Individual sports, much like team sports, are no stranger to domination. An athlete can let their respective physical gifts shine all alone to take the glory. There is no safety net or supporting players to aid in their success. It is a solitary march to victory.
Two of the most prominent individual stick-and-ball sports are golf and tennis. Both take hours of practice to perfect with the aid of personal coaches. Ultimately, it is squarely on the player’s shoulders to take home the victory. In both sports, domination by an individual player is an expected part of the game. Parity is a foreign term.
In professional tennis, great players come along seemingly like clockwork. Claiming cups and trophies like it was their birthright, they seem superhuman. Analysts and aficionados alike want to quantify these intangibles as if it’s possible to make greatness tangible.
It would be easy enough to rattle off a list from ten to one of who has the most wins in tennis history. However, to accurately portray the winningest players of all time, heavy scrutiny towards major title success should be considered first and foremost. It is not enough to just be a winner. To make this list, a player needs to have repeated success at the sport’s marquee events. When the moment arrives, the great ones rise to the occasion.
10. Bjorn Borg
The Swedish-born Borg won a total of eleven Grand Slam singles titles between 1974 and 1981. During this run, he collected five consecutive Wimbledon titles as well as a total of six French Open championships. Borg is one of four players to win both Wimbledon and the French Open in the same year and became the only player to accomplish this feat three years in a row. He was the first player to win more than ten major titles in the Open Era.
Borg’s record-setting winning percentage on all surfaces was 82.74% for an overall record of 609 wins to 127 losses. He holds a 92.73% mark at Wimbledon, also a record. Overall, Borg won 41% of the Grand Slam events that he entered in his short pro career, which saw him become the first single season million-dollar prize money winner in 1979.
9. Rod Laver
Laver won a record 200 singles titles in his career. The Australian also won 22 singles titles in 1962, a single season record for a male player. Laver won at least ten singles titles per season from 1964 to 1970, also an all-time record.
Laver won nineteen major titles; eleven Grand Slams and eight Pro Slams. He is the third player to win each of the major tournaments twice in his career.
8. Roy Emerson
Emerson is the most successful amateur player in tennis history. Winning 12 amateur Grand Slam singles titles, the Australian is also the only male to complete an amateur career Grand Slam in both singles and doubles. In total, Emerson claimed sixteen doubles titles, totaling a record 28 overall major titles.
7. Rafael Nadal
Nadal is the current number two player in the world. The Spaniard has ruled on clay courts, winning the French Open a record nine times. Nadal has won fourteen Grand Slams, equaling Pete Sampras for second on the all-time list for male players.
After winning the 2014 French Open, Nadal secured the distinction of becoming the first player to win at least one Grand Slam for ten straight years. In 2010, he became the youngest player ever to complete the career Grand Slam. He also joined Mats Wilander as the only players to win at least two Grand Slams on three different surfaces: hard court, grass, and clay.
6. Pete Sampras
Sampras won fourteen Grand Slam singles titles in his career, becoming the first player to surpass Roy Emerson’s record of twelve titles. The American won the last professional tournament he entered, the U.S. Open, in 2002. He currently shares the singles title record at Wimbledon with Roger Federer, claiming seven open championships. Sampras’s five U.S. Open wins is tied for first place with Federer and Jimmy Connors.
5. Serena Williams
The younger of the Williams sisters, Serena has accrued the most success over the course of her career. The only female player to earn over $60 million in prize money, Williams is one of the most dominant female players of all time. Winning the most combined singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles ever, she has reserved her place as one of the all-time, all-around greats.
Williams’ 18 major singles titles are fourth all time and second most during the Open Era. In tandem with her sister, Venus, the pair has combined for thirteen major doubles titles. Williams has also claimed two major mixed doubles championships. Her total of 33 major championships ranks Williams seventh on all-time list for overall major championships.
4. Chris Evert
Evert reached 34 Grand Slam finals, the most by any player in tennis history. The 18-time Grand Slam title winner never lost in the first or second round of any major tournament she entered as a professional. In singles, Evert advanced to the semifinals or better in 52 of 56 Grand Slams she entered. Evert’s seven French Open championships remains the mark to beat in women’s tennis. She also shares a record six U.S. Open wins with Serena Williams.
A career winning percentage of 89.96% ranks Evert as the most successful player in the Open Era. Her 94.55% winning percentage on clay courts is the best in the history of women’s tennis. In total, Evert claimed 15 singles and 29 doubles wins.
3. Martina Navratilova
Navratilova was a dynamic player, holding the record for most singles titles (167) and most doubles titles (177) in the Open Era. The Czech won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 major doubles titles, and 10 major mixed doubles titles. Navratilova claimed the Wimbledon crown a record nine times, including six consecutive championships at one point.
Navratilova posted a record of 1982 wins to 86 losses when playing as the number one seed in a tournament. For five straight years, she won 96.8% of her matches from 1982 through 1986. This included an 86-1 season record in 1983, the best single season win/loss mark in history. Both sterling marks in a career that saw Navratilova hold the world number one ranking for five years in a row and a total of 332 weeks.
2. Steffi Graf
Graf not only owns the record for major wins in tennis history with 22 victories, but the German is also the only player to win each Grand Slam at least four times. Another first on her resume is the Calendar Year Golden Slam. In 1988, Graf won all four major championships and the Olympic gold medal.
Graf was ranked as the world’s best women’s player by the Women’s Tennis Association for a record 377 weeks. She advanced to thirteen straight Grand Slam finals, starting with the 1987 French Open and ending with the 1990 French Open. During that time, she won five straight majors, beginning with the 1988 Australian Open and ending with the 1989 Australian Open. Her 197 singles titles ranks third behind Navratilova and Evert on the all-time women’s list.
1. Roger Federer
Name virtually any major record and chances are Roger Federer owns at least a piece of it. Seven-time Wimbledon champion, five-time U.S. Open winner, and four-time Australian Open victor, the Swiss player has put his name on the title record at all three of these major tournaments. The 17-time Grand Slam winner, also a men’s record, is the greatest tennis player of all time.
World number one for 302 weeks, Federer’s career is a picture of dominance. Reaching the final of every Grand Slam event at least five times, including nine appearances in the Wimbledon final, he is the best big time player in the sport’s history. Federer has appeared in 25 Grand Slam finals, which has included a streak of ten straight finals appearances and 18 out of 19 from the 2005 Wimbledon final until the 2010 Australian Open. In Grand Slams, Federer has won 279 matches, a men’s record, and has won 60 or more times at all four tournaments.
Federer is the first player to exceed $50 million in prize money. On top of that, Federer is the only player to hit the $80 million mark in career earnings.