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The Top 25 Men's Players During the Open Era

Alan RubensteinAnalyst IIIJune 10, 2011

The Top 25 Men's Players During the Open Era

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Rafael Nadal’s win over Roger Federer for his record tying sixth French Open title has put him in the discussion for the greatest player ever. The win was his tenth grand slam title, which is the fifth most in the Open Era.  Nadal's tenth Grand Slam win is ahead of Federer’s pace.

    No two players have ever dominated the sport like Federer and Nadal. The members of the sport’s greatest rivalry ever have combined to win 26 of the last 32 Grand Slam titles. From the 2004 Wimbledon to the 2007 US Open, they combined to win 11 Grand Slams in a row

25) Stan Smith

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    LONDON - JULY 05:  Stan Smith of USA looks on during the Senior Gentleman's Invitational Doubles match against Jeremy Bates of Great Britain and Anders Jarryd of Sweden during day ten of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tenn
    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Choosing number 25 proved a difficult task. Worthy candidates included Manuel Orantes, Marat Safin, Johan Kriek, Thomas Muster and Sergei Bruguera.

    Smith won two Grand Slam titles, finished runner-up in another, won six more doubles grand slam titles and had 36 career singles titles and 54 more in doubles.

    In his three Slam finals appearances, Smith defeated Jan Kodes and Ilie Nastase and his lone finals loss was to John Newcombe. He played in a very competitive era and was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987.

24) Yevgeny Kafelnikov

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    FLUSHING, NY - AUGUST 31:  Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia returns a shot to Andre Agassi during the US Open men's singles match at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on August 31, 2003 in Flushing, New York.  Agassi defeated Kaf
    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Kafelnikov became the first Russian to be ranked number one when he achieved the ranking May 3, 1999.

    Kafelnikov won the the 1996 French Open, the 1999 Australian Open and the Men’s Gold Medal at the Olympics in Sydney in 2000. He coupled the ‘96 title in Paris by winning the doubles with Daniel Vacek. That double makes Kafelnikov the last male to win a singles and doubles Grand Slam in the same tournament.

    His other Grand Slam accomplishments were being runner-up to Andre Agassi in Australia in 2000 and twice reaching the US Open Semifinals. He won 26 titles during his career and helped lead Russia to a 2002 Davis Cup title.

23) Gustavo Kuerten

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    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    Guga was the number one ranked player in the world for a total of 43 weeks in his career. He is primarily known as one of the sport’s greatest clay court players ever. He won all three of his Grand Slam titles on the Red Clay in Paris in 1997, 2000 and 2001. He also won the year end championship in 2002. His critics would point to the fact that he never advanced past the quarterfinals at another Grand Slam.

22) Lleyton Hewitt

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 18:  Lleyton Hewitt of Australia plays a forehand his first round match against David Nalbandian of Argentina during day two of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 18, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo
    Jeremy Ng/Getty Images

    Hewitt peaked early in his career by winning the 2001 US Open and 2002 Wimbledon titles by the age of 21.

    He made his last career Grand Slam finals appearance at the Australian Open in 2005.  He failed to become Australia’s first home grown champion since Mark Edmondson in 1976.

    He held the number one ranking for 75 consecutive weeks from December of 2001 until April of 2003. His 80 total weeks at number one ranks ninth all time. Hewitt has 29 career titles.

21) Andy Roddick

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 09:  Andy Roddick of the United States eyes the ball during his Men's Singles third round match against Kevin Anderson of South Africa on day four of the AEGON Championships at Queens Club on June 9, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo
    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    Roddick's supporters would say that he has been a great player stuck in the wrong era. He won his only Grand Slam title at the 2003 US Open at the age of 21.

    His other four Grand Slam Finals appearances were losses to Roger Federer. Three of those losses were at Wimbledon, and one was at the US Open.

    His 2009 loss to Federer at Wimbledon was especially devastating. In a five set defeat, Roddick lost the second and third sets in a tiebreaker and the fifth 16-14.

    Roddick has 30 career ATP titles. 

    His critics would point to too many early round defeats to much lower ranked players at Grand Slams. Roddick has been a Davis Cup stalwart for the United States for nearly a decade and helped lead the US to the 2007 title.

20) Novak Djokovic

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    PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 03:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia hits a forehand during the men's singles semi final match between Roger Federer of Switzerland and Novak Djokovic of Serbia on day thirteen of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 3, 2011 in Paris, Fr
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    During Federer and Nadal’s dominance many wondered if anyone could step up to challenge the greatest rivalry in the history of tennis.

    Djokovic is the only other player with multiple Grand Slam titles since 2003. His 43 match winning streak from the end of 2010 to his loss to Federer at this year’s French proves he belongs in the discussion of great players. With Federer nearing the end of his career, Djokovic looks like he will be Nadal’s main rival for years to come.

    He has won seven of his 25 career titles in 2011 and has a 41-1 record in 2011. By capturing the Australian Open in February, Djokovic’s career is definitely on the upswing.

    His spot on the list of greatest players in the open era should skyrocket in the next few years.

19) Ilie Nastase

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    LONDON - JULY 1:  Ilie Nastase of Romania in action during the Gentlemen's over 45 Doubles match at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships held on July 1, 2003 at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, in Wimbledon, London. (Photo by Alex Livesey/
    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Nastase was one of the original characters of Open Era tennis. His temper was legendary.

    Nastase was the first player ranked number one when the rankings were established in 1973. He held on to the top spot for 40 weeks.

    Nastase won two career Grand Slams, the 1972 US Open and the 1973 French Open. He also won the Masters Cup Year End Tournament  (now the ATP Finals) four times. Nastase was selected for the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1991.

18) Arthur Ashe

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    JUN 1975:  ARTHUR ASHE OF THE UNITED STATES HITS A BACKHAND ON THE CENTRE COURT AT WIMBLEDON DURING THE MENS SINGLES.
    Getty Images/Getty Images

    Ashe only won two Grand Slam titles in the Open Era, but his impact on the game was much greater. He was the first African-American male to win a slam and later served as the United States Davis Cup captain.

    He was also a runner-up at a major four times. Ashe was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985.

    Ashe’s legacy is also strongly tied to AIDS. Ashe contacted the disease after receiving a blood transfusion during heart surgery. Ashe established the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health in December 1992. He was also named as the Sportsman of the Year by Sport Illustrated the same month. He died two months later on February 6, 1993.

    The United States Tennis Association honored him with “Arthur Ashe Stadium” at the National Tennis Center in Queens, NY, which opened for the 1997 US Open.

17) Jim Courier

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 29:  Jim Courier returns a shot to Stefan Edberg during the Legends match at the LA Tennis Open Day Three at Los Angeles Tennis Center - UCLA on July 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  Courier defeated Edberg 4-6, 6-4, 11-9.  (Ph
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Courier won four Grand Slams between 1991-93. He was also a Grand Slam runner-up three times during that period.

    Courier held the ATP’s top ranking during the 1992 and 1993 seasons. Courier advanced to the finals of all four Grand Slams by age 22, a record that still stands.

    Courier finished 1992 as the number one ranked player. He was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1995.

16) Jan Kodes

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    JUL 1973:  JAN KODES OF CZECHOSLOVAKIA MAKES A SERVE DURING A MATCH AT THE 1973 WIMBLEDON TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIPS. KODES WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP AFTER DEFEATING METREVELI IN STRAIGHT SETS.
    Tony Duffy/Getty Images

    Kodes was one of the earliest clay court specialists during the Open Era. Kodes won back to back titles at Roland Garros in 1970 and 1971.

    He also won Wimbledon in 1973 when 81 players and 13 of the top 16 seeds boycotted due to the suspension of Nikola Pilic for failing to play in the Davis Cup for Yugoslavia.

    Kodes was the runner-up at the 1971 and 73 US Opens. He was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1980.

15) Guillermo Vilas

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    PARIS - 1982:  Guillermo Vilas of Argentina stands on the tennis court during a match in the 1982 French Open at the Stade Roland Garros in Paris, France.  (Photo by Steve Powell/Getty Images)
    Steve Powell/Getty Images

    Vilas finished the season in the top ten from 1974-82. He won four Grand Slams during his career and finished runner-up four times.

    His 1977 season remains one of the best during the Open Era. Vilas compiled a 145-15 record that season. He set the records for titles and matches played and won in 1977. His 46 match winning streak that year is also a record.

    He also holds the career record for titles outdoors and on clay and total matches won at the French Open. Vilas was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1991.

14) Mats Wilander

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - 1988:  Mats Wilander of Sweden in action during the 1988 Ford Australian Open held in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Getty Images)
    Getty Images/Getty Images

    Wilander was one of the top players during the 1980’s. His seven Grand Slam titles and four runners-up all occurred between 1983 and 1988.

    In 1988, Wilander won the Australian, French and US Open. Only a quarterfinal loss to Miroslav Mecir in Wimbledon prevented Wilander from a chance to continue to compete for a Grand Slam.

    Wilander’s 20 total weeks at number one ranks fourteenth all-time. Wilander and Nadal are the only players in the Open Era to win two slams on three different surfaces (Clay, Grass and Hard Court).

    His failure to win at Wimbledon prevented him from winning the career slam.

13) John Newcombe

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    5 Dec 1999:  John Newcombe the Australian Captain holds the Davis Cup after Australia beat France played in Nice, France. \ Mandatory Credit: Clive Brunskill /Allsport
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Newcombe won five of his seven Grand Slam titles in the Open Era. He also won a combined 19 doubles and mixed doubles slams in his career.

    Adept at serving and volleying, Newcombe won all of his slams on grass. His best finish in Paris was a quarterfinal run in 1969.

    Newcombe was a part of former Kansas City Chief owner Lamar Hunt’s World Championship Tennis. WCT players were banned from Wimbledon in 1972, and Newcombe then boycotted the event in 1973.

12) Ken Rosewall

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    Australian tennis player Ken Rosewall, circa 1965. (Photo by Getty Images)
    Getty Images/Getty Images

    At only 5’7, Rosewall was of tennis’ most unlikely stars.

    Rosewall won eight major titles, five in the Open Era. He was known for his backhand.

    Rosewall appeared in four Wimbledon finals, but never won. His failure to capture the title there kept him from a career Slam.  

    He also picked up 11 career doubles and mixed doubles majors for a total of 18. He was one of tennis’ early pro stars.

    When he won the Australian Open in 1971, Rosewall became the first player in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam without dropping a set.

11) Stefan Edberg

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 29:  Stefan Edberg returns a shot to Jim Courier during the Legends match at the LA Tennis Open Day Three at Los Angeles Tennis Center - UCLA on July 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  Courier defeated Edberg 4-6, 6-4, 11-9.  (Ph
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Edberg finished the 1990 and 91 seasons as the player of the year.

    Edberg won six grand slam titles and finished runner-up five times.

    His career Grand Slam fell short in the French Open. Against Michael Chang in the 1989 Final, the hard serving Swede held a two sets to one lead and was up a break in the fifth. He failed to hold on, as Chang prevailed 6-2 in the fifth set.

10) Boris Becker

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    1 JUL 1994:  BORIS BECKER OF GERMANY SERVES DURING HIS SEMI-FINAL MATCH WITH GORAN IVANISEVIC OF CROATIA IN THE 1994 WIMBLEDON CHAMPIONSHIPS.  IVANISEVIC WON IN STRAIGHT SETS 6-2, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4.   Mandatory Credit: Bob Martin/ALLSPORT
    Bob Martin/Getty Images

    Becker burst on to the scene by becoming the first unseeded player and the youngest Grand Slam singles champion when he won Wimbledon in 1985. Becker followed that up by defending his title the following year.

    Becker became the second ranked player in the world by the age of 19 in 1987.

    The red baron won six Grand Slam titles in his career and finished runner-up four times.  Three of his six titles and seven of his ten finals appearances occurred on the grass at Wimbledon.

    Becker earned the Player of the year award in 1989. He led Germany to the Davis Cup and won two Grand Slam titles that season.

9) John McEnroe

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    30 Jun 1991:  John McEnroe of the USA argues with an umpire over a decision called during the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship held at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, in London. \ Mandatory Credit: Simon Bruty /Allsport
    Simon Bruty/Getty Images

    McEnroe might be more well known for his legendary temper than his play on the court.

    He is one of the most versatile players in the history of tennis. He won seven Grand Slam singles titles and eight in doubles. He and Peter Fleming were one of the greatest doubles teams in the history of tennis.  

8) Jimmy Connors

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    NEW YORK - AUGUST 28:  Tennis legend Jimmy Connors speaks during the opening ceremony on the first day of the US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on August 28, 2006 in the Flushing neighborhood of th
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    A dominant player in the 1970’s and 1980’s, Connors is known as much for his longevity than his success early in his career.  

    A favorite of the US Open crowds in New York, Connors holds numerous ATP records. Among his records are the most titles on the Men’s tour and the most wins in Grand Slam history with 233. Roger Federer with 219, should break that record during the 2012 Australian Open.

    His run to the 1991 US Open Semifinals at the age of 39 is one of the most memorable fortnights in tournament history.

7) Rod Laver

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    1960:  Rod Laver of Australia in action during the Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon in London. \ Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK /Allsport
    Getty Images/Getty Images

    If Laver had played his entire career in the Open Era, he might be considered the greatest player that ever lived.

    Laver remains to this day the only player in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam (1969). He is also the only player to ever win the Grand Slam twice in the history of tennis. His 1962 Slam occurred before the Open Era.

    His 11 career Grand Slam titles remain tied for the fourth most ever. The stadium court at the Australian Open in Melbourne is named for Laver.

6) Andre Agassi

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    NEW YORK - AUGUST 31:  Andre Agassi acknowledges the crowd during the Opening Ceremony of the 2009 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 31, 2009 in Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Nobody has had more comebacks during the open era than Agassi. His revealing book “Open” told tales of a person that used recreational drugs and someone who frequently lost interest in tennis.

    He and Jimmy Connors are widely considered the two greatest returners and defensive players in the history of tennis.

    Agassi was one of the two greatest players of his generation. He competed in 15 Grand Slam finals, winning eight of them. Agassi’s win in the 1999 French Open made him the only player from his era and just the second in the open era to complete the career Grand Slam.

5) Bjorn Borg

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    LONDON - JULY 06:  Five times Wimbledon Champion Bjorn Borg watches the men's singles Final on day thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 6, 2008 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Bru
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Borg won 11 Grand Slam titles by the age of 25. His six French Open titles, four French titles in a row and five consecutive Wimbledon titles are all records during the Open Era.

    Borg won all of his titles at those to events. He was the runner-up four times at the US Open and once at Wimbledon. A comeback attempt in the early 1990’s failed miserably.

4) Ivan Lendl

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    Russell Cheyne/Getty Images

    Lendl might be the most under appreciated player on this list.

    His streak of 157 consecutive weeks at number one between September 1985 and September 1988 rank third all-time.

    Lendl’s eight career Grand Slam titles tie him for eighth all-time. He appeared in 19 Major finals during his career. Lendl’s losses to Boris Becker and Pat Cash in 1986 and 1987 were the only thing standing between Lendl and a career Grand Slam.

    He finished his career with a 222-49 record at the Grand Slams. He also won five year-end titles.

3) Rafael Nadal

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    PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 05:  Champion Rafael Nadal of Spain poses with the trophy following his victory during the men's singles final match between Rafael Nadal of Spain and Roger Federer of Switzerland on day fifteen of the French Open at Roland Garros on
    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    The knock on Nadal early in his career was that he was strictly a clay court player. His first four Grand Slam titles occurred on the red clay of Roland Garros.

    He broke through with a Wimbledon title in 2008, won the Australian Open title the following January, then completed the career Grand Slam with a US Open title in New York last September.

    Nadal has won four of the last five Grand Slam Titles. He has had two streaks of holding the number one ranking for over 45 weeks. He has currently has held on the the number one ranking for the last year.

    Rafa has led Spain to three Davis Cup titles and won Olympic Gold in 2008 in Beijing. .His 100 total weeks at number one rank eighth in ATP history. He will pass Andre Agassi for seventh all-time in a couple of weeks.

2) Pete Sampras

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 27:  Tournament honoree Pete Sampras poses for a portrait with son Ryan and wife Bridgette Wilson during the LA Tennis Open Day 1 at Los Angeles Tennis Center - UCLA on July 27, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Du
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Sampras is the most dominant grass court player in the open era and the best male tennis player of the 1990’s.

    Sampras’ record 14 Grand Slam titles stood until it was broken by Federer in 2009. Sampras won Wimbledon seven times between 1993 and 2000. He also captured five US Open titles and five ATP Tour Finals between 1991 and 1999.

    He ranks in the top five of most of the major ATP records and helped the United States win two Davis Cups. He still holds the ATP record of being ranked number one for 286 weeks, and his six player of the year awards are also the most all-time.

1) Roger Federer

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    PARIS - MAY 26:  Roger Federer of Switzerland in action during the men's singles second round match between Roger Federer of Switzerland and Alejandro Falla of Colombia at the French Open on day four of the French Open at Roland Garros on May 26, 2010 in
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Federer’s dominance of the sport is unprecedented.  He was number one for a record 237 consecutive weeks. He has 16 major titles, and from 2004-06, he was 247-15.

    Between 2004 and 2007, Federer won 11 of the 16 Grand Slam titles. He had five year win streaks at both Wimbledon (2003-07) and the US Open (2003-08).

    He completed the career Grand Slam by winning his only French Open title to date in 2009. With the win on the red clay in 2009, Federer became only the third player to win the career grand slam in the open era. Rod Laver won all four grand slams in 1969, and Andre Agassi completed the career slam by winning the French in 1999. Rafael Nadal became the fourth player to complete the career slam by capturing the US Open in 2010.

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