Where Andy Roddick Ranks Among the Top U.S. Men of All Time
Throughout the history of the game, there have been many U.S. champions who have won on both the amateur and professional stages.
For a long time, starting in the 1920s and extending through the 1960s, a player had to choose to be either amateur or professional. Without turning pro, the player could not win prize money.
This fissure divided the men's tour, ensuring that the best players did not face each other on the greatest tennis stages—mainly the four annual Grand Slam tournaments which remained strictly amateur.
That ended in 1968, when the "Open Era" in U.S. tennis swept the old system out. But it made comparing players across eras difficult because essentially some were playing in a system most do not comprehend today.
With the formation of the ATP, all players met on the same stage able to compete in all events, soon winning adequate prize money.
Throughout the years, before and after the Open Era, some U.S. champions changed the game with innovative approaches as well as humanitarian efforts off court. Some simply played the game more successfully than others of his era.
These factors entered into the this ranking of the top U.S. men of all time—including the recently retired Andy Roddick.
18. Michael Chang
Michael Chang was the youngest player ever to win a grand slam when he won the 1989 French Open at the age of 17. He defeated Stefan Edberg in a five-set final.
But most remember his epic five-set battle with Ivan Lendl in the fourth round. After winning that war, the young American advanced all the way to the championship match.
In 1996 Chang also reached the finals of the Australian Open and the U.S. Open losing to Boris Becker and Pete Sampras, respectively.
Chang had tremendous foot speed and remained tireless on court. Standing only 5’9, Chang often had to run for his life to keep pace with his taller competitors.
During his peak years, Chang remained in the top ten of men’s tennis.
His highest ranking was world No. 2, which he achieved in September of 1996.
17. Little Bill Johnson
“Little Bill” Johnston was a popular and very successful tennis player in the early days of the 20th century.
He was considered the best tennis player from the United States until “Big Bill” Tilden took over that spot and began to defeat Johnston regularly.
Johnston began playing tennis at a very young age—picking up a racket when he was just nine years old in 1903. He played tennis for the love of the game and turned down the chance offered to him to turn pro.
Often Johnston's slight frame and his frail health deceived opponents because Johnston possessed a wicked forehand, which was long considered the best of all time until Pancho Segura introduced the two-handed forehand into the game.
Tilden and Johnston battled it out in six U.S. Open Championships against each other with Tilden winning five of them.
Together they also secured seven consecutive U.S. Davis Cup Championships which remains a record today.
In addition to winning two U.S. Open Championships in 1915 and 1919, Johnston also won the Wimbledon trophy in 1923.
16. Frank Parker
Coming from humble beginnings in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Frank Parker won the U.S. Open in 1944 and 1945. He was the runner up in 1942 to Ted Schroeder and in 1947 to Jack Kramer.
He won his U.S. Open Championships while serving as a Sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Force.
Parker also won the French Open in 1948 and 1949, defeating Jaroslav Drobny in 1948 and Budge Patty in 1949. He reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1937.
What distinguished Frank Parker from other U.S. champions besides his multiple appearances and wins at the U.S. Open?
He is one of the few men in the history of the game who managed to win both the French Open and the U.S. Open during his career.
His career in tennis was a long one for that era lasting from 1933-1949.
Parker was well-known for his remarkable all-court game.
15. Bobby Riggs
Most who have heard of Bobby Riggs associate him with his “Battle of the Sexes” match against Billie Jean King back in 1973 when Riggs was 55 years of age.
His challenge to the heralded King led to much-needed favorable publicity for women’s tennis—especially after Billie Jean King won the match.
Prior to this big occasion, however, in the 1930s and 1940s, Bobby Riggs was ranked World No. 1 for three years.
He won the Wimbledon title in 1939 by defeating Elwood Cooke of the United States in five sets—having supposedly bet on himself to capture all three titles at Wimbledon that year. He did!
Riggs appeared in the the U.S. Open finals three consecutive years from 1939-1941.
He won the Championship in 1939, defeating Welby Van Horn and in 1941, by defeating Frank Kovacs. Riggs was the runner-up in 1940 to Don McNeil.
This colorful character was a great U.S. Open champion.
14. Stan Smith
Stan Smith enjoyed success in both singles and doubles on the men’s tour.
He played from 1972 until 1985 when Smith hung up his competitive racket.
While he played, he won two major championships—the U.S. Open in 1972 over Jan Kodes and the 1970 Australian Open, defeating Ilie Nastase.
Smith achieved the No. 1 ranking in 1972.
With his partner Bob Lutz, Smith won the U.S. Open doubles title four times in 1968, 1974, 1978, and 1980. The pair teamed to win the Australian Open in 1970.
Once he retired, Smith entered the coaching realm where he has exerted a great deal of influence in American tennis.
13. Tony Trabert
Tony Trabert played most of his tennis in the 1950s. He achieved the No. 1 ranking in 1955.
In fact, 1955 was Trabert’s greatest year on the tennis court, winning the French, Wimbledon and U.S. Championships.
At the French, Trabert was the defending champion having defeated Swede Arthur D. Larsen in 1954. In 1955 he defeated another Swede Sven Davidson 2-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2.
At Wimbledon in 1955 Trabert defeated Dane Kurt Nielsen 6-3, 7-5, 6-1.
At the U.S. Championships Trabert managed to win over Aussie Ken Rosewall in straight sets 9-7, 6-3, 6-3.
Previously in 1953, Trabert also won the U.S. title, defeating Vic Seixas 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.
Trabert’s loss to Ken Rosewall at the 1955 Australian Open semifinals kept him from having an opportunity to win a calendar year Grand Slam.
In 1955, Trabert won 18 tournaments, compiling a 106-7 record.
In total, Trabert won five Grand Slam singles titles and five Grand Slam doubles titles from 1950-1955.
After 1955 Trabert turned pro.
12. Jack Kramer
Jack Kramer won the U.S. Championships in 1946 and 1947, defeating fellow American Tom Brown in 1946 and another countryman, Frank Parker in 1947.
He also won the Wimbledon Championships in 1947, defeating Australian Thomas Brown.
He rose to the No. 1 ranking during the 1940s.
But it was outside the tennis courts that Kramer had the most impact on the game.
When the final page is written, Kramer probably did more for modern tennis than anyone living or dead.
Kramer fought hard to establish “Open” tennis for amateurs and professionals so that there was only one tour and the best tennis players met and played each other for equal prize money.
It took him until 1968 to usher in the “Open” era in tennis.
In the early days, once a player turned professional he could no longer compete at the slams. Very often the best players were absent from those important and historic events.
Kramer also was responsible for founding the ATP.
At 6'2," Kramer was one of the forefathers of the style of play that many modern players adopted—the serve and volley.
His powerful serve and his net play made many regard him as one the best tennis players ever on the men’s side of the game.
11. Andy Roddick
Former U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick began playing professional tennis in 2000 at age 18.
He won his only grand slam championship in 2003, defeating Juan Carlos Ferrero in the finals of the U.S. Open. He ascended to the No. 1 ranking in November of 2003.
Roddick also reached three finals at Wimbledon in 2004, 2005 and in 2009 where he lost each time to world No. 1 Roger Federer.
Perhaps Roddick’s greatest contribution to U.S. tennis came during his participation in Davis Cup competition where the big serving Roddick helped keep the U.S. competitive, starting in 2001.
The U.S. Davis Cup team enjoyed their biggest triumph in 2007 when they faced Russia in Portland, Oregon, with a team which had Roddick as its undisputed leader.
Roddick won the first point in the final and set the USA’s 32nd victory in the competition into motion. The match ended in a convincing 4-1 scoreline. Team USA had won the Davis Cup.
In total Roddick played in 45 matches in 25 ties—his record stands at 33-12.
Roddick emerged on the scene during a major paradigm shift in men's tennis. The glory of days of serve and volley tennis essentially died with Pete Sampras. The game of big serves and minimal strokes would end as technology enhanced rackets and the courts slowed.
Roddick's game was already fixed and suited his talents. Even though he worked tirelessly to improve his ground strokes and his movement, he never quite mastered them well enough after 2003 to reach to the top again.
But Roddick remained in the men's top ten for a over decade and kept tennis alive and kicking in the U.S.
10. Jim Courier
Current U.S. Davis Cup coach, Jim Courier is a former world No. 1 player who was born in Sanford, Florida.
Courier, who reached his peak in the early 1990s, played right-handed and employed a two-handed backhand.
A steady and thoughtful player, Courier became a rare American who excelled on the red clay at Stade Roland Garros.
A contemporary of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, Courier maximized his strengths and worked his way to the top of the men’s game.
He won the Australian Open twice in 1992-1993, defeating Stefan Edberg in both years.
Courier also won the French Open twice in 1991-1992, defeating Andre Agassi and Petr Korda, respectively.
During his career, Courier won 23 titles, and was ranked No. 1 for a total of 58 weeks.
Courier retired from tennis in 2000.
Now, besides coaching the Davis Cup team, Courier provides analysis and commentary on today's tennis scene.
9. Ellsworth Vines
Ellsworth Vines played tennis in the 1930s when he was ranked world No. 1 for four years.
As an amateur, Vines won the U.S. Open in 1931, defeating George Lott 7-9, 6-3, 9-7, 7-5. The 1931 Championship was played at the West Side Tennis Club on grass.
The following year, Vines won the U.S. title again—this time over famed Frenchman Henri Cochet 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
Just prior to the Open, Vines had captured the Wimbledon title in 1932, defeating Brit Bunny Austin in the final 6-4, 6-2, 6-0. He also reached the Wimbledon finals in 1933, losing to Aussie Jack Crawford.
Vines advanced to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in 1933; but he never played the French Open.
He also won five Pro-Slam tournaments in 1934, 1935, 1936, and 1939.
Vines was more than likely the most exotic and eccentric of all of the professional tennis players of his era.
He possessed unlimited talent, according to contemporaries and biographers, but he grew bored with tennis in his late twenties and retired to begin a career playing professional golf.
8. Arthur Ashe
Because of Arthur Ashe’s contribution to U.S. Tennis as well as his humanitarian ventures, the USTA named its center court in his honor—Arthur Ashe Stadium at Flushing Meadows.
Ashe held the No. 1 ranking and won the inaugural U.S. Open at the start of the men’s “Open Era” in tennis.
He defeated Tom Okker of the Netherlands in a hard-fought final 14-12, 5-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
Ashe also won the Australian Open in 1970 over Dick Crealy of Australia 6-4, 9-7, 6-2.
In a stunning upset, Ashe defeated Jimmy Connors in the final of the 1975 Wimbledon Championships, 6-1, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4. He won using superb strategy—never giving Connors any pace.
Ashe was instrumental in the formation of the ATP and fought hard for player equality in all nations where tennis was played.
Slowed by a heart condition, Ashe retired from tennis in 1980.
But his contributions to the game are well remembered at each and every U.S. Open.
7. Don Budge
Born in 1915, American Don Budge ascended to the No. 1 ranking, holding onto the top spot for five years.
He was the first man in tennis history to win a calendar year grand slam. He completed the sweep in 1938—winning the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals.
He did all of this while turning age 23 in June.
In fact, Budge won the U.S. Nationals in 1937 and 1938 and played in the finals in 1936, losing to Fred Perry 2-6, 6-2, 8-6, 1-6, 10-8.
In 1937 Budge defeated Gottfried von Cramm in the finals to win his first U.S. National Championships title (U.S. Open). The following year Budge defeated Gene Mako in the finals.
In all he played in the Open five times, winning twice, ending with a winning percentage of 88.46.
Budge also won Wimbledon in 1937 and 1938.
Like many of the greats of this era, once Budge turned professional, his participation in the slams ceased.
According to his contemporaries, Budge was one of the greatest of all time.
6. Pancho Gonzalez
Pancho Gonzalez made the most of his amazing skills on the tennis court.
Rising from poverty and largely self-taught, Gonzalez became one of the best tennis pros in the history of the game.
He was ranked as the top U.S. professional for an astounding eight years, winning 15 Pro-Slam titles.
Gonzalez won the U.S. Open in both 1948-1949. But he turned pro shortly after winning his second title at the West Side Tennis Club.
Gonzalez would not return to the any Grand Slam venue until the “Open Era” began in 1968. By then, Gonzalez had just turned 40 years of age.
At the French Open in 1968, Gonzalez reached the semifinals. He reached the fourth round at Wimbledon in 1969 as well as the third round at the Australian Open.
Gonzalez is largely regarded as the best of his era by his contemporaries and by many sports writers.
5. Andre Agassi
Andre Agassi appeared at the U.S. Open for 21 consecutive years with an 80.6 total winning percentage (79-19).
At age 16, in 1986 Agassi played his first U.S. Open. Twenty years later in 2006 at age 36, Agassi played his last. To the end Agassi remained a favorite of the New York crowds, who embraced this champion as they watched him mature.
His first U.S. Open victory came in 1994 as Agassi defeated German Michael Stich 6-1, 7-6, 7-5. Then in 1999, Agassi came out on top against fellow American Todd Martin 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2 in a thrilling five-set match, which Agassi refused to lose.
Agassi lost three times in finals to fellow American Pete Sampras in 1990, 1995, and 2002 when Sampras played his final match at the U.S. Open.
Agassi also lost in his final appearance against Roger Federer in 2005 when Federer won his second consecutive New York title.
Additionally, Agassi won the French Open in 1999 over Andrei Medvedev in five tense sets. Even more surprisingly, Agassi took the Wimbledon title in 1992 over Goran Ivanisevic—again in five sets.
Of course, Agassi won the Australian Open four times in 1995, 2000, 2001 and 2003. Plus he won a Gold Medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Agassi will always be remembered for his competitive spirit, his brilliant return game, and his aggressive ground strokes. He exemplified the American fighting spirit—the athlete who refused to quit.
His complicated professional life in tennis, moreover, mirrored the path of many young men who come to prominence in their sport before they have the maturity to deal with all the fame.
Despite his early mistakes, however, Agassi redeemed himself by reclaiming his sport and fighting to make it better by example.
4. John McEnroe
No one brought more on-court angst to the courts in Flushing Meadows than New Yorker, John McEnroe.
His flammable behavior fueled by his hot temper was either adored or abhorred by the fans who watched his meltdowns over line calls and umpire overrules.
Nonetheless, McEnroe was a champion who competed 16 times at the U.S. Open with an 84.6 winning percentage (66-12).
Johnny Mac played his first U.S. Open in 1977 and his last in 1992. He won four championships, three consecutively from 1979-1981 with another following in 1984.
In 1979 McEnroe defeated fellow New Yorker and best friend Vitas Gerulaitis in the final 7-5, 6-3, 6-3—for his first Grand Slam victory at age 20.
The task grew more difficult in 1980 when McEnroe faced Bjorn Borg in the final. The two countered for five grueling sets before McEnroe won 7-6, 6-1, 6-7, 5-7, 6-4.
At Wimbledon in 1980, just prior to the U.S. Open, McEnroe had lost a five-setter to Borg and felt he had something to prove.
In 1981 when McEnroe again faced Borg at the U.S. Open, the match was not nearly so competitive. But it turned out to be remarkable for another reason. When the Swede lost 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 to McEnroe—Borg walked away from professional tennis forever.
McEnroe returned to Flushing Meadows for his final U.S. Open title—in fact his final slam victory. He defeated Ivan Lendl 6-3, 6-4, 6-1.The following year Lendl would defeat McEnroe 7-6, 6-3, 6-4 for the title.
John McEnroe also won three Wimbledon titles to add to his four U.S. Open titles. He won in 1981, 1983 and 1984 at the All-England Club, defeating Borg, Chris Lewis, and finally Jimmy Connors.
Johnny Mac will always be remembered as one of the most colorful and explosive American players, who loved the rowdy crowds in New York.
3. Bill Tilden
Because of his later disgrace, Bill Tilden's amazing tennis triumphs too often remain buried in the past.
If it were not for Tilden's play during the 1920s, U.S. tennis would never have gained the popularity it achieved or, perhaps, never attracted the future talented players who came eagerly into the sport.
Tilden brought U.S. tennis to the world stage and made countries in Europe pay close attention to the Americans.
He was the first player from the U.S. to win Wimbledon. He would win three Wimbledon titles and the Brits grew to love the showy Tilden's attire and his lethal forehand.
Tilden was flamboyant, to say the least. Yet, perhaps, he was also one of the greatest ever to play the game from the United States—maybe from anywhere.
For 14 years, Tilden participated in what we call today the U.S. Open, seizing the title seven times. His winning percentage was fixed at 90.79.
Throughout his playing career on the grass at Forest Hills, Tilden won the U.S. Open consecutively for six years from 1920-1925. He won his last Open in 1929 but played his last tournament in 1930 when he ended his amateur career.
Though his life ended without honor and dignity, his tennis career should never be overlooked. He was one of the greatest U.S. Open champions to play the game.
2. Jimmy Connors
Jimmy Connors was around for so long that everyone in the U.S. knew who he was whether they followed tennis or not.
He appeared to them as a man driven to win at all odds—an everyday "Joe" just trying to survive. Connors often pumped himself up by imagining that everything and everybody was against him. That mindset helped him to become a force in tennis for many, many years.
Connors won five of his seven final appearances at the U.S. Open with an 85.2 total winning percentage (98-17).
Again, because he played so many years, Connors remains the only male player in the history of the Open to have won the title on three different surfaces—on grass, clay, and hard courts.
He won his first title in 1974 and his last in 1983. Connors played in 22 U.S. Opens starting in 1970 and ending in 1992 as he turned 40.
Jimbo loved playing in New York where he enjoyed his greatest successes. What he did not care for, however, was the lack of respect he detected from the American press when his career seemed down and out to them.
In 1974, Connors won three of the four majors, electing not to play at the French.
In his first U.S. Open final in 1974, he smacked down Ken Rosewall 6-1, 6-0, 6-1.
His next two wins in 1976 on clay and 1978 on hard courts came against another Connors arch-rival, Bjorn Borg.
Connors went on to win two more finals against another No. 1 player—Ivan Lendl in 1982 and 1983. Lendl was just beginning his climb to world prominence in the early 1980s.
"Jimbo" also lost two finals at the U.S. Open against Michael Orantes of Spain in 1975 and against Guillermo Vilas of Argentina in 1977.
Besides his wins at the U.S. Open, Connors won the Australian Open in 1974 and the Wimbledon Championships in 1974 and 1982.
Connors career extended from 1972 until 1996. He will always have a place in the hearts of Americans as one of their greatest players.
1. Pete Sampras
Although most fans associate Sampras' success with Wimbledon, his record at the U.S. Open is truly remarkable.
Sampras appeared in eight U.S. Open finals, winning five of them, ending with an 88.75 winning percentage (71-9).
In the Open Era, Sampras, with five championships, remains tied with Jimmy Connors and Roger Federer for the most victories at the U.S. Open.
Sampras played at the U.S. Open 14 times, beginning in 1988, missing only one appearance in 1999 due to injury.
Sampras won his first major title at age 19 and his last at age 31, both at the U.S. Open.
In 1990, Sampras captured his first win over Andre Agassi in straight sets 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. He won his second U.S. Open title in 1993 over France’s Cedric Pioline, seeded No. 15.
Sampras won back-to-back championships in 1995-1996, defeating fellow American Andre Agassi in 1995 followed by a win over Michael Chang in 1996.
The next U.S. Open title would not happen for six long years. 2002 marked Sampras' fifth and final U.S. Open. Standing across the net was the man he had beaten twice before for the title, Agassi. Sampras won that title 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.
In addition to winning the U.S. Open, Sampras won seven Wimbledon titles from 1993-2000, losing only once in the those years in 1996 to Richard Krajicek in the quarterfinals. He also won the Australian Open twice in 1994 and 1997.
In total, Sampras owns 14 Grand Slam titles in singles and was seeded world No. 1 for 286 weeks which remained the record until Roger Federer surpassed it in 2012.
There was no other American who achieved so much and held it for so long. Pete Sampras is one of the very best champions of U.S. tennis.
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