Ranking the Greatest U.S. Tennis Players by Decade

JA AllenSenior Writer IOctober 22, 2012

Ranking the Greatest U.S. Tennis Players by Decade

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    The history of tennis began in Europe, more specifically, France. It was a game—an amusement—for the European trend-setters, the rich and the privileged. That aura of elitism carried over to a foundling American society whose upper strata felt inadequate unless they equaled European mannerisms and trends.

    Therefore when Mary Ewing Outerbridge, a young U.S. socialite, traveled to Bermuda, she saw a real need to emulate this new entertainment whose popularity continued to increase in England and France. With the help of the most modern innovator of the game, Major Wingfield, Outerbridge planned for the construction of a tennis court at the Staten Island Cricket Club in New Brighton Staten Island, New York.

    That marked the beginning of tennis in the United States.

    Tennis clubs opened in other locales. But, there were different rules at each club. This lack of consistency set the stage for the rise of the United States National Lawn Tennis Association (now the United States Tennis Association) on May 21, 1881. Its primary purpose was to standardize tennis rules and organize competitions.

    The national championship was established. The U.S. National Men's Singles Championship, now the U.S. Open, was first held in 1881 at Newport, Rhode Island.

    In the beginning, like most institutions in modern society, the U.S. Open was “open” only to men who competed in singles.

    In the beginning, tournaments instituted a challenger system, which meant last year’s champion only had to play in the final match when “challenged” to do so.

    Quite a benefit for the defending champion, who only had to win one match to retake his trophy.This system lasted through 1911.

    By then, tennis in the United States was beginning to grow into a recognized national sport. It would continue to grow and evolve, churning out champions for the next 13 decades. The following are the best of the best U.S. male players since tennis began in this country.

1880-1889: The First Decade of U.S. Tennis

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    1. Richard Sears

    In the first decade of U.S. tennis—there was Richard Sears.

    Early top players like Sears, whose career extended from 1880 to 1888, played a much different game than players today.

    Sears, who won seven consecutive U.S. Open titles from 1881-1887, generally played only the final match in a challenger system. He won his early titles while still a student at Harvard.

    During his time playing lawn tennis, Sears enjoyed an 18-match winning streak. In fact, Sears never lost during the U.S. Open competition.

    For the first three years he competed in the U.S. Championships, Sears did not even lose a set. He won his first title at age 19 while still in college—becoming the first ever 19-year-old winner in the United States.

    Sears also won the U.S. Championship in doubles for six consecutive years, 1882-1887.

    After winning the 1887 U.S. Championship, Sears retired from the game of lawn tennis.

1890-1899: The Last Decade of the Nineteenth Century

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    1. Robert Wrenn

    Adding color in this decade was Robert Wrenn, a lefty who won the U.S. National Championship four years in 1893, 1894, 1896 and 1897.  He was the runner-up in 1895 to Fred Hovey.

    During this decade, Wrenn also won the U.S. Championship in doubles in 1895. He finished second in doubles in 1896 with partner Malcolm Chace.

    Wrenn haled from Illinois. Teamed with his brother, Wrenn participated in Davis Cup play in 1903.

    He was ranked world No. 1 in 1897 and was one of the first inductees into the Tennis Hall of Fame.

    2. Oliver Campbell

    For a very long time, Oliver Campbell remained the youngest U.S. Open Champion—achieving that distinction at age 19 years, six months and nine days. 

    The year was 1890. Campbell held that honor until Pete Sampras broke the record in 1990 when he was 19 years and 28 days old.

    One hundred years was a long time for a record to stand.

    After winning the U.S. Championship for the first time, Campbell defended his title consecutive years—from 1890-1892. He also won the doubles titles for three years in 1888, 1890, and1891.

    Campbell, however, did not return to defend his title in 1893—retiring from the game.

1900-1909: First Decade in the Twentieth Century

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    1. Bill Larned

    Like those who preceded him in the game, Bill Larned also came from wealth and privilege.

    After retiring from tennis, Larned invented an early version of the steel-framed racket. Additionally, he started a company to manufacture it during the 1920s.

    Larned won the U.S. Open title seven times, just as Richard Sears had done before him.  He took the title in 1901 and 1902 then again from 1907-1911—winning five consecutive times.

    Larned played on the U.S. Davis Cup teams seven years during his career—helping the U.S. secure the Cup five times.

    Larned also achieved the U.S. No. 1 ranking.

    Poor health, however, caused him to retire from the game he loved in 1911 after helping the U.S. win the Davis Cup.

1910-1919: The Fourth Decade of U.S. Tennis

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    1. William "Bill" Johnston

    “Little Bill” Johnston was considered the best tennis player from the United States until “Big Bill” Tilden took over that spot and began to defeat Johnston regularly. 

    But in this decade, Johnston was the superior player, and Tilden was just getting started.

    Deceiving opponents with his slight frame and frail health, Johnston possessed a wicked forehand, which was long considered the best of all time until Pancho Segura introduced the two-handed forehand into the game.

    Tilden and Johnston battled it out in six U.S. Open Championships against each other with Tilden winning five of them.

    Together the two also secured seven consecutive U.S. Davis Cup Championships, which remains a record today.

    In addition to winning two U.S. Open Championships in 1915 and 1919,  Johnston also won the Wimbledon trophy in 1923.

    He was ranked world No. 1 in 1919 and again in 1922 sharing the ranking with Gerald Patterson and Bill Tilden respectively.

    Johnston continued to play tennis until 1928 when he retired.

    2. Maurice McLoughlin

    Also playing tennis during this decade was Maurice McLoughlin. He came from out West—born in Carson City, Nevada. His nickname became the “California Comet.”

    McLoughlin possessed a tremendous overhead that he used to his advantage complemented by a powerful serve.

    Winning the singles title at the U.S. Championships in both 1912 and 1913, McLoughlin also won the doubles competition from 1912 to 1914.

    In 1913, McLoughlin reached the finals of Wimbledon where he lost in the challenge round to defending champion Tony Wilding—becoming the first U.S. player to reach the finals at the All England Club.

    McLoughlin was ranked No. 1 in 1914 and retired from tennis in 1919.

    3. Richard Norris Williams

    Richard Norris Williams also won the U.S. Championships twice in this decade. He defeated Maurice McLoughlin in 1914 and Bill Johnston in 1916 in a hard fought five-set battle. Williams also reached the finals in 1913, losing to McLoughlin.

    Williams won a doubles titles at Wimbledon in 1920 as well as doubles titles at the U.S. Championships in 1925 and 1926. 

    In 1912, he won a mixed-doubles title with Mary Kendall Brown at the U.S. Championships.

    Williams served on the victorious Davis Cup in 1925 and 1926, playing doubles. In 1924 in Paris, Williams won a gold medal in mixed doubles with Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman.

    What is more, Williams survived the sinking of the Titanic, on board the liner during that famous disaster.

1920-1929: Fifty Years of Tennis Plus the Rise of Tilden

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    1. Bill Tilden

    Bill Tilden, like many of his predecessors, came from a wealthy background. Perfecting his game became an obsession to this man of privilege during the 1920s.

    This 1920s tennis star was flamboyant, to say the least. Tilden was ranked world No. 1 for seven years during this decade.

    He remains one of the greatest ever to play the game from the United States––maybe from anywhere.  

    Tilden played in 14 U.S. Open Championships, winning the title seven times. His winning percentage was fixed at 90.79.

    Throughout his playing career on the grass at Forest Hills, Tilden won the U.S. Open consecutively for six years from 1920-1925.  He won his last Open in 1929 but played his last tournament in 1930 when he ended his amateur career.  

    Tilden also owned the most U.S. titles with 16—seven singles, five doubles and four mixed doubles during his career.

    In addition, Tilden along with Bill Johnston helped the United States secure seven Davis Cup victories.

    But Tilden did travel outside the United States during his career, winning three Wimbledon titles in 1920, 1921 and 1930. Additionally, he reached the French Open finals twice in 1927 and 1930, runner-up to Rene Lacoste and Henri Cochet respectively.

    Tilden also won three Pro-Slam titles during his life as a tennis pro.

    Though his life ended without honor and dignity, his tennis career should never be overlooked.

    He was one of the greatest U.S. Open champions to play the game bringing tennis into the national spotlight in the 1920s.

1930-1939: Sixth Decade of U.S. Tennis

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    1. Don Budge

    Born in 1915, American Don Budge ascended to the No. 1 ranking in 1937, holding onto the top spot for five years.  

    Budge was the first man in tennis history to win the calendar year Grand Slam. He completed the sweep in 1938.

    After reaching the finals in 1936 losing to Fred Perry, Budge won the U.S. Open in 1937 and 1938.

    In all he played in the Open five times, winning twice, ending with a winning percentage of 88.46.

    He also won two Wimbledon titles, the first in 1937.

    Budge won four Grand Slam doubles titles in his career, two each at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open as well as four mixed doubles titles at these same two venues.

    Like many of the greats of this era, once Budge turned professional, his participation in the Grand Slam tournaments ceased. 

    But during those years, Budge won four Pro-Slam titles.

    2. Ellsworth Vines

    Ellsworth Vines played tennis in the thirties along with Don Budge and Brits Fred Perry and Bunny Austin.

    Vines was imminently talented and could win almost anything when he set his mind to it.

    He climbed to the No. 1 ranking for four years in 1932 as an amateur, and in 1935, 1936 and 1937 as a pro. He held the top ranking either alone or shared it with another great during those years.

    Vines won Wimbledon in 1932 and the U.S. Championships in 1931 and 1932. He also reached the Wimbledon finals in 1933 before turning pro.

    At age 28, however, Vines retired from professional tennis and became a professional golfer.

    He did not play tennis long but for the time he did, Vines had an impact on the game, pushing his contemporaries who battled to keep up with him.

1940-1949: The World War II Decade

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    1. Jack Kramer

    This man probably did more for modern tennis than anyone living or dead.

    Kramer fought hard to establish “Open” tennis for amateurs and professionals so that there was only one tour and the best tennis players met and played each other for equal prize money.  

    It took him until 1968 to usher in the “Open” era in tennis. Kramer also was responsible for founding the ATP.

    At 6'2", Kramer brought in the style of play that many modern players adopted––the serve and volley.

    His powerful serve and his net play made many regard him as one the best tennis players ever on the men’s side of the game.

    Kramer won the U.S. Open Championship in 1946 and 1947, defeating Tom Brown and Frank Parker, respectively. He was runner-up on the grass in New York in 1943 to Joseph Hunt.

    Kramer won the U.S. Championships in doubles in 1940,1941, 1943 and 1947—winning doubles also at Wimbledon in 1946 and 1947.

    Kramer also won the Wimbledon singles competition in 1947—ranked world No. 1 in that year.

    He turned pro in 1947 and would go on to win two Pro-Slam titles in 1948 and 1949.

    During World War II, Kramer continued playing while serving in the United States Coast Guard.

    2. Frank Parker

    What distinguished Frank Parker from other champions besides his multiple appearances and wins at the U.S. Open?  

    He is one of the few men in the history of the game who managed to win both the French Open and the U.S. Open during his career.

    Parker won two French Open titles in 1948 and 1949.

    Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Parker won the U.S. Open in 1944 and 1945. Additionally, he was the runner-up in 1942 to Ted Schroeder and in 1947 to Jack Kramer.  

    What is more, Parker won his U.S. Open Championships while serving as a Sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Force.  

    Besides winning singles titles, Parker also won three Grand Slam doubles titles at the U.S. Championships in 1943 and at the French Open and Wimbledon in 1949.

    His career in tennis was a long one for that era lasting from 1933-1949, and he was known for his remarkable all-court game.

    3. Bobby Riggs

    You may remember the name of Bobby Riggs in connection with his “Battle of the Sexes” match against Billie Jean King back in 1973 when Riggs was 55 years of age. 

    His challenge led to much needed favorable publicity for women’s tennis after Billie Jean King won the match.

    Still, in the 1940s Bobby Riggs was ranked World No. 1 for three years, two of those during his professional career, which began in 1941.

    He won the Wimbledon title in 1939 by defeating Elwood Cooke of the United States in five sets––having supposedly bet on himself to capture all three titles at Wimbledon that year which he did.

    Riggs appeared in the the U.S. Open finals three consecutive years from 1939-1941.  He won the Championship in 1939 by defeating Welby Van Horn and in 1941 by defeating Frank Kovacs.  Riggs  was the runner-up in 1940 to Don McNeil.

    He also won Grand Slam mixed doubles titles at Wimbledon in 1939 and at the U.S. Championships in 1940.

    This colorful character was a great U.S. champion.

1950-1959: Eight Decades of U.S. Tennis

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    1. Pancho Gonzales

    Because of economic forces and the structure of tennis before 1968, Pancho Gonzalez played the most significant portion of his career as a professional where he reigned as world No. 1 for eight years against the best playing the game in the 1950s and early 1960s.

    Gonzalez won the U.S. Open as an amateur in 1948 and 1949 during the earliest years of his  25 year career.

    He also won 15 Pro-Slam titles. He was, to put it simply, an amazing tennis player regardless of the setting.

    His serve was dominating as was his net play. These coupled with an intense drive to win made Gonzalez a champion and took him to the top of the sport. 

    When the match was on the line, Gonzalez simply refused to lose. He slammed the door closed at the end of a match.

    There simply were none his equal during this period.

    2. Tony Trabert

    Tony Trabert turned pro in 1955 after having one of the greatest years ever in tennis history. 

    He won the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and reached the semifinals of the Australian Open all in that calendar year.

    He also won 18 tour titles in 1955, ending the year with a record of 106-17.

    Trabert was ranked No. 1 in doubles and singles in 1955.

    In all, Trabert won five career Grand Slam singles titles because prior to 1955, Trabert won the U.S. Open in 1953 as well as the French Open in 1954.

    In fact Trabert was the last American to win the French title (1955) until Michael Chang won it again in 1989.

    Trabert also won five Grand Slam doubles titles at the Australian Open in 1955, the French Open in 1950, 1954 and 1955, and the U.S. Open in 1954. Except for the French Open title in 1950 where he teamed with Bill Talbert, Trabert teamed with Vic Seixas to win the rest of his doubles titles.

    He also won two Pro-Slam titles—the French Pro in 1956 and 1959.

    When Trabert retired from tennis, he went on to a successful career in broadcasting, starting in 1971.

    3. Vic Seixas

    Vic Seixas also won majors during the 1950s. In 1953 he won the Wimbledon title and in 1954 Seixas won the U.S. Open championship. Seixas was a runner-up in slam finals three times.

    Most of Seixas wins, however came in doubles. In Grand Slams he won doubles titles five times and was the runner-up in three. He teamed most often with Tony Trabert but also won with Mervyn Rose at Wimbledon in 1952.

    Seixas also won Grand Slam mixed doubles titles—four at Wimbledon from 1953-1956 with Doris Hart and Shirley Fry and three at the U.S. Open in 1953-1955 with Doris Hart.

    Along with Tony Trabert, Seixas helped the United States win the Davis Cup over Australia in 1954, and these were the years when Australia dominated. 

    In fact, Seixas is ranked fifth in Davis Cup singles competition with 24 match wins. Tilden is just ahead of him with 25 and Ashe leads with 27. He competed on the U.S. Davis Cup team from 1951-1957.

    Moreover, Seixas continued to compete until he was 46 years of age.

1960-1969: The Beginning of the Open Era in Tennis

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    1. Arthur Ashe

    Because of Arthur Ashe’s contribution to U.S. Tennis as well as his humanitarian ventures, the USTA named its center court in his honor—Arthur Ashe Stadium at Flushing Meadows.

    Fittingly, Ashe held the No. 1 ranking and won the inaugural U.S. Open at the start of the men’s “Open Era” in tennis.

    He defeated Tom Okker of the Netherlands in a hard-fought final, winning 14-12, 5-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

    Ashe also won the Australian Open in 1970 over Dick Crealy of Australia 6-4, 9-7, 6-2.

    In a stunning upset, Ashe defeated Jimmy Connors in the final of the 1975 Wimbledon Championships, 6-1, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4. He won using superb strategy—never giving Connors any pace.

    Ashe was instrumental in the formation of the ATP and fought hard for player equality in all nations where tennis was played.

    Slowed by a heart condition, Ashe retired from tennis in 1980.

    2. Clark Graebner

    Clark Graebner turned pro in 1968, although he had been playing tennis since 1960.

    At the time he was known for his fast serve—called the fastest of his time.  In 1967, the last year that the U.S. Open was open only to amateurs, Graebner was the runner-up to John Newcombe in the finals.

    In 1968 he reached the semifinals of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the singles competition.

    In 1966 Graebner with his partner Dennis Ralston won the French Championships in men’s doubles, defeating the infamous team of Ion Tiriac and Ilie Nastase

    Graebner teamed with Arthur Ashe in 1968 to win the Davis Cup for the United States. They proved a lethal pair, winning the Cup for the next four years.

    He won four titles on the Grand Prix and WCT tours and ten in doubles since the Open Era began.

    Overall, Graebner won seven career singles titles and was ranked as high as No. 7.

    He retired from tennis in 1976.

1970-1979: U.S. Tennis on the Rise Again

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    1. Jimmy Connors

    After decades of domination by the Australians, tennis in the United States was beginning to thrive. No one embodied the spirit of this new tennis surge than up and coming James Scott Connors.

    Connors was a man driven to win at all odds. He pumped himself up by feeding on the notion that everything and everybody was against him. That mindset helped Connors to become a force in tennis for many, many years.

    Connors won five of his seven final appearances at the U.S. Open with an 85.2 total winning percentage (98-17).

    He is the only male in the history of the U.S. Open to have won the title on three different surfaces––on grass, clay, and hard courts.

    He won his first title in 1974 and his last in 1983. Connors played in 22 U.S. Opens starting in 1970, and he played his last in 1992 as he turned 40.

    Jimbo loved playing in New York where he enjoyed his greatest success on tour even though at times he resented the lack of respect he detected from the American press when his career seemed down and out to them.

    In 1974, Connors won three of the four majors—all but the French. It was his first U.S. Open final, and he smoked Ken Rosewall 6-1, 6-0, 6-1.

    His next two U.S. Open wins came in 1976 on clay and 1978 on hard courts against another Connors arch-rival, Bjorn Borg.

    Connors went on to win another two finals against another No. 1 player, Ivan Lendl in 1982 and 1983, both four-setters.

    Jimbo also lost two finals at the U.S. Open against Michael Orantes of Spain in 1975 and against Guillermo Vilas of Argentina in 1977.

    In addition to his five U.S. Open titles, Connors owns two Wimbledon titles and one Australian Open title in singles. In doubles, Connors won at Wimbledon in 1973 and at the U.S. Open in 1975.

    He achieved his first world No. 1 ranking in 1974 but would hold the top spot most of this decade.

    Connors will always have a place in the hearts of Americans as one of their greatest players.

    2. Stan Smith

    Stan Smith enjoyed success in both singles and doubles on the men’s tour.

    He played from 1972 until 1985 when Smith hung up his competitive racket.

    While he played, he won two major championships: the U.S. Open in 1972 over Jan Kodes and the 1970 Australian Open, defeating Ilie Nastase.

    Smith achieved the No. 1 ranking in 1972.

    With his partner Bob Lutz, Smith won the U.S. Open doubles title four times in 1968, 1974, 1978, and 1980. The pair teamed to win the Australian Open in 1970.

    Once he retired, Smith entered the coaching realm where he exerted a great deal of influence in American tennis.

1980-1989: The Decade of Serve and Volley Tennis

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    1. John McEnroe

    While Roscoe Tanner and Vital Gerulaitis won a few battles, this decade was dominated in the beginning by John McEnroe and his constant foe Jimmy Connors.

    No one brought more drama to the courts in Flushing Meadows than New Yorker, John McEnroe. His brazen behavior and hot temper were either adored or abhorred by the fans who watched his meltdowns over line calls and umpire overrules.

    McEnroe competed 16 times at the U.S. Open with an 84.6 winning percentage (66-12).

    Johnny Mac played his first U.S. Open in 1977 and his last in 1992. He won four singles championships, three consecutively from 1979-1981 and another in 1984. McEnroe also won 4 men’s doubles titles at the U.S. Open.

    In 1979 McEnroe defeated fellow New Yorker and best friend Vitas Gerulaitis in the final 7-5, 6-3, 6-3. It marked McEnroe’s first slam victory at age 20.

    In 1980, it would not be quite so easy as McEnroe faced Bjorn Borg in the final enduring five grueling sets before he won 7-6, 6-1, 6-7, 5-7, 6-4.

    In 1981 when McEnroe again faced Borg, the match was not nearly so competitive but it turned out to remarkable for another reason. When Borg lost 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 to McEnroe, he walked away from professional tennis.

    In 1984,McEnroe returned to Flushing Meadows for his final U.S. Open title––in fact his final slam victory. He defeated Ivan Lendl 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 in the men’s finals.The following year Lendl would defeat McEnroe.

    McEnroe's most famous battles, however, came at Wimbledon where he fought with Bjorn Borg, losing in 1980 but winning in 1981. McEnroe would win again 1983-1984. He also won the Wimbledon doubles titles four times—three in the 1980s.

    Johnny Mac will always be remembered as one of the most colorful and explosive American players who loved the rowdy crowds in New York.

1990-1999: The Most Dominating U.S. Decade

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    1. Pete Sampras

    Although most fans associate the Sampras aura with Wimbledon, his success at the U.S. Open remains truly remarkable. His appearance in eight finals is a record that will be hard to match, although Federer is still active and within two of reaching that mark.

    In the Open era Sampras, with five championships, remains tied with Jimmy Connors and Roger Federer for the most victories at the U.S. Open, where Sampras holds an 88.75 winning percentage (71-9).

    Sampras played at the U.S. Open 14 times, beginning in 1988, missing only one appearance in 1999 due to injury.

    Sampras won his first title at age 19 and his last at age 31, both at the U.S. Open. In 1990, Sampras captured his first win over Andre Agassi in straight sets 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. Pistol Pete won his second U.S. Open title in 1993 over France’s Cedric Pioline, seeded 15th. Sampras won back-to-back championships in 1995-1996 defeating fellow American Andre Agassi.

    In 1996 Sampras defeated Michael Chang 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 to pick up his fourth U.S. Open title. The next title would not happen for six long years and would mark Sampras' fifth and final U.S. Open title in 2002. Standing across the net was the man he had beaten twice before for the title, Agassi.

    The two Americans fought hard for four sets with Sampras coming out on top. After the 2002 U.S. Open concluded, Sampras decided to call it a career after winning his 14th major.

    To date, Sampras holds the mantle in the eyes of most tennis authorities as the best so far to play the game of tennis at the U.S. Open on the center court at the Billie Jean National Tennis Center.

    Sampras also won two Australian Open titles in 1994 and 1997 as well as seven Wimbledon titles won in 1993-1995 and 1997-2000. Sampras won 14 Grand Slam Singles titles but never managed to capture the French.

    In all, most regard Sampras as the greatest U.S. champion.

    2. Andre Agassi

    Andre Agassi became the athlete who refused to quit.

    Although Agassi could fit into the decade of the 1990s as well as the 2000s, the most significant part of his career came during this decade.

    He appeared at the U.S. Open 21 consecutive years with an 80.6 total winning percentage (79-19).

    Agassi played his first U.S. Open at age 16 in 1986 and his last in 2006 at age 36. In the end Agassi remained a favorite of the New York crowds, who grew to embrace this champion as Agassi matured.

    His first U.S. Open victory came in 1994 as Agassi defeated German Michael Stich 6-1, 7-6, 7-5. Then in 1999, Agassi came out on top against fellow American Todd Martin 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2 in a thrilling five-set match, which Agassi refused to lose.

    Agassi also lost in his last final appearance against Roger Federer in 2005 when Federer won his second consecutive New York title.

    Agassi also won the Australian Open title in 1995, 2000, 2001, 2003 as well as the French Open in 1999 and Wimbledon in 1992. Plus, Agassi won a gold medal for men's tennis in 1996 during the Summer Games in Atlanta.

    The win in Paris in 1999 gave Agassi a career Golden Slam.

    Agassi will always be remembered for his competitive spirit, his brilliant return game, and his aggressive ground strokes.

    3. Jim Courier

    Current U.S. Davis Cup coach, Jim Courier is a former world No. 1 player who was born in Sanford, Florida. He reached the No. 1 ranking in 1992.

    Courier, who reached his peak in the early 1990s, played right-handed and employed a two-handed backhand.

    A steady and thoughtful player, Courier became a rare American who excelled on the red clay at Stade de Roland Garros.

    A contemporary of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, Courier maximized his strengths and worked his way to the top of the men’s game.

    He won the Australian Open twice in 1992-1993, defeating Stefan Edberg in both years.

    Courier also won the French Open twice in 1991-1992, defeating Andre Agassi and Petr Korda, respectively.

    During his career, Courier won 23 titles, and was ranked No. 1 for a total of 58 weeks.

    Courier retired from tennis in 2000.

    4. Michael Chang

    Michael Chang was the youngest player ever to win a grand slam when he won the 1989 French Open at the age of 17. He defeated Stefan Edberg in a five-set final.

    But most remember his epic five-set battle with Ivan Lendl in the fourth round. After winning that war, the young American advanced all the way to the championship match.

    In 1996 Chang also reached the finals of the Australian Open and the U.S. Open losing to Boris Becker and Pete Sampras, respectively.

    Chang had tremendous foot speed and remained tireless on court. Standing only 5’9", Chang often had to run for his life to keep pace with his taller competitors.

    During his peak years, Chang remained in the top ten of men’s tennis.

    His highest ranking was world No. 2, which he achieved in September of 1996.

2000-2009: The First Decade of the Twenty-First Century

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    1. Andy Roddick

    Once serve and volley tennis died, replaced by baseline, all-court tennis, the players from the United States took a back-seat to the Europeans who reigned throughout the majority of this decade.

    In addition to Andre Agassi, whose career was receding and who never played serve and volley tennis, there was Andy Roddick.

    Former U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick began playing professional tennis in 2000 at age 18.

    He won his only grand slam championship in 2003, defeating Juan Carlos Ferrero in the finals of the U.S. Open.  He ascended to the No. 1 ranking in November of 2003.

    Roddick also reached three finals at Wimbledon in 2004, 2005 and in 2009 where he lost each time to world No. 1 Roger Federer.

    Perhaps Roddick’s greatest contribution to U.S. tennis came during his participation in Davis Cup competition where the big serving Roddick helped keep the U.S. competitive, starting in 2001.

    The U.S. Davis Cup team enjoyed their biggest triumph in 2007 when they faced Russia in Portland, Oregon, with a team which had Roddick as its undisputed leader.

    Roddick won the first point in the final and set the USA’s 32nd victory in the competition into motion. The match ended in a convincing 4-1 scoreline. Team USA had won the Davis Cup.

    In total Roddick played in 45 matches in 25 ties—his record stands at 33-12.

    Roddick emerged on the scene during a major paradigm shift in men's tennis. The glory of days of serve and volley tennis essentially died with Pete Sampras. The game of big serves and minimal strokes would end as technology enhanced rackets and the courts slowed.

    Roddick's game was already fixed and suited his talents. Even though he worked tirelessly to improve his ground strokes and his movement, he never quite mastered them well enough after 2003 to reach to the top again.

    But Roddick remained in the men's top 10 for a over decade and kept tennis alive and kicking in the U.S.

    What is next? Who will take the reins now that Roddick has retired. These are questions unanswered as we enter the third year of the current decade of tennis in the U.S.