TOP 20: Best Tennis Players of All Time

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TOP 20: Best Tennis Players of All Time

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Last Updated on July 12, 2022 by inckredible

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In 2021, Djokovic conquered the Singles title at the Wimbledon Grand Slam. He has now equaled the record of the most Singles title jointly held by Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

That has once again prompted debates among tennis fans around the world about who among them is the greatest. Determining something like this is easier said than done. The game, after all, has produced some magnificent champions since the advent of Grand Slams in 1877, and more so in the tennis’ Open era.

Since the Open era, i.e., 1968, many great players have graced the game of tennis. This makes it harder to compile a list of the greatest all-time players. 

But that hasn’t stopped fans from making their own lists. There are many limitations to this endeavor, though. 

Things like modernization, players belonging to different eras, change in rules etc., combine together to make it impossible to arrive at an objective agreement regarding who the greatest players are. 

Despite the limitations, here is our list of the 20 Best Tennis Players Of All Time, both men and women.

20 Best Tennis Players of All Time:

20. Martina Hingis

Before Federer had come into the scene, there was Martina from Switzerland. She was the first Swiss player, male or female, to win a Grand Slam and attain the World’s No.1 rank. 

An early bloomer, Martina set a series of records during the 90s. Martina was also the youngest Grand Slam winner (Doubles) and youngest World No.1. 

She was an all-court player known for having superior movement and great shot selection. 

She won 5 Singles and 13 Doubles Grand Slam titles, establishing herself as one among the greats. 

19. Justine Henin

Justine, along with her compatriot Kim Clijsters, helped establish Belgium’s reputation in women’s tennis. Known for her athleticism, Henin dominated the world of women’s tennis during the mid-2000s and won seven Singles Grand Slam titles.

Known for possessing a complete game, Henin had little to no weakness. Her playing style often drew comparisons to Roger Federer, so much so that Navratilova once called her “Female Federer.” 

One distinct style of her play was the use of single-handed backhand, one of the few female players to do so. Injuries prompted her to retire abruptly in 2008. 

A brief comeback in 2010 followed, but she retired again for good in early 2011. 

18. Andre Agassi

Agassi’s “rock star” looks were such that it was hard to take him seriously when he first entered the tennis scene. But victory at Wimbledon in 1992 at the tender age of 22 silenced all those who doubted him. 

This victory was all the more special because he had to overcome the likes of Becker and McEnroe, tennis greats who were at their prime. He had the nickname “The Punisher” for having amazing groundstrokes and returns of serve. 

Altogether he won 8 Singles Grand Slams titles and remained the most recent American to win the Australian (2003) and French Open (1999). Agassi suffered from multiple injuries, which made him retire in 2006 after a disappointing exit at the US Opens.

17. Venus Williams 

The older of the Williams’ sisters, Venus was a force to reckon with, especially during the early 2000s. She was the first African-American player to attain the world number 1 ranking in the Open era. 

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Possessing an aggressive play style and power, she was an all-court player who was famous for having an elegant style of play. Venus preferred playing on grass, and her 5 Wimbledon Singles titles are a testament to that fact.

Aside from that, she conquered two US Open titles. And if not for her injuries, she may well have had more titles. 

Regardless, she is and will continue to remain as one of the all-time greats. 

16. John McEnroe

Every so often comes a sports star who’s known for his personality as much as his talents, and McEnroe was precisely that. Notorious for his tempers and tantrums, McEnroe was a competitive player who was one of the best. 

Master of the fast surfaces, he was famously known for having excellent shot-making and deft volleys. His professional on-court rivalries with both Jimmy Connor and Bjorn Borg were a feast to watch. 

Aside from winning 7 Singles Grand Slams titles, McEnroe remains the record holder of most men titles, Singles and doubles combined. McEnroe won the US Open four times and the Championship Wimbledon thrice. 

15. Monica Seles

Monica’s glittering career is often overshadowed by the unfortunate on-court attack on her in 1993. And if it wasn’t for this incident, she certainly would’ve had more titles to her name. 

Although she did return and win the Australian Open in 1996, she was never the same again. Regardless, Seles won 9 Grand Slam titles during her short career, the first (French Open) coming at the age of 16. 

She was a baseline player known for having an aggressive game, combined with strong serves and mental toughness. 

14. Jimmy Connors

Connors dominated the game of tennis during the 70s like no other. 1974, in particular, is fondly remembered as the year he established himself. 

He won 3 Singles Grand Slams titles that year and became the only second person in the Open era to do so. 

If not for getting banned from playing the French Open that year, Connors could’ve won 4 Singles titles that calendar year. Nonetheless, Connors won 8 Grand Slam titles in his career and held the world’s no 1 spot for a consecutive 160 weeks. 

It was only three decades later that Roger Federer broke this record. Interestingly, Connors still holds the record for most ATP tour titles in the world.

13. Ivan Lendel

In the 1980s, when McEnroe and Connors were dominating the game, Lendel established himself as the player to beat on tours. Known for having a quiet demeanor, Lendel turned his aggressive best on the court.

He ushered in a new playing style, one which centered on the forehand. He had powerful groundstrokes. This he combined with a topspin forehand and professional diet, which helped him overcome his opponents with ease. 

Lendel’s also credited with popularizing the now common style of baseline tennis centered on power and aggression. In total, Lendel collected 11 Grand Slams titles; 3 US Open, 3 French and 2 Australian Open.

12. Billie Jean King 

Many consider King to be not just one of the tennis greats but also among the greatest sportspersons ever. 

With a mere height of 1.64m, King is the shortest player ever to win a Grand Slam title. And she won 12 of these titles and dominated the sport during the later 60s and early 70s. 

And who could forget the weird “Battle of Sexes” in 1974 when King defeated a 55-year-old Bobby Riggs? 

Aside from being an aggressive player with excellent speed, King was famous for having a champion’s attitude. Outside of the sport, King is well known for being an advocate of gender equality and social justice.

11. Bjorn Borg

Despite having a relatively short career, Borg has cemented his place among the tennis greats. Before retiring at the young age of 26, Borg amassed 11 Grand Slam titles. 

In fact, he was the first player in the Open era to win 10 Singles Grand Slams. Nicknamed the “Ice-Man,” Borg was famous for his calm court demeanor, which was in contrast to many of his contemporaries’ tempers. 

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He was a baseline player who possessed powerful groundstrokes and dominated on the grass courts of Wimbledon. He won 5 consecutive Wimbledon titles from 1976 to 1980. Had he not retired while evidently in his prime, Borg could’ve collected way more titles. 

10. Pete Sampras

Pete was one of the greatest of all time. There’s no doubt about that. 

But tennis fans also know how badly he failed on clay courts. He won the other three Grand Slam titles but could never win the French Open. 

Despite this obvious weakness, Pete was a world no. 1 player during the peak of his career. Nicknamed “Pistol Pete” for his powerful serves, he was an all-court player who relied on chip-and-charge strategy. 

In an era when powerful baseline play dominated style, Pete stood out for his movements and athleticism. He won 14 Grand Slam titles in total.

9. Rod Laver

Although the majority of Laver’s career spanned before the Open era, no tennis list would be complete without him. 

That’s not only because of his accomplishment as a player but also keeping in mind the important place he holds in history. 

Laver successfully moved from the amateur to professional (Open) era and won all four Grand Slam titles in a calendar year. He had achieved this feat twice, one in 1962 and 1969; the latter remains a record among the male players. 

His playing style centered on serve-and-volley, accentuated by powerful groundstrokes. Rod won a total of 11 Grand Slam titles. 

8. Chris Evert

Evert came into the scene and revolutionized the game. She was perhaps the first-ever player to play exclusively from the baseline. 

Known for consistency and powerful counterpunching game, she only approached the net to recover short balls. Her playing style was best complemented on clay courts; 7 French Open titles bear witness to that fact. 

She dominated the game throughout the 80s and managed to win 18 Grand Slam titles in total. She holds the record for most Grand Slam Final appearances at 34. She also has the distinction of maintaining a record career-winning percentage of over 90. 

7. Margaret Court

Court just might be the most important player in women’s tennis. Her 24 career Grand Slam titles are still the most by any player, men and women, and spans both pre and post Open eras. 

She was also the first woman player in the Open era to win all four Grand Slam titles in a calendar year in 1970. 

She was tall and agile and was famous for her strong overhead shots. Her incorporation of fitness training was something never seen before, and it helped prolong her career. 

One reason why she’s lower on our list is that the majority of her career happened before the Open era. But the fact remains that she is probably the best player of all time.

6. Martina Navratilova

Widely considered by many to be the greatest, Navratilova dominated the game from the late 70s and throughout the 80s. Her 18 Grand Slam titles include a record nine Wimbledon Championships. 

Like Margaret Court, Navratilova revolutionized the game by her emphasis on the training regime. 

She particularly was fond of cross-training. With regards to her style, she employed an attacking serve-and-volley play style. 

Besides her illustrious Singles career, Navratilova was an accomplished doubles player. 

She won a record 31 Grand Slam Doubles titles and 10 Mixed Doubles Titles. Undoubtedly, she was among the fiercest and most competitive players to ever grace the tennis court.

5. Steffi Graf 

One of Graf’s notable qualities was her versatility across all surfaces. She dominated the sport throughout the 80s and 90s and remained the world no. 1 for a record 377 weeks. 

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She was best known for her consistency, intricate footwork and powerful forehand. 

Graf won 22 Singles Grand Slam titles. That also includes a Golden Slam when in 1988, she won all 4 Grand Slams in the calendar year along with an Olympic Gold.

She retired rather prematurely at the age of 30 while ranked world no 3. Were it not for Serene Williams’ prolonged career; Graf might just have been the undisputed greatest of all time.

4. Rafael Nadal

At the age of 35, Nadal has won a record 20 career Grand Slam titles. The undisputed King of Clay, Nadal has won 13 French Open titles, the most by any player. 

Known for his work ethic and mental strength, Nadal is a left-handed, behind-the-baseline player. 

He is most noted for possessing an unmatched forehand, with which he hit topspin groundstrokes. Nadal’s also known for tenacious court coverage, aggressive footwork and powerful counterpunch. 

Were it not for recurring injuries, Nadal certainly would have had more titles to his name. Nevertheless, he continues to play at the highest level, most recently winning the French Open in 2020.

3. Serena Williams 

Serena has won 23 career Grand Slam titles, one behind Margaret Cousin. She currently holds the record for most titles by any player, male or female, in the Open era. 

Known for her powerful game, Serena is an aggressive baseliner player. Her playing style centers on fast pace serve and forceful groundstrokes. Because of her technical skills and athleticism, many consider her to be the complete female player. 

Although she personally prefers clay surfaces, her competence on grass and harder courts are second to none. 

She has, after all, won 7 Australian Open and Wimbledon Championship, respectively. Her longevity at the highest level definitely makes a case for her being crowned the greatest among the women.

2. Novak Djokovic

With 20 Grand Slam titles and a record 340 weeks ranked no. 1, Djokovic makes a great case for the greatest. Known for having the best service return, Djokovic is a complete player. 

He combines his aggression with tenacious movement and a powerful backhand. Interestingly, it was him and not Nadal who was the first ever to defeat Federer at all four Grand Slams. 

Besides, his recent victory over Nadal in the French Open 2021 makes a definite statement that he can defeat him in his own backyard. And by winning the title, he became the only male player in the Open era to achieve a career in Grand Slam twice.

1. Roger Federer

Although currently ranked world no. 9, there was a time when Federer was the undisputed best. His 20 Grand Slam titles and 310 weeks of ranking world no.1 are testaments to his greatness and ability. 

An all-around player, Federer is most noted for his speed, single-handed backhand, fluid movement and grace. Also noted for his calm on-court demeanor, Federer’s most recent victory came at the Australian Open in 2018. 

And though he’s way past his prime now, his presence at the highest level at the age of 40 makes it hard not to give consideration to his claim for being the greatest of all time. 

Conclusion 

With that, we conclude our list of the 20 Best Tennis Players Of All Time. 

Like said before, it’s obviously impossible to arrive at an objective understanding of the greatest. And that, some level of bias and personal preferences are bound to play a part in such rankings. 

Nevertheless, our list is as comprehensive as possible. It takes into account not just titles won but also the impact a player has had on the sport in general.

Debates are bound to occur, but none can deny that we are lucky to witness an era of the three greatest ever in Nadal, Djokovic and Federer.

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