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Rafael Nadal and 10 Other Tennis Greats Who Dominated the Sport

Tennis Greats
Mike Ehrmann/Mike Hewitt/Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Rafael Nadal broke a tennis record on Monday when he netted his seventh French Open title, further putting him in the upper echelons of the sport’s history.

He now has 11 Grand Slam titles for his career. For this most recent championship, Nadal needed four sets to beat Novak Djokovic, another young tennis star who had won three straight Grand Slam titles entering the French Open. The two players’ success in recent years has some comparing them against the greats of the past. How do they stack up? Here’s a look at 10 other tennis champs who dominated in their eras:

ROGER FEDERER

He was the top player for a record 237 consecutive weeks spanning five different years in the mid-2000s. And Federer is still playing at a high level, currently ranked third in the world. He holds the record for the most Grand Slam titles with 16 and has competed in another seven final Grand Slam matches. From 2003 to 2010, Federer never dropped below the game’s number two player.

PETE SAMPRAS

Sampras won 14 Grand Slam titles and was considered of the greatest player of his time before Federer came onto the scene. Between 1993 and 1998, Sampras led the way with Andre Agassi and everyone else hot on his trail. His most impressive achievement is arguably his seven Wimbledon championships, a record. Sampras sat at the game’s top-ranked position for a record 286 consecutive weeks, just ahead of Federer.

ANDRE AGASSI

Agassi wasn’t an aggressive and forceful player, like some of his compatriots. In fact, Agassi played a much more defensive game, returning pretty much everything he saw and lulling his opponents into frustrated play. He used his prominence as a tennis leader to garner advertisement opportunities, and he enjoyed his celebrity status that transcended the sport. On the court, Agassi was an eight-time Grand Slam winner, an Olympic gold medalist, and winner of the ATP Tour World Championships, what some have labeled a “Career Super Slam.” He’s the only man to hold that distinction.

IVAN LENDL

During the 1980s and into the ’90s, Lendl captured eight Grand Slam titles. He appeared in a Grand Slam final in 11 consecutive years, a feat matched only by Sampras. Lendl was the top-ranked player for the most part of seven-plus years, and he set a then record with 270 weeks at the top of the rankings. His game had the rare mix of both power and finesse that kept his opponents on their toes.

ROD LAVER

Laver’s 200 career wins are a record and he was the top-ranked player from 1964 to 1970. He’s the most recent man to win all four Grand Slam titles in two different calendar years. He could win on any surface. Laver could play well with others, too. He had six wins playing doubles and three in mixed doubles. For nearly a decade, everything that Laver touched seemed to go in.

BJORN BORG

Borg won 11 Grand Slam titles, including five consecutive Wimbledons, something only Federer has also done. All of his accomplishments are even more remarkable when you consider how short Borg’s career ran in the ’70s and early ’80s. He is the first player to win two Grand Slams without dropping a set, which only Nadal has done since. In 1979, Borg became the first player ever to earn $1 million inside of a year, which helped both Borg and the sport garner more attention and adoration.

JOHN MCENROE

One of the most memorable and controversial players to grace the sport, McEnroe won seven Grand Slam titles and nine Grand Slam men’s doubles titles during his career. In 1984, he posted the best single season win-loss record at 82-3. McEnroe played during a time filled with great competitors like Lendl, Borg, Jimmy Connors, and many others. But it was his battles with umpires and authority figures that make McEnroe such a household name. Today, he brings that kind of vigor to the announcing booth.

JIMMY CONNORS

Connors earned eight Grand Slam titles in the ’70s and posted a then record 160 consecutive weeks at number one in the world. He is the only athlete to win US Open singles championships on grass, clay, and hard courts, showing his durability and dominance. His 1,241 career wins are a record for all players. During his career, he was a mainstay in the late rounds of practically every championship.

BOBBY RIGGS

Riggs played his first professional tennis match on December 26, 1941, but he’s most famous for a match he played in 1973 against Billie Jean King in what’s been called ‘The Battle of the Sexes.’ He was 55 at the time, but he recognized the chance to put tennis on the map. King beat Riggs, 6–4, 6–3, 6–3 and accepted the $100,000 winner-take-all prize. During his earlier playing years, Riggs helped the US team win the Davis Cup in 1938. He took home the Wimbledon crown in 1939 and won the national professional singles championship in 1946, 1947, and 1949.

PANCHO GONZALES

Nobody can match Gonzalez for his dominance of eight years at number one in the 1950s and early 1960s. One particular match stands out, though. In 1969, Gonzales faced Charlie Pasarelli in the game’s longest match to that point that led to the invention of tie break scoring. The match went into a second day after an umpire called it for darkness. By the end, Gonzales held on to advance.

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