With the 2012 Australian Open just around the corner, tennis fans everywhere are reaching for their analyst caps and trying to predict a winner.
Countless factors will steer their opinions: health, age, present form, history, draws, even fashion and hairstyle.
One of the most important factors in these analyses is court surface. By now, we all know that Rafael Nadal prefers clay and Novak Djokovic likes the hard stuff—their records allow for no other conclusions.
The Australian Open is played on Plexicushion Prestige, a form of hard court.
And that's no surprise, is it? In today's tennis, hard court has become the norm, the default surface of the ATP.
Two of the four slams, six of the nine Masters 1000s and the World Tour Finals are played on hard courts.
Hard courts are so prevalent, in fact, that we've even started to sort tournaments and accomplishments according to type of hard court. There's indoor hard and outdoor hard; fast, medium and slow hard; low-bouncing hard and high-bouncing hard—and a million theories to go along with each.
But a glimpse at tennis history tells us that hard courts haven't dominated the sport for very long. In fact, there were no hard court majors before the 1978 U.S. Open, and the Australian Open was not a hard court tournament until 1988.
So with the Australian Open, generally considered a slower hard court tournament, just days away, we try to rank the top 15 hard-court players of all time, even if "all time" doesn't go as far back as we might have thought.