Not saying it proves anything (I think there are persuasive arguments for all three of the men in question), but here is an article from Tennis Week arguing Borg's case (sorry for the length):
Numbers Reveal The No. 1 Player Of The Open Era
By Raymond Lee
On the opening Monday of the U.S. Open, Pete Sampras officially retired, concluding a career that saw him win a record 14 Grand Slam championships and amass 64 tournament titles overall. While Sampras' legacy as one of the all-time greats is secure, the debate over the best player in history continues.
There is no doubt Sampras is one of the all-time greats and clearly the best player of the 1990s, but is he the greatest of all time? People have a tendency to acclaim current players as the greatest. This is quite common in tennis where statistics have not been quite as carefully compiled and consulted as in other sports.
Tennis is a tough sport to evaluate. We have a tendency to judge players based solely on observation rather than on careful statistical scrutiny. As we all know, appearances can be deceiving. A player like Brad Gilbert, for instance, did not look like he could beat anyone, but he reached the top 10 in the world and beat several Hall of Famers including John McEnroe and Boris Becker. In contrast, a player such as Henri Leconte looks like he could be one of the best ever — on his best days — but rarely produced the results to match his talent.
Ultimately, champions produce results and results are what should be used in assessing the greatest champions — not speculation, not opinions, not the style of someone's forehand.
With that in mind, I decided to compare Sampras to several Grand Slam champions who played their entire careers in the Open Era (from 1968 to the present). I analyzed the statistics for nine champions — Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Stefan Edberg, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Sampras and Mats Wilander — and after carefully considering several results in the most relevant statistical categories, I am ready to crown one player as the all-time greatest champion of the Open Era and perhaps the greatest of all time.
That player is Bjorn Borg!
Quite frankly, statistics show the comparison is not even close. Borg rates as the top player in seven of the 10 categories I established in statistical stature. The criteria I used to evaluate the champions are:
1. Career won-loss percentage
2. Best won-loss percentage for a five-year period
3. Career tournament titles
4. Tournament titles won in a best five-year period
5. Career percentage of tournaments won
6. Percentage of tournaments won in a best five-year period
7. Career Grand Slam titles
8. Slams won in a best five-year period
9. Career Grand Slam winning percentage
10. Percentage of Grand Slams won in a best five-year period.
Borg asserted his authority over opponents both on the court and in my study. The speedy Swede is now 47-years-old and recently re-married with a teenage son approaching the age of many of the current Slam champions. Borg played his last Grand Slam match in the finals of the 1981 U.S. Open and in his 22-year-absence from the Grand Slam stage many have forgotten how truly great and dominant Borg was. During his prime, many considered Borg one of the greatest ever and my study confirms this belief.
Jimmy Connors placed second on my list of Open Era all-time greats. Connors finished first in two categories: most career tournament championships (109) and most tournament titles over a peak five-year period (59). Connors also compiled perhaps the greatest single season of any man in the Open Era in 1974 when he captured three Grand Slam titles in three attempts, claimed 15 tournament titles and won 99 of the 103 matches he played for a winning percentage of .961.
John McEnroe, who along with Connors was Borg's greatest rival, was third. McEnroe didn't win any single category, but he was consistent in that he did not finish lower than tied for fourth in any category. McEnroe also produced a superb single season that rivaled Connors' as one of the greatest for any player who began his career in the Open Era. In his spectacular 1984 season, McEnroe won 13 of the 15 tournaments he entered and registered an 82-3 record. McEnroe won two of the three majors he entered that year and blew a two-set lead to Ivan Lendl in finishing runner-up at Roland Garros.
The underrated Ivan Lendl finished fourth. Lendl, as we all know, never won Wimbledon, but he did reach the final twice and did well considering his style was not necessarily the best for grass. Lendl won eight majors and finished as the runner-up in 11 majors.
Sampras set an Open Era record with six successive seasons as the ATP Tour's year-end No. 1 player. He finished first in two categories in this study: career Grand Slam titles (14) and most majors won over a peak five-year period (eight). He also placed second in percentage of majors won for a career with an excellent .269, which was well ahead of any player except Borg, who produced an incredible percentage of .407 in that category.
Boris Becker was sixth and Andre Agassi was seventh, but Agassi appears capable of improving his standing in several categories as he's the only active player on this list. Like fine wine, Agassi improves with age. In the future, I hope to assess how his wife, Steffi Graf, compares to other women Grand Slam champions of the Open Era using these categories.
The last two players on the list are the Swedes, Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander. A seven-time Grand Slam champion, Wilander is a strange case. His career winning percentage would have been fare greater had he retired after his spectacular 1988 season that saw him sweep three of the four majors. I must mention in picking his peak five-year period, I chose the best period in winning percentage and as a result had to leave out that 1988 season from that category, unfortunately.
The source for many of the records I used is Bud Collins' Total Tennis.
Unfortunately, I cannot find accurate statistics on many of the game's all-time greats such as Bill Tilden, Don Budge, Jack Kramer, Pancho Gonzalez, Lew Hoad, Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall. Many of those players turned pro at a time when pros were not permitted to play the majors. Kramer and Gonzalez won many matches on their tours against other all-time greats. The problem is, how do you rate those tours?
My conclusion is Bjorn Borg is the greatest player of the Open Era. I honestly don't see any way to arrive at any alternative conclusion if you review the numbers. You can argue in favor of Sampras or Connors or McEnroe or Agassi, but the numbers don't lie.
Statistically speaking, Bjorn Borg is the best player of the Open Era over the course of his career by quite a large margin.
Connors Borg McEnroe Lendl Agassi Wilander Edberg Becker Sampras
W-L Career Pct.
.817(3) .855(1) .823(2) .817(4) .765(7) .720(9) .749(8) .769(6) .774(5)
Best W-L Pct. 5-Year Period
.908(3) .916(1) .896(4) .910(2) .789(9) .811(8) .820(7) .833(5) .829(6)
Career Tournament Titles
109(1) 73(4) 77(3) 94(2) 58(6) 33(9) 41(8) 49(7) 64(5)
Tournament Titles Best 5-Year Period
59(1) 55(2) 43(3) 41(4) 20(9) 22(8) 25(7) 26(6) 35(5)
Career Pct. Of Tournaments Won
.312(2) .483(1) .297(3) .283(4) .197(6) .129(9) .132(8) .186(7) .228(5)
Pct. Of Tournaments Won Best 5-Year Period
.562(2) .655(1) .506(4) .539(3) .212(9) .222(8) .243(7) .302(6) .411(5)
Career Grand Slam Titles
8(3) 11(2) 7(4) 8(3) 8(3) 7(3) 7(4) 6(5) 14(1)
Pct. Of Majors Won Career
.138(6) .407(1) .156(4) .140(8) .154(5) .159(3) .111(9) .130(7) .269(2)
Career Majors Won Best 5-Year Period
5(3) 8(1) 6(2) 6(2) 4(4) 3(5) 4(4) 3(5) 8(1)
Pct. Of Majors Won Best 5-Year Period
.417(2) .571(1) .400(3) .400(3) .267(4) .167(6) .200(5) .167(6) .400(3)
26(2) 15(1) 32(3) 35(4) 62(7) 69(9) 68(8) 60(6) 38(5)
Raymond Lee is a tennis historian who lives in the New York area. This is his first story for Tennis Week.com
Last edited by MisterQ; 01-06-2004 at 12:43 AM.