Who Are Your Favorite Players?
“I want to reach absolute perfection. And I think I can reach it.”
– Steffi Graf, owner of the unique “Golden Slam” in 1988, and the only player to win each Grand Slam title at least four times.
People occasionally ask me who my favorite player is. I always answer that a tennis journalist can’t have favorite players because that would compromise his objectivity and fairness. Then I add that I do admire certain attributes of all elite players.
For bygone eras, I love Bjorn Borg’s incredible speed, concentration, and stamina; the dynamic volleying of Martina Navratilova, Stefan Edberg, and John McEnroe; and the never-say-die competitiveness of Jimmy Connors, Lleyton Hewitt, and Monica Seles. And in a sport renowned for ecstatic highs and agonizing lows, how about ice-cool Chris Evert’s extraordinary consistency both during matches and throughout her career. Besides owning the record for the highest won-loss percentage (0.8996) in the Open Era, Chrissie reached the semifinals or better in an astounding 52 of the 56 majors she played. Both records will likely never be broken.
Among today’s pros, let’s start with the legendary Big Three. Tennis has treated us to great shot-makers before, but none possessed every shot in the book—and then some he invented, like the SABR—like Roger Federer. To me, that boils down to Fed’s great athleticism, racket wizardry, and sheer creativity. I greatly admire Rafael Nadal’s tremendous will to win—no matter how injured or exhausted he may be, as he showed once again during his grueling, five-set win over Denis Shapovalov in the Australian Open quarterfinals. I also like the way his game evolved from being mostly defensive-minded as a teenager to becoming a complete player by his early 20s. Novak Djokovic’s perfectionism most impresses me. It starts with his superlative technique—his strokes and footwork. His perfectionism also entails his super-nutritious diet, his highly diverse exercise and training regime, and his extreme physical fitness.
For problem-solving, I like Daniil Medvedev, the chess-playing Russian. He’s also the fastest and best defensive super-tall (6’6” or taller) player in tennis history. Stefanos Tsitsipas rates as the best volleyer today with splendid technique and athleticism, though I wish he’d serve and volley more. The Greek Freak is being challenged in this highly important area by Felix Auger-Aliassime, the 21-year-old Canadian. FAA won a sensational 41 of 48 points at net in his heartbreaking 6-7 (4), 3-6, 7-6 (2), 7-5, 6-4 loss to No. 2 Medvedev in their epic Australian Open quarterfinal. If you like Rafa-like “Vamos!” exuberance and fist-pumping intensity, you have to like the (potentially) “new Rafa” from Spain, Carlos Alcaraz.
We’re blessed that tennis gives us so many players to love and so much about them to admire. You surely have favorite players and many reasons you love them. Who will you root for in the Aussie Open semis and finals?