Legendary Tennis Icons: 22 of the Greatest Men to Grace the Court

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Men's tennis players are powerful, athletic, and marketable. The best players have the drive to succeed and win Grand Slam championships, but they also participate in year-round tune-up tournaments, making their presence known all over the globe.

We want to celebrate the best men's tennis players ever appearing on the ATP Tour. From the hallowed rivalries like Sampson vs. Agassi and Federer vs. Nadal to outcast players like Ivan Lendl, you'll find your favorite GOAT on this list.

Note: Only players from the Open Era will appear on the list, so 1968 to the present.

1. Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic of Serbia during the Rolex Paris Masters, ATP Masters 1000 tennis tournament, on November 5, 2022 at Accor Arena in Paris, France.
Image Credit: Velter / Shutterstock.com.

Novak Djokovic is an impenetrable force that never stops coming. Djokovic's will to win combines with an unprecedented defensive style to beat everyone in his path, whether that be a young player gunning for his crown or a fellow legend of the ATP. Djokovic's 23 Grand Slams are still growing by the year, cementing his place as the greatest ever to play. 

2. Roger Federer

Miami Gardens, Florida USA March 31, 2019 - Roger Federer of Switzerland returning a point at the Miami Open at the Hard Rock Stadium on March 31, 2019 in Miami Gardens, Florida
Image Credit: Steven Hodel / Shutterstock.com.

Roger Federer is the most aesthetically marvelous tennis player ever to live, even if he's been surpassed on the all-time list by Novak Djokovic. Federer's 20 Grand Slams only begin to describe the feelings fans enjoyed viewing him prance and dance around the court for almost two decades. His rivalry with Rafael Nadal is arguably the best in sports history, and his all-around play gives him an edge over the clay-oriented Nadal. 

3. Rafael Nadal

NEW YORK - AUGUST 29, 2017: Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal of Spain in action during his US Open 2017 first round match at Billie Jean King National Tennis Center
Image Credit: Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com.

Rafael Nadal started his career as a one-surface player, dominating the French Open and locking up a Grand Slam every year due to this tournament's presence on the calendar. But with more time passing, Nadal persevered through his struggles on grass and hard courts to become a maestro on any surface. With just one year left in his career, Nadal has etched his name in the annals of tennis lore for the rest of the sport's history. 

4. Pete Sampras

CHICAGO - OCTOBER 17: Pete Sampras on October 17, 2012 competing in the 2012 Powershares QQQ Challenge at the United Center in Chicago.
Image Credit: Max Herman / Shutterstock.com.

Before the “Big 3” came along, Pete Sampras was arguably the best player ever to live. His strong serve and powerful groundstrokes were ahead of their time and would have fit in well with the modern game. Sampras' rivalry with Andre Agassi was a precursor to some battles between Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic in the 21st century. 

5. Björn Borg

Björn Borg
Image Credit: By Rob Croes / Anefo – https://proxy.handle.net, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl, Wiki Commons.

Björn Borg may have won 11 Grand Slam titles, but his career still seems like a “what-if.” The Swedish sensation won all his championships by age 25 and then retired from the sport. Many tennis fans were shocked and disappointed, as Borg's distinct style would have certainly delivered him several more wins at big tournaments. 

6. Rod Laver

Rod Laver
Image Credit: By Evers, Joost / Anefo – Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie Anefo item number 922-4468, CC0, Wiki Commons.

Every sport has a pioneer who lifts the entirety of the game on their shoulders, showing a path forward for everyone that has come since. Rod Laver is certainly in that category, with a rocket for an arm and an athletic build ahead of his competition. Laver is one of the best spokespeople for the game today, often showing up to live events like the Australian Open. 

7. Andre Agassi

LOS ANGELES, CA. - JULY 24: Andre Agassi (pictured) and John McEnroe play a charity match at the Farmers Classic on July 24 2010 in Los Angeles.
Image Credit: Photo Works / Shutterstock.com.

Andre Agassi brought cool back to tennis in the late 1990s. He also won eight Grand Slams on three different surfaces, proving that he had style and substance. For those who love tennis in the United States, Agassi was one of the last inspirations to the American public. The country has mightily struggled in men's tennis for much of the last 20 years.

8. Ivan Lendl

CHICAGO - OCTOBER 17: Ivan Lendl on October 17, 2012 competing in the 2012 Powershares QQQ Challenge at the United Center in Chicago.
Image Credit: Max Herman / Shutterstock.com.

Ivan Lendl wasn't like the rest of the players of the 1980s. His game was powerful, surgical, and novel. He may not have always been the prettiest player to watch, and he wasn't as marketable as Jimmy Connors or Andre Agassi, but Lendl was almost always contesting the best players in the world at every tournament. Lendl competed in the final round of 19 Grand Slams. 

9. John McEnroe

CHICAGO - OCTOBER 17: John McEnroe on October 17, 2012 competing in the 2012 Powershares QQQ Challenge at the United Center in Chicago.
Image Credit: Max Herman / Shutterstock.com.

“Number nine? You cannot be serious!” John McEnroe is known for his outbursts on the court, but his play did plenty of talking in its own right. McEnroe was a fighter, the type of player who brought the best out of his opponents and created incredible rivalries with Jimmy Connors, Björn Borg, and so many more. McEnroe has been one of the best ambassadors for the game since his retirement. 

10. Jimmy Connors

Jimmy Connors
Image Credit: By Koen Suyk / Anefo – https://proxy.handle.net, CC0, Wiki Commons.

Before Tom Brady played football until he was 45, Jimmy Connors fought back Father Time until he retired at 43. Even with all the success of modern men such as Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic, Connors still has them beaten in tournaments won at the ATP level. 

11. Andy Murray

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 12, 2016: Olympic champion Andy Murray of Great Britain celebrates victory after men's singles quarterfinal of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Tennis Centre
Image Credit: Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com.

Andy Murray would be much higher on this list if he weren't born at the same time as Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. He often played runner-up to two of the three best players ever, and he made sure fans knew he was much closer than the final score may have indicated. As it is, the British import has won three Grand Slams and is still active. Murray talks to himself, yells and screams, and fires himself creatively, reminding us how internally draining tennis can be. 

12. Mats Wilander

BUDAPEST- OCTOBER 30: Mats Wilander plays in Tennis Classics 2010 on October 30, 2010 in Budapest, Hungary
Image Credit: Ferenc Szelepcsenyi / Shutterstock.com.

What is it with Sweden and tennis? While not as famous as Borg, Mats Wilander had an almost equally successful career. Wilander was an all-around great player whose calm demeanor made him go under the radar. He won four majors by age 20, something other greats like Federer and Djokovic can't even brag about. 

13. Stan Wawrinka

New York, NY - September 3, 2019: Stan Wawrinka (Switzerland) in action during quarter final of US Open Championships against Daniil Medvedev (Russia) at Billie Jean King National Tennis Center
Image Credit: lev radin / Shutterstock.com.

Stan Wawrinka started out being known as the Swiss teammate of Roger Federer during doubles matches and Davis Cup events. As his career picked up steam, Wawrinka was suddenly in the thick of singles championships with the best players in the sport's history. His backhand is legendary, and his persistence against more talented players makes him a fan favorite. 

14. Stefan Edberg

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND-MARCH 24: Stefan Edberg plays tennis in final of BNP Paribas Open Champions Tour aganinst Carlos Moya in Zurich, SUI on March 24, 2012. He lost the match for medical reasons.
Image Credit: Martin Lehmann / Shutterstock.com.

Stefan Edberg was an old-school tennis star who relied on tactics from the past to great success, even as tennis became more athletic and modern. Edberg was as crafty as they come, using his deft touch to win six Grand Slams. Oh, and he's yet another Swedish star. There must be something in the water over there. 

15. Guillermo Vilas

Guillermo Vilas
Image Credit: By W. Punt for Anefo – Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie Anefo Item number 927-3329, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl, Wiki Commons.

Fun fact: Rafael Nadal isn't actually the true “King of Clay” by the number of matches won on the surface. That signifier goes to Guillermo Vilas, with over 600 wins on clay. Vilas is also known for a dispute over whether he was the ATP world number 1 at some point in 1977 when a computing error may have prevented him from getting that recognition. 

16. Ken Rosewall

Ken Rosewall
Image Credit: By Anefo – https://proxy.handle.net, CC0, Wiki Commons.

Ken Rosewall won most of his Grand Slams before the Open Era, but his titles post-1968 at the U.S. Open and Australian Open verify that he would have been just as successful if born at a later date. Rosewall was a small player at 5'7”, but his skills were superb nonetheless. Rosewall remains one of the prides of Australian tennis. 

17. Boris Becker

Boris Becker
Image Credit: By Flickr-User mandj98 – Flickr, uploaded by mandj98 at flickr.com, CC BY 2.0, Wiki Commons.

Boris Becker's good looks and swag on the court made him one of the true tennis stars of his era. His abilities on the court weren't too shabby, with six Grand Slam titles won throughout his career, three at Wimbledon alone. Becker is one of the best grass court players of his generation. 

18. Arthur Ashe

Arthur Ashe
Image Credit; By Art Rogers, Los Angeles Times – https://digital.library.ucla.edu, CC BY 4.0, Wiki Commons.

Arthur Ashe is more known for his activism and work with HIV/AIDS than his tennis career, but that shouldn't stop people from remembering his dominant play on the court. Ashe was an inspirational player who won three Grand Slam titles in the thick of the talented 1970s era of tennis, defeating players like Jimmy Connors to claim his crowns. 

19. Jim Courier

CHICAGO - OCTOBER 17: Jim Courier on October 17, 2012 competing in the 2012 Powershares QQQ Challenge at the United Center in Chicago.
Image Credit: Max Herman / Shutterstock.com.

Jim Courier's success in the early 1990s led many to believe he would be the next big American superstar. He won four majors between 1991 and 1993 but couldn't recapture the same glory afterward. Courier was a likable star with a kind personality off the court, leading to a long career in tennis journalism. 

20. Andy Roddick

MELBOURNE - JANUARY 17: Andy Roddick in his frist round win over Robin Haase at the 2012 Australian Open on January 17, 2012 in Melbourne, Australia.
Image Credit: Neale Cousland / Shutterstock.com.

Andy Roddick was responsible for carrying on the American tennis tradition against better players like Roger Federer. He deserves credit for playing fearlessly against stiff competition and with the weight of an entire nation hungry for the next John McEnroe or Jimmy Connors. As it is, his win at the U.S. Open in 2003 remains the last time an American won not only that tournament but any Grand Slam title. 

21. Marat Safin

MOSCOW - OCTOBER 12: Marat Safin, Russian tennis player, returns the ball at the Moscow's Kremlin Cup October 12, 2006 in Moscow, Russia.
Image Credit: kojoku / Shutterstock.com.

Marat Safin is much like Andy Roddick: a great player snuffed out by Roger Federer's dominance. Safin won two Grand Slam titles in the 2000s and was a fixture deep into major tournaments even when he couldn't get over the hump. He is one of the best Russian tennis players ever. 

22. Carlos Alcaraz

Carlos Alcaraz Garfia of Spain during the French Open, Grand Slam tennis tournament on June 4, 2023 at Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France.
Image Credit: Victor Velter / Shutterstock.com.

Some may think it's too early to put Carlos Alcaraz on an all-time greats list like this, but his accomplishments are already legendary. He shows no fear on the big stage, usurping players like Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon. An all-court style and a smile make him stand out while playing tennis. His career has nowhere to go but up from here! 

Author: Shawn Laib

Title: Writer

Expertise: Gaming, Sports, Film, Television


Shawn Laib is a writer for Wealth of Geeks, The Manual, Den of Geek, and Edge Media Network. Shawn loves sports, gaming, film, and television and uses his knowledge of these subject areas to deliver interesting and entertaining content to his readers.