Follow TV Tropes

Following

Useful Notes / Tennis

Go To

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/tennishustler_1310.png

"Game, set, match."
Advertisement:

A gentleman's game.

Tennisnote  is a popular worldwide racket sport, originating as a racket-less game in France during the Middle Ages. In addition to the Bond One-Liner provided above, it is also the source for numerous sex jokes (Even when we're not scoring, we're in love!). It's regulated by the International Tennis Federation, with the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) responsible for the men's game and the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) for the ladies'. The most important tournaments in the sport are Wimbledon, the Australian Open, the French Open (also known as Roland Garros), and US Open; these are referred to as the Grand Slams, but winning all four is known as the Grand Slam. Each of these tournaments is held annually, spread throughout the year.

Advertisement:

Tennis history is split into two main parts: Open Era and pre-Open Era. Pre-Open Era, the Grand Slam tournaments only allowed amateur players to compete. As of the Open Era, 1968 - present, tennis is a professional sport with prize money at all events. The advent of the Open Era also heralded standardized and reliable record keeping and consistent tournament rules.

Tennis is largely an individual and pair sport, but team events are not unheard of. The Davis Cup, Billie Jean King Cup, and Hopman Cup are team events (for men, women, and both) from different countries playing each other in a knockout tournament.

Advertisement:

Rules

The basic game is easy to grasp: one player serves the ball, and they proceed to whack it back and forth over a netnote  until a player unsuccessfully returns the ball in a legal manner. This can happen if the player a) hits the ball into the net, b) hits the ball out of bounds, or c) fails to return the ball before it bounces more than once. Any of these errors will reward a point to the opposing player.

Players can also concede penalty points by repeatedly engaging in 'Unsportsmanlike Conduct'; offenses include verbal abuse directed at officials or players, smashing or damaging racquets or other equipment, deliberately hitting balls at the audience, distracting opponents, and taking too long to serve or change ends. Serious or repeat offenses, such as injuring someone, lead to disqualification, as seen in the 2012 final of Queens.

The game is notable for its ludicrous scoring system:

  • The first scoring level is the game. Unlike other sports, a score of zero is called "love" in tennis. From "love", you go to 15, 30, 40,note  then Game... unless both players are at 40, in which case one player must win by 2, necessitating 40:40note  > 40:Advantage > Game. This can lead to very extended games when neither player can string enough points together leading to 40:40 > 40:Ad > 40:40 > Ad:40 and on and on.note 
  • Sets, the second scoring layer, are groups of games, usually played until one player reaches 6 games; but as with games, they must win by a margin of 2. As this used to lead to very long sets, a tie-breaker game is now played when the score reaches 6-6. However, there is no tie-breaker in the final set of some events; until 2019, this applied to the Grand Slam championships apart from the US Open, so occasionally very long sets still occur (at Wimbledon in 2010, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut had a 5th set that lasted for over 8 freaking hours, finishing at 70-68).
  • Finally, matches are largely to sets as sets are to games, but are typically best-of-3 sets, or best-of-5 sets in some men's events.

Believe it or not, the scoring rules are actually even more complicated than this; there are special rules made for tiebreaker games (which is the only part of the scoring system that uses a simple 1,2,3,4,5 counting system); variations such as 'No Ad' scoring (playing a single decisive point when both players reach 40); a 'Championship Tiebreak' instead of a final set; and different combinations of all the above scoring systems. However, this basically captures how you keep score in tennis. Hell of a job.

Tennis matches are played in either singles or doubles matches. In singles matches, the slim side margins (known as the "doubles alley") of the court are considered out-of-bounds; in doubles, they're fair game, hence their name.

Events

The tennis season is a lengthy one and consists of five major events:

  • Australian Open (late Jan - early Feb in Melbourne): The first major event and Grand Slam of the tennis season. It takes place on hard courts, the most modern and common type of court surfacenote . Used to be the red-headed stepchild of the Slams with many pros skipping it due to its distant location, original December schedule and low prize money (hence why tennis stars like Björn Borg and John McEnroe do not have an AO win to their names - they didn't even bother attending it most of the time), until around the 1990s when it gained equal footing with the other Slams. Also known for its swelteringly hot temperatures and its 2012 final which became the longest-ever Grand Slam final at nearly six hours. Since 1988 its main court has been in a retractable roofed arena, mitigating the weather issues somewhat, as other roofs have been added as well. Began its unique final set tiebreak rule in 2019, where a 6-6 final set is decided by whoever reaches 10 points first.
  • French Open (late May - early June in Paris): Also known as Roland Garros, it takes place on clay courts that favor defenders due to their slowness and high bounce giving players more time to reach the ball and return it in ways difficult for their opponent to hit. Because of this, it was historically considered to be the hardest Grand Slam to win with many great players' tactics being ill-suited for the clay surface and many French Open champions being clay-court specialists who performed poorly at other Slams, until more recent times. Also known for its raucous crowds who aren't shy about booing their unfavorites, which included 14-time champion Rafael Nadal for a long time until the turn of the 2020s, when they finally went all in with him and instead became actively hostile to anyone playing against him).
  • Wimbledon (early July in London): The Grand Slam that most people think of first when tennis is mentioned. It uses grass courts that favor attackers due to their speed and low bounce giving players less time to return big serves and volleysnote  hit by their opponents, although the courts have been slowed down recently to encourage longer rallies. At least twenty complaints are printed every year about this "slowing-down". Also known for its all-white dress code and rain showers delaying play, although a roof installed in 2009 on Centre Court has mitigated the latter (with plans for additional roofed courts in the works). It was also known for no matches on the middle Sunday of the two-week tournament (except as makeup for rain delays), but that became a normal playing day in 2022. Roger Federer, who has won a men's record of 8 trophies here, has been dubbed Wimbledon's "Favorite Son". Due to the tournament's tendency to be plagued by incredibly long 5-set matches such as the infamous Isner–Mahut match, the final set tiebreak was introduced in 2019, where 12-12 final set is decided by a first-to-7-points tiebreak.
  • US Open (late Aug - early Sept in New York City): The last Grand Slam of the season (but not the "true" end of the season), it has the highest attendance record of all Slams. Like the Australian Open, it's played on hard courts that fall somewhere in between the slowness of clay courts and the fastness of grass courts. Unlike the Australian Open, its main venue, Arthur Ashe Stadium, didn't have a roof until the 2016 Open, which meant that gusting winds and match-delaying rains frequently affected play. It is also the only Slam that decides a 6-6 final set by a tiebreak system instead of the "win by 2 games in the final set" rule, which (un)fortunately means that there's no chance of its matches becoming a 3-day epic like the aforementioned Isner–Mahut match.
  • WTA Finals and ATP Finals (late Oct for the women, mid-Nov for the men): The event that marks the true end of the tennis season. Ideally, it's supposed to determine the No. 1 player (or doubles team) with only the top eight players/teams in the world being pitted against each other in separate tournaments for the men and women. More often, what happens instead is that there's already a runaway No. 1 who doesn't even need to win the event to be the clear Player of the Year, and the fun of the year-end championships lie more in their unique round-robin format that lets people see their favorites play for at least three guaranteed matches in the opening roundsnote . Also worth watching for the dramatically-lit player entrances and the Confetti Drop during the trophy ceremony.

But Wait, There's More! In addition to the above events, tennis players are expected to participate in these tournaments:

  • Team tournaments (various dates/places): There are three tournaments in which teams of players compete for their country: the Billie Jean King Cupnote  for women, the Davis Cup for men, and the Hopman Cup for both. The Hopman Cup takes place in Dec-Jan in Australia and follows the same general "round-robin for the opening matches, knock-out for the semis and finals" format of the year-end championships, with every team playing matches against each of the other 3 teams in its group, except that they have to play each team not only once but thrice with a men's singles, women's singles, and mixed doubles match. The Billie Jean and Davis Cups, in contrast, follow a much more straightforward knock-out format but take almost the entire year and globe to complete with teams having to keep track of not only which country they're supposed to be traveling to next but also five matches over three daysnote  with their current opponent. The finals are both held in November, by which time everyone's so confused they can't remember who's playing whom.
  • Other tournaments (various dates/places): The smaller tournaments that don't get as much publicity as the Grand Slams but are still important to top-ranked players who are required to enter a certain number (but not all) of them, and lower-ranked players who can farm ranking points at low-profile tournaments higher-ranked players are unlikely to bother with. The tournaments usually serve as lead-ins to a Slam, such as the clay-court Madrid and Rome Masters that precede the French Open, and the US Open Series (but the three highest scorers on their points system get a Double Unlock of big money if they win the Open proper; needless to say that in 2013, both Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal broke the bank in this manner), or to ensure that the players never get a moment of rest even between Slams with even the lull period between the US Open and year-end championships being jam-packed with multiple Asian tournaments. The WTA has a season-ending championship, the WTA Elite Trophy, for the players immediately below the Finals qualifiers—an event without an ATP counterpart. It's held immediately before the WTA Finals to allow for the possibility of a player making both events (qualifying for the Elite Trophy on merit and making the Finals as an alternate). Unlike the Finals, 12 players/teams qualify for the Elite Trophy.

Suffice it to say that tennis players can consider themselves blessed if they don't get a single cramp or injury during their 10/11-month-long season. Professional tennis is no endeavour for the faint-hearted or weak-legged.

Rankings

In 1973 a system to rank all professional tennis players was put in place, with separate ranking lists for men and women. The system is points-based and looks only at the last 52 weeks of the calendar.

Basically, players gain points for every match they play (even if they lose), with the number of points increasing the further they progress into a tournament. The amount of points at stake varies with the tournament, with the Grand Slams giving each winner 2000 points and the smaller tournaments awarding anywhere from 250 to 1000 points to the champion. An exception occurred at Wimbledon in 2022, where the All England Club banned Russian and Belarusian players due to Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine (with Belarus also involved in it) and the ATP and WTA compromised by awarding no ranking points for the tournament.note 

Only points accumulated in the last 52 weeks are included in the rankings, however, which means that for each yearly tournament the points earned by their players from last year are erased and replaced with their newest results. This means that a low-ranked player can shoot up several ranking spots with a single exceptional performance at a major tournament, but also that the same player can crash back down the ranking list if s/he fails to "defend" their points at the same tournament next year (assuming that their performances at all other tournaments are the same as last year's).

Rankings also determine the draws in tournaments through four different classifications:

  • Seeded: The highest-ranked players, who get the honor of a number by their name. Seeding differs from ranking as it only counts the players who have entered, which means that if the World No. 1 doesn't enter a tournament, then the No. 2 ranked player becomes the No. 1 seed and so on. The number of seeds depends on the size of the tournament and the seeds are spread out across the draw so that they only meet in later rounds, to prevent the top players from knocking out each other too early.
    • At tournaments apart from the Grand Slams, the ATP/WTA rankings are used for seeding purposes. The Slams are not required to use the world rankings, but generally do so. The Australian and French Opens strictly use the rankings, although the latter event has been criticized for not considering clay-court prowess (or lack thereof) in seeding. The US Open generally uses the rankings as well, but has made minor adjustments. For most of the early 21st century, the big exception was Wimbledon, which explicitly included recent grass-court results in its seeding formula for men (but not women) from 2002 to 2019; it switched to using the rankings in 2021.
  • Unseeded: Players not highly ranked enough for seeding, but still enough to get automatic entry. The amount of these players again depends on the size of the tournament.
  • Wildcard: Awarded to players who don't have a high enough ranking to gain automatic entry; usually ones who are young but have potential, are from the country the tournament is being held in, will sell a lot of tickets, or who used to be highly ranked but slipped down due to injury/maternity leave, etc.
  • Qualifiers: Players not ranked high enough for direct entry, and who can't gain wildcards. A pre-tournament mini-tournament is held beforehand to determine the qualifiers who will be placed in the main draw. Qualifiers and wildcards are usually pitted against seeded players early on and so it is highly unusual for them to progress very far.

Of course, the official rankings aren't the whole story and it's important to keep in mind that Grand Slams aren't the only events that matter points-wise (in spite of what news coverage of them might imply), which means that it's perfectly possible for a player to not win a single Slam and still finish the year as No. 1 if the Slam points were really spread out among other players and the player performed exceptionally well in all other tournaments. Or for a player to win two Grand Slams and still not be ranked No. 1 if they didn't make it very far in the other Slams and skipped a lot of smaller tournaments — whether these rankings are reliable and put enough emphasis on tournaments like the Slams is often debated. The Player of the Year awards given out at the end of the year are usually more indicative of the actual stand-out players in cases like these.

Notable Players

    open/close all folders 

    Current ATP Players 
  • Carlos Alcaraz (Spain) 2018–present: Has held the No. 1 ranking for 20 weeks so far, rising to that spot by winning the 2022 US Open at age 19, making him the first teenager ever to reach the top spot in ATP rankings history. He then became the first teenager ever to be the year-end men's No. 1. After turning pro in 2018, he joined the ATP tour in 2020, breaking into the top 100 in May 2021, winning his first ATP title two months later, and ending the year at No. 32. Alcaraz skyrocketed into the top echelon of tennis in 2022, winning two Masters 1000 events and two other tournaments before his Slam breakthrough at Flushing Meadow. While an all-court player, he mostly plays a very aggressive baseline style, with an especially strong forehand, and has drawn comparisons to all of the Big Three of the 2010s (Djokovic, Federer, Nadal) for various playing attributes.
  • Novak Djokovic (Serbia) 2003–present: Current No. 1 and winner of 22 Grand Slams, including a record 10 Australian Open titles, and also holder of the ATP records for most weeks at No. 1 in singles, with 374, and most year-end No. 1 rankings, with seven. Also has an Open Era men's record of 33 Slam finals, plus an Olympic bronze medal in singles, and is the first player to win all four men's singles Slams at least twice during the Open Era. Was constantly overshadowed by Federer and Nadal early on in his career despite being World No. 3, until he went on a spectacular 43-0 match winning streak in 2011. Is also known as "Djoker" for his sense of humor and impersonations of other players. In 2016, he became the first men's singles tennis player since Rod Laver in 1969 to win four consecutive Slams, also earning the career Slam in the process.
  • Rafael Nadal (Spain) 2001–present: Has held No. 1 for 209 weeks, including five year-end No. 1 rankings. The span between his first and most recent year-end No. 1s (2008 to 2019) is the longest in ATP rankings history. Also holds the record for the most weeks at No. 2. He and Djokovic hold the men's record of most Grand Slam titles with 22, just one short of the overall Open Era record for all genders. One of only four people to achieve a singles Career Golden Slam, which entails winning all four Grand Slam championships and an Olympic gold medal. Known as the "King of Clay", he has won 14 French Open championships — he's lost only three matches there, and is the first player to win at least 10 titles at a grand slam in the Open era. He also has an Olympic gold medal in men's doubles with Marc López.
  • Daniil Medvedev 2014-present: Has held No. 1 for 15 weeks in all, and won 1 Grand Slam. He's the third Russian man to get the top ranking, and the first player outside of the Big Four to do so since Andy Roddick in 2004. Known for his unusual playing style, he made himself known to the tennis world after reaching his first Slam final in the 2019 US Open and was victorious in his third final two years later at the same tournament, stunning Djokovic in straight sets.
  • Andy Murray (UK) 2005–present: Has held No. 1 for 41 weeks, including one year-end No. 1, and won 3 Grand Slams. In his earlier years, he was constantly known as "the best tennis player to never win a Grand Slam" because he did well enough in Slams to reach four finals yet wasn't able to win any of them. However, Murray eventually became the first male Brit since Fred Perry in the 1930s to 1) win a major (the 2012 US Open) and 2) win Wimbledon (2013 and 2016), and he led Great Britain to a Davis Cup title in 2015 after a long drought (since Fred Perry's time). He's also won not only one Olympic silver medal in mixed doubles, but two back-to-back gold medals in singles, making him the first tennis player to win two singles gold medals in a row. Unfortunately, serious chronic hip problems plagued him following his 2016 success. He initially announced retirement plans for 2019; however he opted for a risky and potentially career-ending surgery on the ailing hip in January of that year, and eventually made his way back to the tour (claiming his first post-surgery singles title at Antwerp in October 2019).
  • Juan Martín del Potro (Argentina) 2005–present: Has won 1 Grand Slam and two Olympic medals — bronze and silver — in singles. The only active player outside of the Big Fournote  to have won a Grand Slam from the 2005 French Open through the 2013 US Open. Following his breakthrough Slam victory at the 2009 US Open, he spent most of the next year out with a wrist injury and has been working his way back to Slam-threatening form ever since. The first of only two men (the second being Djokovic) to have beaten both Federer and Nadal in the same Grand Slam tournament. He has been nicknamed the "Tower of Tandil" because of his 6'6" (1.98 m) frame, and is also known as the "Gentle Giant" of the tour for his soft-spoken disposition and penchant for hugs.
  • Dominic Thiem (Austria) 2011-present: Has won 1 Grand Slam, and is the first 1990s-born male player to win a singles Slam. Thiem entered the Top 10 in June of 2016. He was widely considered a clay-court specialist until 2019, when he and new coach Nicolás Massú made a concerted effort to improve his tactics and subsequently produced the best season of his career: three hardcourt titles including Indian Wells, two clay titles, a second Roland Garros final, and a runner-up finish at the ATP Finals. Thiem was runner-up at Roland Garros in 2018 and 2019 and at the Australian Open in 2020 (losing to Nadal and Djokovic) prior to his 2020 US Open triumph. Thiem is the only Austrian to reach multiple major finals.
  • Stanislas "Stan" Wawrinka (Switzerland) 2002–present: Has won 3 Grand Slams, and teamed up with Federer to win Olympic gold in doubles in 2008. Was considered to be a mid-tier player for most of his career until he unexpectedly took Djokovic to 5 sets in the fourth round of the 2013 Australian Open and used that match as a launching pad to top 10 and Slam contender status. He's also the first non-Big 4 male player to win multiple Slams since Hewitt in 2001-02.

    Current WTA Players 
  • Victoria Azarenka (Belarus) 2003–present: Has held No. 1 for 51 weeks, including one year-end No. 1. Has won 2 singles Grand Slams and 2 mixed doubles. She won the first Olympic gold medal awarded for mixed doubles (at London 2012), also picking up a bronze medal in the singles. As well as her achievements, she is known for her distinctive "wail" on court. She began her maternity leave in 2016 for her first child and came back in the latter half of 2017.
  • Simona Halep (Romania) 2006–present: Has been No. 1 for 64 weeks so far and year-end No. 1 twice. Has won 2 singles Grand Slams. She's the first female Romanian player to ascend the top of the rankings, and holds the longest active streak in the top 10 which she first entered in 2014. Is one of three womennote  to have gone 0-3 in Slam finals before going on to win their first one — in Halep's case in particular, she finally won Roland Garros on her third try in 2018. However, her future is now in some doubt, as she drew a doping ban in October 2022. Known for her aggressive counterpunching and being one of the fastest movers on tour.
  • Angelique Kerber (Germany) 2003–present: Has held No. 1 for 34 weeks, with one year-end No. 1. Has won 3 Grand Slams and an Olympic silver medal in singles. She made her first breakthrough as a 2011 US Open semi-finalist at a mere world ranking of 92; however many of her biggest achievements came in 2016, where she was the first woman to win multiple singles grand slams in the same year other than Serena Williams since Justine Henin in 2007. She's also one of only two players to have beat Serena in a Slam final twice. A southpaw tennis player, she's known for her aggressive counterpunching.
  • Petra Kvitová (Czech Republic) 2006–present: Has won 2 Grand Slams, both of them at Wimbledon, and an Olympic bronze medal in singles. A shy southpaw who can hit the ball with bruising power and - much like Li Na - is unstoppable on her best day but beatable by anyone on her worst. She's also affectionately called "P3tra" by some fans for her penchant for getting into 3-setters regardless of her opponents' ranking. A shocking knife attack at home at the end of 2016 injured her left wrist, leaving her in hiatus until Roland Garros 2017.
  • Garbiñe Muguruza (Spain) 2011–present: Has held No. 1 for four weeks. Has won 2 Grand Slams. She's achieved the impressive feat of being the only player to beat both Williams sisters in Slam finals — Serena in the 2016 French Open final, and Venus in the 2017 Wimbledon final. Known for her powerful groundstrokes and high-risk attacking game.
  • Naomi Osaka (Japan) 2013–present: Has been No. 1 for 25 weeks and won 4 singles Grand Slams, and is the first player since Monica Seles to win her first four Slam finals. Although her talent did not go unnoticed beforehand, Osaka made a surprise breakthrough in 2018, highlighted by her maiden Slam at the US Open (beating her idol Serena Williams, no less). Her Australian Open win several months later rose her to World No. 1, making her the first Asian singles player to do so. While mostly raised in the US, Osaka was born in Japan to Japanese and Haitian parents, thus making her both the first Japanese and Haitian singles Slam winner and No. 1. Born in 1997, she was the youngest out of the active players to hold multiple Slams until Iga Świątek's breakout season in 2022 and the youngest No. 1 since Caroline Wozniacki in 2010. An aggressive baseliner with especially powerful serves and forehands (a contrast to her hilariously awkward and shy demeanour in interviews). She would, however, find a voice in 2020 as a social justice advocate, earning recognition as one of five "Activist Athletes" named by Sports Illustrated as its Sportspeople of the Year for 2020. Now also part of the ever-growing list of sportspeople who have invested in American soccer clubs, having purchased a stake in the North Carolina Courage of the National Women's Soccer League in 2021. She also had the honor of lighting the Olympic Flame at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Took a break in 2023 due to pregnancy.
  • Iga Świątek (Poland) 2016–present: The current No. 1, who took over that ranking once Ash Barty retired and dropped from the rankings in April 2022, and has held it for 26 weeks and counting. The daughter of a former Olympic rower, she went pro in 2016 and enjoyed major success on the second-level ITF Women's World Tennis Tour, winning all seven finals she reached, as well as winning the 2018 Wimbledon junior singles title. Świątek joined the WTA Tour in 2019 and had a steady rise, entering the top 50 that year before a foot injury temporarily derailed her career. She came back even stronger in 2020, winning that year's COVID-delayed French Open while unseeded, making her the first Polenote  and first player born in the 21st centurynote  to win a singles Slam. While she didn't win a Slam in 2021, she was the only woman to reach the second week of all four singles Slams that year. In 2022 she became the first woman to win the first three WTA 1000 events of the year, following that up with her second Roland Garros title. Her stunning third-round loss at Wimbledon to Alize Cornet ended a 37-match winning streak, the WTA's longest in this century. This proved to be a blip on the radar, as she claimed her third Slam later that year at the US Open. Świątek is an all-court player known for a vicious forehand.
  • Serena Williams (USA) 1995–present: Has held No. 1 for 319 weeks, and been year-end No. 1 five times. Has won an Open Era record 23 singles Grand Slams, as well as 13 doubles and 2 mixed doubles. She has achieved the Career Golden Slam in both singles and doubles (her doubles partner being her sister Venus), winning the Olympic gold in doubles 3 times. Is also the only female tennis player to earn over $40 million on the court,note  the oldest female No. 1 tennis player, and the oldest tennis player overall to win a singles Slam. She also has the WTA record for longest time span between her first and most recent year-end No. 1 (2003–2015), a year longer than Rafa's on the men's side. On top of that, while Serena is yet to win a calendar-year Grand Slam, she has held all four Grand Slam singles trophies at the same time twice. Needless to say, she is the other person frequently cited as the greatest tennis player of all time. Took a maternity leave between April 2017 and February 2018 — turned out she won the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant. Before the 2022 US Open, she announced that she would likely retire after that tournament, though she hasn't completely ruled out a brief return. Also one of the many, many co-owners of Angel City FC, a Los Angeles-based team that started play in the NWSL in 2022.
  • Venus Williams (USA) 1994–present: Has held No. 1 for 11 weeks. Has won 7 singles Grand Slams, 13 doubles and 2 mixed. She has also won an Olympic gold medal in singles, a silver medal in mixed doubles and and 3 gold medals in women's doubles, completing the Career Golden Slam with her younger sister Serena. In singles, she and Serena have been pitted against each other nine times in Grand Slam finals, with Venus winning twice (making her the first of only two players to do so against Serena). In addition to their remarkable achievements, they are also distinctive for being the most successful Black players of any nationality, for either sex. Unsurprisingly, she and Serena are very vocal against the sexism and racism that still plagues tennis today.

    Retired ATP Players 
  • Andre Agassi (USA) 1986–2006: Held No. 1 for 101 weeks. Won 8 Grand Slams. One of four people to achieve the singles Career Golden Slam. Played until 36, holding the record for the oldest player ranked No. 1 (at 33) until being passed by Roger Federer in 2018. Known earlier in his career for his wild power off the ground, which gradually changed to a more measured, steady baseline attack in his later years. Also known earlier for his wacky outfits and long blonde wig and later for his bald head. He is the last American man to win either the Australian Open (2003) or the French Open (1999) singles titles. Current husband of Steffi Graf, former husband of Brooke Shields, and brother-in-law of late all-time great Ricardo "Pancho" Gonzales (see "Pre-ATP Men's Players").
  • Arthur Ashe (USA) 1969–1980: Won 3 Grand Slams. His highest career ranking under the official ATP rankings was No. 2, but he was accepted as the unofficial year-end No. 1 in 1975 by many non-computerized experts. He became the first African-American man to win a Grand Slam, his most memorable Slam victory being his stunning defeat of Jimmy Connors in the 1975 Wimbledon final through tactical play. In addition to his tennis achievements, he was well-known for his humanitarian and civil rights work in the United States and Africa. He was also notable as one of the early faces of AIDS, having caught HIV from a blood transfusion during heart surgery and eventually dying of AIDS complications in 1993. A humanitarian award and the main stadium at the US Open were named after him in his honor.
  • Boris Becker (West Germany/Germany) 1984–1999: Held No. 1 for 12 weeks. Won 6 Grand Slams and an Olympic doubles gold medal. Shot to fame as a 17-year-old in 1985 when he became the then-youngest male Grand Slam singles champion with his Wimbledon victory. This was also notable as he was unseeded and a surprise winner. He was known for his eccentric displays of emotion and for frequently diving and throwing himself across the court.
  • Björn Borg (Sweden) 1973–1983, 1991–1993: Held No. 1 for 109 weeks. Won 11 Grand Slams. Arch-rival of John McEnroe, he was nicknamed the Iceman because of his steely and cool demeanour on court, while his looks gained him a reputation as the first 'rockstar tennis player'. Borg won 6 titles at Roland Garros, surpassed only by Nadal, and his tireless baseline game was the model for clay-courters in the years to come. He was also noted for 5 consecutive Wimbledon titles, a record he watched Federer equal in spite of previously saying he never wanted it touched.
  • Bob and Mike Bryan (USA) 1998–2020:note  Also known as the Bryan Brothers, the identical twins were the No. 1 men's doubles team for practically the whole period from 2005 to early 2016, and hold virtually every record in the book for men's doubles teams. Their most notable team records are Grand Slam titles (16), tournaments won (119), most weeks at No. 1 (438, with Mike having the individual record at 506), and most year-end No. 1 rankings (10). They were named by ATP fans as their favorite team in the first 12 years that award was presented (2006–2017), and Mike got that honor with Jack Sock in 2018 while Bob was out injured. They have a career Golden Slam in doubles after winning Olympic gold in London in 2012, and their win at Wimbledon in 2013 made them the first men's doubles team in the Open era to hold all four Grand Slam titles at once. Finally, they are the only men's doubles team in history to win every major title in the sport—all four Grand Slam events, Olympic gold, every Masters 1000 event,note  the YEC, and Davis Cup. Even though age caught up with them near the end, they were still able to take down any other team on their day, as evidenced by two Masters 1000 wins in 2018 and one in 2019. Mike also won 2 more men's doubles Slams with the aforementioned Jack Sock. They announced in late 2019 that they would retire after the 2020 US Open, but with COVID-19 disrupting the 2020 season, they bowed out before that event started, having played (and won) their last tournament in March of that year.
  • Michael Chang (USA) 1988–2003: Won 1 Grand Slam. The American-born son of Taiwanese immigrants, he's the first ethnic Asian to win a major title (the 1989 French Open), doing so at the age of 17 as the youngest ever male Grand Slam champion. Chang was renowned for his frightening foot speed and retrieval ability, and was the first American to win a major in his generation, before being followed by Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, and Andre Agassi.
  • Jimmy Connors (USA) 1972–1996: Held No. 1 for 268 weeks. Won 8 Grand Slam singles titles and 2 doubles. The first of the notable players to emerge at the advent of the Open Era, Connors was a ferocious power baseliner whose heart and will were only matched by his pugnacious attitude towards others. Commendable for having played in three decades, with one of his most memorable moments being his run to the 1991 US Open semifinals at the age of 39. Over his long career he won a record 109 ATP singles titles.
  • Roger Federer (Switzerland) 1998–2022: Held No. 1 for 310 weeks (holding the record for most weeks as ATP No. 1 until March 2021), and was year-end No. 1 five times. He retired in third place in the Open Era ATP ranking of Grand Slams wins with 20 — he has a record 8 Wimbledon titles, is the only player to win three of the Slams at least 5 times, and also the only player to win two of the Slams 5 consecutive times. Also has an Olympic gold medal in men's doubles with Stan Wawrinka and a silver in singles. Is often cited as the greatest tennis player of all time. If one were to look up ATP singles tennis records on The Other Wiki, one would find his name on 90%. During his 2012 Wimbledon run he broke a record in every match he played after the second round. His return to the top of the rankings in February 2018 made him the oldest No. 1 at age 36, and is also the longest gap between No. 1 stints in ATP rankings history at 5 years and 106 days. However, age finally caught up to Federer in the early 2020s; a series of knee surgeries kept him away from competitive play after Wimbledon in 2021, and he called it a career after the 2022 Laver Cup.
  • Rod Laver (Australia) 1962–1979: Started playing before the advent of the Open Era and a reliable ranking system, but subjective rankings have him as the year-end No. 1 for 7 straight years from 1964 to 1970. Won 11 Grand Slams in singles, 6 in doubles and 3 in mixed, and a record total of 200 titles overall. Is the only player to complete the Calendar Year Grand Slam twice, the first one as a pre-Open Era amateur in 1962 and the second one as an Open Era professional in 1969. Needless to say, he's often included on the short list of the greatest tennis players ever. The arena that serves as center court for the Australian Open is named in his honor.
  • Lleyton Hewitt (Australia) 1998–2016: Held No. 1 for 80 weeks, and won 2 singles Grand Slams and 1 doubles. After an explosive start to his career in which he set a number of "youngest ever" records—most notably that for youngest year-end No. 1 in 2001, a distinction he held until Carlos Alcaraz came along—he was unable to keep up with his peers' rapid improvement. Throw in a number of injury-related lay-offs and a run in with Father Time, and old Rusty never regained his position at the top of the game after 2003, but his raw enthusiasm and never say die attitude kept him firmly in a crowd favourite spot until his retirement (he frequently turns up in doubles, however).
  • Ivan Lendl (Czechoslovakia/USA) 1978–1994: Held No. 1 for 270 weeks. Won 8 Grand Slams. Probably better regarded now then he was during his prime, Lendl took Connors' game plan and refined it, turning baseline tennis into a brutal slugfest and ushering in the era of the power baseliner. Was not popular due to the politics of the time; at the heart of the Cold War, the robotic and seemingly emotionless Lendl was easy to root against, as Connors and McEnroe can attest to. Known for his power off the ground and his tendency to drill the ball straight at volleyers instead of attempting a passing shot. Being Andy Murray's coach, they are the only two players in ATP history to lose their first four Slam finals.
  • John McEnroe (USA) 1978–1992: Held No. 1 for 170 weeks. Won 7 Grand Slam singles titles and 10 doubles. He was a devastating serve-and-volleyer, but is best remembered for his notorious temper, frequent misconduct and especially the Catchphrase "You cannot be serious!"note . He is the only player in the Open Era to be disqualified from a Grand Slam for Unsportsmanlike Conduct; the 1980 Australian Open, where one of his offences was staring at a line judge. Naturally he was quite a divisive figure, but is now more widely loved for his personality and continued passion for the sport. Regularly commentates on Grand Slam tournaments and is known to be creepily accurate in his predictions.
  • Daniel Nestor (Canada) 1991–2018: Born in the former Yugoslavia (today's Serbia) but raised from early childhood in Toronto, he never got higher than No. 58 in singles—but was one of the greatest doubles players in history. He was the No. 1 doubles player for a total of 108 weeks, sharing the top spot with three different partners and holding the top spot by himself three more times. The only thing that kept Nestor from equaling the Bryans' feat of winning every major title the sport had to offer was the Davis Cup; Canada never advanced past the semifinals during his career. Won 7 Slams plus an Olympic gold medal in 2000, and his 91 doubles titles place him behind only the Bryans on the ATP all-time list. Perhaps more remarkably, he won his 91 ATP titles with 11 different partners, and won his Slams with three different partners.
  • Andy Roddick (USA) 2000–2012: Held No. 1 for 13 weeks. Won 1 Grand Slam. Formerly held the record for the fastest serve, at 155 mph (250 km/h) before it was broken by Ivo Karlović, who fired a 157 mph (251 km/h) serve in Davis Cup. Known for his friendly rivalry with Roger Federer (it became a running joke that Roddick could not get through a press conference or interview without Federer being mentioned). Also famed for his snark-filled press conferences and occasional but impressive racquet smashes. His 2003 title at the US Open men's singles tournament is the last such title to be won by an American, and the last such Grand Slam altogether, marking the turning point where Europe and Asia would overtake the United States at the pinnacle of the sport.
  • Pete Sampras (USA) 1988–2002: Held No. 1 for 286 weeks. Won 14 Grand Slams. These were both records until Roger Federer stole his thunder. His six year-end No. 1s were also the most in the ATP era until Djokovic equaled that mark in 2020. However, all of Sampras' year-end No. 1s were consecutive, a feat that Djoker can't match. Widely regarded as one of the greatest grass-courters of all time, holding what used to be a record seven Wimbledon titles (until Federer won his 8th) and losing only one match there from 1993 to 2000. His career win percentage of 88.75% still stands as an ATP record, and he remains the youngest to ever win the U.S. Open. He is also the only ATP player of the Open Era to retire as a defending Grand Slam champion, riding off into the sunset after one last US Open final versus his rival Agassi. At the time of his retirement, he was regarded as perhaps the greatest American to ever play in the gentleman's game. Fittingly for a master of the grass court, he is also the very last American man to win the singles title at Wimbledon (2000).
  • The Woodies (Australia) 1988–2000: The doubles partnership of Todd Woodbridge (1988–2005) and Mark Woodforde (1984–2000), who held most of the ATP records for men's doubles until the Bryans (and Daniel Nestor) came along. They won 11 Grand Slam doubles titles, including a record 6 at Wimbledon, won 61 tournaments, and claimed Olympic gold in 1996 and silver in 2000. After Woodforde retired, Woodbridge won five more Slams partnering with Jonas Björkman. Both Woodies were also successful in mixed doubles, with Woodbridge winning six Slams with four partners and Woodforde five Slams with three partners.

    Retired WTA Players 
  • Ashleigh "Ash" Barty (Australia) 2010–2014, 2016–2022: Held No. 1 for 121 weeks, including three year-end No. 1s (2019–2021). Has won 3 singles Grand Slams and 1 women's doubles. Her early career included an impressive three women's doubles Slams finals with Casey Dellacqua before turning 18, but was put on hold in 2014 so she could take a break from tennis and play professional cricket. She returned to the sport in 2016 and climbed up from there, with her maiden singles Slam at the 2019 French Open, her 2021 Wimbledon win, and ending Australia's 44-year singles drought at the Australian Open in 2022 being among the highlights. She's also the second player of Indigenous Australian descent to have both won a Slam and become No. 1, after her mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley. Known for using a lot of variety in her game, including a tricky slice backhand. Stunningly retired in March 2022 at age 25 after a 112-week run at No. 1, with her final match being her Australian Open final victory.note 
  • Jennifer Capriati (USA) 1990–2004: Held No. 1 for 17 weeks. Won 3 Grand Slams. Her fame comes from the rollercoaster nature of her career that began with her rocketing to stardom when she reached the French Open semifinals at just 14 years old and won the Olympic gold medal two years later, plunged with her struggles with depression and drugs, and ascended again with her inspiring tennis comeback at a more mature age until injuries forced her out of play. Her well-publicized troubles as a burnt-out teen prodigy also caused the Women's Tennis Association to pass the "Capriati Rule" limiting the number of tournaments players below the age of 18 could enter to prevent similar burnouts in the future.
  • Kim Clijsters (Belgium) 1997–2007, 2009–2012, 2020: Held No. 1 for 20 weeks. Has won 4 singles Grand Slams, 3 of them interestingly coming after her brief first retirement. The first Slam, the 2009 US Open, was just her third tournament since unretiring and made her the first US Open champion as a wildcard as well as the first mother to win a slam in the Open era since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980. Was affectionately known as Aussie Kim by Australians due to her temporary engagement to Lleyton Hewitt (and she declared she finally earned the nickname after winning the Australian Open), and is universally liked for her warm personality. Came back after a much longer retirement in early 2020, playing in that year's US Open, but COVID-19 has so far kept this from being a longer-term comeback.
  • Margaret Court (Australia) 1960–1977: Won a record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, 19 Grand Slam women's doubles titles and a record 21 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles. She achieved the Calendar Year Grand Slam once in singles and twice in mixed doubles, the Career Boxed Setnote  twice over and the Triple Crownnote  on five occasions. She also holds the record for the most Grand Slam titles as a mother.
  • Lindsay Davenport (USA) 1993–2008, 2010–2011: Despite being No. 1 for 98 weeks and year-end No. 1 four times, she's an example of Overshadowed by Awesome, seeing that her career at least partly overlapped those of Graf, Seles, Hingis, Henin, and the Williams sisters (not a complete list). Won 3 Grand Slams in both singles and women's doubles, as well as one YEC and an Olympic gold in singles at Atlanta in 1996. Perhaps the most physically imposing women's player of her era; she's a hair over 6'2", or 1.89 m—taller than all of the men's "Big Three" of the 2010s (Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal). Despite this, she mainly played a baseline-oriented game behind a strong serve and powerful groundstrokes, with a forehand that some other players of her era compared to Graf's.
  • Chris Evert (USA) 1972–1989: Held No. 1 for 260 weeks. Won 18 Grand Slams, including a record 7 at the French Open and a record 6 at the U.S. Open. Also won 2 doubles Grand Slams. She was the year-ending World No. 1 singles player in 1975, 1976, 1977, 1980, and 1981. Her career win-loss record in singles matches of 1,309-146 (.900) is the best of any professional player in tennis history. Known for her calm, steely demeanor on court, she was nicknamed the "Ice Maiden" of tennis.
  • Stefanie Marie "Steffi" Graf (West Germany/Germany) 1982–1999: Held No. 1 for a record 377 weeks, and also year-end No. 1 eight times, a record for either men or women. Mr. Agassi's lovely wife, she won 22 Grand Slams and achieved a Calendar Year Golden Slam in 1988; i.e., doing the Career Golden Slam in a single year. Is also the only player, male or female, to win every Slam at least four times. Nicknamed "Fräulein Forehand" by fans due to the power and accuracy of her signature shot.
  • Justine Henin (Belgium) 1999–2008, 2010–2011: Held No. 1 for 117 weeks, with three year-end No. 1s. Won 7 Grand Slams and an Olympic gold medal in singles. She abruptly retired in mid-2008 when she was still ranked No. 1, only to unretire after her countrywoman Kim Clijsters made a successful comeback in 2009 until injuries and a lack of success caused her to retire again a year later. Is renowned for her clay-court prowess and vicious one-handed backhand, and is generally regarded as one of the few players who could challenge Serena Williams in her prime.
  • Martina Hingis (Switzerland) 1994–2003, 2005, 2006–2007, 2013–2017: Held No. 1 for 209 weeks, and year-end No. 1 three times. Won 5 singles Grand Slams, 13 doubles and 7 mixed doubles, and an Olympic silver medal in doubles with Timea Bacsinszky. The Swiss Missnote  is the youngest Grand Slam champion ever, winning her first doubles title at just 15 years old. She is also the youngest singles champion of the Open Era, winning the her maiden Slam the next year at 16. In 1998 she achieved the Calendar Year Grand Slam in doubles. She was plagued by injuries at a young age, causing repeated retirement-return tangos. Her third retirement was in 2007, shortly after she received a 2-year ban for testing positive for cocaine. During this retirement, she was a regular player in World Team Tennis and in July 2013, she returned to the WTA Tour in doubles and won her first Slam since 2002 with Leander Paes at the 2015 Australian Open. Hingis went on to win 10 of her doubles Slams since this return, announcing her fourth retirement during the 2017 WTA Finals after having swept the doubles titles at the US Open. This one finally stuck.
  • Billie Jean King (USA) 1968–1983: Won 12 Grand Slam singles titles, 16 Grand Slam women's doubles titles, and 11 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles. She completed the Triple Crown three times. In 1973, she won the second (and possibly most famous) "Battle of the Sexes" (which was adapted into a movie in 2017), a three-set promotional match against former Wimbledon men's singles champion Bobby Riggs. Long an advocate for women's equality in sport and society, she was the founder of the Women's Tennis Association, the Women's Sports Foundation, and owner of World Team Tennis, which was founded by her former husband, Larry King and three others. The complex that hosts the US Open is named after her, and the Fed Cup (originally Federation Cup) was renamed after her in September 2020. Also one of the army of co-owners of the aforementioned Angel City FC.
  • Li Na (China) 1999–2014: Won 2 Grand Slams. Became the first player from an Asian country (male or female) to win a Slam when she won the 2011 French Open, and also won the 2014 Australian Open. Had a reputation for being able to hit anyone off the court on a good day and herself off the same court on a bad day, and also for giving some of the funniest interviews on tour. Retired in September 2014 due to persistent knee problems.
  • Martina Navratilova (Czech Republic/USA) 1974–1994, 1999–2006: Held No. 1 for 332 weeks, with seven year-end No. 1s, five of them consecutively (a record on the women's side). Won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 Grand Slam women's doubles titles (an all-time record), and 10 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles. Completed the Career Boxed Set and achieved the Triple Crown once. She is the only man or woman to have won 8 different tournaments at least 7 times and won a record 9 Wimbledon titles. She also had an extraordinarily long-lived career, finishing in the top 10 singles rankings for 20 straight years and winning her last Grand Slam title (mixed doubles at the 2006 US Open) at 49 years of age. Originally from Czechoslovakia, she asked for political asylum in the US in 1975, was stripped of her Czech citizenship (later restored by the Czech Republic), and became a US citizen in 1981. She also came out as a lesbian in 1981 and has been an activist for gay rights, filing a lawsuit in 1992 against Amendment 2 (a Colorado ballot proposition designed to deny legal protections to gays and lesbians that was later overturned in Romer v. Evans).
  • Monica Seles (Yugoslavia/USA) 1988–1993, 1995–2003: Held No. 1 for 178 weeks. Won 9 Grand Slam singles titles. An incredible young woman who made the semifinals of her first Grand Slam tournament at the age of 14, before winning her first Slam two years later at Roland Garros. She won 7 Slams between 1990 and 1993, including an undefeated run at the Australian Open. Her career was tragically cut short in 1993 when she was stabbed in the back by a crazed Graf fan in Hamburg. She made a comeback in 1995 and went on to win the Australian Open the next year; however, she never regained her incredible form before the attack.note 
  • Maria Sharapova (Russia) 2001–2020: Held No. 1 for 21 weeks, and won 5 Grand Slams to achieve a Career Grand Slam and an Olympic silver medal in singles. She shot to fame by winning her maiden Slam at Wimbledon when she was just 17; ever since then, she recovered from shoulder injuries and her "cow on ice" issues on clay to become one of the steeliest (and loudest) competitors in tennis and an unexpected clay court master too. Unfortunately, her career hit a major snag in 2016 when she tested positive for the banned PED meldonium and was banned from the tour until 2017. Shortly after her return, her shoulder problems returned, and Sharapova spent most of her final seasons on tour battling said injuries before calling it a career in February 2020.
  • Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark) 2005–2020: Held No. 1 for 71 weeks and won one Grand Slam. Initially well-known for having some decent runs as No. 1 over 2010-12, including two year-end No. 1s, by winning many tournaments but the Grand Slams (although she made it to two US Open finals outside of that time). Her return to the top of the rankings 6 years later by winning the 2018 Australian Open was the longest gap between stints as the No. 1. Sadly, she would wind up battling illness (specifically rheumatoid arthritis) and injuries for the rest of 2018 and all of 2019, and decided to call it a career, with the 2020 Australian Open being her farewell.

    Pre-ATP Men's Players 
  • Don Budge (USA) 1932–1938 (amateur), 1938–1955 (pro). The first player, male or female, to win the Grand Slam, sweeping all four championships in 1938, and also winning two other amateur Slams in singles and four each in men's and mixed doubles. During his Grand Slam year of 1938, he also became the youngest male player to complete the career Slam, a distinction he still holds. Boasting a powerful serve and a one-handed backhand that even today is ranked among the greatest in history, Budge was the dominant force on the pre-WWII pro tours, winning four pro majors and getting the best of other greats (including a past-his-prime Bill Tilden, listed below) during exhibition tours. Subjective rankings tabbed him as year-end World #1 twice as an amateur and multiple times as a pro. However, a non-combat injury to his playing shoulder while serving in the Army during WWII permanently altered his career; while he remained strongly competitive, he was clearly never the same. After retiring, he became a coach and in-demand public speaker, living until 2000.
  • Ricardo "Pancho" Gonzales (USA) 1947–1949 (amateur), 1949–1974 (pro). The Los Angeles-born son of Mexican immigrants, he won two US Opens and two Grand Slam men's doubles titles as an amateur before becoming the most dominant player and biggest draw on the pro tours of the 1950s. Gonzales won 13 pro majors before the Open Era and was subjectively ranked as world pro #1 eight times between 1952 and 1960. The Open Era didn't start until shortly before his 40th birthday, but he was still a tough out for even the best players, notably beating Rod Laver in an exhibition match shortly after Laver had won his second Grand Slam, and also becoming the oldest player to win a pro tournament, doing so at age 44. During this period, he was also the winner of what had been the longest match in tennis history up to that time, an early-round 1969 Wimbledon match against the much younger Charlie Pasarell in which Gonzales came back from two sets down and saved seven match points to win 22–24, 1–6, 16–14, 6–3, 11–9. That match directly led to the introduction of the tiebreaker in most events. The last of his six wives is Andre Agassi's older sister; Andre paid for Gonzales' funeral in 1995.
  • Jack Kramer (USA) 1937–1947 (amateur), 1947–1954 (pro). The first world-class player to play what was called "The Big Game", now known as the serve-and-volley style. As an amateur, won 3 Slams in singles, 6 in doubles, and 1 in mixed doubles, and won 2 pro majors, also dominating the pro tours after ending his amateur career. Subjective rankings listed him as amateur year-end #1 once and pro year-end #1 six times. After his retirement due to an arthritic back in 1954, he became one of the most important figures in establishing the current Open Era. Kramer was the main promoter of pro tours from the mid-1950s to the advent of the Open Era, relentlessly advocated for the opening of the Grand Slam events to pros, and was co-founder and first executive director of the ATP. Passed away in 2008.
  • Fred Perry (Great Britain/USA) 1929–1936 (amateur), 1936–1956 (pro). Winner of 10 singles Slams, plus two in doubles and 4 in mixed doubles, and leading Britain to 4 Davis Cup titles, Perry was unquestionably the greatest British male player, at least until the arrival of Andy Murray decades later. He actually made his first impact in table tennis, winning the singles world championship in 1929 before switching his focus to the outdoor variety. Perry became the first player of either sex to claim the career Grand Slam in singles, and was subjectively ranked world amateur #1 from 1934 to 1936. From a working-class background and thus somewhat at odds with the upper-crust British tennis establishment, he was largely ostracized by said establishment from his turning pro in 1936 until the Open Era. Perry moved to the US upon turning pro, became a US citizen in 1939 (while retaining his British citizenship), and served with the US Army in WWII. He went on to a long career as a broadcaster, established the Fred Perry sportswear brand, still sold today (his family no longer runs that business, but remains involved), and lived to see a statue of him unveiled at Wimbledon before passing in 1995.
  • Bobby Riggs (USA) 1933–1941 (amateur), 1946–1959 (pro). Winner of 3 singles Slams, 1 doubles, and 2 mixed doubles as an amateur, and 3 pre-Open Era pro majors, and had at least a share of the subjective year-end #1 crown once as an amateur and twice as a pro. He was also the only man ever to win the Triple Crown at Wimbledon. In his 1979 autobiography, Jack Kramer (above) listed Riggs as one of the six greatest men's players ever, though he later placed Riggs in a slightly lower echelon of all-time greats. While noticeably smaller than most other men's greats (5'7"/1.70 m), he made up for it with speed, smarts, and ball control; he was especially noted for his lobs and drop shots. That said, Riggs is probably more famous among the current generation for his post-competitive career as a gambler and hustler. Most notably, he claimed in 1973 that no woman could beat him in a match, challenging Billie Jean King. She initially declined; Margaret Court accepted, and Riggs beat her in straight sets. King then accepted his challenge, and in one of the most famous exhibition matches in history, she beat him in straight sets. This match would be immortalized more than 40 years later in Battle of the Sexes, with Steve Carell playing Riggs. In a postscript, King and Riggs went on to become close friends, especially during Riggs' final battle with cancer; King recalled that when they had their last phone conversation on the night before his death in 1995, she told him "I love you."
  • Bill Tilden (USA) 1912–1931 (amateur), 1931–1946 (pro). One of the dominant figures of America's "Golden Age of Sports" in the 1920s, Tilden won 10 Grand Slam singles titles, 6 in doubles, and 5 in mixed doubles, as well as 3 major professional championships in the pre-Open era. Ranked by subjective sources as the world amateur year-end #1 six times, his amateur records compare favorably (at least numerically) to those of Open Era greats, and he became a global celebrity for many years. Even though he was past his prime by the time he turned pro, he was the biggest draw on the early pro circuits, and was still able to give his younger opponents a good test. Tilden's final years saw him mostly shunned after being jailed twice for sexual misconduct with teenage boys (that said, contemporaries said that he never propositioned other players, or boys whom he coached). Died in 1953.

    Pre-WTA Women's Players 
  • Maureen Connolly (USA) 1951–1954; later known by her married name of Maureen Connolly Brinker. Won 9 Grand Slam singles titles and 3 doubles. Also known as Little Mo, she was the first woman and only the second person to complete the Calendar Year Grand Slam in 1953. She lost only one set in these four tournaments, and never lost a Grand Slam singles final. Her tennis career was cut short at the age of 19 by a traffic accident that crushed her right leg, and she died from cancer in 1969 a few months before her 35th birthday.note 
  • Althea Gibson (USA) 1950–1958: Won 5 Grand Slam singles titles, 5 Grand Slam doubles titles, and 1 Mixed Doubles title. She was the first African American to win a Grand Slam when she won the French Championship in 1956, prior to the Open Era, and the first African-American woman to win a Slam prior to the Williams sisters. She won two Wimbledon titles in back-to-back years (1957-1958). She was the first woman to be awarded the NCAA's Theodore Roosevelt Award in 1991, inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1980, and in 2012, nine years after her passing, had a statue built in her honor in Newark, New Jersey. Like Jackie Robinson is credited for breaking the color barrier in professional baseball, Gibson is see by many as the tennis player who broke the color barrier and made it possible for future people of color to compete in what was a prominently Caucasian sport. A lesser-known fact is that after retiring from competitive tennis, Gibson was the first African American to play on the LPGA tour in golf. Though her best tour finish was second place, Hall of Fame player Judy Rankin publicly said that she "might have been a real player of consequence had she started when she was young."
  • Suzanne Lenglen (France) 1913–1926: Won 8 Grand Slam singles titles (including 6 at Wimbledon), 8 Grand Slam doubles titles, and 5 Mixed Doubles titles, as well as Olympic medals in all three disciplines at Antwerp in 1920—golds in singles and mixed doubles, and bronze in women's doubles. Subjective rankings listed her as the world year-end No. 1 six times, and her amateur career singles record was a mind-blowing 332–7. That included a 179-match unbeaten streak from 1921–1926 which included a victory over American Helen Wills (below) in 1926 in what was billed as the "Match of the Century". A versatile all-court player, she was one of the first (if not the first) women to play in attire suited for sports, opting for knee-length skirts over the floor-length ones used by earlier players. More significantly, she was the first female athlete to become a celebrity outside her sport; in fact, her popularity was such that it led the All England Club, organizers of Wimbledon, to move to the site it occupies today so that it could handle the crowds at her matches. Due to a misunderstanding with the French Tennis Federation, Lenglen retired from amateur tennis in 1926, and became the centerpiece of the first-ever professional tours, barnstorming exhibitions first in the US and then in the UK. Those tours set the template for the men's exhibition tours that were the staple of the professional sport before the Open Era. After the UK tour ended in 1927, she never played competitively again, and her health sadly deteriorated in later years (by some reports, she was suffering from leukemia), culminating in her premature death at age 39 in 1938. Since 1987, the women's singles championship trophy at the French Open has borne her name.
  • Helen Wills (USA) 1922–1938; also known by her married names of Helen Wills Moody and Helen Wills Roark. Lenglen's successor as the top women's player was a baseliner known for her graceful playing style. Wills won 19 Grand Slam singles titles, 9 Grand Slam doubles titles, and 3 Mixed Doubles titles, as well as Olympic golds in singles and doubles in 1924. Subjective rankings listed her as the year-end world No. 1 nine times, and she had a 161-match unbeaten streak of her own from 1927–1933. Among her 19 singles Slams were eight Wimbledon wins, a record that wouldn't be surpassed until Martina Navratilova, and she was also the first player of either sex to win three Slams in a calendar year (1928). Despite her preference to stay out of the limelight, she was the first American female athlete to become a global celebrity. She enjoyed a long retirement, passing on New Year's Day in 1998 at age 92.

Top