Greg's top ten Americans (Eurosport)
Greg's top ten Americans
In 2003, Pete Sampras returned to the scene of his final triumph to call it quits. The tears he shed on the Arthur Ashe court of Flushing Meadows made our own Grégory Lanzenberg ponder Pete's place in the pantheon of U.S. greats. Sampras the greatest of all time? See if you agree.
Since the beginning of the Open era in 1968 Americans have dominated, winning 50 Grand Slams titles and holding the top spot in the men's rankings to what adds up to 21 years, more than all other countries combined.
One of the most flamboyant players of his day, it seems astounding that the long blond curled wonder only won one grand slam, the Australian Open in 1977. The only one of his day to master all surfaces, his most memorable matches include an incredible 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 8-6 loss to Bjorn Borg that same year. His tragic death from carbon monoxide poisoning in 1994 cut short at 40 the life of a true American great.
The tall Californian was the first player with real character on the court as he would joke with the crowd all the time. After graduating with a finance degree from the University of Southern California, Smith embarked on an impressive career, with an 11 year-run in the Davis Cup beginning in 1968. He won two Grand Slams, the US Open in 1971 and Wimbledon in 1972.
At 17, the diminuitive Chang won the hearts of the French: his heroic 1989 Roland Garros triumph included wins over Ivan Lendl in a dramatic Last 16 match encounter and Stefan Edberg. The Chinese-American became the first of generation to win a grand slam.
It is too soon to know if Andy Roddick will be able to match the Grand Slams records of the other Americans on this list, however the fiesty Nebraska native delivered in 2003! At 21 years, 2 months, he became the youngest American to become world number one. His incredible August with wins in Indianapolis, the Canada Masters, Cincinnati Masters, U.S. Open are unprecedented.
In the early 90s, the tall red-head tore up the circuit with the fiercest forehand in tennis. Courier won Roland Garros in 1991 and 92 and the Australian Open in 92 and 93. He may have even hit the ball too hard, admitting after his second French Open win that he had a dead arm.
From his childhood in segregated Richmond, Virginia, Arthur Ashe earned a scholarship to UCLA and went on to become the first black American to win a grand slam. His wins at the US Open in1968, the Australian 1970, and Wimbledon 1975 evoke memories of an amazingly graceful player. But never were Ashe's victories and challenges limited to the tennis court. He was instrumental in the founding of the Junior Tennis Association, which to this day introduces the game to young athletes who otherwise might not be exposed to tennis.
Moreover, Ashe and several other players formed in 1969 what later became known as the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals). It is from this small and visionary beginning that today's top players enjoy the large sums of prize money for which they compete. His last battle possibly became his greatest. Contracting Aids through a blood transfusion, he tirelessly worked to increase awareness of the pandemic up to his death in 1993.
1977. An obnoxious teenager from New York City with long hair and a bandana pushes Jimmy Connors to the limit before succombing in the semi-finals at Wimbledon. No one would forget John McEnroe after that. Wimbledon would be memorable for the man that the tabloids dubbed 'The Brat': In the 1980 match of the century, McEnroe stretched Bjorn Borg to the limit before1-6 7-5 6-3 6-7 8-6. The All-England Club also bore witness to some of his more unforgettable outbursts, including the famed "you're the pits" tirade against a chair umpire.
But the game of this skinny, not particularly athletic left-hander with his unorthodox serve, was pure genious. He served-and-volleyed his way to seven Slams: Wimbledon 81, 83, and 84 and the U.S. Open in 79,80,81 and 84. Matches seemed to inevitably follow the same scenario, Mc Enroe losing his cool with a "you cannot be serious, you j...." and then the match would turn to his favour.
'Jimbo' may not have the skills of McEnroe but his will to win - or rather his hatred of losing - made him with Mc Enroe the most charismatic player of the 1980s. Connors' longevity may never be rivaled: his 20 year career ended in 1993 at 43 years old after 109 titles including 8 grand Slams. Connors enjoys the distinction of being the only player to ever win the U.S. Open on three different surfaces - grass - 1974, Clay - 1976, hardcourt - 1978, 82, 83. Add to this two Wimbledon titles in 74 and 82 and the Australian in 74.
Connors always fought to death. Take Wimbledon 1987: Connors was playing a fierce Michael Pernfors who led 6-1 6-1 5-2 and Jimbo manage to win the match at 36 years old. Even slower and older, Connors still had fire in the belly such as during one of his last French Opens in 1991 where the Illinois native won the first point of the fifth set against Michael Chang before retiring due to cramps and exhaustion.
Of the same generation as Chang, the Vegas Kid burst onto the world stage in similar fashion, storming into the semis at Roland Garros at the age of 18, but had to wait four more years before winning Wimbledon in 1992 against all expectations. Like McEnroe needed Connors or Borg to play at his best, Agassi needed a rival to bring out the best in him. No points for guessing who that rival would most often be. Agassi is the only active player today to have won all four majors.
After tasting glory, he would sink through injury to 141st in the world. Determined to return, Agassi came back from playing satellite tournaments stronger, and fitter than ever to win Roland Garros in 1999. Reduced to tears, he would blurt that nothing would ever rival the emotion of that win. But he wasn't done yet. Three Australian Open titles have since followed in 2000, 2001 and 2003 as well as the 1999 U.S Open. In 2003, at 33, Agassi became the oldest-ever world number one.
Pistol Pete go down in history as the best American player who ever wielded a tennis racquet. His seven Wimbledon titles, 5 U.S. Opens and 2 Australian Opens are marked by the trials and tribulations that he endured along the way. At the 1995 Australian Open against Courier, Pete cried and then later literally spilled his guts on court for his coach and best friend, Tim Gullikson, who was dying of brain cancer. His record-breaking Slam title at Wimbledon in 2000 will be remembered as one he won under the threat of darkness, flashbulbs turning dusk into a flutter of lights as he broke down under the watchful eyes of his reticent parents. Few remember, however, that he played nearly the entire second week on one leg, his injured left foot requiring painkilling injections.
Able to place his serve wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted, Sampras became the first player in history of ATP Rankings (since 1973) to finish No. 1 for six consecutive years&hellip Perhaps most spectacular was his last-ever tournament: after nearly two years of humiliating early round defeats, the reportedly washed-up Sampras ignored critics who said he should quit while he was behind and mustered the drive to defeat his longtime rival Agassi in the final at Flushing in 2002.
Now have your say. What would be your top 10 list?