Who is the Greatest Male Tennis Player of All Time?

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A Brief History

On February 2, 2004, Swiss tennis champion Roger Federer ascended to the #1 ranking in the World, a position he would hold for 237 consecutive weeks, an all-time record.  He would go on to be the #1 male tennis pro for a total of 310 weeks, again, a number unmatched by any other male tennis star.  The ranking of tennis professional players by the Association of Tennis Professionals’ (ATP) is but one measure of the greatness of Roger Federer.  Perhaps his record number of 20 Grand Slam titles is an even better indication of his dominance over a long period of time.  (Note: Rafael Nadal is #2 on the list of career Grand Slam Men’s Singles winners with 17 Championships.  Margaret Court is the Grand Slam Women’s Singles all-time champ with an incredible 24 Grand Slam titles.)

Digging Deeper

Federer, born in Basel, Switzerland in 1981, broke into the top ranks of Men’s tennis in 2002 when he became a top 10 player, a familiar area for Roger as he would remain in the top 10 continuously through 2016.  In 2017 he broke back into the top 10 and currently ranks #6 in the world.  Only 8 men have won the “Grand Slam” of tennis championships, meaning Wimbledon, The US Open, The French Open and The Australian Open, and of course Roger is one of them.  In fact, he has won a record 8 Men’s Singles Wimbledon titles and a record 5 consecutive Men’s Singles US Open titles.  Perhaps even more impressively, Roger Federer has been named as the Sportsmanship Award winner an incredible 13 times, including the most recent (2018 at the time this article is written).  Another record among his accomplishments is winning the BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year award 4 times, more than anyone else.  Primarily considered a singles player, Federer has compiled an incredible won-lost record of 1183–261 (81.93%).  His record in doubles play is excellent, but not quite as impressive with a record of 129–89 (59.17%).

Roger Federer serving in the 2009 Wimbledon final.  Photograph by Squeaky Knees from Cornwall, UK.

Federer has also competed at the Olympic Games, winning the Gold Medal in 2008 for the Doubles event and the Silver Medal in 2012 for Men’s Singles.  He has also won team championship events, notably the 2014 Davis Cup and the Hopman Cup in 2001, 2018 and 2019.

Roger was born in the German speaking part of Switzerland (there is no “Swiss” language, they speak German, French, or Italian depending on the region) of a Swiss-German father and a mother from South Africa of Afrikaner (Dutch) heritage.  Of course, Roger was active in many sports while growing up, and was excused from compulsory military service, being allowed to serve in the civil protection force instead, while paying a fee of 3% of his income.  He has been married since 2009 to former tennis pro Miroslava Vavrinec, a Slovak tennis pro that retired in 2002 due to foot injuries.  The happy couple has had 2 sets of identical twins, girls in 2009 and boys in 2014.

Mirka Federer with her husband Roger Federer during the 2012 Olympics.  Photograph by Carine06.

Federer has used his wealth and fame to support philanthropical pursuits, including helping children in South Africa and raising money for disaster relief in the United States after Hurricane Katrina.  He also raised money in support of those affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, among other notable natural disasters.  Roger has frequently staged exhibition events with his fellow tennis pros to raise money for charity and has established his own Roger Federer Foundation to contribute to humanitarian pursuits.

A professional since age 17 in 1998, Roger Federer has compiled a stellar record as a men’s singles tennis player, but perhaps an even greater record as a philanthropist and humanitarian during a time when some of the other tennis stars were known for their temper tantrums and egos.  In our estimation, his on and off the court record together make Roger Federer the Greatest Male Tennis Player of All Time.  Do you agree?

Federer won a record 17th Major, a record-equaling 7th Wimbledon, and returned to No. 1.  Photograph by Robbie Dale.

Questions for Students (and others):  Do you play tennis?  Have you ever watched a professional tennis match?  Who is your favorite tennis player?  Who do you believe are the best male and female tennis players in history?

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Fest, Sebastian. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal: The Lives and Careers of Two Tennis Legends. Skyhorse, 2018.

[AMAZONPRODUCTS asin=”1510710167″]

Hodgkinson, Mark. Fedegraphica: A Graphic Biography of the Genius of Roger Federer: Updated edition. Aurum Press, 2018.

[AMAZONPRODUCTS asin=”1781317585″]

The featured image in this article, a photograph by IsaacMao of Federer at the 2004 US Open from https://www.flickr.com/photos/isaacmao/418132/in/photolist-s4iRgc-s69VdY-39ib-36kG-mukxA, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.  This image was originally posted to Flickr by IsaacMao at https://flickr.com/photos/51035702460@N01/418132. It was reviewed on  by FlickreviewR and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.