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Top 10 Greatest Men's Tennis Players of All Time

Updated on July 16, 2017
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Bill has had a lifelong passion for the game of tennis from his days as a competitive youth player to now following the world's top players.

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. 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

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 behind Laver at the number four spot.

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. 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: $85,920,132
  • 73 career titles
  • 15 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 1 Australian, 10 French, 2 US Open, 2 Wimbledon
  • Current active player

Were it not for the recurring tendinitis in his knees and wrist injuries Rafael Nadal may well have a few more Grand Slam titles to his already impressive resume. At 31 years of age, the fiery Spaniard, known as Rafa and “The King of Clay,” already has 15 Grand Slam titles and certainly has the potential to catch Roger Federer. Rafael is regarded as the greatest clay court player of all-time, although fans of Bjorn Borg may dispute this claim. His record 10th French Open title (2017) certainly makes it difficult to imagine anyone being better on clay.

Rafa has clearly put the wrist injury problems of 2016 behind him and is on a roll and sharp as ever. Now healthy, his epic final against Roger Federer at the 2017 Australian Open and his completely dominating performance in winning the 2017 French Open make it very clear that Rafa is the best player in the world at the moment. While it is difficult to draw comparisons of players from different generations I think Nadal has proven that he deserves to be considered among the best to ever grace the courts and as such we have elevated his all-time ranking.

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: $107,299,486
  • 93 career titles
  • 19 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 5 Australian, 1 French, 5 US Open, 8 Wimbledon
  • Current active player

It’s hard not to select Roger Federer as the greatest of all time. His record 19 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 and his dominating performance at the 2017 Wimbledon Championship prove 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

Comments

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    • profile image

      Sanjay HUBBALLI(India-Pune) 43 hours ago

      Roger Federer MAN WITH GREAT CHARECTER.

      You are going great, example is 2017 Wimbledon Result!!!

      Keep on playing till you reach 50 years.

      Believe me you can do it.

      Good luck!!!!

    • profile image

      starman445 2 days ago

      "WHAT IFS" don't cut it.....Actual stats, facts, numbers, and big wins are what we can objectively analyze. Yes, Rod Laver MAY HAVE won more slam titles if he were allowed to play the slams as a professional. Yes Borg may MAY HAVE won more slams if he hadn't retired retired at 26...Those are strong educated guesses but not absolutes. All we can do is be honest evaluating the comparative numbers of what each great player ACTUALLY accomplished during their respective careers.....The author did just that.

    • profile image

      starman445 2 days ago

      This is an excellent list from top to bottom, unbiased and very fair based on performance....Good Job!

    • profile image

      Jack 3 days ago

      I think Roy Emerson deserves a spot on this list.

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      Rohan Gupta 4 days ago

      @Mabrito67

      lets not forget the other Hard Court Major...The US Open. You just said that Djokovic won more Australian Opens than Federer, but Federer won more US and Australian Opens combined than any other player. While I agree that Federer may not dominate a specific surface, his longevity and number of Grand Slams won is significantly better than any of his competition. Tennis isn't about one match. It's a whole journey in a tournament. And Federer has clearly had a better major performance than Nadal. So Nadal may be the king of clay, Federer is now the undisputed king of grass thanks to his wimbledon win, and also has won more hard court majors than any other player, making him the best hard court player as well. Let's face it: FEDS THE GOAT

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      Mitz 4 days ago

      FEDERER easily. Yes Nadal has won their head to head but until he spends 5 years ranked #1 and wins more slams, Nadal cant be considered the GOAT. At nearly 36, Federer is still winning slams and playing the best tennis of his career. Nadal is a great athlete but he has to be second in my books. Wimbledon 2017 just proves my argument. Not to mention Federer has won 4 or 5 of his last meetings with Rafa, so the head to head is swinging slowly in Roger's favour

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      niki 5 days ago

      How is this even a discussion? Laver by a mile.

    • profile image

      John Elliott 6 days ago

      Roger Federer is the greatest player of all time,no one can comes

      close to his ability to place shots his opponent can't touch.

    • profile image

      piru 7 days ago

      Pete Sampras is the best tennis player ever because he danced when he was playing. had an artistic style and looked like he's flying while runing cathching his ball

    • profile image

      Evert ten Napel 8 days ago

      Missing Richard Krajicek, Pete Sampras VS Richard Krajicek head2head 6-4 so Richard was a better player then Pete Sampras. My list

      1 Roger Federer

      2 John McEnroe

      3 Stefan Edberg

      4 Boris Becker

      5 Novak Djokovic

      6 Richard Krajicek

      7 Andre Agassi

      8 Fabrice Santoro

      9 Pat Cash

      10 Goran Ivanišević

    • profile image

      Mahboob 9 days ago

      Surprising to see people doubting Federer's superiority here. Most of them missing the point is he is 5 years older than Nadal & 7 of Novak - at their prime, Roger was a different also. His record in French is relatively poor only because of cutting the path with the by far best ever Clay Court player. Without Rafa, Roger would have won at least 6 more French.

      His W/L ratio in Grand Slam is relatively poor because of long career of almost 2 decades. Overall, his consistency in every type of Court is unparalleled. Apart from age gap, another reason for his poor head to head with Rafa is that most tournaments these days are played on Clay & there is no doubt that Rafa is by far the best clay court player against anyone. If these 2 existed may be 50 years back, this head to head would have been even more skewed to Roger.

      All 3 are outstanding all round players, but Roger is the all round player & great to watch.

      My top 4 will be, in order

      Roger

      Rafa

      Novak

      Lever

      For 5th spot, Borg, Sampras, Lendel has to fight it out, because they don't hold a career grand slam.

      PS: Game has changed lot since Lever era, therefore it's unfair to compare players of different era. Personally, I don't think any player from early 70s or before would have survived modern power tennis, but he is true legend of the game.

    • profile image

      Ven 9 days ago

      @Michael Hogan Please don't offer an excuse of Borg having a shorter career. He is great no doubt but Federer and Nadal are greater and their Grand Slam titles back this up.

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      Michael Hogan 2 weeks ago

      Borg had a shorter career than most and would defeat all on this list with losses here and there to Federer or Nadal or whomever but he should be listed as number one. His win/entered ratio is greater and he was second many, many times.

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      ur face 2 weeks ago

      where on earth is andy murray

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      mabrito67 2 weeks ago

      @William "Federer is the GOAT of Hard Courts and Grass Courts" Did you ever hear of Djokovic and Sampras? Djokovic has more Australian Open than Federer. And Sampras has exactly the same number of Wimbledon titles than Federer: 7. Finals are not so relevant as titles. Federer needs to win his 8th Wimbledon to be considered the undisputable "King of Grass". Also, Federer doesn't even dominate any Grand Slam like Rafa.

      Record Winning percentage by Grand Slam:

      A. Open: Andre Agassi 90.57 %

      French Open: Nadal 97.53%

      Wimbledon: Borg 92.73%

      US Open: Sampras 88.75%

      Federer doesn't dominate any surface as Nadal does, he doesn't even stand alone in titles on any Grand Slam.

    • profile image

      mabrito67 2 weeks ago

      Nadal is the only player in history along with Wilander who has won at least 2 Grand Slam titles on 3 different surfaces (grass, hard and clay). Federer only has won 5% of his Grand Slams on clay. Nadal doesn't have such a low percentage on any Grand Slam surface.

      Nadal has defeated Federer on hard courts and grass on Grand Slams such as Australian Open and Wimbledon. Federer never won any single French Open match against Rafa in his whole life. Federer leads Nadal in the head to head only by 10-9 on hard surfaces and 2-1 on grass for a total of 12-10 outside clay. That 12-10 is very close. Nadal even leads Federer 8-5 in outdoor hard courts, a particular version of hard courts. On the other hand, Nadal leads Federer 13-2 on clay, that's not close, that's domination. Nadal is better on hard courts and grass than Federer on clay. Ergo Nadal is the most complete player ever. Federer is the GOAT because of his 18 Grand Slams, not for being the most complete. Federer only has 1 of his 18 Grand Slams on clay. Federer would need at least another French Open to be so complete as Nadal.

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      Kevon 2 weeks ago

      How can people say nadal is the goat he is top 3 probably but from 2012 to 2017 when he was aged 26 to 31 he had not made it past the fourth round

      2012 he lost to Rosol 2R ranked 103

      2013 he lost to Darcis 1R ranked 135

      2014 he lost to Kyrgois 4R ranked 144

      2015 he lost to Brown 2R ranked 114

      this was through nadals prime all outside the top 100 in rankings

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      2 weeks ago

      If u take out French open grand slams for rafa he would have 5 grand slams

      If u take out wimbledon for federer he would have 11 grand slams

      If u took out aus open for djokovic he would only have 6 grand slams federer is the goat over all surfaces

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      William 2 weeks ago

      Federer is the GOAT of Hard Courts and Grass Courts

      Nadal is the GOAT of Clay Courts

      Sampras only made 1 French Open Semi no way is he the GOAT

      Laver did the Year Grand Slam twice

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      harry 3 weeks ago

      once again the poll just goes to show people have only have a very short memory. dont bother voting for anyone with ridiculously good stats. i dont see why john mcenroe is even in there, I suppose people remember him well because he whinged so much on court.

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