Ask any tennis fan to rank the top tennis players of all time, and you’re in for a lengthy debate.
It’s difficult to do based on stats alone because modern equipment, technology and training are different, some players excel on grass while others triumph on clay, and the Open era only started in 1968.
Still, we’re up for the challenge, so here’s our take on the greatest men’s tennis players of all time.
25. Andy Roddick
Andy Roddick was No. 1 on the junior tennis circuit before he turned pro in 2000. Roddick peaked early, ranking No. 1 in the world by the age of 21. He deserves a place in our top 25 for winning 32 singles titles, but his inconsistent performance and single Grand Slam win prevent him from going any higher.
24. Jim Courier
America had high hopes for Jim Courier in the early ’90s, and he didn’t disappoint. In 1991, he won the French Open and reached the U.S. Open final, and the following year he won the Australian Open and the French Open and secured the Davis Cup for the U.S. Throughout 1992 and 1993, he spent 58 weeks as the world No. 1 in men’s tennis.
23. Lleyton Hewitt
Lleyton Hewitt, world No. 1 in men’s tennis in 2001 and 2002 — he spent a total of 80 weeks at the top spot, the 10th most in the Open era — won 30 titles and two Grand Slams. The Australian was a savvy, versatile competitor who may not have been as popular in his heyday as he was later in his career, but he deserves credit for being part of a new wave of male tennis stars (and for making backwards caps on the court a thing).
22. Guillermo Vilas
Nicknamed the Young Bull of the Pampas, Argentine Guillermo Vilas brought personality and soul to the game in the ’70s — along with a weighty left-handed serve and unshakable powers of endurance, which were strongest on his favorite clay surface. 1977 was Vilas’ year. He won 17 events, including two Grand Slams and a record 46 straight wins.
21. Gustavo Kuerten
Gustavo Kuerten‘s career highlights include 20 titles, three Grand Slams (the French Open in 1997, 2000 and 2001) and a world No. 1 ranking in 2000. The brightly-clothed, heavy-hitting Brazilian retired in 2008 due to multiple hip surgeries, having made his mark on the history of tennis in more ways than one. Fans loved his love for the sport. He wore his heart on his sleeve and, on one occasion en route to winning his third French Open, he drew a heart in the clay with his racquet and laid down inside it.
20. Michael Chang
American Michael Chang won 34 titles during his career and one Grand Slam — the 1989 French Open when he was only 17. A speedy, intelligent, fiercely competitive player, Chang never reached the top world ranking, but he was No. 2 in 1996 and took his rightful place in the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2008.
19. Ilie Năstase
Two-time Grand Slam winner (the 1972 U.S. Open and the 1973 French Open) Ilie Năstase led Romania to its first Davis Cup final in 1969 and was the first player to be ranked No. 1 by the ATP’s new computer system in 1973. One of the sport’s most temperamental stars, he received one honor no other tennis player in history can claim — the Code of Conduct was created as a result of his behavior.
18. Andy Murray
If it wasn’t for the triple threat of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, Andy Murray would likely have more Grand Slam titles under his belt. Still, Scotland’s greatest tennis export has three, and at one point he was ranked No. 1 in the world. An ongoing injury forced Murray to announce his retirement after Wimbledon 2019.
17. Mats Wilander
Before Rafael Nadal came along, Mats Wilander was the only player to have won at least two Grand Slams on three different surfaces (grass, clay and hard court). In fact, he won seven in total. The Swede with the nimble feet was the world’s No. 1 in 1988, the year he won his third Australian Open singles title (defeating Pat Cash in the final). He also won the French Open final against Henri Leconte and beat Ivan Lendl for a Grand Slam win.
16. Stefan Edberg
One of the greats of the ’80s and ’90s, Stefan Edberg reached the finals for all four Grand Slams and also won twice at Wimbledon, twice at the U.S. Open and twice at the Australian Open. The Swedish star’s slow kick serve was his signature move; it bought him time to move forward into the perfect position for a winning volley.
15. John Newcombe
One of the few men to have secured a world No. 1 ranking in both singles and doubles, John Newcombe was a force to be reckoned with in tennis in the 1970s. The Australian player won 17 doubles titles and seven singles titles, partly due to the phenomenal speed at which he moved across the court and partly because he had one of the mightiest forehand volleys in the business.
14. Arthur Ashe
A highly respected figure on the 1960s and ’70s tennis circuit both at home in the U.S. and on the international stage, Arthur Ashe made history several times over. He was the first black player chosen for the United States Davis Cup team and, to date, he is the only black man ever to win the singles title at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open. Ashe died from AIDS-related pneumonia in February 1993 at age 49 and later that year was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton.
13. Boris Becker
Former world No. 1 Boris Becker still holds the record for being the youngest player to ever win the title at Wimbledon — he was an unseeded 17-year-old when he defeated Kevin Curren in 1985. That was the first of the German player’s six Grand Slams over his career, which also saw him win almost 77% of his individual matches. Most at ease on fast-playing surfaces like grass and indoor carpet, Becker never won a clay-court tournament.
12. Roy Emerson
Initially, Australian Roy Emerson had a successful tennis career as a doubles player, winning 16 titles, and his subsequent move into singles was almost as productive. He won 12 singles titles. The most impressive facet of Emerson’s illustrious career is the fact that he’s the only player in the sport’s history to have won all four Grand Slam championships in both doubles and singles play. Emerson’s adaptability on all surfaces led to his mass success. He prided himself on possessing tremendous endurance. This would then allow him to simply out-work opponents en route to victory.
11. Ken Rosewall
Despite being overshadowed by the likes of his fellow Aussie Rod Laver and only winning three Grand Slams, Ken Rosewall holds the record for the most major finals appearances (35 over his 25-year career). The world No. 1 player for many years in the early 1960s, he was ranked among the top 20 players, amateur or professional, every year from 1952 through 1977.
10. Jimmy Connors
One of the biggest tennis personalities of the ’70s, American Jimmy Connors brought egotism to the game. But his arrogance could be excused — his record speaks for itself. Over his long, prolific career, Connors won 1,256 matches (in the top five of the Open era), eight Grand Slams and 109 total titles, which more than warrants a place inside our top 10.
9. Andre Agassi
Part of the “Golden Age” of tennis players, denim-clad Andre Agassi‘s on-court prowess matched his heartthrob status. Success didn’t come early for the Las Vegas native, but his hard work paid off and he ended up being the first man since Rod Laver to win all four Grand Slams in one year. In 1996, Agassi won the men’s singles at the Atlanta Olympic Games.
8. John McEnroe
On-court histrionics aside, John McEnroe was a graceful volleyer and equally at home on clay as on grass. The U.S. left-hander (who was actually born in Germany) won 77 titles and seven Grand Slams and was the world No. 1 on 14 separate occasions between 1980 and 1985. Not many tennis players can say they have a catchphrase, but McEnroe coined the immortal phrase, “You cannot be serious!”
7. Ivan Lendl
Thirty years before he helped coach Andy Murray to his first two Grand Slam victories, Ivan Lendl was ranked the world No. 1. The Czech champ won eight Grand Slams himself, thrilling audiences with showdowns with the likes of Mat Wilander and John McEnroe. Lendl was a pioneer of a new approach to the game, making nutrition, weightlifting and early-morning aerobics crucial training components.
6. Bjorn Borg
There was so much more to Swedish great Bjorn Borg than his laidback character and cool style (both on and off the court). A two-handed backhand and monumental stride, for starters. During his 10-year career — he shocked the world when he retired at the age of 25 — Borg won 11 Grand Slams and an extraordinary 89.8% of his major matches.
5. Novak Djokovic
A dominant, efficient player with a magnificent backhand, Novak Djokovic has won 73 individual titles and 15 Grand Slams. He’s currently ranked No. 1 in the world, a position he also held in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015. 2019 is a crucial year for the Serbian national and it’s going very well so far — in April, he triumphed over his longtime rival Rafael Nadal to win the Australian Open.
4. Pete Sampras
American tennis player Pete Sampras, known for his mighty serve, was one of the greats of the ’90s, ranking the world No. 1 from 1993 to 1998. He won 64 individual titles and 14 Grand Slams during his professional career, which ended on a high when he beat longtime rival Andre Agassi to win the 2002 U.S. Open.
3. Rafael Nadal
Winning 80 titles and 17 Grand Slams over the course of his career — and at 32, he has a few years left on the court — puts Spaniard Rafael Nadal comfortably at No. 3 on our list. He has incredible power and speed, and if this was a ranking of the best clay court players of all time, he’d likely be in the top spot.
2. Rod Laver
Considered by many to be the greatest tennis player in history, Aussie Rod Laver (aka “The Rocket”) won 200 tournaments, the most in tennis history, plus 11 Grand Slams, and was No. 1 in the world from 1964 to 1970. To date, Laver remains the only player to have twice won all four Grand Slam singles tournaments during the same calendar year.
1. Roger Federer
You’ll struggle to find a better all-arounder on the men’s tennis scene than Roger Federer, the great rival of our No. 3, Rafael Nadal. Swiss national Federer, who is currently ranked at No. 1 in the world, has 101 titles to his name as well as 20 Grand Slams. In their ranking of the 50 best players of the Open era in tennis (1968 – 2018), Tennis magazine put Federer at the top of the men’s list.