The 10 Best Tennis Players from the 1970s

Venus Williams once said that tennis is mostly mental, and you win or lose even before you get on the court. Novak Djokovic seemed to agree because he said he wanted the same thing since turning seven years old – to be number one, and he did become world number one. Many players have come and gone, but there will always be those who will never be forgotten. Among the best 1970s tennis players of all time, here are ten.

10. Evonne Goolagong

Goolagong made a name for herself and Indigenous Australians when they were still not welcome to play the sport. Thankfully, a coach visiting a local tennis clinic in the early 1960s noticed young Goolagong’s talent. She received professional coaching in Sydney and became the Australian junior champion in 1970. She defeated Evert in 1980, going down in history as the first mother to win Wimbledon.

9. Margaret Court Smith

Smith never thought she would one day be involved in tennis because no one in her family was interested in the sport. Yet, Smith is one among five players in the history of tennis to win a Grand Slam title in two categories. She is the only player to bag three calendar-year Grand Slam titles. Still, another legend, Frank Sedgeman, had foreseen Smith’s talent. When the female tennis player was only thirteen, Sedgeman witnessed her talent and told her she could be the first Australian female to win Wimbledon.

8. Ilie Nastase

Nastase was ranked the world’s No. 1 tennis player in singles in 1973 and 1974. He was introduced to tennis through his father’s job as a groundsman at a tennis club. The player admitted tennis was not popular in Romania back then, so there were not many courts for him to practice. He began playing on the tennis tour at 20 but still managed to show promise in the game.

According to Express, Manuel Santana told Nastase in 1967 that he would be the future number one, and the prophecy came to pass. After retiring at 38, the tennis player ventured into politics and won a seat in the senate in 2014.

7. Guillermo Vilas

Although he was never acclaimed as a No. 1 in the world ranking, it is alleged that it was due to a miscalculation of the ATP rankings. ATP failed to update weekly rankings, so even when Vilas beat Connors severally in one season, it was never recognized. Instead, he climbed to No. 2 on the world ranking, but according to recalculated rankings, Vilas should have been number 1 for seven weeks.

Regardless of the oversight, it is clear that the Argentinian was a force to reckon with in the 1970s. He won four Grand Slam titles and had a 53-match winning streak on clay courts, a feat only Rafael Nadal has managed to beat.

6. Billie Jean King

King aspired to be a preacher having been raised in a religious family. However, her parents encouraged her and her brother to be active in sports. Thus, Jean became involved in softball until a school friend introduced her to tennis. At the time, tennis was a privilege for those who could access country clubs. Luckily, there was free coaching in public courts, so Jean began taking classes.

She won her first championship at 14 and in 1961 on the Wimbledon doubles, yet it was her first attempt. In 1972 Jean became the first woman in Sports Illustrated as the Sportsperson of The Year.

5. John Newcombe

To have a medal named after you is no mean feat so you can only imagine how great of a player Newcombe was. The John Newcombe medal is awarded to the most outstanding Australian tennis player every year. The tennis player was ranked No.1 in the world in both singles and doubles where he won a total of 26 grand slam titles. He won his first doubles with sparring partner Tony Riche in 1965.

It was only befitting that when he finally retired from the tennis court in 2004, he teamed up again with Riche for one last match at the All England Club. Newcombe even served as the President of the Association of Tennis Professionals for two years – 1978 and 1979.

4. Martina Navratilova

Born in Prague in 1956, Navratilova soon showed her prowess in tennis as a teenager when she won her first professional singles title at 18 years old. The teenager then told US government officials she wanted to defect from Czechoslovakia.

Thus, she was given a green card, and in 1981, Navratilova became a US citizen. She made impressive strides in her career, becoming the first woman to win $1 million in a single season and the first tennis player to earn $10 million in her career.

3. Chris Evert

Evert was the female version of Borg; thus, she was nicknamed the “Ice Maiden” due to her calm demeanor even when she lost. According to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Jimmy Evert ingrained muscle memory in his daughter when she was five years old. She developed a flawless two-handed backhand that was envied by tennis players during her time. Evert became the first player to win 1,000 single matches and between 1974 and 1986, she won 18 grand slam titles. The legendary player also became the first female player to acquire $1 million in prize money in 1976.

2. Jimmy Connors

Connors fell in love with tennis as a young boy thanks to his mother who was a tennis player herself. She introduced her son to the game and by the time Connors turned nine, Connors began competing at the national level. Pancho Segura mentored the young boy so he could turn pro and Connors dropped out of UCLA to play tennis professionally. He is recognized as the first male tennis player in the Open Era to hold a top world ranking for over five years.

1. Bjorn Borg

Borg was reputed as “Ice Man,” because according to 80s Casual Classics, even when he was two sets down, he maintained his cool. The legend began playing tennis as a child after his father won a tennis racket in a ping pong tournament. In 1973, Born turned pro, becoming the youngest person to ever win the Italian Open. At 20, he was among the youngest players to win at Wimbledon without losing a set.

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