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Top 100 greatest tennis players determined by Tennis Channel - An analysis

The Tennis Channel has given rankings to the tennis players who, in the opinion of its analysts, are the best players of all time, and has published the list of the top 100 players. Perhaps predictably, Roger Federer was announced as the top player of all time, followed by Rod Laver at No.2 and Steffi Graf at No.3. While such a ranking may appease the fans of these players, I do not understand the rationale that prompted the channel to hand out ratings like this. In my humble opinion, the ratings lack any meaning. Let me explain my viewpoint as to why such rankings should not be carried out.

The channel has considered both the sexes together in rating the top 100 individual players. But when men play only men and women play only women, how can men and women be grouped together in an all-time greats list? In majors, men play best of five setters and the women play best of three. The style and pace of men is entirely different from that of women. Ranking Steffi Graf as No.3 with Roger Federer as No.1 has no meaning. Instead, if there was a separate ranking for women, then Steffi could have been ranked no.1.

I was searching for players such as Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and Ivan Lendl inside the top 10 but to my dismay all of them are ranked outside top 10. While it is true that not all players can find their place in the top 10, tennis fans of the 1980′s and the early 1990′s have every reason to ask why their idols were left out of the top echelon.

I believe players of different eras cannot be compared in any sport. That’s even truer in the case of tennis, as there is a vast difference in the type of racquets used by the players from these different eras. When you look at the racquets that players use nowadays vis-a-vis the ones used by players of yesteryear, you wonder how players of the past and the present can be compared at all.

Personally, I agree with Roger Federer being ranked No.1 considering the sort of records he holds, courtesy his all-round play and consistency. But that’s just the Federer fan in me talking. If you are a Laver or a Borg fan, you would not agree with this assessment in the slightest. Such type of ratings can only serve to anger tennis fans because each one of them has his or her own favourites.

The style of play in the 1960′s was not the same as that in the 1970′s; the style of play in the 1970′s was not the same as that in the 1980′s; the style of play in the 1980′s was not the same as the style of play of the 1990′s, and so on and so forth. During the 1980′s, players like Becker and Edberg used to play the serve and volley game, while in the 1990′s people like Rafter, Sampras and Stich served hard and fast, always being on the lookout to rush to the net and put away short balls. But today, the serve and volley game is almost dead and buried and not many use this style of play nowadays. The players of the present are good baseliners who can manufacture passing shots at will if someone approaches the net.

You can never imagine what would be the result if Boris Becker and Edberg were to play players like Djokovic or Nadal. Maybe the current players would ridicule the serve and volley game of the greats by striking crisp passing shots, or maybe the volley players would neutralize the passing shots of the baseliners by forcing errors out of them through the sheer intimidation factor of approaching the net so frequently. There is simply no way to conclude one way or another.

Nowadays, the players play with pure power in their shots, constantly trying to out-muscle their opponents, while some have serves which easily cross the 200 kmph mark. During the older days, we never got to see such power as the players played with elegance and technique; aces did not win games for them, but finesse and skill did.

If you go four decades back, players used to play longer matches, especially if both the players were good at serving. There was no tie-breaker in those times. Thanks to Van Alen, who introduced the tie-breaker, our current players are able to finish the matches in relatively quicker time. Which again reinforces the unfairness of comparing players in tennis from different eras.

Moreover, the players nowadays get to challenge the line calls of linesmen which more often than not are proved wrong by the “hawk eye” system. This facility was not there previously and players of earlier eras had to accept the calls that went against them. The matches could have been won or lost by players as a result of human blunders.

There were some hard-fought rivalries in tennis like, say, Steffi vs Seles, Steffi vs Sanchez-Vicario and so on. Now we can see Steffi finding her place inside the top 10 but the other two ladies are nowhere close her. Likewise, in men’s singles we used to follow the Sampras vs Agassi and Sampras vs Rafter rivalries with great excitement. Again, we can see Sampras in the top 10 but we find the other two ranked well outside the top 10. This type of ranking has no logic at all. When you call two people as rivals it only means they had fought some close battles and both of them were equally talented or at least close to equally talented. So when one of the rivals of the rivalries is is given one ranking and the other is miles away, it just goes to show that these rankings lack any sort of reality.

So, in a game in which the formats for the two sexes are different, the styles of the players in every decade keep on changing, the rules themselves are constantly being modified and the racquets the players use are perpetually being revolutionized, it is impossible to find out who the top 100 greatest players of all time are. Even if someone comes up with a formula, as Tennis Channel claims to have done, it would only be an exercise in futility to convince the tennis fans who have someone else in their mind as their all-time favourite.

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