Saturday, October 30, 2010

Let's Talk Tennis: Who Is the Greatest?

A big thank you to Adrian Robertson for sending me the following link: It is an interactive tool at which compares the credentials of 23 male tennis players of the modern era to determine who, in fact, is the greatest of all time. Only those players who have won at least one major and been ranked World #1 are included. Thus, Rod Laver is excluded. He retired before the ATP rankings existed.

Five criteria are considered, I'm assuming in equal measure: weeks at #1, majors won, overall titles, career win/loss record and head-to-head record. With pull down menus, one can pit any two players against one another (John Newcombe vs. Rafael Nadal, for instance) with any or all of the above criteria and see who comes out on top (Nadal in the Newcombe match). I'm not sure all five measures can truly be considered equal but I will accept that each is objective.

Going through all of the match ups - and yes, I went through all of them - Federer comes out on top, beating everyone. No big surprise there. Sampras is second, losing only to Fed. Again, no shock.

Photo via

The interest begins with the rankings from 3 to 6: Lendl, Connors, McEnroe and Borg. Picking Lendl over Jimbo and Johnny Mac is no stretch. Ivan's head-to-head record against each is decisive: 22-13 versus Connors and 21-15 versus McEnroe. The much bigger surprise is that all three rate above Borg. In the more subjective discussions of historical tennis prowess, Borg nearly always falls in just behind Fed, Sampras and Laver, though Lendl has his supporters (myself included). As it turns out, though, Lendl, Connors and McEnroe all hold significant edges over Borg in both total career titles and weeks with the top ranking.

No one gets shut out. In fact, of all the 23, no one has fewer than two wins against the others. Juan Carlos Ferrero tops both Carlos Moya and Patrick Rafter. Moya beats both Rafter and Marat Safin. There are a few surprise results along the way: Safin over Boris Becker, for example. In this case, the fact that Safin won their only head-to-head match is critical. Take away that one match and the tables turn.

The youngest on the list is Nadal and he is likely the only one with a chance to improve his credentials significantly. He ranks just behind Borg at #7. At present, he trails Bjorn by two majors, 21 career titles and 51 weeks at #1. I'm assuming the stats will update automatically but I'll check in on Monday to be sure.

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