Tennis is a sport that tends to be dominated by a handful of players in the big tournaments.

If you were to ask someone who’s at least vaguely familiar with the professional scene who the top players are, you’d likely come across the same three or four names 90% of the time.

In fact, as you’re reading this you’re probably listing them off now in your head.

Players such as Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Rafael Nadal have dominated the men’s singles scene in tennis for a long time. In the upcoming 2021 tournaments, these are the players expected to go far, though Nadal and Federer are perhaps approaching the twilight of their careers.

As for the top female tennis players, most people instantly think of the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus.

Yet it’s one thing to be recognised as one of the best tennis players in the modern era, and another altogether to go down as one of the all-time greats.

There will be some overlap, of course, but how much?

We can tell the curiosity is killing you, so without further ado let’s get into our list of the best tennis players of all time.

We aren’t going to rank the players, this will simply be a list of some of the tennis stars who have had a huge impact on the sport over the years either for their personality, technical ability, or winning mentality.

tennis rally
Being the best at tennis requires a lot more than a good forehand. Source: Unsplash
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Men

Men’s singles tennis has been around the longest, with the first Wimbledon Gentleman’s Singles taking place in 1887.

As such, there is a huge pool of tennis stars that could be considered in a list of the best tennis players of all time.

Here we’ve decided to feature five of the very best, so let’s take a look at who they are:

Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi first became pro in 1986 and retired from the sport in 2006.

Over the course of his career, he accumulated more than $30 million in prize money and fought his way to a an impressive 61 career titles, eight of which were Grand Slams.

Agassi won the Australian Open four times, the US Open twice, and both the French Open and Wimbledon once. The American also earned an Olympic Gold medal for his country in 1996.

As a result of all of these accolades, Agassi was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 2011, something he richly deserved for his playing career.

As a player, Agassi used to be known for rocking long blond hair on the court and for his exuberant personality. Yet he mellowed out over the years and towards the end of his career, he was hairless and had a more subdued personality.

Technically, his main strength was his groundstrokes which constantly had his opposition running.

Outside of tennis, Agassi is frequently lauded for his generous contributions to the community alongside his tennis star wife Steffi Graf.

Pete Sampras

Pete Sampras is another American tennis star, one who turned pro in 1988 and retired in 2002, accumulating more than $40 million in career prize money.

Just edging it over his compatriot, Agassi, Sampras won 64 career titles and as many as 14 Grand Slams. His Grand Slam victories included two Australian Opens, seven Wimbledons, and five US Opens.

He was inducted into the Tennis Half of Fame in 2007.

Interestingly, despite his huge success across three of the Grand Slam events, some wouldn’t consider Sampras to be one of the best as he failed to win a French Open title.

However, his astonishing record of career titles speaks for itself, so we believe he is worthy of any list of the top tennis players of all time.

Roger Federer

Now onto the modern era with a player who is still currently active, albeit much less so, Roger Federer.

Federer is as classy as they come as a player on the court and a gentleman off the court.

He is one of the best sports personalities across any sport and he’s easy to support when he plays as he demonstrates such finesse and grace with his shots.

Turning pro in 1998, Federer has so far earned more than $129 million in career prize money, bagged 103 career titles, and secured 20 Grand Slam titles.

The Grand Slam wins include six Australian Opens, eight Wimbledons, five US Opens, and a single French Open.

The Swiss player has held the number one ranking at various points in his career, and many consider him to be one of the very best in the sport.

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal is an explosive player who brings all of his Spanish passion to the court, with his powerful groundstrokes.

Nadal turned pro in 2001 and still plays today, having won more than $124 million in career prize money and 88 career titles.

His 20 Grand Slam titles come mostly from the French Open, which he won 13 times, but he also has four US Open, one Australian Open, and two Wimbledons to his name.

But for a few nagging injuries in the form of tendonitis in the knees and wrists, Nadal has consistently played at the highest level and is considered to be the best clay-court player in the modern era.

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic is a marvel to watch most of the time he’s on the court.

The Serb seems to return impossible shots on a regular basis and is always sliding across the hard surfaces and even grass to make returns.

He has dominated the modern tennis scene occupying the number one spot for a very long time, and he only turned pro in 2003 so he still has a few years left in him.

He has earned more than $148 million to date in career prize money, and won 83 career titles, with 19 of them being Grand Slams. He has proved that he is good on every court type as his Grand Slam wins are somewhat evenly distributed, having won every Grand Slam more than once.

Women

female tennis
There are several women who have claimed their spot among the best tennis players ever to grace the sport. Source: Unsplash

Now let’s take a look at the best female tennis players of all time:

Venus Williams

While in some ways Venus Williams’ tennis career has been overshadowed by her younger sister Serena, the American has achieved a lot in her career and is still active today.

Turning pro in 1994, Venus Williams has made more than $41 million in career prize money earning 49 career titles and 7 Grand Slam titles along the way.

She has won five Wimbledon titles and two US Opens, and you have to wonder how many more she would have if not for her sister Serena. The two sisters have competed in Grand Slam finals nine times, with Serena walking away with the win on seven of those occasions.

Serena Williams

Serena Williams is hands-down one of the best female tennis players there is still playing today, and of all time too.

Turning pro in 1995, the younger Williams sister has made more than $95 million in career prize money and has 73 career titles to her name, with 23 of those being Grand Slam wins.

She has won seven Australian Opens, three French Opens, seven Wimbledons, and six US Opens.

Technically she’s known for her wickedly powerful groundstrokes, and her Grand Slam wins have been spread out over time which is why you could make a strong case for her being one of the most consistent top performers in the sport.

Steffi Graf

Steffi Graf is a name that those new to the sport may not recognise, but they certainly should know the name, as she won 107 career titles and 22 Grand Slams.

Becoming pro in 1982, Graf retired in 1999, and in that short space of time earned more than $21 million in career prize money.

She was inducted in the Tennis Hall of Fame in 2004, and her record across all court types was impeccable. She’s one of the rare few players that has managed more than four wins in each of the four major Grand Slams.

Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King turned pro in 1968 and retired in 1983, earning just shy of $2 million in career prize money.

King won an impressive 129 career titles, with 12 of them being Grand Slams. She was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987.

Many lauded her for her aggressive playstyle which earned her a lot of points among spectators and commentators alike.

Martina Navratilova

Martina Navratilova was a top pro who started playing in 1975 and retired in 1994 but still contributes to the sport with her insightful commentary.

She won 167 career titles including 18 Grand Slams and earned more than $21 million in career prize money. She was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000.

She is most notable for making the serve and volley popular in the women’s game.

Why are Tennis Players Paid so much?

money
Tennis players don't quite earn as much as football players, but those at the top certainly get their lion's share of the spoils. Source: Unsplash

The career earnings of these tennis stars are astronomical, and it’s largely because of lucrative sponsorship contracts.

Then again, these tennis players are the exception, and you’ll likely find that the majority of non-seeded players have a hard time making a living from it. If you aren’t in the top 100 then tennis isn’t the lucrative career you might expect.

Very few British tennis players have made it to the very top, though Andy Murray is the most recent example of a player who has reached the summit of the mountain.

Plus, those who actually go on to win the Grand Slams are those who take the lion’s share of the prize money leaving the rest with much less.

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Samuel

Sam is an English teaching assistant and freelance writer based in southern Spain. He enjoys exploring new places and cultures, and picking up languages along the way.