In an individual sport such as tennis, many players have stood out as icons of the game. Not only have they won a ton of championships, but they become household names that transcend the sport.
Below is a list of 10 of the most iconic tennis players in the game. They are necessarily the five best men and the five best women, but people will remember them for a very long time past their prime.
1. Roger Federer
As Roger Federer nears the end of his playing career, he will be remembered as one of the game’s true icons. He had one of the most dominant runs in history, and he is still competing after the age of 40. It helps that he has all the Grand Slam titles, but many people love everything from his style to his fashion.
Federer has that perfect blend of modern tennis and a bit of classic movement thrown in. He hits the ball with consistency, and is one of the rare modern players to use a one-handed backhand. He always moves around gracefully when on the court, and that has allowed him to really shine.
2. Rafael Nadal
The King of Clay is another player who is currently on tour, but will go down as one of the icons of the sport. He came along a few years after Federer, but they quickly became one of the top rivalries the game has ever seen.
His ability to dominate on clay tells only part of the story, as he evolved into one of the greats by playing well on other surfaces as well.
The competitive spirit of Nadal is what many will remember for a very long time. He’s one of those players that is never truly out of the game, as he is always competing to win every single point.
Personality also plays a role in his popularity, as he’s one of the most universally beloved players in the game’s history (even by fans of his rivals).
3. Novak Djokovic
The popularity of Novak Djokovic is not nearly at the same level of Federer or Nadal, but that doesn’t mean that he is without fans. It’s looking more and more likely that he will go down as the greatest player ever to play tennis, hoisting up the most Grand Slam trophies as well.
There is virtually no weakness to Djokovic’s game, which is part of the reason why he has been able to have so much success on every surface. He had some issues at the beginning of his career as far as injuries are concerned, but he is now as durable as ever.
It seems like he still has quite a few years left at the top of the game, which is scary to think about, considering he has so many Grand Slam titles already. He’s also part of the explosion of tennis in Serbia and other Eastern European countries that did not pay as much attention to tennis in the past.
4. John McEnroe
People can debate whether or not John McEnroe is one of the best of the best ever to play tennis, but there’s no denying that he is memorable and iconic. He defined a generation of tennis with not only his play, but his outbursts. He had one of the best personalities to grow the game of tennis, and it transcended the sport in general.
Some of his actions actually became more of a negative than a positive initially, but at the same time, they brought some level of notoriety to tennis.
Maybe some of his contemporaries like Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors had more talent, but McEnroe is the guy that everyone seems to remember. It helps that he is also still involved in the game as one of the top commentators for big events.
5. Andre Agassi
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, companies started to figure out just how marketable athletes, in general, could be. Andre Agassi became not only the face of Nike and a rebellious line of clothing for tennis, but he also became an icon on the court. He had some of the qualities that McEnroe brought to the table, but he did things his own way as well.
What makes him so endearing is that he had a rise to the top, fell on hard times, and then made a comeback. He was able to show that he could bounce back in many ways, making him a living legend.
6. Serena Williams
Serena Williams will ultimately go down as the most talked-about female tennis player in the sport’s history. She also might just happen to be the best of all time, as her statistics certainly show that she is at least in the discussion.
To start with, her entire playing career is thanks to a truly inspirational story, as she and her sister were able to grow up in Compton and turn into players who were world talents. They burst on the scene and played the game in a different way, and they quickly showed that they were capable of winning Grand Slam titles.
She’s a celebrity off the tennis court as well, showing that she can dabble in a bunch of different things and make an impact. Whether it’s fashion, investing in sports teams, or anything else, Williams will be very active for years after her playing days are over. Not bad for someone who also just happens to have 23 Grand Slam singles titles to her name.
7. Venus Williams
Serena might be the more recognized Williams sister, but Venus is part of the story as well. She has had a very successful professional career in her own right, hoisting seven Grand Slam singles titles of her own.
She hasn’t had as many controversies surrounding her as Serena, and she has been a vocal proponent of allowing women to earn the same type of money as men at events. Like her sister, she also has shown that she is very into fashion and being more than just a tennis player.
8. Steffi Graf
Out of the 10 to make this list, Steffi Graf was probably the least polarizing player to make the list. She didn’t exactly talk a lot or make a big splash as far as marketability is concerned, but her winning spoke in many ways.
She finished her career with 22 Grand Slam singles titles, and in 1988, she became the only tennis player ever to win all four major titles and an Olympic gold medal in the same year.
As a dominant player of her generation, she solidified her position on this list thanks in some part to her marriage. She is the wife of Andre Agassi, and they have remained part of the tennis world because of that.
9. Billie Jean King
All these years later, Billie Jean King might be the winner of the most famous tennis match in the sport’s history. Even though it was only an exhibition, her Battle of the Sexes tennis match against Bobby Riggs was seen as an iconic moment for women’s rights in the 1970s. She was able to beat Riggs, and that ultimately helped launch more equality across not only sports, but the world.
Her success on the court only tells part of her story. Yes, she won 12 singles titles, 16 women’s doubles, and 11 mixed doubles at Grand Slam Events, but she’s also an advocate for so many things throughout her career. She founded the Women’s Tennis Association and Women’s Sports Foundation, and is seen as a pioneer to this day.
10. Martina Navratilova
The professional approach of Martina Navratilova is one that many players admire to this day. The lefty from Czechoslovakia won 18 grand slam singles titles, 31 major women’s doubles titles, and 10 major mixed doubles titles. She also found a way to play for a very long time, which allowed her to compile a lot of great statistics.
Although she didn’t play as big of a role as King in growing the game, she still helped make it what it is today. She’s a long supporter of equal pay in tennis tournaments, and she lets her opinion be well-known as she commentates matches to this day.