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40 Greatest Players
Last Updated: 5/17/2006 2:47:03 AM
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40 Greatest Players of the Tennis Era (17-20)

To celebrate TENNIS Magazine’s 40th anniversary, we’ve chosen the 40 best players of the last four decades.  Here are numbers 20 through 17.

Ken RosewallKEN ROSEWALL
Photo by Paul Zimmer/AP


Ken Rosewall’s compatriots in the golden age of Australian tennis gave him the nickname “Muscles,” but once they found themselves opposite Rosewall on the court, the joke was on them. Muscles’ gentle, silky game proved far too much for most to handle. Rosewall was so smooth that he never suffered a significant injury despite being at the top of the game from the early 1950s until the year he won his last title, 1977, as a 43-year-old. The son of a Sydney grocer, Rosewall vaulted to international prominence at 17, hand in hand with a player just 21 days his junior, Lew Hoad. On their first tour abroad, they both reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Championships and became national idols at 19 when they collaborated to beat the U.S. in the Davis Cup final. Rosewall played an easy game, founded on light feet, deft touch, and one of the great one-handed backhands in history. Those assets made him dangerous on all surfaces and at the baseline or the net. And while Rosewall’s three major rivals (Hoad, Pancho Gonzalez, and Rod Laver) stole some of his thunder, he gave all of them fits. Rosewall, who fell lower on our list because many of his achievements came before the TENNIS era, had just one hole in his résumé: A four-time finalist at Wimbledon, he never won it all there. — PETER BODO    

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS:
> Won 18 major singles and doubles titles, sixth most among men
> Won 32 singles and 18 doubles titles after turning 33  

Roger FedererROGER FEDERER
Photo by Francois Mori/AP


Many pundits are calling Roger Federer the best ever to play the game. And one look at the astonishingly talented Swiss star explains why. He can keep the ball in play and work all the angles, or hit winners off any shot. He covers the court so well that his defense is nearly impenetrable. As a competitor, he seems to have an extra mental gear that he effortlessly shifts to when he’s in trouble. Although he was an elite junior player, the combination of Federer’s natural reserve and smooth style sometimes created the impression that he lacked the fire to take his place among the elite in an era dominated by fist-pumping power players. But all that changed with his off-to-the-races Wimbledon breakthrough of 2003. Drawing an extraordinary amount of confidence from that win, Federer went on a tear, collecting three more Grand Slam trophies by the start of 2005. He also shattered the mark for consecutive wins in finals, a record previously shared by a couple of guys named Borg and McEnroe. The reason Federer isn’t ranked higher among our 40 Greatest is simply because the 23-year-old’s career (we hope, at least) is just beginning. It’s impossible to say what the future holds for him, but any forecast extrapolated from his achievements to date is almost too outrageous to contemplate. —TONY LANCE  

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS:
> First man since Mats Wilander in 1988 to win three majors in one year.
> Finished 1998 as the No. 1 junior in the world  

Boris BeckerBORIS BECKER
Photo by Mark J. Terill/Corbis

Few debuts in sports have been as singular, or misleading, as Boris Becker’s. He emerged at the height of his powers, a floppy-haired 17-yearold man-child who charged to the Wimbledon title in 1985. With booming serves, diving volleys, and between-point stare-downs, Becker became a star overnight and ushered in the modern power game in one two-week swoop. His manager, Ion Tiriac, said, “He was the most natural, crystal-clear youngster I ever saw,” and anyone who watched him trample the All England grass that year would have agreed. Tiriac soon found another way to describe his German charge: “The most stubborn human being I have ever met.” By the early ’90s, Becker had buzzed the floppy hair away and plunged into existential crisis. During his loss to Michael Stich in the 1991 Wimbledon final, he bit his towel on changeovers and emitted jungle-bird shrieks after losing points. The boy who began as a man couldn’t decide on an identity: Was he a jock or a deep thinker? How many athletes describe their home-country supporters by saying, “When I looked into the eyes of my fans, I thought I was looking at monsters”? Becker remained an imposing talent through much of the 1990s, rising to the challenge presented by a new No. 1, Pete Sampras. One or the other was a finalist in the ATP championships every year from 1988 to ’97 except once; their 1996 final was a classic, five sets of pure power tennis. Even in defeat, the 29-year-old Becker, again booming serves and diving for volleys, went out the way he had come in. — STEPHEN TIGNOR  

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS:
> Won six major titles
> Finished in the Top 10 in 11 of 16 seasons
> Led Germany to two Davis Cup titles and had a 38-3 Cup singles record  

Serena WilliamsSERENA WILLIAMS
Photo by Mark J. Terill/Corbis


Serena Williams is an amazing tennis player. You may have forgotten this in the face of her extracurricular activities (her clothing company, her TV appearances, the self-help book for teenage girls that she wrote with her sister Venus). Even in her own eyes, Serena’s no longer a player but a brand, an empire, or as she puts it, “a global icon.” But it would be a shame if the glitz ultimately overshadows the game. At 23, Williams already has seven Grand Slam singles titles. After winning the 2003 Australian Open, she joined Margaret Court, Martina Navratilova, and Steffi Graf as the only women in the Open era to own all four majors at once. Williams, of course, had a razzle-dazzle name for her accomplishment: the “Serena Slam.” Even more impressive was that each of those four wins came against her big sister. Not only did Williams have to contend with the myriad pressures that come with a major final, she had to overcome them against the one player who knows her game better than anyone else. Watching the psychodramas that unfolded on the court often made you cringe, but in the end you could only marvel at the way Williams went for the jugular and combined superior footwork with nuclear-grade ground strokes to beat her sister and reserve her place among tennis’ immortals. The “Serena Slam” is Williams’ most powerful statement because she let her racquet do the talking.  —JAMES MARTIN  

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS:
> Has won seven major titles
> Finished the year No. 1 in 2002
> Has lost before the quarterfinals in a major once since the ’99 U.S. Open

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