From Steffi Graf’s Golden Slam to Roger Federer’s unrelenting run, the best from world of tennis

In a sport that’s known to throw new faces regularly, these champions have established a place for themselves with some extraordinary achievements.

By Naveen Peter
Picture by 2019 Getty Images

Over the years, tennis has produced many icons.

Be it the great Rod Laver and Margaret Court from the early years or the likes of John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Chris Evert later, the sport always had someone redefining the way the game was played and charting their legacy with sheer brilliance.

Here’s a look at some stars who have transcended time and are undoubtedly some of the top tennis players in the world.

Roger Federer

No list of tennis greats is complete without him. Having turned pro in 1998, Roger Federer has mesmerised the tennis world with his silky touch and a breathtaking game that has seen him win 20 Grand Slam titles, a record matched only by his fiercest rivals -- Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Roger Federer won his first Grand Slam in 2003 at Wimbledon. A win over Andy Roddick in the semi-finals was followed by a comfortable three-set win over Mark Philippoussis for the title.

Over the years, the Swiss ace mastered the art of Grand Slam title wins with Wimbledon's grass being his favourite surface. Roger Federer has won as many as eight titles at Wimbledon, a record.

His performance has seen him rocket to the top of the tennis rankings charts frequently. Roger Federer has held on to the world No. 1 spot for 310 weeks in his career. The Swiss ace has also been on top for the most number of consecutive weeks -- 237.

Federer has over 1,000 wins on the ATP Tour. He reached the landmark at the Brisbane International in 2015 which made him only the third man in the Open Era to have 1,000 or more wins along with Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl.

Add to that two Olympic medals -- gold in the men’s doubles at Beijing 2008 and a silver in the singles from London 2012 -- Roger Federer is among the best tennis players in the world.

Rafael Nadal

If there’s anyone who can rival Roger Federer’s achievements, then it’s his closest friend outside the court, Rafael Nadal.

Born in Mallorca, Spain, the southpaw turned pro in 2001 and won his first-ever Grand Slam in 2005 at the French Open.

Having led Spain to a Davis Cup title as a teenager a year before, and with a dominant run in the clay-court season that year (he won 24 consecutive singles matches), Nadal was already a hot property ahead of his debut French Open.

The Spaniard showcased his baseline prowess to beat top-seed Roger Federer in the semi-final and then got the better of Mariano Puerta in the final. Nadal became only the second men’s player to win Roland Garros in his maiden attempt after Mats Wilander in 1982.

Rafael Nadal won his first Grand Slam at the 2005 French Open.
Picture by 2005 Getty Images

Nadal’s relationship with the French Open continued over the years, winning the Roland Garros title a record 14 times. In 2010, he became the only player in the men’s circuit to win a Slam on all the three surfaces in a calendar year with wins at the French Open, Wimbledon and the Australian Open.

Clay is Rafael Nadal’s favoured surface. The Spaniard has had the longest winning streak on a single surface with 81 wins on clay in the Open Era and holds the record for the most number of clay court titles (60).

Nadal has also won the Monte-Carlo Masters and the Barcelona Open -- both clay-court events -- a record 11 times.

The Spaniard’s mesmerising form has also helped Spain clinch the Davis Cup title five times (2004, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2019). Nadal has also won the Olympic crown with a title-winning run in the men’s singles at Beijing 2008 and a gold medal in the men’s doubles at Rio 2016.

Novak Djokovic

A relatively new entrant into this big boys' league of legends, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic has carved a place for himself among the best tennis players in the world.

Having turned pro in 2003, Djokovic took five years to win a Grand Slam trophy at the Australian Open. Djoker, as he’s lovingly called, now has 20 Grand Slam titles, five ATP Finals crowns and has 36 ATP Masters 1000 crowns to his name -- a record -- apart from the 85 tour title wins.

Novak Djokovic has also won the Australian Open a record nine times and is the only men's tennis player in the Open era to have achieved a double Career Grand Slam - winning each of the four majors at least twice.

Another player who loves to rely on his baseline game and powerful serves, Novak Djokovic is only the second male player -- after Rod Laver -- to clinch all four Grand Slam titles in one go. The Serb achieved this feat by winning the Wimbledon and the US Open in 2015 and followed it up with triumphs at the Australian Open and the French Open the following year.

In 2018, the Serb also completed a Career Golden Masters by winning all the nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events with his win at the Cincinnati Masters.

Djokovic's consistent performance has often seen him topping the world rankings. He is the current world No.1 and has already eclipsed Roger Federer as the player to have spent the most weeks as the world’s best tennis player.

Serena Williams

Serena Williams has left no stone unturned to create a legacy laced with triumphs and records for herself.

Though the American great officially turned pro in 1995 as a 14-year-old, Serena Williams couldn’t compete freely for long given the age limitations that WTA had on professional tennis players.

Her initial years as a pro was spent by competing in a few select events that handed her a wildcard entry but Serena Williams soon stepped up a gear.

In 1999, a 17-year-old Serena Williams became only the second African-American woman to the US Open title after Althea Gibson in 1958 and in three years, completed a calendar Slam with some stupendous performances.

A player blessed with brute power and a shrewd understanding of the game, Serena Williams is unique. The American banks heavily on her powerful and consistent serves and brings her forceful groundstrokes -- both forehand and backhand -- into play to test her opponents. It’s this style that has helped her stay relevant among three generations.

The American great has won the maximum number of Grand Slam titles (23) in the Open era in the women’s game and is gunning to equal Margaret Court’s (24) record.

Her hunger to succeed has also translated on to the Olympic field with Serena Williams proving to be a force to be reckoned with along with her sister Venus Williams.

While the younger of the Williams sisters has one Olympic gold medal in the singles event from London 2012, the two have combined to pocket three doubles titles at the Games in 2000, 2008 and 2012.

Serena Williams has been the top-ranked player on the WTA Rankings charts on eight separate occasions between 2002 and 2017, spending a total of 319 weeks as the world No. 1, only behind Steffi Graf (377) and Martina Navratilova (332).

Steffi Graf

Having turned pro in 1982, Germany’s Steffi Graf was someone the world adored for her playing style that mixed swift footwork and powerful groundstrokes in equal proportion.

Her versatility and the ability to adapt to any playing surface made her one of the most successful players of her generation and it’s why Graf dominated women’s tennis in the early years of the Open Era. It’s believed that it was Steffi Graf who made the baseline game popular for later champions like Serena Williams to master.

The German won 22 Grand Slam titles, a record that Serena Williams later broke, and is the only player in history to complete a Golden Slam -- a run that includes winning the four Grand Slams titles and the Olympic gold in the same season. Steffi Graf achieved this feat in 1988.

Moreover, Steffi Graf, along with Margaret Court are the only two players to complete a calendar Slam five times in their career with the German’s wins coming in 1988, 1989, 1993, 1995 and 1996.

Steffi Graf first rose to the world No. 1 rank in 1987 and was the undisputed queen of tennis till 1990. During her career, she stayed on the top for 377 weeks, the most by any player -- men and women -- and shares the record for the most consecutive weeks (186) as the world No. 1 with Serena Williams.

Martina Navratilova

Unlike other legends, Martina Navratilova is a rare gem. While most of the tennis greats have often succeeded in the singles game, the Czechoslovak-born American is among the few who have done well in both the singles and the doubles.

In fact, Martina Navratilova is the only tennis player to be the top-ranked in both the singles and the doubles for over 200 weeks.

For a tennis journey that started in 1975 and lasted till 2006, Martina Navratilova ensured that she left a lasting legacy to inspire the next generation.

Be it her 18 Grand Slam singles titles or the 31 major women’s doubles titles -- a record -- or the 10 major mixed doubles titles, Martina Navratilova is someone who entertained the spectators with her grace and finesse, often relying on her serve and volley game to decimate opponents.

Martina Navratilova won 18 Grand Slam singles titles in a career spanning over three decades.
Picture by 2016 Getty Images

For a career that spanned over three decades, the United States player was well-known to reinvent her game and in the latter stages of her career often pushed her partners to go the extra mile in search of glory. 

During her heydays, Martina Navratilova was often the world No. 1 player in the circuit, spending a total of 332 weeks on the top with her longest reign lasting for 156 weeks, only behind Steffi Graf and Serena Williams’ record.


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