When speaking about the greatest tennis players of all time, how far back is one willing to go to find good players? After all, if you have read our previous page of our tennis resource site, then you already know that tennis has been around since the 1100s. So, in over 900 years, there are bound to be thousands of players worthy of all-time rankings, right? Well, don't worry on that front; we're not going back that far. In fact, we're not going back very far at all. The truth of the matter is that the best tennis players in the world have played in the past few decades. It's a testament to parity and a human being's ability to become bigger, stronger and faster when the situation demands it.
In no particular order, here are some the greatest tennis players of all time. Now, if we leave one of your favorites off the list, we apologize. Realistically speaking, this list could encompass over a hundred players. We have compiled a top-five list, as well as some honorable mentions. We hope this list does justice to the sport. In no way are we trying to snub anyone, or to play favorites. We're going off of simple criteria: Titles won, how a player dominated the competition, and their fanfare while playing. So, without further preamble, here is the list.
Roger Federer is bound to make anyone's list of the greatest tennis players of all time. He's still playing today, and he's still winning today, although he's not dominating like he used to. However, we only need to go back a few years to see that Federer was dominating the field easily and regularly, demolishing the best competition in the world. Federer is only 33, but that might as well be 50 in tennis years, and his winning has slowed down to a crawl. However, over the course of his career, he has won 84 Grand Slam titles and has a career winning percentage of 81%, going 1014-230. That's incredibly impressive.
Hailing from Germany and playing professional tennis from 1982 until 1999, Stefi Graf is one of the greatest players ever, whether man or woman, and is actually 3rd all-time in singles titles, with a very impressive 107. Her career record is 900-115, which gives her a winning percentage of 88%, higher than Federer's and one of the highest ever. In all her winning, however, she was only ranked number-one in the world once, in 1987, yet was well known for destroying number-one players on the regular in the biggest tournaments. She's an Olympic gold medalist, and has multiple wins in the US Open, Wimbledon, the French Open and the Australian Open. She was also a fantastic doubles player.
Playing at her height throughout the late 70s and 80s, and actually coming back in the 2000s before retiring permanently in 2006, Martina Navratilova is known as the ageless wonder. She was a left-handed player, which made her very crafty and unpredictable. And when you add up her career titles in singles, she could be a solid number-one on every list, with an astounding 167. She also has a winning percentage of 86%, going 1,442-219 over her career, and she even won a Grand Slam title in doubles in 2003, when she was in her 40s. Today, at 58, she's well removed from the professional tennis world, but is the female player that all other female players are compared to. Heck, she's the player that most men players are compared to. She was that fantastic.
For a period of about five years, before Federer came along, many considered Pete Sampras to be the best men's player to ever hit a tennis ball. He won 14 Grand Slam titles, and 64 in total, with a winning percentage of 77%, going 762-222. While that isn't as impressive as others on this list, it's important to note that Sampras hung on to tennis for about six years after he started to decline due to injury. His career was cut short before the 2000s technically, but he hung around and didn't retire until 2002/03. It was sad to watch him lose, knowing he was powerless to stop it, but at his height, professionals were literally scared to face off against Sampras. He had a deadly serve and could locate the ball on any square centimeter of the court he desired. He won Wimbledon 7 times, which ties him for the record in London.
Something very egalitarian about tennis is that women are considered every bit a man's equal in the sport, even though they play separately. In fact, of all the great, all-time players, you're probably liable to hear more about women players than men players. That's how much they meant to the sport, and Chris Evert was one of the trendsetters in that regard. Winning 18 Grand Slams in her career, Evert went pro in 1972 and called it quits in 1989. She won 157 titles as a singles player and has an extremely impressive winning percentage of 89.9%, going 1309-146 in her storied career. At the height of her career, there wasn't a player alive able to counter her two-handed backhand. She was deadly, accurate, and fierce on any type of court. She's still the gold standard of professional tennis.
Of course, reading over the list above, you may be shouting, "But, what about ___!?" Well, as we said, we cannot include every player here. There are some very good players we left off the list, and for no other reason than the list had to have a cut-off point. However, we hope these honorable mentions will suffice, just in case you feel your favorite player was shorted.
John McEnroe: Known for being incredibly argumentative on the court and full of you-know-what and vinegar, Johnny Mac was the epitome of the angry Irishman. He made a career yelling at officials and side judges, cursing, throwing racquets, etc. But he also made a career out of winning. He has 77 career titles and a winning percentage of 81%. He also has 71 doubles titles, which proves that, yes, he could get along with other people.
Billie Jean King: Like a majestic swan on the court, Billie Jean King was more a precision surgeon than an overpowering player. She could chase, catch and locate better than any player in history. She played throughout the 60s and 70s and paved the way for generations of female tennis pros. She has a very impressive 129 titles as a singles player, 84 of which came during the Open Era, and her winning percentage all time is 81%. She was hands down the most famous tennis player in the world for two solid decades.
Bjorn Borg: Famous for facing off against McEnroe and then disappearing into oblivion, Bjorn Borg was considered one of the greatest players to ever take the court. Borg played from 1973 until 83 and then suddenly dropped off the face of the earth. The pressure and fame became too much for Bjorn, and he retired back to Sweden. However, he did make a brief comeback from 91 to 93, but quickly exited the arena again. With 64 career titles and an 82% winning percentage, many believe that had Borg been able to handle the pressure, he would have became the greatest ever.
Serena Williams: With 19 Grand Slam titles and still going, Serena Williams is truly a force to be reckoned with. She's tall, strong, serves hard and fast, and is surprisingly quick and agile to be so fierce offensively. She has achieved a number-one ranking for many years, and is also the number-one world ranked player this year (2015). She has won 66 total titles on tour and has a record all time of 704-120, which equates to 85.4%. She's an Olympic gold medalist and the favorite to win Wimbledon this year. She's considered past her prime at 33, yet she continues to roll through the competition like a freight train.
Rafael Nadal: For about five years on tour, Rafael Nadal was considered Roger Federer's little brother - extremely talented, but unable to eclipse big brother in the wins department. However, for the past few years, Nadal has been the king of tennis, winning every conceivable tournament and bulldozing his way through competitors. He's only 28, which, according to the odds, gives him about three more years in his prime. He has a career record of 721-145, which is a winning percentage of 83%, and he has 65 career titles to his name. Before it's said and done, most predict that Nadal will have over 75 titles.
Well, now that we've included the honorable mentions, we hope that we've hit on your favorite tennis player of all time here. Truthfully, we could have kept this list going on for dozens of other honorable mentions, but at some point we have to say, "Enough! The list is finished!"