Rafael Nadal: Where Does He Fit in Top 10 Tennis Players of All Time?
It's not too early to examine how Rafael Nadal fits in with the all-time tennis greats.
Only 25 years old, Nadal has won 10 Grand Slam titles. Earlier this year he tied Bjorn Borg for a record six French Open victories and is poised to win his seventh in the next several years.
Rafa will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest tennis players of all time.
The question is, how does he stack up against the other all-time greats?
Here are the top 10 tennis players of all time.
10. Boris Becker
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Boris Becker burst onto the tennis scene in 1985 when he won Wimbledon at only 17 years old.
He defended his title the next year and went on to win a total of six major titles.
Grass was Becker's best surface—with his fast and well-placed serve, Becker could charge the net and utilize his superb volleying skills.
Stefan Edberg challenged Becker for supremacy at Wimbledon in the late 80s, defeating the German in the final in 1988. The two combined for five of six Wimbledons from 1985-1990 and had an exciting grass rivalry.
Becker suffered from intense competition throughout his career. He started off facing Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander and Edberg regularly,and saw his career stunted by the rise of Americans Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier.
The West German was a great player in his late teens and early twenties but could not sustain his success throughout his career.
9. John McEnroe
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John McEnroe is one of the most iconic personalities to ever set foot on a tennis court.
Between the vivacious shouts of joy and the temper tantrums, McEnroe was must-see TV in the early 1980s.
He also was one of the most gifted players ever to play the game.
McEnroe had a very unique playing style, highlighted by his continental forehand grip with which he placed almost perfect shots around the court.
Eventually he was unable to compete with the heavy topspin his competition was utilizing.
McEnroe won a total of seven majors, four at the US Open and three at Wimbledon. He played in the French and Australian Opens sporadically and managed to reach the finals at Roland Garros in 1984.
The American firecracker's career coincided with that of many tennis greats. He had significant rivalries with Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander.
For his impressive track record against such fierce competition, McEnroe earns the No. 9 spot on this list.
8. Jimmy Connors
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Jimmy Connors was never afraid to go all out—with his shots or his on-court actions.
The American made plenty of enemies with his antics and always got the crowd involved. Whether they were cheering or booing, it seemed to make no difference.
Over the course of his career Connors won eight majors, including five at the US Open.
Though he never won the French, Connors did defeat Bjorn Borg in the finals of the US Open in 1976, one of three years in which the tournament was played on clay. Connors owns the quirky distinction of being the only player to win the US Open on three different surfaces. (Before 1975, the tournament was played on grass.)
That achievement makes him one of five players to win a major on three different surfaces.
Connors' 109 men's singles titles still stand as the most ever. His 268 weeks ranked No. 1 in the world are third all time and his 160 consecutive weeks atop the rankings is second only to Roger Federer.
7. Andre Agassi
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Andre Agassi won eight majors over the course of a roller coaster career.
The Las Vegas native started out as an abrasive young star with an attitude problem and long blond hair (which he later revealed to be fake.) He had some success, winning three majors before his 25th birthday.
In 1998, when his career was in shambles, Agassi began one of the most impressive resurgences in tennis history, putting together five quality years in which he won five more majors titles and spent 69 weeks as the top-ranked player.
Agassi is one of only seven players ever to win a career slam and the first to have accomplished the feat in the Open Era. He was also the first to achieve the career "golden slam."
Agassi's success on all surfaces over a long career earns him a spot in the top ten.
6. Ivan Lendl
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Ivan Lendl dominated men's tennis in the mid-80s with his absurdly consistent baseline game. He was the world No. 1 for three straight years from 1985-1987.
The Czechoslovakia-born player emulated Bjorn Borg by using heavy topspin on his ground strokes, which he hit with almost robotic precision.
He was a strong player in the early 80s. But he really took off after he changed his backhand from slice to topspin, which allowed him to dictate points from both sides of the court.
Lendl won every major except Wimbledon, whose irregular bounces disturbed his baseline rhythm. The Czech tried to improve his net game but in the end was unsuccessful.
He ended his career with eight major victories. His mark of eight consecutive finals at the US Open is still an all-time record.
Lendl's streak of 44 consecutive match victories in 1982 still stands to this day, but suffered a bit of a scare earlier this year when Novak Djokovic won 43 straight before falling to Roger Federer in the semis of the French Open.
5. Rafael Nadal
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Only 25 years old, Rafael Nadal has already captured 10 grand slam titles, including a record-tying six on clay.
He is also only the third player in the Open Era to complete the career slam, showing his versatility and ability to win on all surfaces.
But perhaps his most impressive achievement is his 17-8 career mark against 16-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer.
Earlier this year, six titles seemed like a very surmountable deficit for the Spaniard to overcome, but the emergence of Novak Djokovic has greatly complicated the situation.
Nadal has been unable to figure out the Serb all year, having lost five straight finals to the current world No. 1.
Djokovic may or may not ever be considered one of the greatest of all time. But his current dominance over Nadal makes Rafa's pursuit of the GOAT title all the more unlikely.
As Nadal has Federer's number, Djokovic has Nadal's. It will be impossible for Rafa to be considered the greatest of all time until he proves he can dominate all players of his era.
4. Bjorn Borg
Bjorn Borg transformed the game of tennis with his consistent ground strokes and superb fitness.
Nowadays every top player is in pristine physical condition and uses topspin on their ground strokes. But that was not the case in the 1970s, when most players hit flat ground strokes and tried to approach the net as quickly as possible.
The Swedish sensation took the tennis world by storm by out-grinding his opponents. He was one of the first players to utilize heavy topspin regularly, which helped him win six titles on the clay courts of Roland Garros.
Borg won five more titles at Wimbledon, an incredible feat given that baseliners rarely ever succeed on grass.
But Borg's consistency and fitness put him above other baseliners, and made him an incredibly challenging opponent on all surfaces.
Though lauded for his mental strength on the court, Borg seemed less strong in terms of his career. He abruptly retired at the age of 26 when John McEnroe took the No. 1 ranking from him, claiming he had lost the will to play.
Borg may be better than players ahead of him on this list, but his shortened career keeps him at No. 4.
3. Pete Sampras
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Pistol Pete Sampras was widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time while he held the record of 14 grand slams.
Sampras employed one of the best serves in tennis history, which led him to a record seven Wimbledon titles over the course of eight years. He is often regarded as the greatest grass court player ever.
He also enjoyed considerable success at the US Open, winning five titles on his home turf.
But the French Open crown eluded him. The clay courts were ill-suited to the serve-and-volley tactic Sampras preferred.
Not having completed the career slam was not a big deal when Sampras retired in 2002—at the time, only five players had accomplished the feat. Of the five, only Agassi played in the Open Era.
Since, both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have completed career slams, making Sampras' lack of a French Open title a gaping hole in his resumé.
As of now, Sampras still has the edge on Nadal. Both are undeniably specialty surface players who have sprinkled in victories at other majors, but Sampras' seven Wimbledon titles are still one better than Nadal's six French Open crowns.
The same cannot be said, however, for Federer.
2. Roger Federer
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Roger Federer currently holds the all-time record for most Grand Slam victories at 16, but he has many other even more impressive achievements.
Federer has appeared in the finals of each major tournament at least five times—no other player has made the finals of each major more than twice. His 23 finals overall and 10 straight from 2005-2007 are both all-time highs.
From 2004-2010, Fed reached 23 consecutive singles semifinals, far exceeding Ivan Lendl and Rod Laver's previous mark of 10. His record streak of 29 consecutive quarterfinals reached is still ongoing.
Federer spent 237 weeks atop the World Rankings from 2004-2008, shattering Jimmy Connors' previous record of 160. His 285 total weeks at No. 1 is only one week behind Pete Sampras' overall record of 286.
Federer's dominance is unparalleled in the modern era. He is a phenomenal player on all surfaces, shown by his success at all majors.
The only blemish to an outstanding career is that he has had the misfortune of meeting Rafael Nadal, arguably the greatest clay court player ever, five times in the French Open. He has lost all five encounters.
That said, Federer is a living legend, and will go down as one of the most consistently dominant forces to ever set foot on a tennis court.
But there is one player who put together an even more impressive career.
1. Rod Laver
Rod Laver is, without a doubt, the greatest to ever play the game.
After completing the first ever Grand Slam in 1962, Laver turned pro. As a result, he was barred from competing in any of the major opens, which at that time were reserved for amateurs.
Laver quickly established himself as the best player on tour and held the No. 1 ranking for seven consecutive years.
The Aussie great competed once again in Grand Slam events in 1968 at the commencement of the Open Era, which allowed professionals to play in majors for the first time.
In 1969, the first full year of the Open Era, Laver completed the Grand Slam for the second time. He remains the only player in history to have completed two Grand Slams in one career.
All in all, Laver accumulated 11 major singles titles. But that total could have been much higher if he'd been allowed to play in Grand Slam events from 1963-1968, when he was 25 to 30.
Laver also won eight major doubles titles.
For his sustained success over many years of tremendous tennis, Laver is the greatest tennis player of all time.