Who is the greatest men’s tennis player ever?
Now the 125th Wimbledon is done and dusted, the argument still rages who is the greatest player in the history of men’s tennis. Novak Djokovic played close to perfection during the first two sets in the decider against defending champion Rafael Nadal. But the Serb is way out of “greatest” contention, with only three Slams.
Roger Federer is the popular pick because he’s still playing and holds the Slam singles record – two to the good of Pete Sampras.
But Slam victories mustn’t be the only criteria. The ultimate recognition goes much deeper than that.
The major Slammers:
* Federer (16) has a genuine claim to the title with six Wimbledons, five US Opens, four Australian, and a French from 2003 to current.
* Sampras (14) doesn’t qualify for not reaching a French final, even though he won seven Wimbledons, five US, and two Australian Opens between 1994 and 2002.
* Roy Emerson (12) doesn’t qualify, despite capturing all four Slams – six Australian, two French, two Wimbledons, and two US between 1961 and 1967. Emerson competed in an era when the best players in the world – Frank Sedgman, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, and Rod Laver – had turned pro and were ineligible for Slams
* Rod Laver (11) automatically qualifies as the only two-time Grand Slam champion, winning all four titles in the same calendar year – 1962 as an amateur, and 1969 as a pro – all up four Wimbledons, three Australian, two French, and two US between 1960 and 1969.
* Bjorn Borg (11) doesn’t qualify. He reached three US Open finals, but never an Australian – winning six French and five Wimbledons between 1974 and 1981.
* Bill Tilden (10) doesn’t qualify. He reached two French finals, never an Australian, in his seven US and three Wimbledons between 1920 and 1930.
* Rafael Nadal (10) qualifies with six French, two Wimbledons, an Australian, and US Opens from 2005 to current.
* Ken Rosewall (8) qualifies, despite four losing Wimbledon finals to go with four Australian, two French, and two US between 1953 and 1974.
* Jimmy Connors (8) doesn’t qualify. He never reached a French final, but won five US, two Wimbledons, and two Australian between 1974 and 1985.
* Andre Agassi (8) doesn’t qualify either, despite winning all four Slams – four Australian, two US, a French and Wimbledon between 1992 and 2003. But Agassi won only 65 career titles, well adrift of Laver’s 200, Connors’ 148, Lendl’s 144, Rosewall’s 132, McEnroe’s 104, and Borg’s 101.
* Ivan Lendl (8) qualifies. He lost two Wimbledon finals, but won three French, three US, and two Australian between 1984 and 1990.
* And Fred Perry (8) doesn’t qualify. He won three Wimbledons, three US, an Australian and a French, but only over a three-year period from 1934 to 1936.
* For the record: seven Slams each for John Newcombe, John McEnroe, Mats Wilander, Richard Sears, William Renshaw, Rene Lacoste, Henri Cochet, and William Larney.
That leaves Laver, Rosewall, Lendl, Federer, and Nadal in the mix for the greatest of all-time.
Tennis turned professional in 1968, well before Lendl, Federer, and Nadal started their careers.
So it’s not a level playing field for Laver and Rosewall who were changing the face of world tennis as professionals well before 1968, and not eligible for Slams, reserved for amateurs.
Laver missed 20 Slams, Rosewall 46. And both were the best in the world during their pro careers.
It’s reasonable to assume Laver would have won 10 more Slams, had he been eligible, taking his tally to 21.
It’s also reasonable to assume Rosewall would have won at least another 15, taking his tally to 23. Leaving Rosewall and Laver as the front-runners.
The clincher: longevity.
There were nine years between Laver’s first and last Australian titles, eight years between his two French, and seven years between his first and last Wimbledons, and his two US.
But Rosewall was in the Wimbledon finals 20 years apart – there were 19 years between his first Australian title and his last – and he won the French 15 years apart – with 14 years the difference between his two US titles.
No player has come within a binocular distance of those staggering stats.
And Rosewall is still, to this day, the oldest Slam finalist at 39 years and 310 days, when he lost the 1974 US Open decider to Jimmy Connors; 18 years Rosewall’s junior.
So everything points to Kenneth Robert Rosewall as the greatest player in the history of men’s tennis.
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