The 25 Greatest Male Tennis Players of the Open Era

Sergey ZikovSenior Analyst IFebruary 21, 2009

Here are the 25 greatest athletes of the tennis world in the Open Era, meaning since 1968. I can't acknowledge greats like Fred Perry, Don Budge, and Bill Tilden for that reason, but they would all certainly make the list.

These men come from all over the globe. From Australia to Sweden and South Africa to North America, they are all united in a common goal: to win Grand Slams.

Some did this extremely well (see Sampras, Pete) and some spent more time as the lovable runner-up (see Lendl, Ivan).

All title wins and Grand Slam victories listed are for singles only.

So let the fun begin.

25a. Patrick Rafter (AUS)

  • Career Duration: 1991-2002
  • Career Titles: 11
  • Career Grand Slams: 2

Rafter may very well be the last true serve-and-volley Grand Slam champion. Although he played a short career, the Aussie won back-to-back US Open titles in 1997 and 1998.

Rafter was also twice a runner-up at Wimbledon, one of those times falling to Pete Sampras.

He also won 10 doubles titles, winning the Australian Open title with doubles legend Jonas Bjorkman in 1999. He was elected into the Australian Open Hall of Fame on Australia Day in 2008.

25b. Lleyton Hewitt (AUS)

  • Career Duration: 1998-Present
  • Career Titles: 26
  • Career Grand Slams: 2

Lleyton Hewitt, the fiery Australian kid who could, reached the world No. 1 ranking faster than anybody else. At 20 years and 268 days old, Hewitt became the world's best. He defeated Pete Sampras in the US Open to win his first Grand Slam title, then went on to win at Wimbledon the next year.

Hewitt also won the 2000 US Open doubles final, with Belarussian Max Mirnyi as a partner. He has been an exceptional hard court player throughout his career, and is commonly regarded as one of the elite defenders in the game.

24. Andy Roddick (USA)

  • Career Duration: 2000-Present
  • Career Titles: 26
  • Career Grand Slams: 1

Roddick is the prototype Power Era player. He plays his points short and holds the ATP World Record for fastest serve, clocked at a ridiculous 155 mph.

He captured his first and only Grand Slam title to date when he defeated Juan Carlos Ferrero in straight sets at the US Open in 2003.

Roddick has also reached three other Grand Slam finals (twice in Wimbledon, once more in Flushing Meadows) but lost to Roger Federer each time. He is currently engaged to model Brooklyn Decker.

23. Manuel Orantes (ESP)

  • Career Duration: 1967-1984
  • Career Titles: 33
  • Career Grand Slams: 1

Orantes had a unique knack of playing extraordinarily well in minor tournaments, but falling apart in Grand Slams.

However, his only Grand Slam victory was a very impressive one to say the least; he defeated American Jimmy Connors at the US Open in 1975. He also did it in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Orantes also gave Bjorn Borg an excellent match at Roland Garros in 1974, where he won the first two sets before collapsing. He also partnered with Jose Higueras in 1978 to reach the French Open final in doubles.

22. Yevgeny Kafelnikov (RUS)

  • Career Duration: 1992-2004
  • Career Titles: 26
  • Career Grand Slams: 2

Kafelnikov has a very special mark on his record. He is the last man to capture the singles and doubles trophies at a Grand Slam event (1996 French Open). He partnered with Daniel Vacek and defeated the team of Guy Forget/Jakob Hlasek to win the doubles title, then went on to pummel Michael Stich for the singles title.

He would also win the Australian Open in 1999.

The heavy-swinging righty from Sochi also had four career Grand Slam doubles titles and an Olympic gold medal in singles at the Sydney games in 2000.

21. Michael Chang (USA)

  • Career Duration: 1988-2003
  • Career Titles: 34
  • Career Grand Slams: 1

The diminutive Chang (5'9" 160 lbs.) had a reputation of winning young. He won countless titles as a teenager, but none more famous than his Grand Slam victory at the French Open in 1989.

The 17-year-old Chang faced World No. 1 and three-time champion Ivan Lendl, and won in a five-set epic that lasted well over four hours.

Chang never reached No. 1 in the world and he never won another Grand Slam after his win in 1989. He was a runner-up three times. Chang still is considered one of the best defenders in history, thanks to his blinding speed and recovery.

20. Thomas Muster (AUT)

  • Career Duration: 1985-1999
  • Career Titles: 44
  • Career Grand Slams: 1

Dubbed the "King of Clay" in the 1990s, his lone Grand Slam came at the French Open in 1995, where he defeated Michael Chang.

Although he never won the event again, he won nearly all of his career ATP titles on clay courts. The southpaw won 40 out of his 44 tournament wins on the sands.

The skinny Austrian reached the world No. 1 ranking in the early stages of 1996, but he did not hold it for long. He won a title he probably never wanted in 1990, when he was awarded the ATP's "Comeback Player of the Year."

19. Gustavo Kuerten (BRA)

  • Career Duration: 1995-2008
  • Career Titles: 20
  • Career Grand Slams: 3

Guga Kuerten was easily the best Brazilian to ever play the game. He was a clay court specialist who won all three of his Grand Slam titles at the French Open, in 1997, 2000 and 2001.

Despite never making it past the quarterfinals in any other Grand Slam event, Guga was practically automatic at Roland Garros.

The vast majority of Kuerten's ATP titles came on clay, although he did have several hard court championships mixed in. He also dabbled in doubles towards the end of his career, teaming up with fellow Brazilian Fernando Meligeni to win five ATP titles.

18. Ilie Nastase (ROM)

  • Career Duration: 1969-1985
  • Career Titles: 57
  • Career Grand Slams: 2

Nastase won Grand Slam titles in every way possible. He won two in singles, three in doubles, and two more in mixed doubles. His most impressive win was over Arthur Ashe in the 1972 US Open, where it took the Romanian five sets and close to five hours to seal the deal.

The versatile Nastase won ATP events on all surfaces, too. He may have possibly been one of the best carpet court players in history, as he won practically every carpet tournament he entered during the 1970s.

17. Jim Courier (USA)

  • Career Duration: 1988-2000
  • Career Titles: 23
  • Career Grand Slams: 4

Courier started out his career with a bang, defeating fellow young star Andre Agassi in five sets at the French Open.

He would go on to win four Grand Slam titles, two at Roland Garros and two more in Melbourne. Courier faced his arch-nemesis, Stefan Edberg, three times in Grand Slam finals, winning two of them.

He spent 58 weeks ranked at No. 1 and despite having a decent game on all surfaces, the majority of his tournament wins came on hard courts. Courier founded the non-profit organization "Courier's Kids" to help children play tennis after his retirement.

16. John Newcombe (AUS)

  • Career Duration: 1968-1981
  • Career Titles: 32 (68 in total)
  • Career Grand Slams: 5

Newcombe had a very productive career as a singles player, winning multiple titles at the US Open, Australian Open and Wimbledon. His signature match was a victory over Ken Rosewall at Wimbledon in 1970.

However, Newcombe may be most famous for his ATP-record 12 Grand Slam titles in doubles, many with fellow Aussie Tony Roche as a partner.


15. Arthur Ashe (USA)

  • Career Duration: 1966-1980
  • Career Titles: 33
  • Career Grand Slams: 3

Ashe was not only a leader on the court for advancement of American tennis, but also an activist in social issues as well.

Ashe won every Grand Slam event except the French Open. He defeated fellow American Jimmy Connors in 1975 at Wimbledon to claim his final championship.

He had a rivalry with Roy Emerson before the Open Era in the early 1960s. He was the first African-American to win a Grand Slam, and he was also a major activist in the worldwide fight against AIDS.

14. Guillermo Vilas (ARG)

  • Career Duration: 1969-1992
  • Career Titles: 62
  • Career Grand Slams: 4

Vilas was a southpaw baseliner in an era where players commonly would serve and volley. He was the first South American male to ever win a Grand Slam event when he defeated Brian Gottfried at Roland Garros. He would win four Grand Slams in total.

Vilas holds two impressive ATP records. First, he had a 46-match winning streak on all surfaces in 1977 which still hasn't come close to falling. Second, he won the most titles in a season, also in 1977, with 16 ATP Tour championships.

13. Stefan Edberg (SWE)

  • Career Duration: 1983-1996
  • Career Titles: 42
  • Career Grand Slams: 6

The big Swede was also big on serve-and-volley. He is one of the few players to ever be ranked No. 1 in the world in singles and doubles at the same time.

Edberg won every Grand Slam event twice except the French Open, in which he made it to the final and lost to Michael Chang.

He was fierce rivals with Boris Becker; they met at Wimbledon three consecutive years (1988-90). Edberg took two of those crowns. He also won two doubles crowns with fellow Swede and doubles titan Anders Jarryd.

12. Boris Becker (GER)

  • Career Duration: 1984-1999
  • Career Titles: 49
  • Career Grand Slams: 6

Boris Becker accomplished just about everything a tennis player could possibly imagine. He won six career Grand Slam titles (three at Wimbledon), won an Olympic Gold in Barcelona, and led the West Germany Davis Cup team to a dramatic victory over the United States in 1989 where he beat Andre Agassi in five brutal sets.

Becker won an unheard of 26 titles on indoor carpet courts over the course of his career, still a record today.

Bizarrely enough with how tremendous of a singles player he was, he reached a higher mark in doubles first, despite never winning a Grand Slam doubles event. 

11. Mats Wilander (SWE)

  • Career Duration: 1981-1996
  • Career Titles: 33
  • Career Grand Slams: 7

Mats Wilander is in exclusive company because he can say that he has won a Grand Slam on all three surfaces (the other two are Rafael Nadal and Jimmy Connors).

Although he never won Wimbledon, his grass title came at the Australian Open when it was still played on lawn.

The all-purpose Wilander also won a Grand Slam in doubles, and reached finals two more times. He was at his best when playing on clay, where he won the French Open three times, defeating Guillermo Vilas in the first and Ivan Lendl in the second.


10. Rafael Nadal (ESP)

  • Career Duration: 2004-Present
  • Career Titles: 32
  • Career Grand Slams: 6

Don't expect the Raging Bull to sit here for the rest of his career. Nadal has already put together a phenomenal body of work, and he's only 22. He has won Grand Slams on all surfaces and has put himself in prime position to become only the second man in Open Era history to win all four Grand Slams in a year.

Although Nadal calls the red clay of Roland Garros home, he has certainly expanded his horizons. His rivalry with Roger Federer may end up being the best of all-time.

9. Ken Rosewall (AUS)

  • Career Duration: 1950-1980
  • Career Titles: 25 (132 in total)
  • Career Grand Slams: 6 (12 in total)

Ken Rosewall's picture should show up in the dictionary under the word "consistency." He was a Top 20 player in the world for 25 straight years, and even won the Australian Open at 38 years old.

The minuscule Rosewall (5'7" and 145 pounds), played with constant agility and had a never-ending motor.

Although Rosewall won the majority of his tournaments before the Open Era, he was still winning Grand Slam events deep into his 30s, where he won three of them after his 35th birthday. Talk about impressive.

8. Ivan Lendl (CZE)

  • Career Duration: 1978-1994
  • Career Titles: 94
  • Career Grand Slams: 8

Lendl, despite winning eight career Grand Slams, may be better known for another statistic. He has competed in an ATP-record 19 Grand Slam finals and made it to at least one in each of 11 consecutive years.

He helped to usher in a Power Era of tennis, utilizing a heavy topspin forehands from the baseline. He won every Grand Slam event except Wimbledon, despite making it to the finals in two consecutive years. The lovable loser from the Czech Republic is second all-time in the Open Era for career titles.

7. Jimmy Connors (USA)

  • Career Duration: 1972-1996
  • Career Titles: 109
  • Career Grand Slams: 8

Jimbo Connors was one of the best to ever play the game, and yet he doesn't even get serious contention for the best American player in the Open Era! Connors won an ATP-record 109 career titles and added a friendly eight Grand Slams to go with it.

He could dominate all surfaces at any time and spent a mundane 268 total weeks at No. 1 in the world.

Connors also double dipped for a while with Ilie Nastase, where the duo won two Grand Slams (Wimbledon & the US Open). Jimbo also holds the strange record of being the only man to win the US Open on three different surfaces.

6. John McEnroe (USA)

  • Career Duration: 1978-2006
  • Career Titles: 77
  • Career Grand Slams: 7

Yes, Johnny Mac, we are serious. You are sixth best in the Open Era. Although John McEnroe was one of the best to ever play, he will be most remembered for his Hall of Fame conniptions on the court. He had intense rivalries with any player who would give him a decent match (mainly Borg, Connors, and Lendl).

Despite McEnroe never winning the French or Australian Open, he more than made up for it in Wimbledon and US Open titles. His most famous match without doubt would be the 1980 Wimbledon final against Bjorn Borg, which Borg ended up winning 8-6 in the fifth set.

5. Andre Agassi (USA)

  • Career Duration: 1986-2006
  • Career Titles: 60
  • Career Grand Slams: 8

The Wonder Boy, Andre Agassi didn't turn out so bad after all. He is the only male player to complete a career Golden Slam (all four Grand Slam events plus an Olympic gold).

Dubbed the best serve-returner in history by many of the top players who have faced Agassi, he had insane hand-eye coordination.

He was a truly dominant force on the hard courts, winning 46 of his 60 career titles on the concrete, but he was no slouch on other surfaces. The only grass court tournament he won happened to be called Wimbledon. He is married to former WTA star Steffi Graf.

4. Pete Sampras (USA)

  • Career Duration: 1988-2002
  • Career Titles: 64
  • Career Grand Slams: 14

Pistol Pete Sampras will always be remembered for his mind-blowing seven Wimbledon singles championships. Sampras had literally no weaknesses in his game, and could use any weapon at any time.

His serve could win points. His forehand was deadly. And his net game was unparalleled. His 14 career Grand Slams remain an Open Era record.

His only weakness may have been his complete inability to win on clay. He made it to the Roland Garros semifinals just once in his career, and never went any further. He was a prime-time performer who had an 84 percent winning percentage in Grand Slams.

3. Roger Federer (SUI)

  • Career Duration: 1998-Present
  • Career Titles: 57
  • Career Grand Slams: 13

You can't say enough about Roger Federer. The Swiss master-tactician has already nearly matched Pete Sampras' record 14 Grand Slams, and Federer has done it in half the time.

He combines a mixture of power and shot-making that has dazzled crowds around the world for many years.

He remains fierce rivals with Rafael Nadal. Nadal has mauled Federer on clay, while Federer still has the upper hand on grass and hard courts in terms of victories.

If Federer can stay healthy, he could possibly reach Connors' mark for career titles too. 

2. Bjorn Borg (SWE)

  • Career Duration: 1973-1993
  • Career Titles: 63
  • Career Grand Slams: 11

Borg was a multi-faceted machine who could transition his game to any surface. He won back-to-back French Open and Wimbledon titles three straight times. Rafael Nadal has done that feat only once. He currently holds the record for most French Open titles won, with six, but that record could fall in the near future.

Borg made the game look like a stroll in the park. In a game that was evolving away from finesse, he used his racquet like a magic wand to return everything in sight. Although for a guy that couldn't stand being second best, that's where he stands here.

1. Rod Laver (AUS)

  • Career Duration: 1962-1979
  • Career Titles: 40 (198 in total)
  • Career Grand Slams: 5 (11 in total) 

Finally, the best player of all time. Laver is the only man in Open Era history to complete a calendar year Grand Slam, where he won all four titles in 1969.

The miniature left-hander from Rockhampton, Australia, did things never before seen with a racquet. He revolutionized the way the game was played...spinning the ball and expert volleys.

He is credited with 198 singles titles (most before the Open Era), but his sheer dominance over the entire field was brilliance on a level never seen again.

Laver also showcased his mastery of the doubles game while partnered with Roy Emerson, where the two won in Melbourne and Wimbledon.

He also has a stadium named after him.