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Paul Streitz

Who is the Greatest Tennis Player of All-time?
By Paul Streitz
Oct 3, 2007 - 12:35:48 AM

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Who is the greatest tennis player of all-time?  This question has provided hot debate for decades as tennis buffs compare the current champions with the legends of the past. Of course, exact comparisons cannot be made and many significant changes have been made to the game.

The court surfaces have changed from grass and clay to composites and rackets have changed dramatically. The larger rackets made of modern materials, strung with polyester give a larger hitting surface and the ability to give the ball greater topspin thus reducing unforced errors.

In addition, players are able to play in more grand slam events. Instead of weeks of travel by boat to Australia, one can hop on a jet and be there in a day's travel. Pete Sampras entered fifty-two majors and won fourteen. In contrast, Don Budge entered eleven majors and won six.

Various attempts to rank the greatest players of all time have been made. They have included such information as the career won-loss percentage, career tournament titles and grand slams won in a five-year period. 

These methods all seem to have two glaring faults. First, they measure victories in tournaments that do not mean very much. Do tennis fans give much import to who wins the Hong-Kong Open? But more importantly, they do not measure the level of competition.

In the extreme, let us assume that someone won sixteen major titles, but never once faced someone who had won a grand slam event. Tennis fans would not consider this to be much of a champion.

In contrast, when Jimmy Connors played Bjorn Borg or John McEnroe played Ivan Lendl, or Rod Laver played Rod Emerson, these were matches of titans against titans.

So the following World's Greatest Ever Tennis Player Ranking (Registered Chart Below)  not only considers the number of wins of Grand Slam events but also the grand slam records of the winner's opponent.

The scoring is as follows. The winner of a grand slam event wins one point. Being the runner up in a grand slam event is worth one-half a point.

However, the next step is unique. Here the rankings include a point for each Grand Slam win of the losing opponent. Therefore, a win over someone like John McEnroe would produce seven points for the winner, while a win over an unranked, never won a grand slam opponent, would produce no extra points.

When an analysis is done this way, it produces a ranking that seems intuitively correct, and yet at the same time also produces some surprises.

Jimmy Connors and Rod Laver were both in approximately the same number of finals. Rod Laver was in seventeen, while Jimmy Connors was in fifteen. However, Jimmy Connors won against players who had accumulated sixty-one grand slam wins, while Rod Laver had fifty-seven wins. Advantage Connors.

In contrast, Pete Sampras reached eighteen finals and won fourteen, but his opponents only won forty-eight grand slam events. Most of the points against grand slam winners that Pete Sampras did win, were against Andre Agassi, whom he played three times.

Twenty-one of Sampras competitor points were against Agassi. If he had not played Agassi, he would have been further down in the standings.

Unfortunately, Pete Sampras had been dealt a cruel hand by the tennis gods in not providing him a great set of competitors.

Currently, Roger Federer faces the same problem. He does not face many high quality opponents. Andre Agassi won seven grand slams. But the remainder of Federer's opponents have not won more than two grand slam events each. Unfortunately, this does not look like it will change in the near future.

Although he might surpass Pete Sampras in total grand slam wins, he will never be at the top of these rankings.

Rene Lacoste and Bill Tilden provide surprises. First, Bill Tilden is ranked so low and second Rene Lacoste is ranked so high.

Six of Bill Tilden's wins were against one man, William M. Johnston, who had won three grand slam events. Another, Gerald Patterson, won three grand slam events. Wilmer Allison won one event, but Francis T. Turner and Brian Norton never won a grand slam. In brief, Bill Tilden did not face quality competition as measured by grand slam wins.

Rene Lacoste won seven grand slam events it total, compared to Bill Tilden's winning ten, yet his overall score ranks him at the top of the list. This is because he faced tougher competition and won.
 
In all his seven wins, Rene Lacoste never faced a weak opponent. Rene Lacoste faced Jean Borotra four times. Borotra had won five grand slams. He faced Henri Cochet who had won eight grand slams. In two of his wins, Lacoste beat Bill Tilden, in the 1926 U.S. Open and the 1925 French Open. So, it is hard to dispute that Rene Lacoste was not the better tennis player.

John McEnroe equaled Rene Lacoste's record of seven grand slam wins. As with Lacoste, he played quality opponents and thus is high in the rankings. The McEnroe era of tennis was an exceedingly high level of tennis with a number of repeat grand slam winners: Borg Lendl, Edberg, Wilander and Becker.

Most avid and knowledgeable tennis enthusiasts would most love to see the two fiery left-handers, Rod Laver and Jimmy Connors on that square green battlefield called a tennis court. While we might quibble with some of the rankings, selecting Connors and Laver for this match might be a pretty good endorsement of the World's Greatest Ever Tennis Rankings.


Paul Streitz
Co-director
CT Citizens for Immigration Reform

amfirst@optonline.net

Author of AMERICA FIRST, Why Americans must end free trade, stop outsourcing and close our open borders

 


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