Greatest player of all time?!

This discussion is very active due to the fact that we have Mr. Federer potentially high up on that list. I think it is no point in trying to determine this. There is not one stat or result or achievement in the time period 1900-2007 which can rank one above the other. Is Laver the best, is Sampras the best, is Tilden the best, is Federer actually better than all of the above?

My initial thought is that it is impossible to compare two players from different eras. I claim that it is harder to achieve a 1st spot on the ranking today than it was 20-30 years ago. It is harder to win slams, and it’s harder to reach the ATP level. If you rank players from achievements one needs to consider this. If Federer wins all four slams in one calendar year, it is a greater achievement than Laver’s. In this pro environment, tennis is not a hobby anymore, it’s one of the toughest sports to succeed in. I am not saying that Laver gets to much credit, but it is important to separate different eras. In my opinion, the stat that should weigh the most is W-L ratio, % of tournaments won of those entered, Grand Slam W-L ration (as we now this is a priority in any time age)….

It’s hard to compare Laver and Federer for one more reason. Ranking is a necessary evil to separate the best from the 2nd best. Laver did not have to focus too much on every single tournament. Like I’ve said, even though people would disagree a lot, tennis was more hobby-like than it is today.(Which is true of many other sports as well).
I am going to try to compare those who have had a significant impact on tennis from 1968.
I will use the list on called legends.

Agassi: Won 76% of matches, won 60 titles between 86-06, 8 slams and all four
Ashe: won 76.83%, 33 titles last one in 78, 3 slams not in FO
Becker: 76.91%, 49 titles (1984-1999), 6 slams not in FO
Borg: 82.6%, 96 titles (61 ATP) (1973-1981), 11 slams not in AO & USO (uso final 4 times!!!)
Connors: 81.8%, 138 titles (109 ATP)(1975-1995), 8 slams, no FO
Edberg: 74.9%, 42 titles (83-96), 6 slams, not in FO(1 final)
Laver: 79.8%, 39 titles, 11 slams, won all four in 62 and 69
Lendl: 81.8%, 94 titles, 8 slams, not in Wimbledon (twice in final)
McEnroe: 81.8%, 98 titles (76 ATP), 7 slams, not in AO and Wimbledon
Nastase: 72.6%, 88 titles (53ATP), 2 slams, no record in AO, no Wimbledon (2 finals)
Newcombe: 75.9%, 68 titles (32 ATP), 5 slams, not in FO
Rafter: 65.2%!!, 11 titles!, 2 slams, only USO
Roche: 67.33%, 7 titles!, 1 slam in France
Rosewall, 74.7%, 121 titles, 8 slams, not in Wimbledon but 4 finals there!
Sampras: 77.4%, 64 titles (only ATP), 14 slams, not in France
Stan Smith: no % found, 35 titles, 2 slams
Bill Tilden: won a lot!
Vilas: 76.5%, 62 titles, 4 slams, not in Wimbledon
Wilander: 72%, 33 titles, 7 titles, no Wimbledon

Roger Federer: 80.4% (this will rise!), 51 titles (also up), 12 slams (up, up and up)

OK! I think there are a few who stand out in terms of dominating a period of time and winning a lot. The play on the court is also considered.
Bjorn Borg (was unbeatable in W and FO the few years he played, won a lot elsewhere too)
Jimmy Connors (incredible stats and won very very much! long career still over 80% ratio!)
Rod Laver (very dominant, especially in the slams)
Ivan Lendl (long career, a lot of wins)
McEnroe (over 80%, touch competition with Lendl, Connors, Edberg, Wilander+++)
Sampras (dominated the 90s. Would have been even more dominant without Agassi around)
Federer (has dominated the 00s so far, more so than Sampras did in the 90s, will probablt continue to dominate till 2010 and maybe even after that.)

There you have it! All of these could in one way or the other be claimed as the Greatest of all time. I think that Impressive stats from ATP era 1968- should be rewarded slightly more. The conclusion in 2015 I think will be that Federer could well be the Greatest Ever.

 And I forgot! The stats on winning streaks are just as important. Federer got to 41 or something before Canas took him down in California. Villas has 46! Lendl has 44, Borg 43, McEnroe 42, Muster! 35, Sampras 29, Agassi 26, Rafael Nadal 26.
Laver and the old guys are certainly not included here as this is only open era.


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28 Responses to “Greatest player of all time?!”

  1. Mehen Says:

    I don’t agree that the ones before 1968 should be excluded but I see your point. Personally I think Borg is the greatest and Laver second. Federer must continue a few more years to get there. Borg would have won more than Federer had he just continued through the 80s.

  2. Liliana Says:

    I happen to agree.

    I am really looking forward for the big match now –
    March 10 @ NYC
    Federer vs Sampras

  3. Rzaa Says:

    Tony Roche on that list?!?!
    In the words of Johnny Mac, U cannot be serious!

  4. Travis Says:

    You are wrong backhand and Mehen. Neither Borg or Federer are near as great as Laver. Laver and Rosewall, two players out of this world.

    In addition, that nonsense about being easier to make it in Laver’s era… the only thing that has changed is that ATP has made it pro. There are rules and limits. Back then, ANYone could play. Today’s players will never have the spirit that Laver and Rosewall’s generation had.

  5. David Says:

    Federer by far. Then it gets complicated…. Maybe Sampras, Borg and Laver then Ken Rosewall in the modern era.

    Non-open era you have to pick Don Budge and Bill Tilden then maybe Gonzales then Fred Perry and Jack Krammer.

    Overall, nobody has had the complete game of Federer.

  6. David Says:

    open era
    Federer, Sampras, Laver, Borg, Rosewall, Connors

    Non open era

    Tilden, Budge, Gonzales, Perry, Krammer.

    Just my 2 cents.. I dont feel confrontable with the non open era due to my age.

  7. BJPLAYER Says:

    In my book to be a candidate for “the greatest ever” a player must win AT LEAST 10 Grand Slams.

    This reduces the list to just 5 players. These are Laver, Federer, Borg, Sampras, and Roy Emerson.

    You can further sort the list by the ability of the player to WIN GRAND SLAMS ON ALL SURFACES. Only Laver and Emerson have won all four Grand Slams. A further distinguishing factor is to have won all four in one year. This puts Laver over Emerson. The list therefore becomes; Laver, Emerson, (the remaining three).

    Now you can further sort the list by a players ability to win (not necessarily Grand Slams) on all surfaces. This sorts Sampras to the last place. The list now becomes; Laver, Emerson, (the remaining two), Sampras.

    For a final sort you can use the winning percentage, no. of consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the ATP list, no. of consecutive appearances at a Grand Slam Final, the number of Grand Slams won. This puts Federer over Borg.

    Therefore my list is:

    Greatest Player Ever: Rod Laver
    Second Greatest Player Roy Emerson
    Third Greatest Player Roger Federer
    Fourth Greatest Player Bjorn Borg
    Fifth Greatest Player Pete Sampras

    The above is for open era. But regardless of the era, nobody (yet) comes close to the Great Rod Laver who won the GRAND SLAM twice (open and non-open era).

  8. Nadal Says:

    Why is Tilden the only one without any stats? Most people rank Tilden over Federer.

  9. David J. Heinrich Says:

    I don’t think anyone considered Roy Emerson GOAT before Sampras won 14 slams, I don’t think he was considered GOAT in the 70s, 80s, or 90s either. I don’t think he was a candidate.

    I would otherwise agree with BJPlayer’s list, which puts Federer at 2nd best all time.

  10. backhand Says:

    Nice to see that this post isn’t dead. Just remember that it originated on Oct 4. By now, based on what I’ve seen about Federer’s competition for GOAT title, he should be on top.

    Considering the fact that atp consists of 1500 players and this number was lower in the 60s, Laver should be 2nd. In addition, competition is a lot higher these days and Laver was not able to keep up throughout his career. No, I’m starting to be convinced that Federer deserves even that 1st spot, even though it really means nothing.

    Based on dominating play and the tour, I would even go and say that Connors should be 2nd or 3rd. I’ve concluded this once before but my 5 great ones will be;

    Federer, Laver, Connors, Lendl, Sampras

  11. Mehen Says:

    No updates here, backhand? I thought you would have something to say after the Sampras exhibition in November.

  12. backhand Says:

    Nope. Why would I? The matches for just for fun and under normal circumstances Federer would not lose or “allow” Sampras to do so much on his serve. Federer is better than Sampras, but once again… you cannot compare the 90s to the 00s!

    Sampras – best player of 90s
    Federer – best player of 00s

  13. Åsmund Says:

    Federer is the biggest talent I´ve seen, but I think Sampras´results are better. 7 Wimbledons to 5, 5 US Opens to 4, 5 ATP Championships to 4, 6 years ending as number to 4. So for me, Sampras has the better career so far. But when Federer is done, I think his stats wil be better.

  14. Neil Says:

    Good topic. My humble effort:

    1. Federer
    2. Sampras
    3. Laver
    4. Borg
    5. McEnroe
    6. Connors
    7. Agassi
    8. Becker
    9. Lendl
    10. Edberg

    HM’s: Tilden, Budge, Rosewall, Wilander and Emerson.

  15. Tim Says:

    This was written October 07? A lot has changed since. Federer has not won the much anticipated 13th slam. And hasn’t won a single tournament this year. If he never gets to 13, the debate will continue. If he passes 14, he’s the best.

  16. hanim Says:

    federer is not the greatest player of all time…..he has never won a single french open in soo many attempts….and the reason he was so dominant in the 00s was because of lack of GREAT competition….look at sampras,he won all of those slams (14) while agassi was still around and you all now how good agassi is…..and now that federer finally has competition in the form of the ever rising nadal and djokovic to some extent,he has started to fail…..out of the australian open in the semis and humbled in the french by nadal…..samprs is the greatest and theres absolutely no doubt about it…..14 slams while agassi was still around….wow…..thts just amazing!!

  17. da|v|ned Says:

    Hanim no competition?are you kidding me Hewitt,Roddick,safin,Agassi,nalbandian all great players..its just that they were made to look ordinary!

  18. Anonymous Says:

    Something to consider…

    Since the four grand slam tournaments switched to four different surfaces (grass for Wimbledon, Clay for the French, standard hardcourt for US Open, indoor-like rebound surface at Australian), only ONE male player has won all four tournaments over an entire career. Only one.

    His name: Andre Agassi.

    When Laver and the other great Aussies were winning their slams, three of the Major tournaments (Wimbledon, US Open, Australian) were on one surface– grass — while only the French was on something other than grass, namely red clay. There wasn’t a single major tournament on the most popular recreational surface, plain old hardcourt, nor was there anything on an indoor surface or even American green clay, or Har-Tru. So a player really only had to be great at the serve-and-volley game on grass to win three of the slams, and if that player happened to get lucky and not run into any great baseliners on clay, you had yourself a Grand Slam. That’s what happened with Laver in his two calendar year slams, and Emerson in his career slam.

    This was also in an era where the baseline game involved little of the heavy topspin introduced by Borg. Laver had a moderate amount of topspin on his forehand, and that was enough to win him the French in an era where there were far fewer clay court specialists or touch baseline players. The game simply wasn’t played that way back in the 50s and 60s.

    Also, the Australian Open was, for many years, something of a backwater. The facilities were poor, the grass courts were spongy, and the event happened in December, at the tail end of a season. All too often, when a major player had lost one of the previous slams and didn’t have a shot at completing a calendar Grand Slam, he simply skipped the tournament. So Emerson, Laver and many of the other Aussies fattened their resumes by winning several Aussie Opens against virtually no outside competition. Today, the Aussie Open is truly a major tourney and fully deserves the Grand Slam status, but back then, it was iffy at best.

    To me, to be ranked as the Greatest Player of All Time, a player must have the meat of his career at a time when there are a lot of other great players around to provide competition. Federer suffers in his regard, because a lot of the true greats were retiring or at the tail end of their careers just as he was coming into his own. From 2003 to 2006, the real meat of his career, there was no one even close to him on the tour, and he won with such ease that it became monotonous. In ’06, Nidal started coming into his own, and suddenly the wins started getting more difficult. Last year, they were almost equal, and this year, Nidal is clearly dominant. Incredible as it seems, Federer may well never win another Grand Slam tournament, let alone a calendar year or even career Grand Slam, something that seemed inevitable a year or so ago, Not only does Nidal have his number, the games of several other players are starting to mature– Djokavich and Andy Murray among them– who already give Federer fits.

    If Federer can rise to this challenge, turn the tables on Nidal and retool his game to beat Murray and Djokavich enough to win another couple of Slams, thus tying Pete Sampras’ record, then I’ll agree he’s the Best Ever. If not, despite his fantastic run against minimal competition over the last few years, he’s an Also Ran in my book.

    I would rank Sampras no. 1 of all time, with Agassi right behind him– despite having only 8 Slams total, that career Slam on four different surfaces counts for an enormous amount.

    Then comes Laver, then Connors, and then Federer.

  19. Anonymous Says:

    “Hanim no competition?are you kidding me Hewitt,Roddick,safin,Agassi,nalbandian all great players..its just that they were made to look ordinary!”

    Hewitt– an old-school baseliner with no power and only legs and guts to get him by.

    Roddick — Win the U.S. Open in ’03 despite having a totally one-dimensional game, thanks to the guile of his coach, Brad Gilbert. Then he stupidly figured he didn’t have to listen to Gilbert anymore and fired him. Since then, he’s been wondering in the wilderness, trying to figure where his game went.

    Safin — Enormous talent but a total head case.

    Agassi — His career was essentially over when Federer’s was kicking into gear.

    Nalbandian — Nalba who? You gotta be kidding me.

    If you think Federer has thrived in a competitive environment, consider who was playing in 1990-2000, when Sampras racked up most of his Grand Slam trophies:


    There are more, but ALL of these guys are Grand Slam tournament champions, ost of them multiples. How many Slam champions have been active during Federer’s heyday?

  20. jack Says:

    ok to start with
    natural talent:
    1. borg
    determination and attitude:
    1.ivan lendl
    2.jimmy connors
    3.rafael nadal
    borg and federer are both the most naturally talented players ever
    sampras had to rely on big serves to help him out. federer has a complete game. i believe federer is the best player ever but he just needs the records of 2-3 more grand slams to prove it!

  21. jack Says:

    and to answer the federer question well aggasi, sapmras, safin, hewwitt, roddick,nadal,djocovic, ivanisovic, rafter kalfelnikov and a couple others
    and when you say who sampras had 2 were old and the others wernt exactly legendary players ok they won one or 2 slams. the only realy competition was aggasi. and rafter sort of

  22. Let’s end the discussion with this… « ATP Tennis Blog Says:

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  23. Anonymous Says:

    “how many slam champions have been active during federer’s heyday?” there is no way of knowing because federer has won all but one grandslam nearly every single year of his time as number 1, the only other predominant grandslam champion being nadal. are you saying neither federer nor nadal are any good because there’s only two noteworthy grandslam champions active in the game right now? that’s really stupid. and mcenroe “active” in the 90’s, give me a break, that’s like agassi with federer except mcenroe was far less eminent, finished in 92. in my opinion nadal or federer at their peak beat any player in history.

  24. overhead Says:

    what all of you over look is the fact that all the surfaces are being changed so they play the same, they want them all to be slow. So winning on “different surfaces means nothing, except of course rolland gerros

  25. overhead Says:

    oh and it goes like this.

    Mcenroe(singles,doubles and mixed)

    Who plays doubles and singles anymore….to be the best you have to play both

  26. Daimyou Says:

    Glory by Talent.. must go for Borg. His career was burnt out before he could claim any place in the history book, and still there he is.
    Then Federer has an absolute dominance over the game, with all the skills-tricks-straight-reverse-whatever you wanna add.

    Gloary by determination.. Ledl or Nadal.

    So lets mix it up. I really hold Rafa Nadal as the one to beat every single optic you would like to use to confectionate any stats list. 22y.o., 6 Grand Slams… and pounding the most talented guy in the history of the game. Meaning that he also got some technic out there.

    Still Im awaiting for Roger taking over Pete´s record of GS. Rafa will be around the corner.
    This is gonna be exciting.

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