniard has not won the French Open. Such is his dominance on the clay courts of Paris.
Along with that, Nadal is also a multiple US Open Champion, winning it three times and also won the Australian Open in 2009. He has also won Wimbledon twice, with his first title in 2008 coming off a grueling five-set showdown with Federer in what many consider to be the greatest tennis match of all-time.
Despite injuries plaguing him for almost his entire career, Nadal has fleshed out a brilliant career in men’s tennis. Easily one of the best of all-time.
Before the tennis world was dominated by the resilient baseliners and heavy top-spin hitters, it revolved around the men who could serve and volley.
Pete Sampras was one of the best exhibitionists of the serve-and-volley style as he ended up amassing 14 Grand Slams to his name. A number that included a then-record seven Wimbledon titles.
Sampras’ professional career started in 1988 and in 1990 he won the US Open. It was the start of many things to come as Sampras asserted his dominance in the 1990s. The grass courts of Wimbledon and the Hard Courts of New York were his happiest hunting grounds with Sampras winning a combined 12 Grand Slam titles at the two venues.
He also won twice in Melbourne (1994 and 1997) and his Grand Slam trophy surpassed the long-standing record of Roy Emerson who had won 12 Grand Slams. The only Grand Slam that Sampras could not win was the French Open.
Still, Sampras’ name is considered gold standard in today’s tennis world and when Federer defeated ‘Pistol Pete’ in 2001, it was called the ‘passing of the torch’. How right that statement was.
Compared to the overflowing trophy cabinets of Nadal and Federer, Bjorn Borg’s achievements might seem modest. But, if you had to point to who the first and most influential superstar of the sport was, it was Borg.
The Swede was a teenage sensation renowned for his incredible and precise stroke-play along with extensive court-coverage. It led him to becoming a tennis star at a very young age with Borg winning his first Grand Slam title at the age of 18. The first being the 1974 French Open. A tournament he would win another five times.
It was at Wimbledon, however, where Borg cemented his legacy as one of the game’s greats. He reached the quarter-finals of Wimbledon in 1975 where he was defeated by eventual champion, Arthur Ashe. That would prove to be Borg’s last loss at Wimbledon until 1981.
From 1976 to 1980, Borg would make the All-England Tennis Club his own as he won the tournament for five straight years. Along with that, he won the French Open thrice during this run. Generally, players who excel at one of these tournaments, does not do as well at the other. But Borg’s ability was such that he won six and five titles at Roland Garros and Wimbledon respectively. Both these hauls were records that were beaten by Pete Sampras (Wimbledon) and Rafael Nadal (French Open).
In the so-called ‘Golden Age of Men’s Tennis’, the headliners have always been Federer and Nadal. But from 2014 to 2016, Novak Djokovic was playing at a level which had dwarfed his more illustrious compatriots. That’s not us, but Rafael Nadal saying.
Djokovic is one of the eight-men who have completed a career Grand Slam and his overall tally of 13 is good for fourth-all time. Interestingly, in 2016, after winning the French Open, he became the first man after Rod Laver in 1969, to hold all Grand Slam titles at the same time. A feat affectionately called, “The Nole Slam”
The Serb’s superb error-free play and strong backhand have been the backbone of his success on the circuit. Djokovic has gone on to win six Australian Open titles, four Wimbledons, two US Opens and one French Open.
His first title came in 2008 when he won against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the Australian Open. Djokovic’s dominance, however, started in 2011 when he won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open in the same year. A feat that he would repeat in 2015.
He also completed a career grand slam in 2016, finally ending up as winner on clay court. Injuries derailed his career for the rest of 2016 and 2017, but Djokovic made a roaring comeback in 2018 as he captured the Wimbledon title.
Where Federer and Nadal’s legacy has remained untouched in many ways, Djokovic is the closes active player to their records. The Serb might still have what it takes to eclipse his two great rivals and establish his name among the best of the best.