Ranking the 10 Greatest Australian Open Champions in History

Jake Curtis@jakecurtis53Featured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2014

Ranking the 10 Greatest Australian Open Champions in History

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    With Novak Djokovic shooting for his fourth straight men's Australian Open title and Serena Williams going for her sixth women's Australian Open crown, it's time to rate the greatest Australian Open champions in history.

    This year's Australian Open, which begins Jan. 13, represents the 46th Australian Championship to be played in the Open Era.

    Our rankings are based primarily on Australian titles won in the Open Era, since the title specifies Australian Open champions. However, success in the pre-Open Era, overall fame and other factors came into play in a few cases.

    You will note that such standouts as Bjorg Borg, John McEnroe, Chris Evert, Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras and Billie Jean King are not on the list. Many of the top players did not play in the Australian Open during a significant portion of their prime years.

    The one current star who failed to make the top 10 is Rafael Nadal, who has but one Australian Open title but may add more.

    We chose five men and seven women to make up our list of the 10 greatest Australian Open champions, although we hedged a bit by posting a three-way tie for the final spot.

10. Martina Navratlova/Ken Rosewall/Martina Hingis

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    We cheated a bit by having three players tie for the 10th spot, but we could not leave Ken Rosewall, Martina Navratilova or Martina Hingis off the list.

    Rosewall won only two Australian Open singles titles, but he earned a place on this list based on the historical significance of his titles.

    In 1971, Rosewall won the Australian Open without losing a single set. He beat Roy Emerson, Tom Okker and Arthur Ashe in his final three matches of that tournament. More significant is the fact that he did it at age 36.

    Rosewall trumped that feat by winning the Australian Open again in 1972, losing just two sets on his way to the title that year.  He won his second Australian Open title at the age of 37 years, two months, and to this day he is still the oldest player to win a Grand Slam singles title in the Open Era. 

    Adding to Rosewall's distinction as a 37-year-old Grand Slam event winner is that his 1972 title came 19 years after he won his first Australian title, at age 18, in 1953 in the pre-Open Era.

    Navratilova made the list by virtue of her three Australian Open singles titles. She played singles at the Australian Open only nine times (compared with 23 times at Wimbledon). Her most noteworthy Australian Open match may have been her semifinal loss to Helena Sukova in December 1984 that ended her record 74-match winning streak and ruined her chance at a single-year Grand Slam.

    But Navratilova beat Chris Evert in the finals of two of her Australian Open titles.

    Hingis won three consecutive Australian Open titles from 1997 through 1999. She did not lose a set while winning the event in 1997, and she beat both Monica Seles and Steffi Graf on her way to the 1999 title. Hingis lost in the Australian Open finals each of the next three years.

9. Rod Laver

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    Rod Laver is the only player on this list with only one Australian Open singles title. However, three factors elevate Laver over several players who won more.

    1. Laver's victory in the 1969 Australian Open was the first of his four major titles that year, giving him his second single-year Grand Slam. He is the only player to complete two Grand Slams. That and the fact that Laver was ranked the second-best player of all time by The Tennis Channel give him lasting fame.

    2. Laver captured the first Australian Open, making it a historic achievement, especially since it was accomplished by an Australian. Laver beat Australian stars Roy Emerson, Fred Stolle and Tony Roche on his way to capturing the first Australian Championship that was open to both amateurs and pros. Laver had turned pro after completing his first Grand Slam in 1962, the year he won his other Australian Championship. He missed the six Australian Championships between his two titles because they were open only to amateurs.

    3. The venue for the 2014 Australian Open finals is Rod Laver Arena. There can be no better indicator of a former champion's star quality than to have the tournament's prime court named after him.

8. Evonne Goolagong Cawley

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    Evonne Goolagong Cawley won three straight Australian Open titles from 1974 through 1976. She won a fourth in 1977 when two Australian Opens were held. She did not participate in the first Australian Open that year as she was pregnant with her first child, so she won four straight Australian Opens she entered.

    She had lost in the finals each of the three previous years (1971-1973), but then dominated the event.

    Cawley won her first two Australian Open titles by beating Chris Evert in the finals in 1974 and Martina Navratilova in the finals in 1975. Navratilova was just 18 at the time, but she had beaten No. 1 seed Margaret Court in the quarterfinals.

    Cawley reached the finals of the Australian Open seven straight years, and her final Australian Open title, in December 1977, came seven months after the birth of her first child.  After winning the 1977 event to give her 25 straight match victories at the Australian Open, Cawley sat out the next five Grand Slam events and eight of the next nine, including the next two Australian Opens.

    Her victory in the December 1977 Australian Open was mitigated by the fact that none of the world's top four players in the final 1977 rankings (Chris Evert, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Virginia Wade) played in that tournament. However, her dominance of the Australian Open over a four-year span demands recognition.

7. Andre Agassi

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    Andre Agassi's greatest successes came at the Australian Open.

    He won the event four times, representing half of his career Grand Slam titles. His final three Grand Slam titles came in Australia. Agassi never lost in an Australian Open finals, going 4-0 in those matches.

    Agassi beat longtime rival Pete Sampras on the way to his first two Australian Open titles, beating Sampras in the finals in 1995 and the semifinals in 2000. The latter match, won by Agassi in five sets, was called an epic contest in a BBC report.

    Agassi's last Australian Open title came in 2003 at the age of 32, and it was his most dominant performance. He lost just one set in seven matches, beating Sebastien Gorsjean 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in the quarterfinals, Wayne Ferreira 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 in the semifinals and Rainer Schuettler 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 in the finals.

    With that victory, Agassi became the oldest man to win a Grand Slam event in 31 years.

6. Roger Federer

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    Roger Federer deserves a place on the list for two reasons:

    1. He won four Australian Open titles, tied with several others for the second-most in history. 

    2. He was ranked as the greatest player in history by the Tennis Channel, based largely on his 17 Grand Slam singles titles, the most by a male.

    When Federer won his most recent Australian Open crown in 2010, it completed a run in which he had reached at least the semifinals of 23 straight Grand Slam events. He won 15 of the 23.

    Federer is 4-1 in Australian Open finals. The one defeat was an epic five-set loss to Rafael Nadal in 2009, which left Federer in tears afterward, according to The New York Times report.

    Federer won the 2007 Australian Open without the loss of a set in his seven matches. He rebounded from his devastating loss to Nadal in 2009 by winning his fourth Australian Open title in 2010, beating Andy Murray in straight sets in the finals.

5. Monica Seles

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    Monica Seles played the Australian Open only four times in her 11 prime years between 1988 and 1998, and she won it all four times.

    She no doubt would have won the event several more times had it not been for the tragic stabbing that took place in April 1993. She was just 19 at the time, but had already won eight Grand Slam singles titles, including her third consecutive Australian Open crown three months earlier.

    The attack on Seles, carried out at courtside by a Steffi Graf fan in Germany, caused Seles to miss the next 10 Grand Slam events, including the 1994 and 1995 Australian Opens. She played in the 1996 Australian Open and won it again, improving her match record in the event to 28-0. It was her first major title since the stabbing incident and the last Grand Slam title of her career. She was 22.

    Seles did not play the Australian Open the next two years, and finally had her perfect record at the event stopped by Martin Hingis in the 1999 semifinals.

    While winning her first 33 Australian Open matches, Seles beat Graf twice. Seles was 4-0 in Australian Open finals, and four of her nine major titles were won in Australia.

4. Steffi Graf

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    Steffi Graf won four Australian Open titles, tying her for the second most in history, after Serena Williams' five.

    Four things lifted her above the others with whom she is tied.

    1. Her 1988 Australian Open title began her run of victories in all four Grand Slam events that year. Graf is one of just five players to complete a single-year Grand Slam, and she was just 19 years old when she finished it.

    2. Graf won three consecutive Australian Opens from 1988 through 1990. She won the first two without the loss of a set, beating Chris Evert and Gabriella Sabatini along the way. She lost only one set while winning her third straight Australian title.

    3. During her 10-year run of dominance between 1987 and 1996, Graf played the Australian Open only six times. She won it on four of those occasions, and lost in the finals just once, in 1993 to Monica Seles.

    4. Graf's four Australian Open titles were among her 22 Grand Slam singles titles, the most in the Open Era. Her three straight Australian Open titles were part of a run in which she won eight of nine Grand Slam tournaments. Her Australian Open success combined with her overall dominance during that period elevated her fame beyond that of several other Australian Open champions.

3. Novak Djokovic

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    It may be surprising to see Novak Djokovic ranked ahead of Roger Federer and Steffi Graf. However, what Djokovic has done at the Australian Open the past several years is almost unparalleled. Add the fact that he might be the favorite at this year's Australian Open and you have the outline of one of the event's greatest champions.

    Djokovic has won four Australian Open titles, including the past three in a row. His three straight Australian Open titles represent an Open Era record for a man, and if it wins it again this year, it will set a record for most consecutive Australian Open crowns by a male or female.

    Four of Djokovic's six Grand Slam titles have come in Melbourne, and he is 4-0 in Australian Open finals.

    The talent he has beaten to achieve his Australian Open success is impressive.

    Djokovic beat Federer on his way to the 2008 title, and in his current 21-match winning streak at the Australian Open, Djokovic has beaten Andy Murray three times and Rafael Nadal and Federer once each.

    Djokovic's 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5 victory over Nadal in the 2012 finals was considered one of the 10 greatest matches of all time by tennis historian Steve Flink, according to a World Tennis report. The match lasted 5 hours, 53 minutes, making it the longest Grand Slam finals in history.

    Djokovic's quarterfinal victory over Stanislas Wawrinka last year, which Djokovic won 12-10 in the fifth, was also a classic performance and led to his third straight Australian Open title.

    The fact that Djokovic's success at the Australian Open is recent probably enhances his fame Down Under at the moment. However, his current run speaks for itself.

2. Margaret Court

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    Margaret Court won four Australian Open titles, tied for the second most in history, although some mitigating factors suggest she should be ranked lower on this list.

    Only Court's triumph in the first Australian Open in 1969 featured a full complement of the best women's talent. Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals and Ann Haydon Jones all played in that event, but they participated in none of the other Australian Opens Court won. Chris Evert, who was an upcoming star by 1971, played the Australian Open only once before 1981, and that was in 1974, the year after Court won her final Australian Open title.

    Nonetheless, the sheer numbers demand Court's inclusion near the top of the list.

    Including her pre-Open Era victories, Court won 11 Australian Championships, far more than anyone else. Unlike men's tennis, where a number of the top players were ineligible for the Grand Slam events before the advent of Open tennis, the field of eligible women was virtually the same before the Open Era as it was afterward.

    Furthermore, Court was 11-1 in Australian Championship finals, including 4-0 in the Open Era. Her only loss was to Billie Jean King in 1968, the final Australian Championship before the Open Era. She beat King in the finals the next year. Being almost unbeatable in title matches of majors in a measure of greatness.

    Court's victory in the 1970 Australian Open represented the first leg on her single-year Grand Slam that year, providing her a place in history.  

    Finally, one of the featured courts at the Australian Open is Margaret Court Arena, indicating the place she holds in Australian tennis history.

1. Serena Williams

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    Serena Williams has won five Australian Open titles, more than anyone else, male or female. She is the favorite to win it for the sixth time later this month.

    She has never lost in an Australian Open final, beating Venus Williams in 2003, Lindsay Davenport in 2005, Maria Sharapova in 2007, Dinara Safina in 2009 and Justine Henin in 2010.

    Her most noteworthy Australian Open victory was in 2007. Coming into that event, she had not won a title in any tournament since 2005 and had been sidelined for long stretches because of injuries and other issues. Her ranking had slipped to No. 139 in 2006, and, at age 25, her run as a dominant player seemed to be over.

    She came into the 2007 Australian Open ranked No. 81 and unseeded. She proceeded to beat six seeded players, including No. 1 seeded Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-2 in the finals. Williams' career was resurrected, and she has since won nine Grand Slam singles titles, including two more in Australia.

    Now No. 1 in the world by a comfortable margin, Williams has won 17 Grand Slam singles titles. A victory in the upcoming Australian Open would tie her with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for the second-most major crowns in the Open Era, four behind Steffi Graf's 22.

    It would also give her six Australian Open titles, two more than anyone else, and make her, at age 32, the oldest Australian Open women's singles champion in history.


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