The Ten Greatest Single Seasons in Men's Tennis

Sergey ZikovSenior Analyst IApril 19, 2009

Jul 1981:  John McEnroe of the USA serves during his match against Bjorn Borg in the finals of the 1981 Lawn Tennis Championships at the All-England Club in Wimbledon, England.  McEnroe won the match 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Tony Duffy  /Alls

In the world of competitive sports, there are players who have great careers and then there are awe-inspiring single season performances. Here are my Top Ten greatest seasons in Men's Tennis.

Being the mathematician, I have devised a formula that will help rate seasonal performances. I will tell you this - if you do not care how these great seasons are rated, then please skip this next section and continue down the page for the rankings.

Now let me explain.

For the first part of the formula, it involved wins and losses over a season. I gathered four statistics here - matches played, wins, losses, and winning percentage. In order to calculate the component here, the formula goes as such.

(Wins * 2 - Losses * 0.5) / Matches Played

Explanation: First, I multiply wins by two to reward players who have won more matches. Subtracting a small amount for losses is a way to balance that out. Then to finish, divide by the matches played to get a Quality Win total (call QW)

The second part is fairly simple, involving tournaments. We need three statistics here, tournaments won, tournaments lost, and tournaments played. Simple enough, right? The formula is also very similar to the first.

(Tournament Wins * 3 - Tournament Losses * 0.25) / Tournaments Played

Explanation: Essentially the same as the first, I wanted to reward players who won more calendar year tournaments. Losses in this case (failure to win the tournament) were not penalized very heavily, while wins were.

The third part is insanely easy. It only involves Slams. I recorded the number of Slams won in a calendar year, and also needed the number for tournaments won from the last section

Slams Won / Possible Slams

Explanation: This is easy. It's just a ratio of how many Slams a player has won in relation to possible slams. The players who have more Slams in a calendar year will score higher here, obviously. The max score is 1.00 (if a player wins all four, then three slams won would be 0.75, etc.)

Last component involves how much a player dominated the competition. You might ask yourself, how do you calculate that? The easiest way I thought, was to find a game winning percentage for the season. A little tedious, but highly rewarding. This needed three statistics, simply games won, games lost and total games played. All I'm looking for is a winning percent.

Total Games Won / Total Games Played

Explanation: This one sells itself. Just calculate winning percentage as prescribed by your physician.

Almost done. Now to find a total player rating over a season, you take each one of those four statistics and add them together to get a value. For presentations' sake, I took this value and multiplied by 10, just to inflate them a bit. Trust me, it will help in the long run.

Fair enough, yes? Now let's get to it, working backwards of course.

Honorable Mention: Thomas Muster (1995)

Record: 86-18, 12 Tournaments Won, 1 Slam, 58.4 Game Winning Percent

Rating: 35.96

The Musterminator had a terrific season, but unluckily for him, ten men had better ones. He won his lone Slam title that season, the French. 

10. Ilie Nastase (1973)

Record: 118-15, 14 Tournaments Won, 1 Slam, 60.7 Game Winning Percent

Rating: 38.41

Ilie started out a bit sluggish, not winning his first tournament of the year until mid-April. But once he got started, it was off to the races. He won the Monte Carlo tournament without dropping a set then beat Adriano Panatta twice in a row for clay titles.

His crowning performance was at Roland Garros, where he ran through the field with ease before annihilating clay court specialist Manuel Orantes 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 in the final. And you thought Nadal gave it to Federer bad last year.

9. Mats Wilander (1988)

Record: 51-9, 6 Tournaments Won, 3 Slams, 59.3 Game Winning Percent

Rating: 41.11

Of all the players who made the list, Wilander played by far the least. But it didn't matter. When he played in 1988, he had the Midas touch. Half of the tournaments he won were Slams, and he also won a major tournament in Key Biscayne.

The almighty Wilander sent a message to the tennis world by taking a five-set epic from local hero Pat Cash at the Australian Open and never looked back. By the time the year had ended, he ascended from world No. 3 to No. 1.

8. Guillermo Vilas (1977)

Record: 130-14, 16 Tournaments Won, 2 Slams, 61.7 Game Winning Percent

Rating: 43.02

Vilas set several ATP records in 1977, many still stand. His 130 wins in a season is a record. His 46 match all-surface winning streak still stands. But the sad thing is, this could have been the greatest season ever.

Vilas started out the season playing very good tennis, but not winning much. He only won once before April, a minor tournament in Springfield. Even still, he wasn't at his best. Here comes the sun.

He ruthlessly destroyed Brian Gottfried in the Roland Garros final, nearly posting triple goose eggs in the opponent scorecard. After a bad loss in the round of 32 at Wimbledon, he came back to win seven consecutive tournaments before pulling out of the Aix-en-Provence final.

7. Pete Sampras (1994)

Record: 77-12, 10 Tournaments Won, 2 Slams, 58.9 Game Winning Percent

Rating: 43.07

You knew Pistol Pete was going to be here somewhere. Sampras bull rushed his way into the 1994 season, winning seven tournaments before the clay court season began, also doing it in decisive form.

He cooled off a little after winning his second career Wimbledon title, but still finished with a career best 87 percent matches won.

6. Ivan Lendl (1982)

Record: 106-9, 15 Tournaments Won, Zero Slams, 64.0 Game Winning Percent

Rating: 43.14

Ivan the Terrible may have the undesirable distinction of the best season ever without winning a Slam. How good exactly could a guy be if he didn't win any Slams? Lendl played in 23 tournaments, won 15 of them and went to the final in 20. Two words - brutally effective.

I'll also throw in the fact that he won six tournaments without dropping a set.

5. Rod Laver (1969)

Record: 106-16, 17 Tournaments Won, Grand Slam, 66.4 Game Winning Percent

Rating: 48.13

First off, let me preface this one by saying that the ATP did not keep thorough statistics before 1973, so for the games won/games lost, I took a sample population of data to make it as accurate as possible without a full picture.

You might wonder "How is this season not No. 1! He won a calendar slam!". That would all be right. He also dominated completely when it counted, winning an absurd 66 percent of his games. He played a ridiculous 32 tournaments, a mark that Federer and Nadal can only gawk at.

However, his 16 losses on the season were punishing, especially with what the players ahead of him did.

4. Bjorn Borg (1979)

Record: 84-6, 13 Tournaments Won, 2 Slams, 64.0 Game Winning Percent

Rating: 48.36

By this point in his career, Borg had already established himself as one of the greatest players ever. But this season cemented it. To put it simply, if you saw your name in the same draw as Borg, you could forget about winning that one. After winning Wimbledon again, he did not lose a set for 14 straight matches.

He capped off a truly dominant season by thrashing Vitas Gerulaitis 6-2, 6-2 at the ATP Masters final in New York.

3. Roger Federer (2006)

Record: 92-5, 12 Tournaments Won, 3 Slams, 61.6 Game Winning Percent

Rating: 52.81

Don't go berserk, Federer goons. Your savior will be on this list. For most people, this magical season is still somewhat fresh. Federer was so good in 2006 that practically any tournament he wanted, he won.  

He began the campaign reaching 11 straight finals before losing in Cincinnati. However, he picked it right back up after that and won the last five tournaments he played. His 95 percent match winning percentage is one of the best all-time.

2. Jimmy Connors (1974)

Record: 93-4, 15 Tournaments Won, 3 Slams, 62.8 Game Winning Percent

Rating: 53.46

Whatever Federer can do, Jimmy Connors will do better. For lack of better words, Connors was automatic in 1974. The left-hander just went about his business, carving up opponents like he's preparing Thanksgiving Dinner.

Poor Ken Rosewall got the worst of it. The two met twice in Slams, at Wimbledon and at the US Open. Neither meeting was remotely close. Connors won the US Open title 6-1, 6-0, 6-1. About that.

1. John McEnroe (1984)

Record: 84-3, 13 Tournaments Won, 2 Slams, 65.7 Game Winning Percent

Rating: 56.35

Mac-Attack was other worldly in 1984. He lost three times all year. Let me say that again so you can salivate some more. He lost three matches the entire season. To put that in perspective, Rafael Nadal, who has been sensational thus far in 2009, lost three matches before April.

Another mind blowing statistic. McEnroe only played 15 tournaments during the year, and he won 13 of those. Just hand him the trophy while you're filling out the draws.

Who knows what got into him. But when you annihilate Jimmy Connors in the Wimbledon final, you're doing something right.

Now here are a few parting thoughts. Could Nadal match McEnroe's performance this year in terms of rating? Let's examine a few things.

  • The most tournaments Rafa has ever won in a season is 11. He will need to do better than that, and very well could.
  • The most wins he has in a season to date was 82. That would suffice, if he only lost one more match the rest of the year. Chose it wisely.
  • His current game winning percent, 60.3, will not get him the No. 1 spot no matter how much he wins. He needs to win more decisively.

With that being said, Rafa has dug himself a hole if he wants to match McEnroe. It will be very difficult, but he could do it. Think on it.   


    Report: Becker Tried Using Fake Passport to Evade Debts

    Tennis logo

    Report: Becker Tried Using Fake Passport to Evade Debts

    Kyle Newport
    via Bleacher Report

    Stan Wawrinka finds fitness positive in Queen’s Club loss to Sam Querrey

    Tennis logo

    Stan Wawrinka finds fitness positive in Queen’s Club loss to Sam Querrey

    Andy Bull
    via the Guardian

    Marin Cilic beats Gilles Muller to seal place in quarter-finals at Queens Club

    Tennis logo

    Marin Cilic beats Gilles Muller to seal place in quarter-finals at Queens Club

    BBC Sport
    via BBC Sport

    Fever-Tree Championships 2018: Stan Wawrinka beaten by Sam Querry at Queen's

    Tennis logo

    Fever-Tree Championships 2018: Stan Wawrinka beaten by Sam Querry at Queen's

    BBC Sport
    via BBC Sport