The greatest male tennis player of the last 50 years: the fans’ verdict

Novak Djokovic was hoping to defend his Wimbledon title this weekend. Instead, he is at home recovering from Covid-19. It may be some time until the world’s best players are reunited at a grand slam. So, for now, we have to content ourselves with reminiscing about their past glories.

This week we have been analysing the best male players of the past 50 years. Our writers made the case for Djokovic, Pete Sampras, Rafael Nadal, Bjorn Borg and Roger Federer. Now it’s time for the readers to offer their verdict. More than 1,500 of you have been in touch and you have a clear favourite. Time and time again you wrote to us to extol his virtues, not just his record of 20 grand slam titles but also his elegance on the court and class off it.

Federer’s two great contemporaries, Nadal and Djokovic, were also popular with readers, as were some of the greats of yesteryear, with John McEnroe, Rod Laver, Andre Agassi, Boris Becker and Jimmy Connors all having their backers. Thanks to everyone who took part.

Above all, though, is his longevity. As the big hitters such as Nadal and Juan Martín del Potro came to the fore, Federer knew he would have to concentrate on closing off points at the earliest possible opportunity. When the best returners in the game, Andy Murray and Djokovic, entered the fray, he had to find the impossible angles to ensure they had no reply. Their challenges have only strengthened his game. And he does all this while continuing to have the most stylish groundstrokes the game has ever been. Don’t even get me started on his attire. The man has brought style back to tennis. If he started wearing a top hat, the whole world would follow suit.

I remember the first time I saw him play, against Xavier Malisse at Wimbledon in 2001. We stumbled across the match on Court 13 and, as he came through in five sets, I remember my mother and I looking at each other, knowing he could be quite good. Without a doubt my favourite memory of watching him play has to be the Australian Open final against Nadal in 2017.

Six months earlier I had been heartbroken as I was sure Federer’s back injury would prevent him from playing competitively again. But after two incredible five-setters against Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka, he produced an incredible finale under the floodlights. Federer gave us the fairytale comeback every tennis fan was surely praying for. And who better to share the stage with but his friend and nemesis Nadal, who has had his own injury woes. I thought that might be the last time we would see these two giants perform at such incredible heights, but they have kept proving me wrong, reaching final after final.

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