Your author has spent many an hour in rapt engagement with the sport of tennis. Since the early 1970s, it has been my favorite sport to watch and to play. The above constitutes my highly opinionated (yet utterly impartial…) list of the greatest practitioners I’ve ever witnessed. The order might well be in flux, but as for now, I feel comfortable with Roger Federer at #1, Pete Sampras #2, Björn Borg #3, Raphael Nadal #4, and Novak Djokovic #5.
Those who follow these five legends could all be considered “Honorable Mention”, as I feel the top 5 are simply a cut above. This is certainly not meant as a slight, as all included here are geniuses of the game. In no order, I’ve selected John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Andre Agassi, Arthur Ashe, and Boris Becker.
What criteria were used? Mostly, the eye and gut test. Certainly, career accomplishments were very much factored in. But, I went primarily by feel. Federer is quite simply the greatest tennis player I’ve seen. No one quite compares. What he’s done on the court is both sublime *and* ridiculous. After the Swiss maestro, we thought Sampras barely nosed out the Swede on the strength of, surprise, his immense first and second serves. Borg, the mightiest titan I had beheld in my youth, is next; the man’s groundstrokes revolutionized the game, with their blistering topspin. He was also *insanely* fast. Rafa takes #4, on the merits of his own wicked topspin forehand, foot speed, and indomitable will. And speaking of indomitable, the same applies to Mr. Djokovic. His return of serve is also probably the most effective/intimidating we’ve seen.
A final word on Federer, from the man who knows him best: Rafa Nadal. “If he is playing very good, I have to play unbelievable. If not, it’s impossible, especially if he’s playing with good confidence. When he’s 100 per cent, he’s playing in another league. It’s impossible to stop him.” – 2007