Skater Yuzuru Hanyu and snowboarder Ayumu Hirano are both titanic icons of their genre. Both possess phenomenal athleticism combined with breathtaking artistry. The two have shattered numerous records, and have triumphed on the world’s biggest stages. And there’s no shortage of flair, mystique, and sheer voltage from these two legends.
This savvy Aussie possesses a potent serve and forehand, an elegant all-court game, poise under pressure…and 3 Major championship trophies, on three different surfaces. A class act.
Devonta Smith, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and Tyreek Hill: all uniquely brilliant talents. Absolutely among the top receivers I have ever witnessed. Insane explosiveness.
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
2020 featured a sensational, stomach-churning final for the men’s US Open trophy. Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem battled for over 4 hours, each getting excruciatingly close to the crown. Jangly nerves, cramps, and courage played as large a role as each player’s formidable arsenal of shotmaking weaponry. The Austrian finally prevailed by the slimmest of margins in the final set tiebreaker. A heartbreaking pill for Zverev to somehow swallow, and the first major championship for Dominic Thiem, who had * just* enough will at the finish to outlast his friend.
The final of the 2020 US Open featured everything one could desire in a championship match: high level of play; swings in momentum; and commendable bravery from both players. Naomi Osaka emerged the victor in an epic struggle with Victoria Azarenka, claiming her 3rd major trophy in the process. Both players exhibited tremendous desire, not to mention wondrous shotmaking. It will be a long-remembered match for the championship level on both sides of the net. Osaka’s wicked groundstrokes, formidable serve, and grace under pressure eventually prevailed.
25 year old Daniil Medvedev, the world’s 2nd ranked player, plays a fascinating game of tennis. Though 6’6″, he plays mostly from the backcourt, where he is utterly ruthless. Ceaseless probing, penetrating groundstrokes, hit mostly flat, help him gain control of the point, and he is not one prone to relinquishing it. A formidable competitor, Medvedev plays controlled offense superbly, has a very effective serve, and has excellent foot speed. He seems destined to be at or near the top of the men’s game for many years.
The inimitable magic of Steph Curry, which for him is a mere bagatelle. Curry is without a doubt one of the greatest long range shooters ever, possesses magical ball handling skills, is an electric passer, and is an über-inventive, potent scorer from anywhere on the court. The 2 time league MVP holds a number of NBA records, including highest free throw percentage for a career, most points in an overtime period, most 3 point shots made in a season…the list goes on. Steph is the only player ever to lead the league in scoring while achieving the 50-40-90 shooting trifecta. The 6’3″ guard has revolutionized the way the game is played, and is a joy to watch.
Update: On the evening of December 14, 2021, Curry broke the career record for made 3-pointers, eclipsing Ray Allen’s mark of 2,973.
The immortal Triple Crown winner Secretariat is generally considered to be the greatest thoroughbred racehorse ever, along with Man o’ War. After winning Horse of the Year as a 2 year old, a rare feat, he took part in the triple Crown races as a 3 year old. He swept them, running the fastest Derby, Preakness, and Belmont of all time in the process. Sham, a very fine horse, who finished behind the big chestnut colt in the Derby and Preakness, ran the *second* fastest time ever in both. Secretariat set a *world* record in the 1 1/2 mile Belmont, besting the old mark by a simply unreal 2 3/5 seconds. His winning margin was an absurd 31 lengths.
Later in the season, he took part in the Marlboro Cup, which featured his stablemate Riva Ridge, a champion 4 year old. Secretariat prevailed easily, and ended up setting yet another world record for the distance, at 1:45 2/5 seconds. Truly the stuff of myth and legend.
Homeric valor, unfathomable resolve, and titanic talent were exhibited by both champions in this unforgettable battle.