As all tennis fans know by now, Rafael Nadal captured the 2010 US Open to complete the career grand slam, one of only three players to do so since the immortal Rod Laver won his second true Grand Slam (all four majors in one year) in 1969.
Many believe that Rafa still has not peaked yet, which seems to be the case as he seems to improve in at least one phase of his game every year. So, without access to a crystal ball—and basing my rankings mostly on career achievements—where would I rank Rafael Nadal right now among all the greatest players of the last 40 years?
Perhaps 40 years is an arbitrary span, but it's not entirely whimsical. It roughly corresponds with the dawn of the so-called "Open Era" of men's tennis, and it's also a time period that allows me to say that I at least could eyeball all of these players with some appreciation of what I was seeing.
My thought was to rank the Top 40 of the Last 40 (years), but alas, I settled on a field of 32 players who at least garnered one major title in the last 40 years.
So, where do Rafa, Roger, Pete, Andre, and Bjorn rank? Please read on...
No, I bow down to you, Mr. McEnroe.
How were the rankings determined? Unscientifically, with lots of thought and research and coin flips. (You gotta be kidding me.)
Obviously, major titles (I reject the term "Slams" unless one is referring to all four majors) played a big role, but this was not simply a list of who won the most majors. I also had to factor in that 30 or so years ago, many top players elected not to play in certain majors—most notably the Australian Open. There was not quite the same emphasis given then to how many Slams (oops, I mean majors) a player captured.
What else? I had to consider how much I should value all-court versatility rather than dominance over a particular surface or event. Andre Agassi, a personal favorite, should be lauded for winning the career slam, but was he a better player than Sampras, who didn't even make the finals at Roland Garros?
Gustavo Kuerten won three majors—all at Roland Garros—but was Guga a better player than, say, a Stan Smith who won a US and a Wimbledon?
How much should I value the longevity and sustained greatness of a Ken Rosewall or a Jimmy Connors over the incandescent brilliance of a John McEnroe, or even a Bjorn Borg?
Did I factor in doubles proficiency? No, not really (sorry, Johnny Mac and John Newcombe). This is a singles list.
So while there's no perfect way to do this, my hope is that you will enjoy and respect this list enough to comment, be it in agreement or vociferous dissent.
The great Rocket Rod Laver
Rod Laver: The Man, The Myth, The Arena
"Rod Laver" is more than simply the name of the venue for the Australian Open. There is a reason that the arena was named for him, of course. Many reasons.
While I used the last 40 years as my criteria for this list, I would never argue with anybody who says that Laver was the greatest player of all time. (I will try to complete this article without using GOAT...again.)
He won the true Grand Slam in 1962 (as an amateur) and again in 1969 (as a pro), and we're still waiting for the next person to do so once. Can you imagine being that dominant in two different calendar years and seven years apart? Imagine all of the majors he may have won in those six years if he was not barred from playing?
Rod was ranked No. 1 in the year-end rankings every year from 1964-1970. Do you think he may have won a major or two from 1963-68? If he won only two a year (only), he would have had a total of 23 majors.
So, with apologies to this extraordinary gentleman and peerless player, here is my field of the 32 greatest men's singles players of the last 40 years in ascending order:
Capturing the French open in 1987
Major Titles: 1 (French Open—1983)
Has it really been 27 years since the flamboyant Frenchman (by way of Cameroon) defeated Mats Wilander in straight sets to win the French Open, sending the crowd (and himself) into a frenzy? Don't answer: I'm feeling old already.
Noah was marvelously charismatic and athletic, with a good but not glittery resume, unless you factor in his fine Davis Cup record (as player and captain), his success in the music industry, and his siring of Joakim, starting power forward/center for the Chicago Bulls of the NBA.
The 6'5" Yannick was a breath of fresh air on the tour who authored some amazing shots in his day and treated us to his wonderfully joyful style of play.
NO, that's not Manuel Orantes
(Warning: there were no pictures of Manuel (Manolo) Orantes available, so I searched for another clay court specialist of that era, Harold Solomon, one of the "Bagel Twins.")
Major Titles: 1 (1975 US Open, beating Jimmy Connors in straight sets when it was played on clay.)
Orantes, as I recall, was a muscular, left-handed Spaniard who was a great clay court player, although not quite in the class of Guillermo Vilas. A fine doubles player and Davis Cup stalwart for Spain, he made the final of one other major, losing in 1974 to Bjorn Borg by the unusual score of 2-6, 6-7 (1), 6-0, 6-1, 6-1.
Looks like Borg figured something out after that second set. Either that or Orantes got cocky, cramped, or injured.
Pat Cash, in 2007 -still looks good
Major Titles: 1 (1987 Wimbledon over Ivan Lendl)
Cash's overall record is not that daunting, but he does quite famously claim that one "Wimby" defeating then No.1 Lendl in the final, after dispatching Wilander in the quarters and Connors in the semifinals. A memorable run.
Perhaps, Cash's even more memorable run was his jump and run into the Wimbledon stands (the first player I remember doing so) to celebrate that moment with his family and girlfriend.
A rugged serve-and-volleyer with that ever-present black-and-white checkered headband, Cash also made it to two Aussie finals and a US Open semi.
Another fun player to watch.
Major Titles: 2—French Open, 1996 and Australian Open, 2000.
The greatest "Yevgeny" of all time won those two majors at a time when feared players such as Sampras, Agassi, Becker and Kuerten still roamed the earth, dirt and clay.
The steady, if unspectacular, lanky Russian also notched Olympic gold in 2000, and made it to two US Open semis and a Wimbledon quarter.
He also has competed as a professional golfer and poker player, but let's go to No. 28 or we'll be here all day.
Kriek sharing a trophy with doubles partner Kevin Curran
(Sorry, that was meant for pronunciation purposes only)
Major Titles: 2 Australian Opens (1981 and 1982)
This may be a generous placement for the native South African who became a U.S. citizen.
Kriek was short, but speedy and a fierce competitor. I thought of replacing him with Thomas Muster—a terrific and punishing clay courter from Austria.
Major Titles: 1 (French Open, 1989)
Did you know that?:
1. Michael Chang was born in Hoboken, New Jersey
2. His epic victory over the heavily favored Ivan Lendl—his cramps, his standing inside the baseline to receive Lendl's serves, his own underhand serves—happened in the fourth round of the 1989 French? Chang won that marathon match 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3, and eventually defeated Stefan Edberg (also in five sets) in the finals.
Just 17, Chang never captured another major, but did make three more finals—one apiece at the French, Aussie, and US Open(s).
Chang was known for his incredible speed and court coverage, and those low, probing two-handed backhands. A great competitor and technician, he was part of America's Big 4 of that era, along with Sampras, Agassi, and Jim Courier.
A clay court specialist from Barcelona?
Major titles: 2 (1993 and 1994 French Opens)
This tall, (right-handed) two-handed backhand player from Barcelona made it to three French Open finals, winning in 1993 (breaking Courier's bid for a three-peat) and 1994, and losing in 1997.
Sergi made it to No. 3 in the world in 1994, but did not do much damage in the other majors.
If he is ranked a little high, give him a point or two for being an inspiration to Rafa.
Kodes, with the tallr, younger Tomas Berdych
Major titles: 3—French Open (1970-71); Wimbledon (1973)
To be frank, I can't tell you I remember Kodes all that well, but three majors including back-to-back French Opens (defeating Ilie Nastase in one of the finals) is nothing to scoff at.
His one Wimbledon title did come in a season where 13 of the would-be top 16 seeds boycotted the tourney over a "labor" dispute.
He's still got the look
Major Titles: 3—French Open (1997, 2000-01)
Before there was Rafa, there was Guga, a very popular Brazilian clay court maestro.
Kuerten, of course, did not have Nadal's overall game, but the right-hander did have a big (one-handed) backhand and serve to complement his big hair and blue-and-yellow shirts.
Guga won the 1997 French Open in only his third attempt at a major, defeating Sergi Bruguera, who had won it twice previously.
A pumped-up A-Rod
Major Titles: 1—US Open, 2003.
So, why do I place Roddick over some who have won multiple majors?
I like his sense of humor, his impersonations, and the fact that he's married to Brooklyn Decker. I may not like like that last one, but I admire him for it.
But seriously, I don't think I'm being overly generous here.
You may regard him as not being worthy of all the hype, as he only has that one major, and that was seven years ago.
However, points in his favor are:
- His year-end No. 1 in 2003, and his No. 2 in 2004.
- His placement in the year-end Top 10 every year from 2002-09; that streak is in jeopardy this year.
- The fact that he lost four major finals—all of them to some guy named Roger Federer.
- That epic five-set loss to Federer at Wimbledon last year. 16-14 in the fifth hardly does it justice; Roddick was that brilliant, and Fed was that brilliant and fortunate.
- He has won 76 percent of his matches, and 29 career titles.
This turbo-serving 28 year old may not have fulfilled all of his promise, and he may not win another major, but he has had a terrific career. It just occurred contemporaneously with two better players named Federer and Nadal.
Forever a bridesmaid? Let's hope not.
Major Titles: 1—Australian Open, 2008
He's still only 23, and with his amazing five-set semifinal win over Federer, Djokovic served notice—and some missiles—to prove he is the real deal. And it's not as if he rolled over against Nadal in the finals; taking even a set against Rafa at his best was no mean feat.
It's a testament to the greatness of Roger and Rafa that Djokovic only has that one major. There is no discernible weakness in his game, and he flat-out pounds the ball from both wings.
Novak already boasts 17 singles titles, two US Open finals, two semifinals apiece at Wimbledon and Roland Garros, along with that one major. He is equally dangerous on all surfaces.
And does anybody do better impersonations of the other tour players, male and female alike?
BIg time game, small-time composure
Major Titles: 2—US Open, 2000; Australian Open, 2005
Did you know that since the start of 2005, that the only players not named Federer or Nadal to win a major are Novak Djokovic, Martin Del Potro, and Marat Safin?
Is that enough to place him in my field of 32, or as high as 21? No.
Hey, I realize that I'm being generous here, and perhaps I'm too enamored of the great potential that this enigmatic, tempestuous 6'4" Russian largely squandered.
But oh, when he was on! Maybe I'm still drooling over his 2000 US Open dismantling of Pete Sampras by a ridiculous score of 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. I've never seen Sampras manhandled like that before or since.
Safin had all the tools and then some, but just could not seem to harness his emotions. He held it together long enough to win those two majors, lose in the finals of two more Aussies, and reach the semis at Wimbledon and Roland Garros.
Major Titles: 2—US, 2001; Wimbledon, 2002.
Come on! No. 20?
Seems about right to me for this emotional, speedy, cocky, pestiferous, fire-breathing Aussie.
Between the era of Pete and Andre, and Roger and Rafa, Hewitt was the World No. 1 in both 2001 and 2002.
Roddick briefly stepped in there in 2003, before Roger just had too much game for Hewitt, and everybody else.
One did always get his/her money's worth watching this guy.
Rafter still attacking the net
Major Titles: 2—US Open, 1997-98.
Okay, show of hands, how many women out there loved this guy? And men, I'm not ashamed to admit that I had a little of a man-crush on this guy. Did you?
This guy was just Aussie cool, had a great straight-forward, serve-and-volley, go for broke style, and was possibly the most polite, quietly engaging player on the tour.
Along with those back-to-back Open titles, Rafter charged hard to the net in reaching the finals of Wimbledon in both 2000 (extended Sampras to four sets) and 2001 (losing to Goran Ivanisevic 9-7 in the fifth).
He was briefly ranked No. 1 in the world in 1999, and was the year-end No. 2 in 1997. It still seems like Rafter's career came and went too quickly.
Stan Smith: More than just a green-tabbed sneaker
Major Titles: 2—US (1971), Wimbledon (1972)
The tall serve-and-volleying Californian was the World No. 1 in both 1971 and 1972, with the above major titles headlining those years.
Stanley Roger Smith also lost a five-set final to John Newcombe at Wimbledon in 1971, won a million doubles matches with partner Bob Lutz, and has helped to sell gazillion sneakers for Adidas.
The colorful Ilie Nastase
Major Titles: US, 1972, French, 1973.
How many nicknames did he have? Nasty, the Bucharest Buffoon, the Court Jester of Tennis.
Nastase, when he wanted to play, could play with anybody—ever. He had all the strokes, amazing touch and imagination, and had sprinter's speed around the court. The problem was that he seemed to either be too intent on entertaining the crowd, or at his worst, his behavior could be downright reprehensible.
I confess that he was one of my very favorite players of all time, even if I'd like to think that I comported myself just a little bit better when playing.
Nastase did win those two majors,and was runner-up twice at Wimbledon and once at the French. He was World No. 1 in 1973.
Widow Jeanne and daughter Camera at the Tennis Center
Major Titles: 3—US Open, 1968, Australian, 1970, Wimbledon, 1975.
(Pictured are Ashe's widow, Jeanne, and their daughter, Camera, seated at the tennis center named for Arthur.)
Has the sport of tennis ever produced a better, more educated, classier, more cerebral, socially aware human being than Arthur Ashe?
Okay, I admired this man just a little, yet I know that's not the point of this list.
The man could also play a little tennis in his day, whether winning the first (open) US Open, or shocking the brash Jimmy Connors who was looking to win back-to-back Wimbledons.
The spindly, 6'1" Ashe had a terrific serve-and-volley game and overhead, and used his gifts and mental toughness to also reach four other major finals.
Courier...now, (and without the baseball cap.)
Major Titles: 4—French (1991-92), Australian (1992-93)
Jim Courier surprised many when he twice came from behind to defeat his more heralded Bollettieri Academy rival, Andre Agassi, in five sets to garner his first of two straight French Open crowns in 1991.
When you watched Courier play, you saw a grinder who didn't wow anyone with his style or magical touch. He was a warrior who brought that sense of grit and determination to every match. And he did pound those (mostly) flat strokes from both wings.
Courier also reached three other major finals, and was the year-end No. 1 in 1972, and No. 2 in 1971 and 1973. Jim was also the youngest player (at the time) to reach the final of all four majors.
Yeah, the game looked just a little different 30 years ago
Major Titles: 4—French (1977), US (1977), Australian (1978-79)
As you can see from the above, Guillermo Vilas was much more than just a phenomenal clay court specialist, although he was amazing on the clay.
The Argentinian collected those four majors and was runner-up in four others: three at Roland Garros and one in Australia, when it was played on grass.
Vilas, with his long, bandana-banded hair and impressive physique, had a unique blend of power and finesse. In his best year, 1977, he won a record 130 matches and 16 tournaments. A lot of top players don't even compete in that many matches and tourneys these days.
You may remember that Guillermo held the consecutive matches won-on-clay streak at 53, until some guy named Nadal broke it and just for fun pushed it to an insane 81.
Still intimidating -- in 2008 on the links
Major Titles: 6—Wimbledon (1985-86 and 1989), US (1989), Australian (1991, 1996)
Boris (Don't call me Boom Boom) Becker was listed at 6'3", yet somehow looked and played even bigger. He looked to intimidate with his huge serve and all-out rolls and dives—even on the hard courts.
Becker burst upon the scene in 1985 as a raw 17 year old, defeating Kevin Curren of the U.S. in four sets to win Wimbledon. The youngest ever to win in his "living room," BB added two more Wimbledons, two Aussies, and a U.S. Open.
While hardly a natural clay court player, Boris did make it to two French semifinals—not too shabby for a hard-hitting serve volley-and-diver.
Newk: He still has the stache.
Major Titles: 7—Wimbledon (1967, 1970-71), US (1967, 1973), Australian (1973, 1975).
John Newcombe, one of the great Australian serve-and-volleyers (what else?) of their golden era of tennis, did just as much damage in the 1970s as in the 1960s, and deserves a high placement on this list.
(If we factored in doubles, he won 16 men's doubles titles (majors) and even threw in a few mixed, he might be even higher.)
Just the nickname, Newk, was ultra-cool, and the man knew how to play the game: mano-a-mano, and with a little style and charisma.
Newk was one of the great transitional players from the days of Laver and Rosewall to the era of Borg, Connors, and McEnroe.
Is Mats questioning his ranking?
Major Titles: 7-- French (1982, 1985, 1988), Australian (1983, 1984, 1988) and US (1988)
Mats Wilander is, along with Bjorn Borg and Stefan Edberg, one of three extraordinary players from Sweden. While Borg is clearly the best the country has produced, one can debate where Wilander and Edberg rank.
Mats was a terrific all-around player who won three majors on the red clay of Paris, but also won (on both grass and hard courts) at the Aussie, and hard courts at the U.S.
By age 20, Wilander had already captured four majors, and then saved his very best for his amazing 1988 season, winning all majors but Wimbledon. He did make the quarters there, as he did two other times in his brilliant career.
Mats just missed my Top 10, making room for a fellow Swede named...
In 2009 --probably still a crisp forehand volley
Major Titles: 6—Australian (1985, 1987), Wimbledon (1988, 1990), US (1991-92)
So, did Sweden really produce a 6'2" serve-and-volleyer with a one-handed backhand? (Yes, Wilander switched to a one-hander later in his career, but he was not the natural serve-and-volley player that Edberg was.)
Wilander won seven majors to Edberg's six (truth be told, I preferred Mats' personality and style), but I have to give Edberg the edge based on consistency and durability.
Stefan seemed to be numbingly consistent, even winning two majors apiece at the French, Australian, and U.S. Edberg never lost his temper and never missed that textbook, crisp forehand volley, did he?
Oh, he did blow a lead to Michael Chang in the 1989 French final, or he would have achieved the rare career slam.
Actually, did Stefan ever say or do anything controversial, or even once beg out of a tournament for any reason?
Dishwater dull, unless great tennis excites you.
Rosewall's patented (one-hand) sliced backhand
Major Titles: 8—Australian (1953, 1955, 1971-72), French (1953, 1968), US (1956, 1970)
Ken Rosewall, a slightly built 5'7" Australian, makes this list as he did win two majors in the last 40 years. After examining his resume, perhaps I've short-changed him a bit.
Ironically nicknamed "Muscles," Rosewall had great speed, was a terrific counter-puncher, and possessed a surgical one-hand backhand. While he was not blessed with a big serve, like all Aussies of that era he could volley quite well.
But consider this: Rosewall won majors at age 18, and he was still winning them at age 39. Hard to even fathom!
Andre: One of 100 or so different looks
Major Titles: 8—Wimbledon (1992), US (1994, 1999), Australian (1995, 2000-01, 2003), French (1999).
OK, I don't believe that I can tell you anything about Andre that you don't already know. You know that he won the career grand slam, plus the Olympics gold. You may have read his autobiography, titled Open, and it was that.
You may remember that he was one of the great ball strikers of all time, and you may even remember who he dated, and who he married. It's not like he wasn't, and isn't still, in the public eye.
I see Agassi as a man of endless dualities and contradictions:
A slacker who became the hardest worker on the tour.
A selfish jerk who has raised millions for his charitable foundations.
An impulsive, image-conscious dope who has moments of great depth, compassion, and understanding.
A high school dropout who loves helping underprivileged kids get the education they deserve.
Oh yeah, he hated tennis, but ended up loving it, and just look at the kind of fascinating life it allowed him to lead.
Charismatic? No. Great? Absolutely.
Major Titles: 8—French (1984, 1986-87, US (1985-87), Australian (1989-90)
The tall, wiry Czech is sometimes forgotten about today, but if you followed tennis in the 80s and 90s, you knew just how good he was.
Lendl had no weaknesses in his game, although he was not a natural volleyer. He was solid and seemed almost ruthless out there. Lendl lost his two bids for a Wimbledon, and a career slam, but he was frighteningly and consistently excellent.
Ivan made it to 19 finals, a mark only topped recently by Federer; but alas, he was defeated in 11 of them. In the year-end rankings, he was World No. 1 in 1985-87, and runner-up in 1984, 1988, and 1989. Lendl also reached at least the final of a major in 11 consecutive years, a feat only duplicated by Pete Sampras.
As I said, Ivan Lendl was frighteningly and consistently excellent.
The Belleville Basher
Major Titles: 8 -- Australian (1974), Wimbledon (1974, 1982), US (1974, 1976, 1978, 1982-83)
James Scott (Jimbo) Connors blazed into our consciousness as an iconoclastic, pugnacious, take-no-prisoners two-fisted fighter who destroyed the venerable Ken Rosewall in the finals of both Wimbledon and the US Open in 1974. In those two straight-set demolitions, he lost a total of eight games in six sets.
The early Jimmy Connors was too pugnacious and too bombastic for many fans to warm up to, although you had to admire how he waged battle on the court. His epic battles with Borg and McEnroe are legendary, and yet many remember the Jimmy Connors of his second act.
In his second act, there he was—seemingly in his 50s, playing under the lights before the New York crowd at the US Open—a crowd who came to adore him for that same never-give-an-inch approach. Connors fed off that vibe to produce some amazing victories over men and boys about half his age.
James Scott Connors never really changed, but the fact that he was still doing it—and now more conscious of giving the crowd a fist bump rather than the finger—made him almost lovable.
And yes, he had game, most notably a brilliant return of serve, and the ability to hit balls on the rise with his slingshot forehand or his two-handed backhand.
Johnny Mac - Magic at the Net
Major Titles: 7—US (1979-81, 1984), Wimbledon (1981, 1983-84), Australian (1983)
Perhaps, McEnroe just was not meant to have a long career at the top of the tour. He won all his majors between the ages of 20 and 25, but at his best he was absolutely electric.
While his volatile temperament sometimes overshadowed his play, the man was a magical serve-and-volleyer with a most distinctive touch and style. His game was every bit as elegant as his conduct was boorish.
In his best season, 1984, McEnroe was 79-3, and won 13 tournaments. Oh yes, he was arguably the greatest doubles player of all time, and also bared his soul for the U.S. in the Davis Cup.
The Gracious Winner
Major Titles: 9—French (2004-08, 2010), Wimbledon (2008, 2010) Australian (2009), US (2010)
Was it just yesterday that Nadal "could only win a major on clay" or was "shot, because of all the pounding on his knees?" And then it was, "OK, so he also won at Wimbledon (the first man to win the French and Wimby in the same year since Borg), but wait until he gets on hard courts."
Well, Rafa has more than aced every challenge so far, and any real tennis fan has to hope that he both stays healthy and keeps his passion for the game.
How does one go about describing Nadal to those who haven't seen him? He may be the greatest combination of speed and power the game has ever seen, and he also has a remarkably strong will and stays in amazing shape.
He's a baseline basher who has an Edberg-like (if not Johnny Mac-like) touch at the net. And his serve, which used to just kind of put the ball into play, is now becoming a weapon.
I'm not sure that any of my top three are any better, but their resumes (for now) are just a little more impressive.
Oh, did I mention that while Rafa goes at each point with a fire rarely ever seen, he's unfailingly polite on court, and off the court he is as true a gentleman as the sport has seen in many years?
Tennis Royalty: Pete, with Bjorn, Fed and Laver
Major Titles: 14—US (1990, 1993, 1995-96, 2002), Wimbledon(1993-95, 1997-2000), Australian (1994, 1997).
Pistol Pete is, quite simply, the greatest US player of the modern era, and some may have him ranked No. 1 overall. As you can see, I have placed Pete ever so slightly behind my top two (I'm keeping you in suspense, but the top two are not Jeff Tarango and Andes Jarryd.)
You know how he dominated the tour, finishing as No. 1 every year from 1993 thru 1998 and finishing No. 2 in 1999. We know how he won that magical 13th major at Wimbledon in 2000, and then won one final major in 2002 at the US Open.
Sampras' only hole on his resume—if you want to call it that—is that he never did too much damage at the French Open, advancing to only one semi in 1996.
But when you're so dominant on the other surfaces, is that such a glaring demerit? No, not really. It always seemed to me that Sampras had the game to win at Roland Garros—yes, the red clay took away his serve-and-volley game, but Pete did play well from the baseline as well. It just never happened.
Sampras took some hits in the public eye for being aloof, non-charismatic, and having sort of a hangdog appearance on the court. All true to some extent, but who cares? The guy's game was amazing, and were there many more thrilling shots in any player's arsenal than that leaping overhead of his?
Truth be told, I rooted for Andre in their matchups, but Pete simply had more game, which I respected. In re-examining their records, I just have a slight preference for...
Borg hitting on the dead run was a thing of beauty
Major Titles: 11—French Open (1974-75, 1978-81), Wimbledon (1976-80)
So, how does Borg get the mythical No. 2 seed, and Sampras the No. 3? It's close, but here's why I favor Borg.
Yes, Sampras won 14 majors to Borg's 11, but that was only due to longevity. I don't penalize Pete for that, but let me remind everyone why Borg was so special.
Borg's 11 majors were won in only 27 appearances, and he also made it to four US Open finals, improbably losing all four. Even Federer can't match that winning percentage. Borg's winning percentage in major matches was 89.8 percent (141-16), which is the best as well.
So, he dominated the French, winning six in an eight-year period, and he learned to like the grass enough to win five straight Wimbledons. He ran into some bad luck in New York. What happened in Australia? For whatever reason, he only played it once, in 1974, before he became such a dominant force.
Winning majors is not the only criteria, but Borg (like Rod Laver, who I purposely left off this list) was somehow better than his 11 majors. I think he easily could have won three or four Aussies during those years if he chose to play there.
Indeed, Borg's overall winning percentage of 82.7 percent—slightly higher than Nadal, Lendl, Fed, McEnroe and Connors, and significantly higher than Sampras—is the highest of the modern era.
Borg brought many of the same attributes as Nadal—amazing quickness, a baseline game second to none, a soft touch at the net when needed, and he made it look very easy. He was mentally tough, super cool, and very influential.
Bjorn is my No. 2 of the last 40 years, and with longevity and the inclination to fly to Australia, may have been No. 1, which belongs to...
Still The King, But For How Much Longer?
Major titles: 16—Wimbledon (2003-2007, 2009), Australian (2004, 2006-07, 2010), US (2004-08), French (2009).
Where do you start with the man who owns so much of the modern tennis record book?
Other writers, including right here on Bleacher Report, have hurled hosannas his way, and he deserves them. Here's one of those pieces (by JA Allen) that discusses 20 of his greatest records.
Out of his top 20, and it's hardly to single out just one, I'm still amazed that Roger reached 23 consecutive major semifinals, and of course, most of them were finals, which he won. He used to be automatic when he reached the finals; now he's simply imposing, winning 16 out of 22.
Outside of his amazing records, tennis aficionados marvel at his gracefulness on the court, his almost ridiculous arsenal of shots, and his ability to make it all look so easy.
While some (including me) see him as at least borderline arrogant (at times), I forgive him such hubris and arrogance because of his very elegance, his respect for the history of the game, and for the way he has conducted himself as the game's top ambassador since Agassi's retirement.
Still a great player at age 29, it will be interesting to see how motivated he truly is to reach his stated goal of 20 majors. While that's not the only benchmark of the mythical Greatest of All Time, it would set a target that even the great Nadal may not be able to reach.
Who did I leave out of my field of 32?
Who did I put in that shouldn't be there?
Who did I rank too low, or too high?
I welcome civil (but lively) discourse, agree or disagree, and I do ask that you respect the time I put into this article.
Thanks for reading. I'd love to hear your opinions!