The Top 10 Best Male Players of the open era

In this piece, I will chronicle the careers of those who I consider to be the best 10 Male players of the Open Era. Only achievements from the Open Era of 1968 onwards are considered. For example, Rod Laver does not make the list as despite winning all 4 slams in the first full year of the Open Era in 1969, he only played 15 Open Era majors, making 7 Quarter-Finals.

This list takes into consideration what players won with particular importance on the Grand Slams, but it is not just a ranking list of who has won the most majors, as considerations are made of the competition they were up against at the time.

10. Andy Murray

Though there are many other players who’ve won more slams than Andy Murray, such as Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker who all came very close to making this list, I have gone with Andy Murray to start my list of the top 10 male players of all time, due to his achievements whilst playing in by far the strongest ever era of men’s tennis. Murray didn’t only have the big 3 to contend with, but also Wawrinka, Cilic, Del Potro, Tsonga, Berdych, Ferrer and Nishikori who were all players who would have won more if not for the dominance of the Big 3. And though Murray is also in that category of players who would have won more, he was still able to win 46 titles, 45 of them by the age of 30. Before leaving the tour for his first hip surgery in the second half of 2017, Murray had reached 67 finals, including 21 at Masters 1000 level, 11 at Grand Slams and 2 Olympic finals. Of those 67 he won a more than respectable 45. Of the 22 he lost, 17 were against a member of the Big 3. Between October 2007 and 2017, Murray played 30 finals against non-Big 3 members and won 29 of them, including 24 in a row.

There are now some arguments about whether there was ever really a ‘Big 4′ but between 2011 and 2016, there could not really be much doubt that there was. In 2009, Murray won the most titles of any player on the ATP tour, but it was in 2011 that he became a real consistent force at the Grand Slams. He reached the semis of all 4 majors, losing at the semi-final stage 3 times to Nadal and losing the 2011 Australian Open final to Djokovic, which was by then his 3rd major final, having lost the first two against Roger Federer. In 2012 Murray reached his first Wimbledon final but was defeated for a third time in a major final by Federer despite taking the opening set. Murray broke down in tears during his runners-up speech as he struggled under the staggering weight of trying to end Britain’s seemingly never-ending wait for a men’s singles champion. But just weeks after such a crushing defeat, Murray returned to Centre Court as London hosted the 2012 Olympic Games. 

In the Semi-Finals, Murray defeated Novak Djokovic in straight sets to progress to meet who else but Roger Federer in the final. Federer had come through his semi by beating Del Potro 19-17 in the 3rd in a match that lasted 4 hours and 26 minutes. Murray played one of the best matches of his career in the final to take the Gold medal with a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 victory sealed with an ace. Murray’s achievement seemed impressive at the time, but looks even better in hindsight as he won 5 consecutive sets against the two best grass court players of all time. A few months later, Murray met Djokovic in his 5th major final, still looking for that maiden slam. Murray went 2 sets up but was pegged back by Djokovic and taken into a deciding 5th set. Murray was faced with the prospect of being the first man to lose his first 5 major finals, but he outlasted Djokovic to take the 5th set 6-2 in the joint longest ever US Open final, lasting 4 hours and 54 minutes. It was, until Carlos Alcaraz recently beat 36-year old Djokovic in the 2023 Wimbledon final, the only time Djokovic had lost a major final that had gone 5 sets.

 After pulling out of the 2013 Roland Garros with a back injury, Murray then made the Wimbledon final for a second straight year, meaning that after losing the Australian Open final earlier that year to Djokovic, he had made it to the final of the last 4 majors he had played. Murray again faced Djokovic in the Wimbledon final, but only after coming from 2 sets down in the Quarters against Verdasco. Murray was perhaps under the most pressure any tennis player has ever faced, with Britain desperate for him to end 77 years of hurt and give Britain their first men’s champion at Wimbledon since Fred Perry. Djokovic reached the final after coming through a 4 hour 43 minute marathon against Del Potro, but he was defeated in straight sets by Murray who again produced one of his career best performances when it mattered most. It was the only loss Djokovic suffered in a Wimbledon final until losing to Carlos Alcaraz, his Wimbledon final record going into that match was 7-1, with 4 of the victories coming against Federer or Nadal. 

Murray then underwent back surgery and did not reach the same levels in 2014. But in 2015, he led Great Britain to their first triumph in the Davis Cup since 1936. Murray became just the third player ever to win all 8 singles matches and he also won 3 doubles matches with his brother Jamie for an overall record of 11-0, meaning that Andy was on the court for 11 of GB’s 12 wins in the competition. He sealed his and GB’s title with a magnificent lob, surely one of the greatest trophy-clinching points in the history of the Davis Cup. Murray followed it up in 2016 with his best-ever year on the tour, he reached 13 finals and won 9, including the last 5 events of the year by winning his last 25 matches. He made 3 Grand Slam finals consecutively, losing to Djokovic at the Australian and the French before taking his 2nd Wimbledon title by winning in straight sets against Milos Raonic. Then at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Murray became the first player ever to win 2 consecutive Golds in singles by beating Del Potro in a match that lasted over 4 hours. Murray ended his best-ever year by winning the Tour Finals for the first time by beating Novak Djokovic in the final, to ensure he would finish 2016 as year-end number 1 for the first time in his career. Between 2004 and 2021, Murray was the only player outside of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic to achieve the feat.

Murray has an almost indisputable case of being the unluckiest player of all time, he has made 5 Australian Open finals but met Djokovic in 4 of them, the best player in the history of the tournament, who is currently 10-0 in finals there. 2017 could theoretically have been the year Murray racked up more majors, it was the only year between 2011 and 2023 that Djokovic failed to win a slam and going into the year Federer hadn’t won a slam for 4 years. And Nadal hadn’t won a slam off the clay for 3 years. Murray had spent his career trying to hunt them down and then finally just as he reached the very front of the queue being ranked number 1 in the world, persistent, severe pain in his hip began to affect him. Despite this Murray was able to reach a 5th French Open semi and the Quarters of Wimbledon for a 10th successive year. 

But following his failure to retain the Wimbledon title, Murray pulled out of the US Open and then underwent hip surgery. Murray tried to resume playing but found that surgery had not healed the persistent pain in the hip and he announced his retirement at the 2019 Australian Open, against his own wishes but feeling he had no alternative. Murray then underwent a second hip operation, this one removing the damaged socket and putting in a metal substitute. This has allowed Murray to resume playing pain-free and though he has not been able to reach the highs of previous years, he is currently ranked at number 41 in the world. 

Murray reached 11 Grand Slam finals, reaching the final of each slam at least once. Playing during the era of the 3 best players of all time, Murray’s 11 is the 9th most of the open era. Murray has reached 21 semi-finals, losing just twice at that stage against players outside of the Big 3. Only 6 men have won more Grand Slam matches than his current total of 199 and he is 2 wins away from 50 at the US Open, which would make him only the 4th man in the Open Era to have won at least 50 matches at 3 of the 4 Grand Slams. Murray won just 7 of 24 meetings with Nadal, in a fairly one-sided rivalry, though his 7 wins are still more than anyone outside of the Big 3 has managed against him. He actually led his head-to-head against Federer after 20 matches, but in the end, lost 14-11 in their meetings. He is still the only player outside of the Big 3 to have beaten Federer at least 10 times, and that’s also true of his record against Djokovic, which Murray trails 25-11. Murray’s 61 match wins at Wimbledon is more than Nadal has managed there, he is the only men’s player of the same era to have more wins than a member of the Big 3 at one of the slams. Murray has won 7 of the 9 Masters Events, and a total of 14 Masters titles, which is the 5th most since they were introduced on the ATP tour in 1990.

9. John McEnroe

John McEnroe won his first major at his home slam, the US Open in 1979. The following year he met Bjorn Borg in the final of Wimbledon, in what is considered to be one of the best and most dramatic matches in the history of tennis. After McEnroe took the first set 6-1, Borg won the next 2 sets before the 4th set went into a tie-break. McEnroe saved 5 Championship points and forced a 5th set by taking the tiebreak 18-16, but was beaten in the 5th set 8-6. McEnroe avenged the loss a few months later beating Borg in the final of the US Open to retain the title.

McEnroe and Borg met again in the finals of both Wimbledon and the US Open, this time McEnroe was victorious in both, winning both matches in 4 sets after dropping the first set. The win at the US Open was McEnroe’s 3rd in a row there making him the first man in the Open era to achieve the feat. Borg would never appear at a Grand Slam again, retiring from the sport aged 26. McEnroe and Borg faced off 14 times, with each man claiming 7 victories. McEnroe led 3-1 in Grand Slam matches and 5-4 in finals. McEnroe returned to the final of Wimbledon in 1982 this time losing to Jimmy Connors but he won the title back the following year and then retained it in 1984 in his 5th consecutive Wimbledon final. McEnroe won his 7th and final Grand Slam at the US Open later that year beating another great rival Ivan Lendl. Lendl got his revenge a year later at the same event in McEnroe’s 11th and final slam final. 

McEnroe won all his slams at either Wimbledon or the US Open where he won 4 and 3 respectively, with the American only playing the Australian and French Open twice apiece. McEnroe won 77 titles including 3 Tour Finals. He was also a proficient doubles player, winning 9 slams, including 5 doubles titles at Wimbledon. McEnroe is remembered for his fiery temper on the court, especially when protesting umpire and line judge calls. He first uttered perhaps the most famous words of any tennis player “You cannot be serious?” to an umpire at the 1981 Wimbledon. His temper earned him the nickname “Superbrat” as his often volatile temper shook up the sport of tennis which until his arrival prided itself on proper behaviour and sporting etiquette. McEnroe is also remembered for some of the best rivalries in the history of tennis, especially with Borg, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl.

8. Jimmy Connors

In 1974, Connors won all 3 majors he participated in, winning 99 matches out of 103 across the calendar year. The following year he reached all 3 finals again, this time losing them all, including against Arthur Ashe in the 1975 Wimbledon final. Connors didn’t play the French Open during his peak years and played the Australian Open just twice, winning once and reaching a final, never competing in it again. Between 1976 and 1978, he reached 5 finals out of the 6 majors he played, winning 2 US Open titles, both against Bjorn Borg. In his period of dominance, Connors made the Wimbledon final 4 years out of 5 and reached the US Open final 5 years in a row. After 3 years without a slam, Connors won the Wimbledon and US Open double in 1982, then retained the US Open the following year.

In 1984 he lost his 15th and last major final, in the end having to settle for 8 slams including 5 at the US Open. Between 1974 and 1985, Connors reached at least the Quarter-Finals in all but 1 of the 33 majors he contested, reaching the semi-finals 28 times in that period. Connors won 109 singles titles, the most of any man in the Open Era, and 1,274 singles matches, also the most of any man. Connors is remembered for mostly preferring to play behind the baseline, during an era of serve and volley, utilising his extremely effective flat backhand. Connors was a gritty competitor who detested losing and did whatever he could to prevent it. A blue-collar boy in what was then a mostly upper-class sport, Connors had a chip on his shoulder and would often get into rowdy debates with umpires. Connors was one of the first to effectively utilise crowd involvement in his matches, attempting to rile them up either in favour of him or against him. 

7. Ivan Lendl

Lendl made his first 4 slam finals between 1981 and 1983, becoming the first man to lose all 4 of his first major finals. He reached a 5th slam final at the 1984 French Open where he trailed 2-0 to McEnroe, making him just one set away from losing a 5th major final and extending his wait for a maiden slam. Lendl forced a 5th and deciding set, winning it 7-5. Lendl reached an impressive 19 major finals, 4 at the Australian Open, winning 2 of them, 5 at Roland Garros including 4 in a row, winning 2, he reached 2 finals at Wimbledon but that was the one major he was unable to win and as well he made 8 finals at the US Open, all of them in a row, winning 3. Lendl won 1,068 singles matches and is the only man to boast a win % of over 90% for 5 different calendar years. This helped him to win a total of 94 career titles, which is the joint 3rd highest in the Open Era. Amongst those 94 titles are the 5 Tour Finals he was able to win. 

Lendl liked to dictate from the back of the court with his powerful forehand. Lendl’s biggest rivals were Jimmy Connors who he defeated in 22 out of 35 meetings and John McEnroe, who Lendl led 21-15 in head-to-head matches. Upon retiring, Lendl went on to become the head coach of Andy Murray, helping the Brit to win 2 Wimbledon titles, the only slam Lendl missed out on winning as a player. 

6. Andre Agassi

After a 1st round exit in his first Wimbledon, Agassi became one of the only tennis players ever to opt not to play in the Sport’s biggest event, taking umbrage at the strict dress code insisting players must wear traditional all-white clothing. In the 3 years in which Agassi skipped the event, he reached 2 major finals at the French and US Open losing both. One was against Andres Gomes, an Ecuadorian who only reached the semis of a Grand Slam on that one occasion. Agassi was the clear favourite but lost in 4, then lost his 2nd final in straights to Pete Sampras, the rivalry between these two Americans would be the defining rivalry of the ‘90s in men’s tennis. 

Agassi made the final of the French Open for a second time the following year but lost again, this time in straight sets to Jim Courier. In 1992, Agassi played at Wimbledon for just the 3rd time in his career after a 3-year boycott and ironically it was to be the first slam he would win, beating Goran Ivanišević in 5 sets. In 1994 Agassi won his first US Open and the year after he won his first at the Australian Open. Agassi didn’t win a slam in 1996, but he did win an Olympic Gold in the singles event in Atlanta. The following year, Agassi was absent for much of the tour due to a wrist injury. At the time Agassi was struggling with problems in his personal life, with his marriage to actress and model Brook Shields breaking down and his motivation for tennis sank.

His ranking dropped to 141 and many believed him done as a serious challenger for the big prizes. However, in 1998 Agassi made a successful comeback, performing well on the tour despite not going far in the slams. In 1999 he produced his best-ever year, reaching 3 major finals and winning 2. In his first slam final in 4 years, Agassi won just 3 games in the opening 2 sets of the French Open final but roared back to win in 5 sets. This made him the first man to win all 4 slams across the 3 surfaces, and as well the first man to complete the “Career Super Slam” of winning all 4 majors alongside Olympic singles gold and the Tour Finals. 

 Agassi won the Australian Open the following year to hold 3 of the 4 slams at once. He retained the title the following year, then after missing the 2002 Australian Open, returned the following year to win the slam for a 4th time. In 2005 Agassi reached his 15th slam final but was unable to clinch a 9th major, losing in 4 sets to Roger Federer at the US Open. Agassi made his final slam appearance at the same event a year later, retiring after the event due to persistent back pain. Agassi won 60 singles titles and is considered one of the greatest returners in the history of the sport. He was a star who helped revive tennis’ popularity in the 90s. Beginning as a flamboyant character with very long hair that was later revealed to be a wig, Agassi grew in mainstream popularity and appeal with his clean-shaven look and trademark bald head. He faced off with his great rival Pete Sampras on 34 occasions, winning 14 of them. Their record was closer when meeting in finals, with Agassi winning 7 and losing 9.  

5. Bjorn Borg

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Bjorn Borg won his first major as an 18-year-old at the 1974 French Open and retained it the following year. Between 1976 and 1981, Borg made 17 slam appearances and reached the final in 14 of them. Between 1974 and 1981 Borg lost just once at the French Open, winning 6 titles there. He made the Wimbledon final 6 years in a row, winning 5 of them consecutively. Borg’s ultimate peak was between 1978 and 1980, when he completed the “Channel Slam” the French Open and Wimbledon double for 3 straight years. 

At the 1978 French Open Borg lost just 32 games on his way to the title, which is the fewest amount any man has lost on his way to a major. 2 years later he lost just 38 games, which is the 3rd fewest a winning man has lost. At Wimbledon, Borg holds the record for most consecutive match wins, having won 41 in a row. Borg reached 4 US Open finals, but he was never able to win the event and after losing the 1981 final to McEnroe, Borg left the arena before the trophy presentations. He would never compete again. He was just 26 years old but felt his fire had been burnt out. Borg’s competitive drive had gone and he retired from the sport. 

Borg played just 28 majors (including just once at the Australian Open) and won 11 of them, reaching 16 finals. He won 49 of 51 matches played at Roland Garros and 51 of 55 matches at Wimbledon. Borg won 66 titles including 2 Tour Finals. The Swede had one of the most distinctive playing styles in the history of tennis, hitting very consistent groundstrokes with lots of topspin. Borg was even able to dominate at Wimbledon where traditionally only serve-and-volleyers had been successful. 

Borg was also famed for his grace under pressure, his always calm demeanour on the court regardless of the score earned him the nickname “Ice Man”. Another of Borg’s great strengths was his fitness and conditioning, which was superior to everyone on the tour. This allowed him to win 20 of his 23 matches that went 5 sets as he outlasted everyone on tour even when playing in the toughest of conditions. Borg’s wife once said that “Bjorn wouldn’t speak for 3 days after a loss, he hated losing.” It was when Borg didn’t feel bad after losing the 1981 Wimbledon and US Open finals to his biggest rival McEnroe that Borg realised his passion was gone.

4. Pete Sampras

“Pistol” Pete Sampras became the youngest man to win the US Open when he lifted the major in 1990, shortly after celebrating his 19th birthday. Sampras then had to wait 3 years for another slam but won 2 in 1993 with a Wimbledon and US Open double. In his career Sampras won 2 Australian Open titles and 5 US Opens, where he reached a total of 8 finals. He never quite felt comfortable on the clay, going beyond the Quarter-Final stage just once, but it was on the grass where Sampras felt most at home. Between 1993 and 2000, Sampras lost just one match at Wimbledon, lifting 7 titles. His 6th Wimbledon in 1999 was Sampras’ 12th slam overall, as he overtook Borg as the man with the most Grand Slams.

Sampras won Wimbledon for the 7th and final time in 2000, but following that made 3 more finals at the US Open. After losing the first 2, he won the 3rd against his great old rival Agassi for his 14th major. With this 5th US Open title, he equalled the record held by Connors. That US Open final turned out to be the final match of Sampras’ career as he became the only man in history to win the final Grand Slam tournament he competed in. Sampras won 14 of the 18 major finals he reached, including 13 of his first 15. Between Wimbledon 1995 and Wimbledon 2000, Sampras reached 8 Grand Slam finals and won all of them.

Sampras won 64 titles including 5 Tour Finals. He was year-end number 1 for six consecutive years between 1993 and 1998. Sampras is remembered for having one of the best serves in history and perhaps the best at the time of his retirement. He was a master of the serve-and-volley playstyle, being perhaps the finest-ever exponent of it. 

3. Roger Federer

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Roger Federer won his first Grand Slam as a 21-year-old at Wimbledon in 2003. The following year he won 3 majors, retaining Wimbledon and adding his first Australian Open and his first US Open. In 2005 his dominance on the tour continued to grow as he won 81 of 85 matches played and retained both Wimbledon and the US Open. Federer won 12 titles in 2006, winning 92 of 97 matches and reaching the final in 16 of the 17 tournaments he played. Federer won 3 majors, only missing out on the French Open where he was the losing finalist against Rafael Nadal, the first major final meeting between the pair. In reaching all 4 finals in the same year, Federer became the first man to do so since Rod Laver in 1969, but he was the first to do it across 3 different surfaces.

Between 2006 and 2008 Federer and Nadal would meet in all 6 finals played at either Roland Garros or Wimbledon. In fact between the 2005 Wimbledon and the 2010 Australian Open, Federer failed to reach just one major final, making 18 of 19 played including a record 10 consecutively before losing at the semi-final stage of the Australian Open in 2008. In 2007 Federer became the only player to successfully defend 3 majors, retaining the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. However the following year he had to settle for just one Grand Slam, as his 5-year grip on the Wimbledon trophy was finally put to an end by Rafa Nadal. Federer had equalled Borg’s 5 in a row at Wimbledon and was 1 set away from becoming the first man to win 6 consecutively after battling back from 2 sets down to force a decider. In what many consider the best Wimbledon final ever and one of the greatest matches of all time, Federer got to within 2 points of victory before losing 9-7 in the 5th. 

After winning a 5th consecutive US Open, Federer lost in 5 sets to Nadal again in the 2009 Australian Open final but then completed the “Career Slam” by winning his maiden Roland Garros title, beating Robin Soderling in the final. Then at Wimbledon, Federer won his 6th title there in 7 years to overtake Sampras as the man with the most Grand Slams in history, whilst just 29 years old. He did it by beating Andy Roddick 16-14 in the 5th.  For the 3rd time in 4 years, Federer reached all 4 major finals, but he could not clinch a record 6th US Open in succession, losing to Juan Martin Del Potro in another 5-set final. Federer led 2 sets to 1, and was 2 points from victory in the 4th but lost 6-2 in the 5th to the Argentine appearing in his first slam final. 

Between 2010 and 2012, Federer reached one slam final a year, beating Murray at the 2010 Australian Open and 2012 Wimbledon, but losing a 4th Roland Garros final to Rafa Nadal. Murray did get some revenge on Federer by forcing him to settle for the silver medal in their 2012 Olympic Games final. Federer lost back-to-back Wimbledon finals to Djokovic in 2014 and 2015 and as well lost the 2015 US Open final against him. After never missing a slam in his career up to that point, Federer missed 2 in 2016. This broke his run of competing in 65 consecutive main Grand Slam draws. Federer reached his 11th Wimbledon semi but fell at the semi-final hurdle for the first time in his career at Wimbledon. He then withdrew for the rest of the year due to injury, marking the first year Federer didn’t win a single title since 2000, as he dropped out of the top 10 and went 4 straight years without a Grand Slam title. 

Many believed Federer to be finished and felt he would soon retire, but in 2017 he roared back winning his highest amount of titles for 10 years and boasting his highest win percentage since 2006. At the Australian Open, Federer and Nadal met in their 9th slam final, the Spaniard had won the last 4 final meetings with Federer not winning a major final against Nadal since 10 years prior at Wimbledon. The match went 5 sets, with Federer winning a Grand Slam for the first time since 2012, winning the deciding set 6-3. The Swiss then won a record 8th Wimbledon title, beating Marin Cilic in straights in the final. 

The following year Federer met Cilic in another major final this time going 5 sets as the Swiss clinched his 5th Australian Open title. In 2019 Federer reached his 31st and last Grand Slam final and his record 12th final at Wimbledon. The match was the longest final in Wimbledon history, with Djokovic winning a thriller which lasted 4 hours and 57 minutes. Federer was a month shy of his 38th Birthday and brought up 2 championship points on serve, but in the end, a match-deciding tiebreak was needed to separate them after a 12-12 tie in the 5th. It was the third tiebreak of the match and Djokovic won all 3.

At the 2021 Wimbledon, Federer became the oldest man to reach the Quarter-Finals at 39 years of age. He was beaten in the Quarters, which turned out to be Federer’s last singles match. The following year, Federer retired formally at the Laver Cup after playing one-last doubles match alongside his greatest rival as well his greatest friend on the tour, Rafa Nadal. Federer won 1,251 matches and 103 titles, putting him 2nd only to Jimmy Connors. Amongst his 103 titles were 20 Grand Slams, 6 Tour Finals and 28 Masters titles. Federer reached 31 Grand Slam finals and won 12 of his first 14, his only losses coming to Nadal at the French. Federer is the only man to have won 3 different Grand Slam tournaments at least 5 times, and the only player to have won 2 different Grand Slams 5 times in a row (Wimbledon 2003-07, US Open 2004-2008). His 8 titles at Wimbledon is more than any man in history and his 5 US Open titles is the joint-most. During Federer’s peak years, between the 2004 Australian Open and the 2010 Australian Open, Federer played 25 majors, he made at least the semis in all but one of them, winning 15 slams and finishing as runner-up in another 6.

Federer was known for his fluid style of play and as an exceptional shot-maker. His elegance and movement on the court allowed him to appear deceptively effortless on the court. Federer is one of the best servers in the history of the game, with a difficult-to-read serve which often came up clutch on big points as its power and consistency were never found wanting. Federer’s forehand was also an exceptional weapon and one of the finest shots in the sport’s history. Federer used a one-handed backhand which is less common on the men’s tour these days, but Federer could generate significant power with the flick of his wrist and it was a shot he could hit with lots of variety. Aside from his many achievements, many argue Federer is the Greatest of All Time due to the attractive nature of his tennis, the style and elegance with which he played, and the creative ways in which he came up with unexpected winners.

Federer’s rivalry with Nadal is considered by many the best in the history of tennis and one of the best in the sport’s history. They met 40 times, with Federer winning 16. Nadal dominated their rivalry on clay, winning 14 of 16 on the surface. Federer led 14-10 across hard and grass surfaces. In finals, they played 24 times, with Federer winning 10. 9 of those 24 finals were finals in Grand Slams, with Federer winning 3. 

Federer’s most impressive and significant victories over Nadal:

2005 Miami Final: Federer comes back from 2 sets down to win in their 2nd ever meeting. It was one of only 2 defeats Nadal suffered in a run of 43 matches.

2007 Hamburg Final: Federer ends Nadal’s 81-match win streak on clay, taking the deciding set 6-0.

2009 Madrid Final: In their first-ever match in Nadal’s native Spain, Federer ends Nadal’s 5-match winning streak against him and as well his 33-match win streak on clay.

2017 Australian Open Final: Federer wins his 1st Grand Slam in 5 years by beating Nadal at a major for the first time in 10 years, after losing their last 5 Grand Slam meetings. 

Federer also had a great rivalry with Novak Djokovic, meeting him on 50 occasions. Federer won 23 of them. They met in 19 finals, with Federer winning 6. At Grand Slams they met 17 times, with Federer victorious on 6 occasions. The Swiss faced Djokovic in 5 slam finals, winning once. They also met in a record 11 Grand Slam Semi-finals, with Federer winning 4. They met at all 4 Grand Slams, and Federer is the only man to knock Djokovic out of all 4 majors, whilst Djokovic is also the only man to knock Federer out of all the slams.

Federer’s most impressive and significant victories over Djokovic: 

2011 Roland Garros Semi-Final: Federer’s win ended Djokovic’s 41-match winning start to the year. This denied Djokovic from equalling McEnroe’s record of most consecutive match wins to start a season. 

2012 Wimbledon Semi-Final: Federer became the first player to beat Djokovic at all 4 majors and in doing so went on to win a 7th Wimbledon title and break Sampras’ record of most weeks as ranked World Number 1.

2014 Shanghai Semi-Final: Federer ended Djokovic’s run of 28 consecutive match wins in China. 

2. Rafael Nadal

Just 3 days after his 19th Birthday Nadal won the French Open his very first appearance at the event in 2005. He would win it for the next 3 consecutive years. Nadal won his 5th major and his first off the clay against Federer in *that* final in 2008, and then in 2009 won his first Australian Open against the same opponent. He was however unable to win his 5th straight French Open, losing for the very first time at the tournament in the 4th round against Robin Soderling. 2010 was Nadal’s best year at the slams, as he won 3 majors. First, he took revenge on Soderling by beating him in the French Open final, next, he won his 2nd Wimbledon title, then at the US Open, he beat Novak Djokovic to become the youngest man to do the Career slam, aged just 24. Nadal also became just the second man after Agassi to win the Golden Slam, as he won the Olympic singles title in Beijing in 2008. 

Nadal again reached 3 slam finals in 2011, but this time he was only able to win 1, the Roland Garros title against Federer before losing in the Wimbledon final against Djokovic, the 5th consecutive final at Wimbledon Nadal had made (excluding the 2009 edition where he had been unable to make a defence of his title due to injury). Then at the US Open, he was beaten in the final by Djokovic again. A third final loss to Djokovic came at the 2012 Australian Open before he gained some revenge by beating the Serbian in the final of Roland Garros.

Nadal withdrew from the 2013 Australian Open, then won the French Open beating Djokovic in the semi-final in one of the best clay court matches of all time. Nadal then exited at the 1st round of Wimbledon, the first time he had ever been knocked out in the 1st round of a slam. The Spaniard bounced back though to win the US Open later that year, beating Djokovic in the final. In 2014, Nadal won his 5th successive French Open, and his 9th in 10 years coming from a set down to beat Djokovic in the final. This took his record at Roland Garros to 66-1. 2015 was the first year since 2004 that Nadal failed to win at least one slam and in 2016 he failed to even reach the Quarter-Finals in any of the 3 slams he played, as he pulled out of the French Open after a 2nd round win. 2017 saw Nadal return to his best however as he reached 3 slam finals, losing the Australian Open to Federer, before winning his 10th Roland Garros and another US Open. By winning “La Decima” at the French, Nadal became the first player male or female to win 10 slams at the same event in the Open Era. 

After retaining the French Open in 2018, the following year Nadal won his 4th French & US Open double. In 2020, Nadal won his 4th consecutive French Open, making it the third separate time he had won the event 4 times on the trot. Nadal achieved his 100th match win at Roland Garros in a straight sets final win over Djokovic, taking his record at the event to 100 wins, 2 losses. Nadal was knocked out at the semi-final stage at the 2021 Roland Garros against Djokovic, only his 3rd ever defeat at the tournament, and he then pulled out of the US Open due to injury. Nadal then reached his 6th Australian Open final at the start of 2022. He had previously only ever won the event once, but pulled off one of the most impressive and memorable victories of his career to come back from 2 sets behind against  Daniil Medvedev to win his 21st major, overtaking both Federer and Djokovic, to go into the outright lead as the man with the most Grand Slams in history for the first time. The victory made Nadal just the second man ever to win every Grand Slam at least twice. 

Nadal then won his 14th French Open title and 22nd major overall, at that stage becoming the man with the most Grand Slams in history outright, but he has since suffered injuries. In March of this year, Nadal exited the ATP top 10 for the first time since April 2005, as a result of his absence from the tour. He has announced that next year will be his last on the tour, and many will be hoping he can exit the stage on the terms he deserves, by adding a couple more trophies to his enormous collection.

Nadal has won 1,068 matches thus far and 92 singles titles including 22 Grand Slams, 36 Masters 1000 titles and an Olympic Gold Medal. Nadal is unanimously considered the greatest clay court player of all time. He has reached 71 finals on clay and won 63 of them. The Spaniard is 14-0 in the French Open finals, winning all of them without requiring a 5th set. In fact, in 112 wins at the French, Nadal has won 109 of them without being taken to a deciding set. He has won at least as many majors at the French Open alone as every other male player has won across all 4 slams, with the exception of Federer and Djokovic. Nadal has won the French Open 4 times without dropping a set, which is a record. Along with Borg, he is the only player to have won the “Channel Slam” double twice. Nadal has won 22 of the 30 major finals he’s played, which is the highest win ratio among the Big 3. He has faced either Federer or Djokovic in 18 of those finals, winning 11. 

Nadal’s game is typified by his forehand, considered one of the best shots in tennis history. He generates heavy topspin on his strokes, making the ball bounce up high when landing in front of the opponent. He has an aggressive attacking style and can generate the power to hit clean winners from defensive positions on a regular basis. His athleticism has been a huge asset as he is exceptionally quick at covering the court, especially in his prime years. Nadal is also known for his exceptional mental strength and focus. He is able to approach every single point with the same level of determination, never letting the scoreboard influence his body language. This has helped him to become one of the best fighters in tennis history. 

Nadal’s most impressive and significant victories over Federer:  

2006 Dubai Final: Nadal ended Federer’s 56-match win streak on hard courts.

2008 French Open Final: Nadal won his 3rd successive Roland Garros final against Federer for the loss of just four games, the fewest Federer has ever won in a major final, by a considerable distance. 

2008 Wimbledon Final: One of the most anticipated tennis matches in history, it didn’t disappoint as Nadal and Federer met in their 3rd consecutive Wimbledon final. This time Nadal came out on top after 4 hours and 48 minutes, winning a 5th set in near darkness to end Federer’s 65-match win streak on grass.

2009 Australian Open Final: In Nadal’s first Grand Slam Final on a hard court he beat Federer in 5 sets. Federer had won all 8 of his slam finals on the surface up to that point. 

Nadal and Djokovic have had one of the greatest rivalries in sports history, let alone just tennis. The contest has been famed for its intensity and exceptionally high level of quality. Thus far they have met on 59 occasions, with Nadal winning 29. Djokovic leads 15-13 in finals played, but Nadal leads 11-7 in Grand Slam matches and 5-4 in Grand Slam finals. 

Nadal’s most impressive and significant victories over Djokovic:

2009 Madrid Semi-Final: Nadal came from a set down to win in 3 sets a match that lasted 4 hours and 3 minutes. Nadal considered it one of the greatest wins of his career and the match was voted the best in the competition’s history. 

2010 US Open Final: Nadal became the youngest man ever to complete the Career Slam aged 24 by beating Djokovic in straight sets.

2013 Roland Garros Semi-Final: In perhaps the best match ever played on a clay court, Djokovic became just the second player to ever take Nadal to a 5th set at the French Open. The Serbian was up a break and was one point away from being able to serve for the match, but he couldn’t take the chance and Nadal came back to win 9-7 in the 5th.

2020 Roland Garros Final: Rescheduled to Autumn due to the Coronavirus pandemic, some felt the change in conditions to colder, windier weather would not suit Nadal’s tennis as well on clay. He went into that year’s Roland Garros without winning a clay title in the warmup events. Djokovic on the other hand had won 5 out of 6 events he’d played that year, the only exception being due to a disqualification at the US Open. However, Nadal played at an incredible level in the final winning 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 allowing Djokovic the fewest amount of games won he’s ever had in a Grand Slam final.

1. Novak Djokovic

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Novak Djokovic got his breakthrough at a Grand Slam at the 2008 Australian Open when he knocked out Federer in the semi-finals, preventing the Swiss from reaching 11 consecutive Grand Slam finals. In the final Djokovic beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, marking the first time for exactly 3 years that a major was won by someone outside of Federer and Nadal. The Serbian was not yet ready however to be a consistent Grand Slam winner, making just one major final over the next 2 years, losing in the final of the US Open to Nadal in 2010. 2011 was when Djokovic announced himself as someone who could not just compete with Federer and Nadal, but regularly beat them to Grand Slam titles. He won 3 of the 4 majors that year and notched 2 final wins over Nadal at Wimbledon and the US Open. Djokovic met Federer or Nadal 11 times on the tour in 2011 and won 10 of the meetings, including 6 in finals against Nadal. As well as the 3 majors, Djokovic also won 5 Masters titles in a year described by Nadal as “probably the highest level of tennis that I ever saw.” 

Djokovic began 2012 by retaining the Australian Open in an extraordinary fashion. In the semi-final he came through a 5-set match with Murray which lasted 4 hours and 50 minutes, then in the final against Nadal he came back from a breakdown in the final set to win 7-5 in a match that lasted 5 hours and 53 minutes, the longest Grand Slam final of the Open Era and the longest match in the history of the Australian Open. The match is considered one of the greatest in tennis history, with Nadal calling it the toughest loss of his career, but also the best match he ever played. 

Djokovic then won just 1 of his next 6 major finals, losing 3 to Nadal and 2 to Murray, his only victory coming when he won the Australian Open for a third year in a row, beating Murray from a set down. In the 2014 Wimbledon final, Djokovic came from a set down once again, this time beating Federer in 5 sets. Djokovic reached all 4 major finals in 2015, winning 3 of them, his only defeat coming in the Roland Garros final against Stan Wawrinka. 2015 was another staggering year for Djokovic, he made 15 consecutive tournament finals and made all 13 finals of the top-level tournaments he played, winning 10, including a record 6 Masters 1000 titles. The Serbian won 82 of 88 matches, including a record 31 wins over players in the top 10.

The following year Djokovic finally got his hands on the Roland Garros trophy in his 4th final at the event, beating Andy Murray to complete the career slam. By winning that final, Djokovic held all 4 majors at one time, an achievement dubbed the “Nole Slam”. Djokovic was the first man to hold all 4 majors across the 3 different surfaces. Between the 2010 US Open and 2016 US Open, Djokovic reached the final of 19 of the 25 majors played, winning 11 of them.

However, after losing in the 2016 US Open final, Djokovic appeared low on form, motivation and fitness. He had been delaying elbow surgery and opting to play on through the pain, until he finally succumbed in 2017, opting to have the surgery. 2017 was the only year since 2009 that Djokovic has failed to make a slam final, but he was back in 2018 and he won his first major in over 2 years at Wimbledon before adding his 3rd US Open. Djokovic retained the Wimbledon title the following year, beating Federer in the 5-set, 4 hours and 57 minute final, surviving 2 championship points. Djokovic won the 2020 Australian Open and was a clear favourite to win a 2nd hard court major of the year at the US Open when he was disqualified at the 4th round stage after accidentally hitting a line judge with a careless shot outside of the point. Djokovic bounced back with a phenomenal 2021, getting within 1 match of the calendar slam, but losing in the US Open final to Daniil Medvedev, after winning his first 27 Grand Slam matches of the year.

Djokovic missed out on playing both hard-court slams in 2022 due to his stance against taking the Covid-19 vaccine, but he was able to play and win Wimbledon for a 7th time, and a 4th consecutive. Djokovic returned Down Under in 2023, and won his 10th Australian Open title, further extending his record as the man with the most in history. His record in semi-final and final matches at the Australian Open stands at 20-0. Then a few months later he won Roland Garros for a 3rd time, becoming the first man in the Open Era to have won all 4 slams on at least 3 occasions. This was also his 23rd major, giving him the lead in the race for most Grand Slams. Next Djokovic reached a 5th consecutive Wimbledon final, but despite taking the first set he was beaten in 5 by Carlos Alcaraz, and you have to wonder how many years it will take for the young Spaniard to add his name to the top 10 lists such as this one. Djokovic’s loss was his first on Centre Court of Wimbledon for 10 years, ending his 45-match winning streak on the sport’s most hollowed turf. It was also Djokovic’s first defeat at Wimbledon since 2017. Djokovic still remains unbeaten at the Australian Open since 2018, but before he can continue that run, he has a chance to reach a 10th US Open final and will be aiming to lift the trophy for a 4th time, having not won the event since 2018. 

Djokovic has won 1,064 matches and 94 singles titles including 6 Tour Finals and a record 38 Masters 1000 titles. He is the only man to have won all 9 Masters titles, having won all of them at least twice. He has spent 389 weeks of his career ranked number 1, which is more than any other man. Djokovic is widely considered the greatest hardcourt player ever, having won a record 13 majors on the surface. The Serbian has reached 35 major finals, which is the outright most of any player, male or female in the open era. He has won 23 of them, which is the most among the men in the Open Era, and tied with Serena Williams across the genders. Djokovic’s 83.5% win percentage is the highest of any player with minimum 500 wins in the open era.

Djokovic is known for the great length he consistently gets on his groundstrokes, keeping his opponent pinned back behind the baseline, unable to step forward and be more aggressive. His groundstrokes are incredibly accurate, which allows him to come out on top in rallies a huge majority of the time, with his opponent nearly always being forced into an error before he is. Djokovic is regarded as the best returner in the history of the game, his excellent reading of serves and quality of his returns allows him to quickly neutralise the effect of even the biggest and best servers. 

Djokovic is undoubtedly the best defender in the history of tennis, his speed and flexibility enabling him to turn into something of a human wall, his opponents then feel the pressure to hit perfect winners, knowing anything less than perfect could be returned back at them with interest. This often leads his opponent to make mistakes by overhitting. Djokovic is considered one of the most mentally strong and “clutch” players in history, able to turn on his best level just as he needs it most, making his unforced errors count practically non-existent. He is also perhaps the fittest player there has ever been on tour, regularly outlasting his opponents in marathon matches, maintaining a consistent level from the first set to the last. Djokovic’s 5-set record is 38-11, he has only lost two 5-set Grand Slam finals in his career, one coming against Murray and won coming as a 36-year-old against a man 16 years his junior in Alcaraz.

Djokovic is also defined for his rivalries with Federer and Nadal, with them regularly producing some of the best matches in tennis history. The GOAT race has regularly swung back and forth, especially between him and Nadal in recent years, but Djokovic has put himself into the lead by holding the most slams, winning each slam at least 3 times, edging his current head-to-head with Nadal, boasting the highest win % in history for players with at least 500 wins, having the most Masters titles and winning all 9 at least twice and having most weeks at number 1 in the history of the ATP. 

Djokovic’s most impressive and significant victories over Federer:

2008 Australian Open Semi-Final: Djokovic’s first win over either Federer or Nadal at a slam set him on his way to winning his very first major. Djokovic’s semi-final win over Federer was the only time Federer didn’t reach a slam final between the 2005 Wimbledon and the 2010 Australian Open. 

2014 Wimbledon Final: Djokovic had won just 1 of his last 6 slam finals going into this one and Federer was 7-1 in Wimbledon finals. Djokovic’s narrow win in 5 sets was a huge turning point for him. Going into the match his slam final record was 6-7. Including this final win over Federer, Djokovic then won 17 of his next 21 slam finals.

2010 US Open Semi-Final: After losing 3 years consecutively to Federer at the US Open, Djokovic finally beat Federer at the tournament in a 5-set semi-final match in 2010. Though Djokovic went on to lose the final to Nadal, the win over Federer was a stepping stone towards the Serbian’s dominant 2011 season.

2015 US Open Final: After beating Federer in the 2015 Wimbledon final in 4 sets, Djokovic backed it up a few months later beating him again in the US Open final, again in 4 sets. Djokovic’s performance against an outstanding player and a hostile crowd showcased his mental resiliency under pressure. 

2019 Wimbledon Final: 37-year-old Federer rolled back the years in an excellent performance in the 2019 Wimbledon final, outplaying Djokovic for much of the match. However, the Serbian saved his best tennis for the 3 tie-breakers played, winning all of them without making a single unforced error. 

Djokovic’s most impressive and significant victories over Nadal:

2011 Wimbledon Final: Nadal was on a 20-match winning streak at the All-England Club and was the defending champion. Playing in his 5th Wimbledon final against Djokovic in his first final appearance on Centre Court, Nadal was the favourite but Djokovic prevailed in 4 sets.

2012 Australian Open Final: The match was called the greatest of all time by legends Borg, Agassi, Sampras, McEnroe, Becker, Edberg and Wallander. The 5-set, 5-hour 53-minute match was won by Djokovic, 7-5 in the 5th. It remains the only slam final Nadal has ever lost after taking the opening set. The match is considered the most physical ever played but also remembered for the outstanding level of tennis throughout. 

2018 Wimbledon Semi-Final: Djokovic ousted Nadal in a thrilling 5 hours, 5 minutes semi-final which was spread across 2 days. In the deciding set, both players held serve for 17 consecutive games until Djokovic broke to take the 5th set 10-8.

2019 Australian Open- One of Djokovic’s best-ever performances, he defeated Nadal in straight sets for the loss of just 8 games, the only straight sets slam final loss of Nadal’s career.

2021 Roland Garros- Djokovic came from a set behind to become the first man to record two victories over Nadal at Roland Garros. In doing so from a set behind, it became the first time Nadal had ever lost at the French Open after winning the first set. The four-set match lasted 4 hours and 11 minutes, with the 3rd being decisive. Locked at a set apiece, Djokovic survived set point to close out the set in a tie-break. The set was considered one of the best the two men had ever played. Djokovic would go on to win the title coming from two sets down in the final to beat  Stefanos Tsitsipas.

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