Saturday, March 24, 2012

The 100 Greatest Players? (Umm, yes and no.)

On Friday night, Tennis Channel completed its countdown of the "The 100 Greatest Players of All Time." While every list of this sort has arguments built into it, especially one that includes both men and women players, for the most part, the rankings have merit.

Of course, that doesn't mean there aren't some things -- a few minor, and at least one major -- that can't be debated.

Here are the lists, grouped by Tennis Channel's individual programs, with a few comments on the players involved:

green - players active in 2012

70. Patrick Rafter, AUS
71. Maria Sharapova, RUS
72. Gottfried von Cramm, GER
73. Jaroslav Drobny, CZE
74. Tony Roche, AUS
75. Pauline Betz, USA
76. William Renshaw, GBR
77. Molla Mallory Bjurstedt, NOR/USA
78. Ashley Cooper, AUS
79. Gabriela Sabatini, ARG
80. Marat Safin, RUS
81. Vic Seixas, USA
82. Yevgeny Kafelnikov, RUS
83. Jan Kodes, CZE
84. Norman Brookes, AUS
85. Yannick Noah, FRA
86. Tony Wilding, NZL
87. Mary Pierce, FRA
88. Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
89. Dorothea Lambert Chambers, GBR
90. Bill Johnston, USA
91. Shirley Fry, USA
92. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
93. Nicola Pietrangeli, ITA
94. Andy Roddick, USA
95. Thomas Muster, AUT
96. Manuel Orantes, ESP
97. Pat Cash, AUS
98. Henry "Bunny" Austin, GBR
99. Ann Haydon-Jones, GBR
100. Michael Chang, USA

...first off, while I get that someone might have thought that it'd be a "neat" idea to have players considered the best ever in other sports -- Jack Nicklaus, Jerry Rice, Carl Lewis, Lisa Leslie & Wayne Gretzky -- host Tennis Channel's "100 Greatest" programs, one has to wonder why it didn't dawn on someone else that it makes it look as if the producers of the episodes were trying to "elevate" tennis, by association, to the level of those other sports, rather than assume that anyone who was actually watching didn't need to be convinced. Really, as soon as the video came in of Lewis calling Wimbledon "Wimbleton" the whole idea should have been shelved... or at least someone should have decided that, since further insult to those associated with tennis wasn't necessary, maybe the clip where a host refers to the sport's most famous tournament by the wrong name should have been edited out of the final product. Just a thought. Unfortunately, though, one that wasn't recognized by anyone that mattered. The whole thing was just an unnecessary aggravation, I think. By the time we got to Leslie and Gretzky, I wasn't even listening anymore.

Now, about the actual list...

Any thumbnail sketch of #97 Pat Cash's career is incomplete without mentioning how injuries bedeviled his prospects. Same goes for him being the first player to climb into the stands -- an act that's now become something of a tradition -- on Centre Court after his slam title win at Wimbledon. Neither made it into his segment, though. Meanwhile, Pierce finishes ahead of countrywoman Mauresmo? They're close, but it seems to be that Mauresmo being the only one of the pair to reach #1 should have inched her ahead.

Now, of course I have to make my pitch for Jana Novotna's inclusion on this list. Before any of the list was revealed, it was mostly just a "wish" that she make the cut. But after seeing some of the players who made it over her, now I feel it's a worthy issue to gripe about. #85 Yannick Noah makes the list, but Novotna doesn't? Now, I was Noah fan. I could have easily slipped him in somewhere on the All-Backspin Team's lower echelon. He, like Novotna, only won one slam singles crown. But while Novotna reached three other slam finals (+5 SF), Noah never reached another semifinal at a major. Novotna added sixteen slams Doubles and Mixed crowns (Noah had one), and while the Frenchman reached a high ranking of #3, Novotna was #2 in singles and #1 in doubles. But even if Noah's rock star status gives him a free pass, that Michael Chang came in at #100 over Novotna is a bit absurd. The fourth-best player (at best, as Todd Martin, though he never won a slam, was arguably his equal or better) in the last great American generation of players (behind Sampras, Agassi & Courier), Chang's only real reason for consideration on this list is his '89 Roland Garros win. But that astounding run as a 17-year old was something of a fluke, to be honest, as the rest of his career attested. I saw all and can remember both of their careers, and Novotna was far more deserving of the last-over-the-finish-line #100 spot than Chang.

41. Guillermo Vilas, ARG
42. Jim Courier, USA
43. Lindsay Davenport, USA
44. Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, ESP
45. Kim Clijsters, BEL
46. Henri Cochet, FRA
47. Jean Borotra, FRA
48. Frank Sedgman, AUS
49. Ilie Nastase, ROU
50. Tony Trabert, USA
51. Doris Hart, USA
52. Jack Crawford, AUS
53. Tracy Austin, USA
54. Manuel Santana, ESP
55. Gustavo Kuerten, BRA
56. Stan Smith, USA
57. Jennifer Capriati, USA
58. Alice Marble, USA
59. Margaret Osbourne duPont, USA
60. Virginia Wade, GBR
61. Neale Fraser, AUS
62. Hana Mandlikova, CZE
63. Lleyton Hewitt, AUS
64. Ellsworth Vines, USA
65. Pancho Segura, ECU
66. Bobby Riggs, USA
67. Fred Stolle, AUS
68. Helen Jacobs, USA
69. Louise Brough, USA wonders where #45 Clijsters would have ranked on this list had she not had such a strong 2.0 comeback. She might not even have made it onto the list at all. Hmmm, Sharapova is at #71, while Capriati is at #57? I'd say their careers are more comparable than those rankings suggest, and that Sharapova -- with wins at three different slams, and a longer, more consistent career -- maybe should come in the higher of the two. I'd put Capriati somewhere ahead of #92 Kuznetsova... maybe just behind #80 Safin.

Kuerten at #55 seems a tad high, though he WAS great fun.

Not that I'm sticking up only for All-Backspin Team members, but I think Hana Mandlikova is grossly underranked at #62. Really, Capriati comes in higher? Hardly. Remember, Mandlikova managed to carve out more slam wins (4 to 3) than Capriati -- and she was playing in the thick of the Navratilova/Evert era! She reached two Wimbledon finals, with a chance to complete a career slam, while Capriati won all three of her major titles (at two different slams) over a twelve-month span.

21. Boris Becker, GER
22. Venus Williams, USA
23. Fred Perry, GBR
24. Suzanne Lenglen, FRA
25. Stefan Edberg, SWE
26. Justine Henin, BEL
27. Maureen Connolly, USA
28. Arthur Ashe, USA
29. Helen Wills Moody, USA
30. Martina Hingis, SUI
31. John Newcombe, AUS
32. Lew Hoad, AUS
33. Mats Wilander, SWE
34. Jack Kramer, USA
35. Pancho Gonzales, USA
36. Rene Lacoste, FRA
37. Evonne Goolagong, AUS
38. Maria Bueno, BRA
39. Althea Gibson, USA
40. Novak Djokovic, SRB

...Cash's many ancillary quirks were ignored, but at least fellow Aussie #37 Evonne Goolagong's penchant for an occasional "walkabout" wasn't. Neither was #24 Suzanne Lenglen's brandy-sipping during changeovers. And that's a good thing.

No mention of #28 Arthur Ashe's tragic death from AIDS after having contracted HIV through a blood transfusion during heart surgery? Before Magic Johnson's HIV announcement, Ashe was the first major athletic figure to contract the disease. His work in the latter years of his life led to ESPN's annual awards presenting the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in his honor. It seems that at least a mention of all that would have been a good idea. But I guess that Carl Lewis "Wimbleton" comment couldn't be cut to make room.

If you want any better example of good vs. bad timing of birth, look no further than the fact that Martina Hingis is #30, while Andy Roddick is #94. Roddick won his one slam before the Federer Era -- then Rafa/Roger, then Rafa/Roger/Novak ones -- began. Meanwhile, Hingis won all five of her majors before either Williams Sister won a first. Still, even with that, how the hell does Roddick finish just six slots ahead of Chang?

At first, I was a bit peeved that Henin only ranked #26. But considering the players who came in directly ahead of her, I suppose it's a legit slotting.

11. Don Budge, USA
12. Andre Agassi, USA
13. John McEnroe, USA
14. Serena Williams, USA
15. Jimmy Connors, USA
16. Bill Tilden, USA
17. Roy Emerson, AUS
18. Ivan Lendl, CZE
19. Monica Seles, YUG/USA
20. Ken Rosewall, AUS

...#19 Monica Seles (stabbed) and #27 Maureen "Little Mo" Connolly (horse riding accident) prove to provide the biggest "What If?" questions on this list. With full careers, they'd probably have been impossible to keep out of the Top 10.

Some of the last of the ranked Aussies are being sprinkled in right about here in the countdown. Only the U.S. has more players in the Top 100, and it just serves to remind you once again how far Australian tennis has fallen since the 1960s-1970s.

At least Serena Williams didn't finish at #13 (she's had enough trouble with that number), though it's hard to get past the notion that she should be higher than #14. Still, she's ranked ahead of #15 Jimmy Connors, and just behind #12 Andre Agassi and #13 John McEnroe. Good company, nonetheless.

1. Roger Federer, SUI
2. Rod Laver, AUS
3. Steffi Graf, GER
4. Martina Navratilova, CZE/USA
5. Pete Sampras, USA
6. Rafael Nadal, ESP
7. Bjorn Borg, SWE
8. Margaret Smith-Court, AUS
9. Chris Evert, USA
10. Billie Jean King, USA

...hmmm, five men and five women in the Top 10. Considering the vastly higher number of men in the Top 100, you don't think there was some sort of mandate to at least have equal numbers in this final segment of the countdown, do you?

Of course, with players this high up on the historical charts, it'd be easy to shake them up and not have too much of an argument. But I've still got one big one: Steffi Graf should not be ranked ahead of Martina Navratilova.

It's odd how most experts largely agree that Navratilova tops the list of female greats, but she finished behind the German here when so many of them were polled. Thing is, their careers DID overlap, and the mid-to-late 30's Martina was still able to compete with a just-becoming-great Graf in the late 1980's. Graf eventually overtook her, but Father and Mother Time played as much a part in that as the two players did. Graf won more slams -- 22 to 18 -- but never had to contend her entire career with a rival like Navratilova did with Evert, who also claimed 18 majors. Graf's biggest competition, after Navratilova's eventual decline, was Monica Seles. And Seles was beating her like a drum on the big stages before her '93 stabbing. With Seles sidelined, then changed forever, Graf won four slams in a row, then ten of the next thirteen she played -- nearly half her career total. I'm sure Navratilova's numbers would have been far higher if Evert had been stabbed in the back right in the heat of their rivalry. She'd likely have surpassed #8 Margaret Smith-Court's all-time best total of 24 slams. While Navratilova never won an in-season Grand Slam as Graf did, she DID win six straight slams over two seasons at one point, and her mastery of singles, doubles and mixed surely makes her a more well-rounded player than the powerful German.

The kicker to this little ending? Graf, the #1 ranked female on the list, didn't even participate in the interview clips that were used throughout the five-episode series (perhaps because she would have been asked about Seles' stabbing by a Graf fan, I wonder?). It was left to her husband, Andre Agassi, to throw out the fact that Graf had her Golden Slam season (all four slams, plus Olympic Gold) in '88, and that it might be used to put her at the top of the list of women's players. Oddly enough, though, that Rod Laver had two Grand Slam seasons (1962 and '69) didn't enable him to top the list over Federer, who has so far failed to pull off a true Grand Slam (and completed a career slam only when he didn't face Nadal in Paris). While, what with the wiggle room still left for Federer to add to his totals, I can understand the Swiss Mister edging out Laver, I could never say the same for Graf over Navratilova.

But, then again, everyone isn't supposed to agree with everything on lists like these, huh?

**TOP 100...**
[by nation]
38 - United States
17 - Australia
7 - France
6 - Great Britain
4 - Russia
5 - Czech Republic
4 - Spain
3 - Germany
3 - Sweden
2 - Argentina
2 - Belgium
2 - Brazil
2 - Switzerland
1 - Austria
1 - Ecuador
1 - Italy
1 - New Zealand
1 - Norway
1 - Romania
1 - Serbia
1 - Yugoslavia
[by gender]
62 - men
38 - women
[active players - 10]
Kim Clijsters
Novak Djokovic
Roger Federer
Lleyton Hewitt
Svetlana Kuznetsova
Rafael Nadal
Andy Roddick
Maria Sharapova
Serena Williams
Venus Williams
[Top 10 women]
1. Steffi Graf
2. Martina Navratilova
3. Margaret Smith-Court
4. Chris Evert
5. Billie Jean King
6. Serena Williams
7. Monica Seles
8. Venus Williams
9. Suzanne Lenglen
10. Justine Henin
[Top 10 men]
1. Roger Federer
2. Rod Laver
3. Pete Sampras
4. Rafael Nadal
5. Bjorn Borg
6. Don Budge
7. Andre Agassi
8. John McEnroe
9. Jimmy Connors
10. Bill Tilden

All for now.


Blogger susan said...

Stefan Edberg should have been in the top 10-15 players of all time. Wholesale Cheap Jerseys

Mon Mar 26, 03:18:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

i totally agree with you that mauresmo behind pierce was kind of strange. i also thought lleyton hewitt was kind of high on the list...especially considering andy roddick was so low...i mean andy/marat/lleyton should have been batched together around 80.


i think they could have also added a column on playing years...just so we could also analyze which generation was the strongest...or had the most depth. I realize that's hard to do with players overlapping...but to look at a period of time (1997 - 2002, for example), you could say that there are 10 players in the top 100 vs from 1980 - 1985, there are only 7...(I'm making those numbers up)...

i know it's hard and pointless to compare players from different eras, but I was just mulling over how it could be achieved...


I don't really understand why they batched the men and women together...


Todd, did you see Venus play? Her tennis wasn't great, but I haven't seen this much "want"....i don't think ever...(maybe besdies WIM 05)...wouldn't it have been great to see this more often throughout the rest of her career? She didn't even know what the score was (according to her presser)...she was just fighting for every was moving stuff...

she also looks great...her body/fitness and her fashion really stood out...

did you see the match v. kvitova? i couldnt find a i didn't know if venus won that or kvitova kind of lost control...

Mon Mar 26, 01:57:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

I didn't see the Venus/Kvitova match, but they were talking on TC about how well VW played in the 3rd. With Kvitova, though, who knows?

Well, I think Venus has always played without thinking about the score, though. That's sort of how the whole "wrong score" error happened between her and Sprem at Wimbledon a good while back.

Well, Venus has got SW19 and the Olympics on Centre Court in her sights... so she's got a decided goal right now and, after last year, she knows it might be her last big run at a title(s). If she can hold off injury, she'll make things VERY interesting on the grass.

They did list active years on the screen for the TC broadcasts. I started to record the numbers, but when I realized that they counted Noah's "active" years as including his time as France's Davis Cup coach (long after his last slam match), I scrapped the idea of keeping track.

Mon Mar 26, 03:08:00 PM EDT  

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