Who is the GOAT of Men’s Tennis?

By Steve Tsilimos | Posted 7 months ago

Like most other sports, the debate for the greatest-of-all-time in men’s tennis comes down to three players. But tennis is special because the top three are still playing at a high level. This article could be slightly outdated in just a few weeks after Wimbledon finishes. The top three are so close that this list would change if one of the “Big Three” is hoisting the Gentleman’s Single Trophy (the one with a tinny pineapple on top) in a few weeks.

 

Tennis has changed drastically throughout the years. For example, the French monks' first version of the game used a wooden ball and the players hit it with a leather glove worn on their hand. The game developed and a lot has changed due to technology and the popularity of the sport over the last 100 years. 

 

In 1968 the Open Era of tennis began. That was the first year Grand Slam tournaments allowed professional players to compete with amateurs, ending the division that had persisted since the dawn of the modernsport in the 19th century. This is a list of the greatest men’s tennis players of all time (mostly in the Open Era), but let's go through and see who captures the top spot. 

Honorable Mention

Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, Ken Rosewall, Fred Perry, Ken Rosewall, Arthur Ashe, Mats Wilander, Boris Becker, and Stefan Edberg

No. 7 – Bjorn Borg 

• Turned pro: 1973
• Retired: 1983
• Career prize money: $3,655,751
• 101 career titles
• 11 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 6 French, 5 Wimbledon

 

Bjorn Borg’s 10-year career is by far the shortest of anyone on this list. He got his start as a pro at the age of 15 and retired when he was 26. In that short time, Borg dominated Wimbledon winning the tournament for five consecutive years from 1976-1980. The long-haired, blonde Swede was likable and remembered for his rivalry with John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. Borg was the first player of the modern era to win more than 10 majors and would most definitely be higher on this list if he did not retire during his prime.

No. 6 – Jimmy Connors

• 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

 

Jimmy Connors dominated the world of tennis in the 70s. Connors held the world’s no.1 ranking for a consecutive 160 weeks from 1974-77 and topped the ATP ranking for a total of 268 weeks throughout his 24-year career. Connors had one of the most dominant years in the sport in 1974. That year the American had a record of 99-4 and won all three Grand Slams he entered. Connors still holds the ATP record for most titles (109), most matches played (1,557) and most matches won (1274) in the Open Era. 

No. 5 – Pete Sampras

• 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

 

Pete Sampras was the supreme player of the 90s but his place among the greats is hard to decipher due to his lack of winning on clay. He only won three of the four Grand Slam events over his career. Even with his struggles on clay Sampras held the top-ranking position for a total of 286 weeks and achieved a year-end no.1 ranking for six consecutive years between 1993-1998. His dominance on the grass courts was unrivaled, which saw him clinch seven Wimbledon titles, a record later surpassed by Roger Federer. “Pistol Pete” also was a force on hard courts demonstrated by his two Australian Open titles and a joint-record five US Open titles (shared with Jimmy Connors and Roger Federer). 

No. 4 – Rod Laver

• 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

 

Rod Laver is the oldest player on this list and it is hard to tell how he would fare in today’s game, but I think the “Rocket” would be just fine. The red-haired Aussie was ranked No. 1 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. Laver would have probably won a few more if it was not for him being excluded from the Grand Slam tournaments during a five-year period in the mid-1960s. During the pre-open era, the Grand Slam tournaments were for amateurs only.

No. 3 – Roger Federer

• Turned pro: 1998
• Current active player
• Career prize money: $130,594,339
• 103 career titles
• 20 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 6 Australian, 1 French, 5 US Open, 8 Wimbledon

 

Not long ago, Roger Federer was an easy pick for the GOAT of men’s tennis, and there are still many die-hard Federer fans willing to argue for him. He captured the tennis world like no one before him, having won the ATP Fan’s Player of the Year award 18 years in a row between 2003 and 2020. His popularity came with his success, topping the ATP rankings for over four years (237 weeks) from 2004 to 2008. His 103 career titles rank second all-time in the Open Era behind Jimmy Connors. In 2017 he won a record eighth Wimbledon title and also shares the record for most US Open titles (5).

No. 2 – Rafael Nadal

• Turned pro: 2001
• Current active player
• Career prize money: $130,681,472
• 92 career titles
• 22 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 2 Australian, 14 French, 4 US Open, 2 Wimbledon
• 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist - Beijing Summer Olympics

 

Rafael Nadal was one of the most successful teenagers in the Open Era reaching the world No. 2 ranking at the age of just 19 after winning 16 titles including his first French Open title in 2005. With wins earlier this year at the Australian Open and French Open, the Spaniard became the men’s leader with 22 Grand Slam titles. Nadal won his 14th French Open earlier this year which most definitely cemented him as the “King of Clay.” He is also one of only two men to complete the Career Grand Slam (alongside Andre Agassi). A great finish to Nadal’s career could vault him to the top spot on this list but currently, he sits second. His numbers are a bit inflated due to his dominance on one surface and that is why he is number two. 

No. 1 – Novak Djokovic

• Turned pro: 2003
• Current active player
• Career prize money: $156,136,601
• 87 career titles
• 20 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 9 Australian, 6 Wimbledon, 3 US Open, 2 French Open

 

Novak Djokovic has a record 373 weeks ranked as No. 1and is tied for second with 20 Grand Slam titles. After his impressive victory over Federer in the 2021 French Open, the Serbian has won multiple Major titles on all surfaces. He proved he could beat the King of Clay on his surface and also owns the head-to-head record over Nadal and Federer. Furthermore, he is the first and only player to complete the Career Golden Masters, winning all nine of the Masters 1000 titles at least once. In fact, Djokovic holds the record for most Masters titles having won 36. In 2021 Djokovic was practically unbeatable and was on his way to his first calendar Grand Slam before a straight-set loss to Daniil Medvedev in the US Open. In 2015-2016 he won the non-calendar Grand Slam and held all four Slams at the same time. Out of the “Big Three,” Djokovic seems most likely to continue winning for years to come and further lock himself in as the GOAT.

 

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