Roger Federer and the Most Durable Athletes in Tennis History

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistJuly 2, 2012

Roger Federer and the Most Durable Athletes in Tennis History

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    When you think of greatness in athletes, you have to think about the longevity as much as anything. Being dominant once is hard enough, but doing it over a long, sustained period of time is something only the very best can do. 

    At times, we can get lost in the moment that we don't take a step back to appreciate how great a player is/was/has been throughout their career. 

    Tennis is a sport that does not lend itself to being great for a long period of time. As the game has evolved, we see more and more upsets because the talent pool is so closely bunched together. There are clear standouts, though they have had small stretches where they did not look like themselves. 

    Since we are approaching the end of Wimbledon, tennis' signature event, what better time to look back at some of the players who have proven their greatness by having sustainable and durable careers in the sport. 

    Here is a look at the most durable athletes in tennis history. 

Roger Federer

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    Notable Career Stats

    285 Weeks as No. 1 Player

    16 Career Grand Slam Wins

    74 Singles Championships

     

    Federer may not be the player that he once was, but at his peak (2004-2009), there was no one in the sport who could touch him. The clay court at the French Open gave him problems, though he was able to conquer that demon in 2009. 

    Starting his career in 1998, Federer has had one of the great careers in the history of all sports. To me, the more impressive thing than his 16 career grand slam singles titles is the fact that he has played in 23 grand slam finals. 

    Ignore what Federer is now and appreciate what he brought to the game in his prime. He helped make the transition from the Sampras-Agassi era much easier for fans of the sport who wondered what would happen to it. 

Pete Sampras

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    Notable Career Stats

    14 Grand Slam Titles

    64 Singles Championships

    Five-Time U.S. Open Winner

     

    For virtually all of the 1990s, men's tennis was all about two men: Sampras and Andre Agassi. While the latter had stretches of inconsistency, Sampras put together one of the best, most consistent runs of any athlete during the decade. 

    Again, this whole thing comes down to durability. Sampras was very durable and kept his performance at an elite level for so long. He would have gone down as the best men's player of the last 25 years if not for Federer. 

    It has been a decade since we last saw Sampras win a grand slam—fittingly, it was against Agassi in the U.S. Open—but his legacy and impact on the game can be felt whenever you see players like Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic on the court. 

Jimmy Connors

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    Notable Career Stats

    268 Weeks as No. 1 Ranked Player

    109 Career Singles Titles

    1242 Career Match Wins

     

    Arguably the greatest male tennis player in the history of the sport, the only thing that hurts Connors' argument is that he was never able to win the French Open. Even more remarkable is the fact he never played in a French Open final. 

    Even without the clay court title on his resume, Connors has arguably the best resume in the history of the sport. Winning 1,242 matches and 109 titles in your career should speak for itself, but here is some perspective on that:

    Most match wins at Wimbledon (84) and U.S. Open (97)

    Grass court wins (106)

    There are an endless list of records that we could go on and on about with Connors. His dominance from 1973-1991 is as impressive as any run for any individual in any sport. 

Ivan Lendl

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    Notable Career Stats

    94 Career Singles Titles

    Three-Time U.S. Open and French Open Champion

     

    Lendl could have been a transitional player on the ATP Tour. He came along at a time when Connors was still playing at a high level in the mid-1980s and Sampras was getting ready to do his thing in the early-90s. 

    Instead, Lendl decided that he was going to put his name right alongside Connors and Sampras. His three-year run from 1985-1987 was as good as any one player in the history of tennis, with five grand slam titles, eight grand slam finals appearances and 10 grand slam semifinal appearances. 

    He was so much more than just a three-year wonder. With 94 victories in his career, Lendl only trails Connors in career ATP wins. His name deserves to be put alongside Connors and Sampras in tennis history. 

Martina Navratilova

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    Notable Career Stats

    18 Grand Slam Singles Championships

    1,442-219 Singles Record

    31 Doubles Championships

     

    As great as Connors, Federer, Sampras and Lendl are, there is no tennis player, male or female, who can match Navratilova's career. She had the longevity and peak dominance. Her numbers are video game-esque. 

    With 49 career Grand Slam championships on her mantle—singles and doubles combined—she laps the field. Her career winning percentage of 86.8 is too good to be true. 

    Superlatives don't do Navratilova justice. Even if she did nothing as a singles competitor, she would have been a Hall of Famer. 

Billie Jean King

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    Notable Career Stats

    12 Grand Slam Singles Titles

    Six Non-Consecutive Years As No. 1 Ranked Player

    Battle of the Sexes (def. Bobby Riggs)

     

    As far as an ambassador for women's tennis, you would be hard pressed to find a better name that Billie Jean King. Everyone knows what she did in the Battle of the Sexes against Bobby Riggs in 1973, but her actual career deserves to be recognized. 

    King was not just a one-trick pony. She built a legendary career by winning 12 Grand Slam championships and playing in 18 finals from 1963-1975. She won 129 career titles, including 84 in the Open Era. 

    So the next time you think of Billie Jean King, it is important to remember the Battle of the Sexes, but remember that she was so much more than just that one magical day. 

Steffi Graf

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    Notable Career Stats

    107 Career Singles Championships

    900-115 Career Record In Singles Matches

    22 Grand Slam Singles Championships

     

    What better way to end than with arguably the best male or female tennis player of the last 25 years? I know I have said that with a couple of players already, but Graf boasts a better resume than any of them. 

    In 1988, she became just the third female tennis player in history to win the calendar year Grand Slam. Graf's 17-year career was as good as you will find in sports; again, something that has been said before with other players, but nonetheless true. 

    Her 22-9 record in Grand Slam finals is spectacular. Graf was always at her best in the biggest events, while at the same time never giving less than her best in the non-majors. As great as Venus and Serena Williams were at their peak, they couldn't hold a candle to what Graf accomplished in her career.