Players Who Transcend the Sport of Tennis
Most great players leave a mark on the game of tennis, but only a select few in history transcend the game and enter into pop culture forever.
Between a combination of their tennis style, looks, personality, and Grand Slam total, they go on to live forever on the tongues of tennis and non-tennis fans alike.
Not all of the greats are on this list. Some may have had the game, but failed to excite like the ones on this list. On this list you will see both men and women, for each sex has provided us with gems we should never take for granted, nor forget.
"Success is a journey, not a destination."
While Arthur Ashe was a great player, he is best remembered for what he did outside of the game. A writer for Time Magazine, a civil rights activist, and being the founder of The National Junior Tennis League were just a few of his many accomplishments.
Look no further than the stadium used to house the U.S. Open. It's Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Billy Jean King
While Billy Jean King won plenty of titles and is certainly regarded as one of the greats, like Arthur Ashe, her mark outside of tennis continues to ring far after her accomplishments on the court have ended.
Listing all of her accomplishments would be too difficult, but most would agree that campaigning for equal prize money for the women's side is by far her very best and most important off-court achievement.
If Jimmy Connors could fit into any other sport based simply on his personality and fire, it would probably be professional wrestling. His game was big, and so was his mouth and swagger on the court.
He was really the first bad boy and was the precursor to the equally fiery John McEnroe.
Few players exuded the kind of grace and style that Chris Evert had during her illustrious career.
Her model good looks, and excellence on the court made her an icon of the game and opened the floodgates of a new level of popularity in the women's game when she dueled yearly with Martina Navratilova for dominance in the women's game.
She lost once during her career on clay and won an unbelievable 18 grand slams. Being an American, she heightened the sport within her own country along with John McEnroe and thrived during the "Golden Age" of tennis.
He was the first rock star of tennis. Like The Beatles, he changed the cultural landscape of the game. He was cool as ice, and his game was sublime to watch. It took an insatiable John McEnroe to drive him into retirement.
One of the greatest early exits in sports history.
By the time he retired at 25, he had already amassed 11 grand slam trophies. His legendary status will most likely be assured for all-time.
The ageless one. She showed a level on longevity that will never be duplicated. As with Chris Evert she won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, but also managed to win 31 Grand Slam doubles titles as well.
Many of them with Chris Evert, her greatest rival.
Many speculate that she is the greatest tennis player of all time male or female you would not hear an argument from me on that statement.
She has become the standard for which all players should be measured. When her names comes up all you can do is shake your head in disbelief.
The crybaby. The Fiery Genius. There are as many names for John McEnroe as their are legendary outbursts from him on court.
Quite possibly the most polarizing player who ever picked up a tennis racket, he was so good early in his career that he caused Bjorg to retire early.
While he won an admirable seven Grand Slams, it was his rough personality that attracted the multitudes of fans. His rivalry with Bjorg is considered one of the very best the game has ever seen.
If you could combine Rafael Nadal's Athleticism with Roger Federer's forehand and put them in a woman's body, you would probably get Steffi Graf.
She won 22 Grand Slam singles titles in her career as well as the 1988 golden slam by winning all four grand slams that year and the Olympic gold medal. That feat will probably never happen again.
She appeared in nearly 50 grand slam finals in her career, and exuded a dominance much like Martina and Chris's reigns in the late '70s and '80s.
She revolutionized the game by consistently running around her backhand to hit her unbelievable forehand. Before her, nobody did that very often.
Could anyone make a case for a player being more beloved than Agassi? No he doesn't hold the slam record that a certain American counterpart has, and yet he is just as well remembered.
From his "Image Is Everything" early days when he channeled McEnroe's brash persona, to the quiet and thoughtful statesman of the game, Agassi certainly is remembered as much for his change of persona as his eight Grand Slams and Career Slam.
His quiet demeanor on the court hid a hunger and drive to win that few in the game can attest to. Along with Agassi, Michael Chang, and Jim Courier, he heralded the next and arguably the best generation of American tennis.
Along the way he made Centre Court his home at Wimbledon, and captured the imagination of the tennis world with his amazing serves, and whip-like groundstrokes.
He transcended the game not through his personality so much as his absolute genius on the tennis court. With a record of 14 Grand Slams, he is arguably the best player who has ever lived thus far.
Serena and Venus
I decided to combine these two for time's sake and because both are tied so much to one another.
They said it couldn't be done. No girls who refrained from entering an academy, and learned only from their father could win on tour. They proved them wrong.
Since turning pro in the late nineties, both sisters have won at least eight grand slams and often years went by when it was either one or the other winning them.
Serena, shorter and thicker has the power, while Venus is tall and wiry who's speed and serve are her greatest assets.
Their mark on the game is not only their Grand Slam accomplishments, but the fact that they are both the most successful sibling combo in tennis history, as well as breaking into and dominating a sport with so few African-Americans.
Best of all, they did what many said could not be done. The won.
More words have been written about Roger Federer than any other tennis player. Anecdotes and poems fill books regarding him and speak of his unparalleled genius. Guess what? It's true.
With quick ballet-like movement, and a forehand that even god himself would be frightened of, it's no wonder that Roger has won 13 Grand Slams.
At nearly 28, he's still got enough in him to drive for the record. Only time will tell if he gets it, but even if he doesn't his genius and greatness will always be remembered.
Roger had the benefit of arriving in the blossom of the internet age. There are dozens of tennis forums. You can watch clips or read articles featuring him in moments.
This, along with endorsements like Gillette and Mercedes make you realize he is currently the gold standard that everyone is chasing after.
"The Muscle From Mallorca", "The King of Clay", "The Bull". Call him what you will, but Nadal's transcendence in tennis is already secure.
While Federer is cool ice, Nadal is fire in a bottle ready to be unleashed. So what makes him transcend the sport?
First off, his style is unorthodox. Cat-like speed, unparalleled athleticism, and a forehand just as great as Federer's are only the tip of the iceberg and the sky is the limit.
His hunger and drive are simply too great to adequately describe. His relentless drive to win is legendary. He, like Federer, benefits from the internet age and endorsements.
But probably the greatest contributor to his rising status as an all-time legend, is his rivalry to Roger Federer. Their matches are like Ali vs Frazier. As if made for a movie, their demeanor, and styles of play are as different as two players can be.
At nearly 23, Nadal has already won 6 Grand Slam titles and will most likely hit well into the double digits before his career comes to a close.
His legendary status, and ultimate transcendence of the game will indeed be on the rise for years to come.
Who did we leave off of the list?
There are many legends that while great players, simply did not have enough of a certain something to propel them into the pop culture history. In tennis circles, they are well known but to casual fans they are not.
Mats Willander, Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, Roy Emerson, and Stefan Edberg.