Who’s the best tennis player of all time?


Australia's Rod Laver won 11 major championships. (Associated Press)

The U.S. Open tennis championships are in full swing. The best men and women players in the world are competing in one of the biggest and most exciting tournaments of the year.

Last year, I wrote a column asking who was the greatest female tennis player of all time. I thought it was Steffi Graf, who played during the 1980s and ’90s. Some folks disagreed. But arguing such questions is part of the fun of being a sports fan.

So let’s have more fun. Let’s try to figure out who is the greatest male tennis player of all time. One way is to look at how many major tennis titles a player has won. There are four major tennis tournaments: Wimbledon and the Australian, French and United States opens. They are the toughest ones to win, because all the best players play in those tournaments.

Here’s a list of the seven men who have won at least 10 major titles, along with the years in which they won them.

Roger Federer 16 2003-2010
Pete Sampras 14 1990-2002
Roy Emerson 12 1961-1967
Bjorn Borg 11 1974-1981
Rod Laver 11 1960-1969
Rafael Nadal 10 2005-2011
Bill Tilden 10

1920-1930

Now let’s take a closer look at the list. I don’t think Sampras or Borg can be rated the best, because they did not win each of the four major titles. Sampras never won on the slow, red clay of the French Open, while Borg never won either the Australian or United States Open.

Emerson and Tilden won their titles at times when only amateurs were allowed to compete in the major tournaments. So they played against easier competition and shouldn’t be rated the greatest.

Rating Laver is trickier. “The Rocket,” as Laver was called, won several of his 11 major titles before pros were allowed to play. Laver won all four major titles — the so-called Grand Slam of tennis — in 1962. Then he turned professional and was not allowed to compete at the major tournaments for six years.

Tennis changed its rules in 1968 to allow pros to play in the major tournaments. Laver won all four majors — a second Grand Slam — in 1969.

Federer, 30, has won the most majors, so he has to be rated at the top. But who knows how many more majors Laver would have won if he had been allowed to play between 1962 and 1969?

So who is the best? I would like to see Laver and Federer play a championship match. But who knows? Perhaps Nadal, who is just 25 years old, will keep winning and become the greatest ever.

Fred Bowen is the author of 17 sports books for kids, including a picture book, “No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season.”

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