Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Best of Tennis

The best? You're havin' a laugh!

We know that Rafael Nadal is now on top of the world, and the ATP circuit. But is the Muscles from Mallorca the best of all-time?
By Arvind Iyengar (

Wimbledon is over and a new champion has been crowned. Nadal became the first man since Borg to win at Roland Garros and Wimbledon in the same year, and this begs us to ask the question- How good is the twenty-two year old? How does he stack up against the all time greats in the game?

The last six weeks have been nothing short of spectacular for Rafael Nadal.
Nadal cruised to his fourth straight French Open Title, which included a demolition of World Number One Roger Federer. He triumphed for the first time on grass at Queens. He topped it off by winning the greatest match in tennis history to claim his first, of what should be many Wimbledon titles.

Till now, Roger Federer has been the only active player to be called one of the greatest ever, but should Nadal now be mentioned in this discussion?

The answer as the numbers tell us is an overwhelming yes.

Is he better than Sampras, Connors and Borg?
No.....well not yet anyway.

The analysis here considers performance in Grand Slams (100 points for a win, 30 points for runner-up) and sustained dominance determined by year-end ATP rankings (with 50 points for finishing at number one, 15 points for being second, and 5 for finishing anywhere else in the top ten).

Additional points have been awarded for winning slams on different surfaces and for winning the "Grand Slam" of all four majors (30 points each). Performances since 1973 have been considered since that is when the official ATP rankings were introduced.

Here's a look at where Nadal, and all the others stand in the all-time tennis rankings.

11) Rafael Nadal- 685 points
At just twenty-two years of age, the Spaniard already has five slams under his belt and he only seems to be getting better. Perhaps the greatest athlete in the world, Nadal is a tireless retriever who works on all facets of his game.
This year, the improved double-handed backhand was a critical part of the Roland Garros victory, while the smarter serves served him well at Wimbledon.
Three more slams will be enough to take him to number eight on this list, but the early numbers indicate he would go much higher than that.

10) Boris Becker- 860 points
Boom Boom Becker arrived at Wimbledon in 1985, becoming the youngest ever male Grand Slam singles champion at the time. The German was a real character, endearing himself to his fans with his fast-paced game and stunning volleys.
Becker ended his career with six Grand Slam titles, which included seven finals appearances and three titles at the All England Tennis Club.

9) Mats Wilander- 960 points
Wilander was in the news two years ago, when he criticized Roger Federer for not having the mental fortitude to overcome Nadal in the French Open final- his exact words were not as mild!
Lacking the will to win is something the Swede could never be accused of, winning seven of his eleven grand slam finals. Wilander was also the last man, before Roger Federer to win three slams in a year.
The only one he missed in that year was Wimbledon, which was won by the man who is next on this list.

8) Stefan Edberg- 975 points
Edberg is a five-time recipient of the ATP Sportsmanship Award, but he will best be remembered for his classic grass-court battles with Becker.
Overall, Edberg emerged the more complete player, reaching the finals of all four majors, with only the French title missing from his trophy cabinet. He twice ended the year as world number one, and finished in top ten for eleven years-a hallmark of his consistency.

7) John McEnroe- 1110 points
Tremendous tennis and temper tantrums!
John McEnroe was the best player in the world in the early 80s and was a handful for everyone on court...players and umpires alike.
There was no denying his brilliance with seven slams in his kitty. The left-hander ended Borg's dominance at Wimbledon, beating the five-time champion in 1981 after a closely fought final the previous year.
Sounds a little familiar doesn't it!

6) Andre Agassi- 1280 points
Andre Kirk Agassi aka "The Punisher" is the only man in this list to have won on all four surfaces. At his best he could beat anyone, but he wasn't always at his best and that kept him from cracking the top five.
Still, Agassi is arguably the best returner of serve in the game's history with a lethal backhand that put opponents on the back foot

5) Jimmy Connors- 1405 points
In a close battle for third, the ever-resilient Jimmy Connors brings up the rear.
He ended the year as world number one five times and spent sixteen years in the top ten, more than any other player since the inception of the official rankings.
The patriotic American also won his home tournament a record five times.

4) Bjorn Borg- 1430 points
A shock retirement at the age of twenty-six may have prevented the Iceman from a few more championships.
No one though has displayed the sheer brilliance of winning consistently on two surfaces so different.
Maybe this year marks the start of someone matching the quantum of Super Borg's super feats.

3) Ivan Lendl- 1465 points
Nineteen grand slam finals for Lendl, more than anyone.
Not the best record in them at 8-11 including two runner-up spots on his least favourite surface at SW19.
Grass is for cows, Lendl once lamented as he skipped the 1982 tournament. The bull-headed Lendl did manage to win at the other slams with his uncompromising style and his never-say-die attitude.

2) Roger Federer- 1615 points
With twelve grand slams and four straight years at the top of men's tennis, Fedex is right up there to lay stake to the claim of "best ever".
Unquestionably the best player over the last five years, the Swiss Master is now under serious threat from Rafael Nadal.
If recent performances are anything to go by, Rafa looks set to not only dethrone Federer in the ATP rankings but also replace him as the best player of this generation.
Roger will have to pull up his socks to hold off his arch nemesis and also to catch the number one player on this list.

1) Pete Sampras- 1910 points
Fourteen majors and two hundred and eighty six weeks as world number one makes Pistol Pete the champion of champions.
Seven Wimbledon titles and five US Open titles made Sampras the most successful on these surfaces.
Only the French eluded him, the one blemish in an otherwise flawless career.
What would Nadal have to do get here? Win around eight more slams and end the year as number one for about half a decade.

As hard as that sounds, Rafa's performances this year make it hard to bet against him.
Five more years like this one and the King of Clay will be christened the King of Kings.

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