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Steve R.

Men's Tennis - Who Is The Greatest Of All Time?

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The greatest male player of the open era is John McEnroe, whose beautiful, subtle, nuanced serve I'd much rather see than one of these cannonballs that the current players are able to deliver thanks not to their ability but to their racquets. And when I say greatest male player, I obviously don't refer to McEnroe's singles record in grand slam events. He has 148 career titles, which doesn't even include mixed doubles or any of his Davis Cup success. Roger Federer has 87 titles. Rafael Nadal has 72.

And Rod Laver has 200. :)

Several very credible old-timers say Pancho Gonzales was the greatest player ever to pick up a racquet, and that Lew Hoad was right up there with him.

I've probably mentioned this in the past, but if I haven't, it's as good of a time as any: when I was 12 years old, I went to Don Budge Tennis Camp at the McDonough Campus in what is now Owings Mills, MD. My parents dug deep into their pockets to send me there for three weeks, to buy me clothing, equipment, etc., and I'll never forget that they did that for me - it was more expensive than our family could afford (and damn, I wish they were around right now so I could thank them again).

Anyway, at the end of the three-week session, there was an exhibition doubles match with Don Budge and three of the counselors (this was in 1974, and Budge was 59 at the time). As part of the festivities, every camper got to play a few points against Don Budge (with a couple hundred parents in the audience), Budge being only player besides Rod Laver to win a calendar-year Grand Slam (Laver did it twice, once as an amateur, and once as a professional). Budge being eight years older than my parents, it was as thrilling for them to experience as it would be for one of us watching our kid hit tennis balls with Björn Borg. There was no "achievement" involved in doing this - every single camper got to participate - but in terms of "Holy Shit!", this ranks right up there with Shirley Povich having being friends with Walter Johnson.

Budge won his Grand Slam in 1938 - almost 80 years ago; Laver won his in 1962 and 1969.

I'm borderline ashamed to say that the campers put on a play for the parents  - a parody of The Tonight Show - and I was, um, Ed McMahon, <_< and at one point went over to the piano and played "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown." I remember doing Carnac The Magnificent, and as McMahon, I was the sidekick. The kid who played Carson/Carnac answered one unseen question (in a mystical accent), "And zee answer eez ... Dohn Budge!" then opened the envelope and read the question: "What do you do when a stampede is coming towards you, with the running cattle narrowly missing you by mere inches on both sides?" (Hey, part of this website is a chronicle of my life for my son to read in future years, so I apologize for including these silly anecdotes - rest assured, I'm the only person in the world who remembers such minutiae.)

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And Rod Laver has 200. :)

No, Rod Laver does not have 200 open-era titles. He's probably the overall best male tennis player of all time, including the pre-open and open era, but he has only 102 open-era singles plus doubles titles, while McEnroe has 148, far and away the most for the open era (Jimmy Connors is 2nd with 124).

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Despite my recent postings about Djokovic - who has just recently emerged as "The Best of The Best" in terms of The Big 3 - if everyone were to drop dead, right now, right this second, it would be Federer.

Djokovic is now, just now, conceivably being projected (by me) as a legitimate, future candidate for GOAT. Nadal is done, and Federer needs to hope Djokovic gets hit by a bus - it's *got* to be killing him, knowing he's *inches* away from staving off Djokovic, but he can't do it, at least not right now.

Djokovic will need to win a half-dozen more Majors to earn the title - the thing is ... he can. Maybe.

How can Rafael Nadal *possibly* be considered the *Third Best Player* of his era? Well, guess what: It's happening. 9 out of 10 French Opens. Damn.

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Now that some time has passed, I'll take a shot at this (I'm not including players before 1960 because I just don't know):

Absolute Greatness
1. Federer
2. Nadal
3. Djokovic
4. Sampras (I'm not sure if any pure serve-and-volley player should be on this list)

Relative to Their Time
1. Federer
2. Laver
3t Borg
3t Sampras (I wouldn't know which to choose)

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On 7/4/2014 at 4:23 PM, DonRocks said:

Yes, but.

The emphasis has shifted at the highest level to "collecting Grand Slams" as opposed to winning the most tournaments - this pretty much started with Pete Sampras. Jimmy Connors used to go out and win a tournament every week, it seemed.

You also included doubles in your McEnroe tally, and none of the top players play doubles anymore (because they're too busy trying to win Grand Slam singles titles). Before this week, I would have named the Williams sisters as an exception to this (but I'm too busy saying WTF? (*))

Now, Federer has taken this "Grand Slam-only" concept a step further, and made it "selected Grand Slams-only," as he deliberately skipped the clay-court season in 2017. It turns out (after he won Wimbledon this morning) that this was a move of absolute brilliance, as he has now won 2 out of the 3 Grand Slams played this year (he would have gotten killed by Nadal in the French, and that might have made him tired for Wimbledon; now, he has a legitimate shot at the U.S. Open). 

If I were Nadal, I'd play about five tournaments a year, and make them all on clay - he could win another 2-3 French Opens if he did this.

What in God's name has happened to Djokovic?

I just read through this entire conversation, and it's really interesting.

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I'm not sure how I happened on this video but here is an entire playoff basketball game from 1981 featuring the Celtics vs the 76ers, with Larry Bird, Dr J and a cast of 2 dozen. 

In watching I was struck by how different the game is now vs then with the biggest difference being the importance of the 3 pt line spreading out the game and necessitating players with different skills and strengths.  Shooting is of course one skill but the ability to fly around out to the 3 pt line rotate and race back inside requires different types of players now vs then and vice versa.

i think the same is true for tennis--actually more so.  It makes it hard for me to join the "who is best debate" The game is radically different and the practice and then skills Borg displayed so long ago were based on the technology of the time and his ability to raise his skills within that environment.

Which tennis payers of the different eras would adjust to the game in different periods and dominate the most?

Well I don't know but I sure liked Johnny Macs style and touch in his era.  Federer displays a grace that seems to indicate an ability to transcend eras at least in my mind.

i'm not jumping in on the GOAT debate but I wish the technology would allow more net play so as to revisit the days when Johnny Mac displayed touch genius and others could strive to match or better it. It was a fun period to watch

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Just thought that this would be an opportune time for me to re-state my opinion on the answer to this thread's question:  Federer.

I've now been playing/watching tennis for over 50 years, started with front row seats for matches involving Laver et al (our H.S. tennis team was taken to MSG for pro tennis matches in '67-69 with courtside seats) & cannot remember being awed by anyone as much as by Federer.  That's really saying something, as it's much easier to awe a 15 year old than a 65 year old.

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40 minutes ago, Steve R. said:

Just thought that this would be an opportune time for me to re-state my opinion on the answer to this thread's question:  Federer.

I've now been playing/watching tennis for over 50 years, started with front row seats for matches involving Laver et al (our H.S. tennis team was taken to MSG for pro tennis matches in '67-69 with courtside seats) & cannot remember being awed by anyone as much as by Federer.  That's really saying something, as it's much easier to awe a 15 year old than a 65 year old.

Opinions are great.  They merit respect.  An opinion backed up by substance of one sort or another merits more respect (or is subject to debate with with different substance) ;)

One thing bothered the bejeebies out of me.  I'm your contemporary and I played high school tennis. (I was lousy-though I played doubles competition as a soph--no big deal)  My high school never got nuttin'.  No front row seats anywhere.  Not in tennis, baseball, football, etc etc etc.  Nuttin'.

I guess that is the difference between New York City and Jersey!!!!:angry:  As a junior and already established as high school newspaper sports editor (in the final month of that year) I got to interview Willis Reed who spoke at our school sports awards ceremony.  I heard we had to pay him to get out there. (Regardless a great thrill) Another example of NYC vs Northern NJ  :P 

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I had a disturbing realization today: In the Open Era, one of these players, by definition, is not in the Top 5:

Laver, Borg, Sampras, Djokovic, Nadal, Federer

As an aside, all six of these players are still alive (not all that surprising, but pretty awesome considering the Open Era began nearly 50 years ago).

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On 7/31/2017 at 6:45 PM, DonRocks said:

I had a disturbing realization today: In the Open Era, one of these players, by definition, is not in the Top 5:

Laver, Borg, Sampras, Djokovic, Nadal, Federer

As an aside, all six of these players are still alive (not all that surprising, but pretty awesome considering the Open Era began nearly 50 years ago).

This is an intelligent and thoughtful commentary on The Big Three (Plus One):

That said, McEnroe's final shot was "PhotoShopped" - he *clearly* hit that backhand down the line (which would be to Cash's forehand based on where McEnroe was standing), but when they showed the result, it was zinging cross-court: It was two separate shots edited into one. Busted!

---

John McEnroe (DonRocks)

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I'm not sure how this popped into my head  (must be French Open related), but I was curious about different players on different surfaces and found this article comparing Federer, Nadal and Djokovic on Clay, Grass, and hard surfaces

They are all great on all surfaces, obviously Nadal is supreme on clay, and what isn't mentioned is that as fantastic as their records are on all surfaces they would each do better if they didn't have to face one another.

Anyway it had me think about this thread and discussion.  I skimmed through it.  Far be it from me to vote for a best.  Frankly I liked watching Johnny Mac play.  That doesn't make him best. 

But the article above aligns with some of the above commentary above related to how different technologies and racquets clearly had an impact on how the game is played and probably needs to be factored into a discussion of "all time best".  Racquet technology dictated styles of play and then during different periods certain players were supreme on certain surfaces;  that has been the case for decades and continues to this day.

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21 hours ago, DonRocks said:

for those of you who think Johnny Mac was the pinnacle of tennis genius, 

Peter Fleming  was a noted pro tennis player during the late ‘70’s and into the ‘80’s.  His fame was rooted in doubles where he often teamed with McEnroe to win championships.

His great line during that period was something along the lines of (paraphrased) “The Best doubles team in the world is Johnny Mac and anyone.”

(parenthetically I was aware of and paid attention to Fleming in that he played high school tennis in the same conference that I played in.  I’m older than him and while I played doubles as a soph I didn’t love it and did not compete in the following years.  Undoubtedly had I continued and kept improving by massive amounts and then met Fleming on the court he would have beat me love and love with both hands tied behind his back)

In any case I don’t want to jump into “the best ever” discussion but MAC was great to watch and his doubles skills were even better.   

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On 7/17/2017 at 11:11 AM, Steve R. said:

Just thought that this would be an opportune time for me to re-state my opinion on the answer to this thread's question:  Federer.

I've now been playing/watching tennis for over 50 years, started with front row seats for matches involving Laver et al (our H.S. tennis team was taken to MSG for pro tennis matches in '67-69 with courtside seats) & cannot remember being awed by anyone as much as by Federer.  That's really saying something, as it's much easier to awe a 15 year old than a 65 year old.

I happened to run into an article that cites the opinion of another old old viewer and player and commentator on tennis.  He may have almost as much perspective and experience as @Steve R..  This guy has also seen it all.  He listed his top 5 of all time time.   I was surprised by one of his omissions:

Johnny Mac’s top five

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Of course I gotta add another 2cents here.  There are players who I think are the best and there are players that I love watching.  Federer is at the top of my list on both.  For me, Johnny Mac is much more one of those I love watching, but who I don't think showed as one of the greatest players ever.  And Sampras is the opposite for me, although I admit that during his reign I wasn't watching as much tennis, since I was fully engrossed in squash.  Lupica's article is nicely written.  Thanks.

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4 hours ago, Steve R. said:

Lupica's article is nicely written.  

Even though I’ved lived outside NY for decades I still like to pick up a copy of the Daily News on occasion.  Between headline writers, front page pictures, acerbic columnists and Lupica and the sports coverage it’s still a fun read.  Are they any good on dining?  I’ve never even looked for that topic.   I’d think they would be great for pizza

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This is a fantastic highlight reel to watch, for those who miss the classic, old-school "serve-and-volley vs. all-court" matchup: Arthur Ashe vs. Ilie Nastase. 

Ashe was so good - he was a straightforward, come-at-you player; Nastase was an artist with the racket who could produce a jaw-dropping shot at any time.

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Boy, here's a shot you don't see on many highlight reels - look at this backhand overhead by Federer at 2:20 in the video. It's fascinating to see a relatively raw - but insanely talented - Roger Federer pitted against tough-as-nails Michael Chang, whose game is good enough to bring out the best in Federer.

 

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1 hour ago, DaveO said:

Lupica is no longer with The Daily News

Quite sad.  Print journalism in newspapers and magazines is taking an horrendous beating.  It’s tragic imho

Furthermore, Jon Wertheim - perhaps the best tennis writer in the country - is now doing pieces for 60 Minutes.

https://www.cbsnews.com/video/the-leaning-tower-of-san-francisco/

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Think about this for a moment:

The winners of the 8 Grand Slam Men's Singles events over the past-two years (2017 and 2018) have been:

Roger Federer (3) - first Grand Slam, 2003, current total: 20
Rafael Nadal (3) - first Grand Slam, 2005, current total: 17
Novak Djokovic (2) - first Grand Slam, 2008, current total: 14

This is the greatest moment that Men's Tennis will experience for a long, long time, and it has been going on for almost this entire century: The three men have been responsible for 51 Grand Slam Men's Singles titles, which is just shy of 13-years worth (that's the equivalent of one of them winning every single Grand Slam, for 13 years).

Since Federer won his 1st Wimbledon in 2003, there have been a total of 62 Grand Slam Men's Singles FInals: 57 out of the 62 have featured at least one of these three men.

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Advantage Djokovic.

Djokovic is 31-years old, with 15 majors. He has won the last three, all in straight sets!

Nadal is 32, with 17 majors. He won the French last year.

Federer is 37, with 20 majors. He won the Australian last year.

Pete Sampras, with 14, is the one who made winning majors a "thing," as he pursued Roy Emerson's record of 12 - who would have thought that THREE people would have beaten Sampras' record in the past twenty years?!

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