December 18, 2009
2000s: Top Tennis Players
By Jon Wertheim,
1 Roger Federer
He's alone atop the mountain, not just for the past decade but for always. Put simply, he is the GOAT, the greatest of all time. Since Wimbledon of 2003, Federer has won 15 of the 26 majors he's entered -- including each of the four at least once -- to set the all-time record. Plus, he has done it with a singular combination of will and grace.
2 Rafael Nadal
Playing a sui generis style -- tennis as violence -- the Spaniard won six majors titles in the decade, including a run of four straight French Opens and an epic takedown of the mighty Federer at Wimbledon. It's a particularly strong effort for someone who spent more than half the decade as a teenager.
3 Andre Agassi
Yes, he won three majors titles in the 2000s (all at the Australian Open, the last at age 32 in 2003) and was still a top player when he retired in 2006. But more important, in the final step in his transformation from inauthentic icon to substantive adult, Agassi has set the new standard for the socially responsible athlete.
4 Pete Sampras
He did most of his damage in the 1990s, but it was in this past decade that he won Wimbledon for a seventh time to surpass Roy Emerson's career Grand Slam record, as well as the 2002 U.S. Open, the last event he ever entered. Talk about going out on top.
5 Marat Safin
Sure, the big-hitting Russian -- who retired in November, 12 years after playing his first professional match -- left fans wondering what he could have accomplished with more commitment. But he did win two Grand Slam titles (2000 U.S. Open and 2005 Australian Open) and reach No. 1. We should all underachieve like this.
6 Lleyton Hewitt
He wasn't the cuddliest player. In fact, you could argue he was the most contentious champion since Jimmy Connors. But the saucy Aussie was a champion nonetheless, taking two majors (2001 U.S. Open and 2002 Wimbledon) and spending 80 weeks at No. 1 in 2001 and 2002.
7 Andy Roddick
Playing, as he does, in the Era of Federer, Roddick has yet to build on the lone Grand Slam he won in 2003. But credit him for spending most of the decade embedded in the top 10, leading the United States to the 2007 Davis Cup title and discharging his duties like a pro.
8 Gustavo Kuerten
The mop-haired Brazilian won the French Open in 2000 and 2001 (raising his career total to three) and spent 43 weeks at No. 1 in those two years. And he did so with a smile all but carved into his face.
9 Novak Djokovic
The charismatic Serb played only in the second half of the decade. Still, he's won a Grand Slam title (2008 Australian Open) and made it at least as far as the semifinals at the three others. He finished 2009 ranked No. 3, matching his career high.
10 Juan Carlos Ferrero
His reign as the Spanish King was a brief one, as he was felled by injury and then toppled by Nadal. But he did win the French Open, reach a U.S. Open final and briefly hold the No. 1 ranking in 2003.
1 Serena Williams
The best by a healthy margin. This decade she won 10 major singles titles -- including, like Federer each of the four -- and four straight at one point. And she played as well in 2009 as she did in 1999, the year she first broke through. Bonus points for her excellence in doubles, her success at the Olympics and her unrivaled competitive fire. The critics -- the "Hatorade drinkers," as she might put it -- will point to her selective scheduling, mysterious absences and penchant for drama. But maybe that helped inform her success.
2 Justine Henin
Offsetting undersized stature with an outsized heart, this plucky Belgian won seven majors, including multiple maulings of Serena Williams. Henin possessed the most complete game of any player this decade and earns bonus style points for a stop-traffic-gorgeous backhand. She retired in 2008, but now she's back for more.
3 Venus Williams
"Big sis" broke through in 2000 with the first of her seven Grand Slam titles and has been a force since then. She distinguished herself at Wimbledon, where she won The Championships five times this decade and three other times lost in the finals to her sister.
4 Maria Sharapova
She won Wimbledon in 2004, which made her a star. Thereafter, she started reaping millions in endorsements but -- to her everlasting credit -- this blunted her motivation in no way. She won many more titles, including the U.S. Open in 2006 and Australian Open in 2008.
5 Kim Clijsters
She would have made the list had she stayed retired, given that her successes included seizing the No. 1 ranking. But the Belgian moves up on account of her ability to return to the sport last summer -- as a mother -- and promptly win the first major she entered, the 2009 U.S. Open.
6 Jennifer Capriati
She authored a happy ending to what had long looked like a too-much-too-soon cautionary tale, winning three majors (Australian Open in 2001 and 2002 and the 2001 French Open) and briefly residing in the rankings penthouse. Injuries forestalled further success, but, all in all, a nice revival.
7 Lindsay Davenport
She won the first major tournament of the decade (the 2000 Australian Open), and while she get never got back on the board, she did plenty more winning, all the while conducting herself like an adult.
8 Amelie Mauresmo
After years of seeing her picturesque game sabotaged by nerves, Mauresmo finally broke through in 2006, winning both Wimbledon and the Australian Open. She also spent 39 weeks at No. 1. Couldn't have happened to a nicer, more thoughtful player. She retired in early December.
9 Svetlana Kuznetsova
Perhaps the best pure athlete not named Williams, the versatile Russian won two majors in the decade (2004 U.S. Open and 2009 French Open) and reached a career-high ranking of No. 2.
10 Esther Vergeer
You've likely never heard of Vergeer, but the Dutchwoman is the Federer of wheelchair tennis, unbeaten in singles since -- get this -- January 2003. She defeated countrywoman Korie Homan 6-0, 6-0 in the final of the 2009 U.S. Open.

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