Until the mid-1950s, Bill Tilden was generally considered the greatest player ever, his only rivals being Vines, Budge, and Kramer. For much of the 1950s and 1960s, many thought Gonzales had claimed that title. Since then, first Laver, then more recently Borg, McEnroe, and Sampras, were widely regarded by many of their contemporaries as the greatest ever. Roger Federer is now considered by many observers to have the most “complete” game in modern tennis, with the potential to challenge the achievements of these past greats. Even among experts, however, no consensus exists as to who has been the greatest of all. Kramer, for instance, still believes that Budge was the best ever on a consistent basis, while Vines was the best at the top of his game. Segura opts for Gonzales, and Gonzales himself considered Hoad, at the height of his game, to be the best.
It frequently appears to be the case when trying to decide who is the best of all time that comptemporaries over-value the worth of great players of their own time. Each time that a great new player such as Tilden, Vines, Budge, Kramer, or Gonzales came on the scene and dominated it for several years, many observers at that time would then declare him to be the best of all time. A clear example of this occurred in early 1986 when Inside Tennis, a magazine edited in Northern California, devoted parts of four issues to a lengthy article called “Tournament of the Century”, an imaginary tournament to determine the greatest of all time. They asked 37 tennis notables such as Kramer, Budge, Perry, and Riggs and observers such as Bud Collins to list the 10 greatest players in order. This was probably as prestigious and knowledgeable a group of tennis experts as has ever been assembled. Nevertheless, there appears to be a clear predilection for choosing their near-contemporaries as the best player ever.
Twenty-five players in all were named by the 37 experts in their lists of the 10 best. The magazine then ranked them in descending order by total number of points assigned. The top eight players in overall points, with their number of first-place votes, were: Rod Laver (9), John McEnroe (3), Don Budge (4), Jack Kramer (5), Bjorn Borg (6), Pancho Gonzales (1), Bill Tilden (6), and Lew Hoad (1). McEnroe was still an active player and Laver, Borg, and Gonzales had only recently retired. In the imaginary tournament Laver beat McEnroe in the finals in 5 sets.
Among the women, Lenglen and Wills Moody vie for the distinction of greatest of all time, along with several modern players: Court, Navratilova, Evert, Graf, and Seles.
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