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Top 10 Greatest Men's Tennis Players of All Time

Updated on February 08, 2017

International Tennis Hall of Fame: Newport, RI

The International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum
The International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum | Source

I grew up playing tennis in the 1970s, which was a great time for the sport of tennis. It was then that tennis really became more of a mainstream sport than a sport for the privileged, especially here in the United States. With the likes of Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Chris Evert, and others, there were plenty of personalities to fuel the rivalries that took place on and off the court. Since that time, many great players have come and gone. Because it is difficult to compare players of different eras in any sport due to technology changes and higher fitness standards, selecting a greatest player ever can be a difficult and very subjective task.

Despite the challenge, here is my list of the 10 greatest male tennis players of all-time.

10. Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi
Andre Agassi | Source
  • Born: April 29, 1970
    Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Resides: Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Turned pro: 1986
  • Retired: 2006
  • Career prize money: $31,152,975
  • 60 career titles
  • 8 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 4 Australian, 1 French, 2 US Open, 1 Wimbledon
  • 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.

9. John McEnroe

John McEnroe
John McEnroe | Source
  • Born: February 16, 1959
    Wiesbaden, West Germany
  • Resides: New York City
  • Turned pro: 1978
  • Retired: 1992
  • Career prize money: $12,547,797
  • 71 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 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?

8. Jimmy Connors

Jimmy Connors
Jimmy Connors | Source
  • Born: September 2, 1952
    East St. Louis, Illinois
  • Resides: Santa Barbara, CA
  • Turned pro: 1972
  • Retired: 1996
  • Career prize money: $8,641,040
  • 109 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.

7. Ivan Lendl

Ivan Lendl
Ivan Lendl | Source
  • Born: March 7, 1960
    Ostrava, Czechoslovakia
  • Resides: Goshen, Connecticut
  • Turned pro: 1978
  • Retired: 1994
  • Career prize money: $21,262,417
  • 94 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 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.

6. Bjorn Borg

Bjorn Borg
Bjorn Borg | Source
  • Born: June 6, 1956
    Sodertalje, Stockholm County, Sweden
  • Resides: Stockholm, Sweden
  • Turned pro: 1973
  • Retired: 1983
  • Career prize money: $3,655,751
  • 64 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 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.

5. Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic | Source
  • Born: May 22, 1987
    Belgrade, Serbia
  • Resides: Monte Carlo, Monaco
  • Turned pro: 2003
  • Career prize money: $106,188,878
  • 66 career titles
  • 12 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 6 Australian, 3 Wimbledon, 2 US Open, 1 French Open
  • Current active player

Placing Novak Djokovic on this list was an easy decision, but where to place him was not. At 29 years of age and in the prime of his career, Djokovic has the potential to win many more Grand Slam titles. By the time his career is finished, he could very well find himself among the top few players of all-time. But, in the highly competitive world of tennis, he could also succumb to injury and miss out on some of his best years, so the jury is still out on his place in tennis history. Based on his body of work to date he has certainly made the case that he is deserving of a top five all-time. With his 2016 French Open title Djokovic become the eight man to secure a career Grand Slam. His stunning loss at Wimbledon to Sam Querrey ended his Grand Slam winning streak at four and 2017 did not start well for Novak with his stunning second round loss at the Australian Open. He needs to bounce back in a big way going forward in 2017 to convince his fans that his time at the top has not come to en end.

With twleve Grand Slam titles now secured, including the 2016 Australian Open and French Open, and at just 29 years of age, Novak deserves to be elevated to the number five position. The likeable Djokovic certainly has the potential to rise further.

4. Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal | Source
  • Born: June 3, 1986
    Manacor, Majorca, Balearic Islands, Spain
  • Resides: Manacor, Majorca, Balearic Islands, Spain
  • Turned pro: 2001
  • Career prize money: $78,688,782
  • 69 career titles
  • 14 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 1 Australian, 9 French, 2 US Open, 2 Wimbledon
  • Current active player

Were it not for the recurring tendinitis in his knees, Rafael Nadal may well have a few more Grand Slam titles to his already impressive resume. At 30 years of age, the fiery Spaniard, known as Rafa and “The King of Clay,” already has 14 Grand Slam titles and certainly has the potential to surpass Pete Sampras. Rafael is regarded as the greatest clay court player of all-time, although fans of Bjorn Borg may dispute this claim. His record 9th French Open title (2014) certainly makes it difficult to imagine anyone being better on clay.

Unfortunately for Rafa staying healthy has been a problem and his setback at the 2016 French Open (wrist injury) caused him to withdraw from Wimbledon and have a subpar performance at the US Open. Rafael finished the 2016 season failing to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam event for the first time since 2004. Now healthy, his epic final against Roger Federer at the 2017 Australian Open offers hope that 2017 will be the comeback year for the Spaniard.

3. Rod Laver

Rod Laver
Rod Laver | Source
  • 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
  • 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 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.

2. Pete Sampras

Pete Sampras
Pete Sampras | Source
  • 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

If the likes of Roger Federer had not come along, Pete Sampras would certainly be the number one player of all-time. When Pete retired in 2002, he was considered to be the best player of all-time. 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.

1. Roger Federer

Roger Federer
Roger Federer | Source
  • Born: August 8, 1981
    Basel, Switzerland
  • Resides: Wollerau, Switzerland and Dubai, UAE
  • Turned pro: 1998
  • Career prize money: $98,830,825
  • 89 career titles
  • 18 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 5 Australian, 1 French, 5 US Open, 7 Wimbledon
  • Current active player

It’s hard not to select Roger Federer as the greatest of all time. His record 18 Grand Slam titles speak for themselves, and even at the age of 35, he is still winning and competing at the highest levels. His 302 weeks ranked as number one in the world is an open-era record. From 2004 to 2008, Federer went 237 consecutive weeks being ranked number one in the world, a record that may never be surpassed. Even though younger players are now finding a way to beat Roger, his consistently high level of play over his almost 19-year career is a testament to his conditioning and ability. His epic 2017 Australian Open victory over Rafael Nadel proves without a doubt that Roger Federer is indeed the greatest of all-time.

Who do you think is the greatest men's tennis player of all-time?

See results

© 2013 Bill De Giulio

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    • profile image

      Dave 6 days ago

      Borg retired at 26, and never played in the Australian Open, as well as retired the year after he won the French. How many more of those would have he had won if he continued to play? Especially in a tournament that he had won the 5 previous years.

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      Michael 8 days ago

      Nadal is as of now, has not achieved to be called better than Sampras... just for the simple reason, he has only been ranked No.1 for only 141 weeks, no world tour final titles.. whereas Sampras has been No.1 for 286 weeks (more than twice the time of Nadal), won 5 Year-end championships, been year end No.1 for 6 times.

    • profile image

      David 11 days ago

      This post is totally subjective and probably biased. Rafa Nadal should be second. He has the same number of Grand Slams as Sampras, but he has two olimpic gold medals.

    • profile image

      Kabir Khan 2 weeks ago

      This is the most disgusting rating I've ever seen. FEDERER IS THE MOST OVER RATED PLAYER OF ALL TIME.

    • profile image

      Matson 2 weeks ago

      Borg was awesome

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      Darin Glanville 2 weeks ago

      agree with all except for Djokovic.

      he has yet to earn the place you have given him

    • profile image

      Yash 3 weeks ago

      In what universe is Sampras ranked above Rafa? Rafa matches him in # of slams, but also has won all of them, over Federer and Djokovic of all people, plus more Masters 1000 wins and better h2h against his opponents. How can you say Rafa needs to diversify slams when Sampras only won on fast courts?

    • profile image

      Tennis Fan 5 weeks ago

      Even though tennis ratings tend to be biased toward modern players, it is hard to keep Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic out of the top 5 all-time. Sampras, the consensus #1 player before Federer came along, also must be in the top 5--I would say at #2 or #3.

      Arguments can be had regarding the other places, however. I think Don Budge, Pancho Gonzales, and Bill Tilden deserve consideration for top 10 status (in that order.) Laver was also great, but I think he was overrated based on his double grand slams. The first was amateur and he would have been pasted by the pro players in the early 60's (as he was when he turned pro.) Players who saw the old-time players said that Laver was unbeatable for a couple of years (e.g., ~1968-1970), but wasn't the best of the old-time players. I think Jack Kramer thought Don Budge was the best. Unfortunately, Budge's shoulder got hurt in World War II training and he was never the same. Even after the injury, though, he could still beat great players on the pro tour.

      I think its true that those players were not in the same shape as today's players, but I think you have to judge them on their talent and drive. Ask yourself if you dropped them into today's world how long it would take them to establish themselves at the top.

      One reason I think today's players are overrated in terms of their versatility is the fact that Wimbledon is not the same grass court that it was in yesteryear. Also, the rackets make it easier to defeat a serve-and-volley player because you can get things back easier. I don't think today's players would be able to beat Sampras on 90's grass with 90's-era rackets. I think a player like Nadal would not have won at Wimbledon against a player like Sampras.

      All of the top 5 players have weaknesses. Djokovic needs to rack up more slams to be considered greater than others in the top 5. Nadal's versatility is a bit overrated I think because of the slower grass and today's technology favoring players like him, and also because he has less majors than Fed. Federer's weakness is his poor head-to-head record against Nadal, even if you factor out the fact that he would faced Nadal on clay more often than on other surfaces since Nadal did not always advance to the later rounds on hardcourt/grass surfaces. It's not clear that Federer is the #1 player of his era. Sampras never won the French or was very competitive on clay.

      Ultimately, my top 5 would be similar to yours, except Nadal would be #3 and Laver would be #5 or lower.

      #1 Federer

      #2 Sampras

      #3 Nadal

      #4 Djokovic

      #5 Bjorn Borg

      #6 Don Budge

      #7 Pancho Gonzales

      #8 Rod Laver

      #9 Ivan Lendl

      #10 Jimmy Connors

      #11 Jon McEnroe

    • profile image

      Alex 6 weeks ago

      Sorry Bill but I do not agree with you based on what you have said about Nadal needing to win more GS on other surfaces for you to have him moved up. To me he is already better than Sampras. People tend to believe the FO is less significant than the other slams and therefore not giving Nadal his credit. Let's look at his weakest performing slam AO. He's won it once but been to 3 finals. The 2 finals where he had lost he was the favorite to win and compare that to Sampras weakest surface FO best performance SF once. Not only did he never won it he's never made past the SF! Besides Nadals 9 FO he had 2 Wim 2 USO 1 AO and an Olympic gold on hardcourt. Thats 2 grass and 4 hardcourts. He is clearly the more all round and adaptable player with similar career success. I'll give Nadal the edge

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 6 weeks ago from Massachusetts

      I have Nadal at number 4? The reason being 9 of his Grand Slam titles have come at the French Open. In my opinion he needs a few more titles on other surfaces, perhaps then I will consider moving him up.

    • profile image

      Alex 6 weeks ago

      I do not understand why you have placed Sampras in at no.2 and Nadal at no.6. I am not a Nadal fan but I find it hard to comprehend how Nadal can fall 4 rankings lower than Sampras when in fact he has the same amount of grand slams (winning on every surface) has a gold medal, more master 1000 won, holds well against his greatest rivals head to head and still being an active player. The only things he may not fair well with Sampras are end of the year finals won and weeks at no.1 and that's because the he's playing in the same generation as the goat and Djokovic.

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      Gyalten Tashi 6 weeks ago

      Roger federer is the all time greatest tennis plyer in history

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      charliking 6 weeks ago

      Rafa the 6th!!! Are you kidding?? How can he be the 6th if we has a record against the 1st of 12-23 (+11) IN FAVOR? He is the second in number of GS being 5 years younger than Roger and only tied with Pete Sampras who have retired! There you lost all credibility...

    • profile image

      Salameh 7 weeks ago

      How could u put rafa in 6 !!?

      Rafa has more tittle than novak ni gr and the same with sampras ,, he is still 30 years old and has chance to win maybe 16 or 17 gs tittle , rafa deserve to be in the top 3 !

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      John 7 weeks ago

      Rafa 6th????are you kidding me??

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      Ram 7 weeks ago

      Roger The Greatest ever to play the sport

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      Miyaji 7 weeks ago

      Very nice article, congrata!

      It's funny that everyone who disagrees with Federer being The GOAT always use his matches against Nadal as a definitive proof...

      Well, Nadal has a negative retrospect against Davydenko and won almost only on clay... who is better?

      The Toro Miúra is the best player of all time on clay (but I dont know who would win a RG final against Borg or Kuerten)

      Roger Federer is without a doubt The best of all time!

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      Pierre 7 weeks ago

      We need to distinguish between the "best" and the "most successful" players. Federer is without a doubt the "best" player of the modern era. His grace, fluidity, power and precision is simply unmatched. It's a joy to watch him play. Rafa and Novak are much better "athletes" and this helped them get where they are today. I think Rafa's ranking is correct. First, he has a very defensive game (he's a human backboard) and second, he relies too much on his physical strength. Roger and Novak can win even though they are not 100% fit, Rafa can't.

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      Kevin 7 weeks ago

      Sorry but this list is disrespectful to Nadal. He should at least be top 3.

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      Anirvn 7 weeks ago

      no point comparing. but Roger is a GOD and Rafa is a mortal. Without Rafa, Roger wouldn't be the greatest of all era. and certainly Roger at his best was brought down to knees by Rafa. to me these 2 are the best i am going to see in my life time.

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