Attempting to rank great sports teams and players is an extremely challenging pastime, particularly when you start to compare participants from different eras.
It always to fun to speculate whether the greater performer in one era would beat another, however, while it’s arguably easier to rank those who compete in individual sports.
In this post, the team at the Bet Hut will rank the top five tennis players of all-time, asking which performer is the greatest ever to pick up a racket?
5. Novak Djokovic
When a 29-year old Novak Djokovic won the elusive French Open to complete a career slam back in the spring of 2016, it seemed only a matter of time before he was confirmed as the most successful player of all-time.
After all, rivals Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were suffering with chronic injuries at the time, and not won a Grand Slam since 2012 and 2014 respectively. Similarly, Andy Murray had not won a major since his historic Wimbledon triumph in 2016, leaving the path clear for Djokovic to supreme.
Djokovic himself has not won a major since that historic day at Roland Garros, however, suffering with psychological issues and a recurring elbow injury which caused him to miss the second half of 2017 after a quarter-final defeat to Dominic Thiem denied him the opportunity to defend his French Open title.
While the Serb may not have been able to continue his dominance after completing the career slam, however, he has earned his place on our list. Remember, he has won 12 Grand Slam titles since 2008, placing him sixth on the all-time Open era list. Similarly, he has won a record 30 Masters titles and 68 career honours overall, while he’s also the second highest earner in the history of the sport.
4. Pete Sampras
With 14 Grand Slam titles, Pete Sampras could argue that he deserves to be higher on our list. A peak Sampras was certainly unbeatable given the right conditions, with his metronomic serve and imperious serve and volley game making him one of the best ever competitors on grass and hard courts.
Unlike his rivals on our list, however, Sampras never managed to win the career slam, while he also played at a time when the depth of competition in the men’s game was far below the current level. These factors count against him to some degree, but there’s no doubt that he’s deserving of a place in the top five.
As well as his impressive Grand Slam haul (seven of his 14 title came at Wimbledon), Sampras also reigned as world number one for six years and enjoyed some career-defining duels with compatriot Andre Agassi.
Sampras also went out on the top of his game at the 2002 U.S. Open, when won his fifth and final title at Flushing Meadows against all odds and despite a seeding of just 17.
3. Rod Laver
Rod Laver is the one player on our list who played during a completely different era, at a time when the game was beginning to turn professional. This makes it hard to compare him against the modern greats, but there’s no doubt that this naturally talented stroke-maker would have thrived in any epoch in history.
Incredibly, Laver won a record 200 titles during his career, including 11 Grand Slam titles and two career slams (he is the only player to do this, once as an amateur in 1962 and again as a professional in 1969). We must also note that Laver was excluded from participating at Slams for five years during the mid-1960s, as this was pre-Open when the majors were only open to amateurs.
Laver was at his peak then, so it’s hard to imagine how many slams he would have won were it not for this enforced hiatus.
The Australian was also ranked as the world number one for more than six years (including the period when he was unable to play in slams), so he is undoubtedly one of the very best players in history.
2. Rafa Nadal
Were it not for recurring tendinitis in his knees and frequent wrist injuries, Rafa Nadal would arguably sitting on top of his list. Still, these injuries were a direct result of the physical playing style that overwhelmed his opponents and enabled him to gain an edge on his great rival Roger Federer, and without this he may have been little more than an immense clay court specialist.
With 16 slam titles, a career slam and 75 titles overall, however, Nadal’s push to become an all-court players has proved incredibly successful, and this is testament to his unbreakable spirit and seemingly unbreakable will to win.
Rafa’s incredible major haul includes a record 10 French Open titles, and reinforces his reputation as the unrivalled ‘King of Clay’. No player has won more titles at a single tournament in history, and the fact that the Spaniard has also gone on to win multiple titles at Wimbledon, the Australian Open and U.S. Open is even more impressive.
Now restored as the world number one and having won two slams last season, Nadal continues to thrive and is clearly one of the best players of all-time.
1. Roger Federer
Be honest, you didn’t expect anyone else to appear at the head of this list did you?
Roger Federer is a true goliath of the game, having won a record 20 Grand Slams and earned $115,050,482 during his illustrious career. He’s also won a career slam and claimed a world-record eight Wimbledon titles, with 96 career honours overall.
Federer has also been world number one for 302 weeks overall (including 237 consecutive weeks between 2004 and 2008), which is yet another record for the Open Era.
Even these spectacular numbers do not do justice to Federer’s greatness, however, with the Swiss having overcome age and injury to win his 18th major at the Australian Open in 2017 (after winning only one slam between 2010 and last year). He has since won two of the next three, and at 36 he continues to show the conditioning and natural ball-striking ability that has made him the greatest of all time.