Greatest Australian Tennis Players Of All Time
Tennis history has been enriched by many players from Australia, and while today’s Antipodean stars have yet to replicate the feats of past compatriots, players such as Nick Kygrios, Alex de Minaur and Ajla Tomljanovic are leading the way and hoping to follow in the footsteps of past legends.
But who are these legends, the greatest Australian tennis players?
Sit back and let us introduce you to those who hailed from the Southern-hemisphere and traveled the world, leaving a great impact upon the world of tennis.
The most recent superstar that hailed from ‘Oz’ was Ashleigh (Ash) Barty – the diminutive yet dominant WTA player who snagged three majors before calling what many felt was a premature end to her career, retiring at the age of 26 in March of 2022.
Ash Barty walked away from tennis with only the US Open trophy evading her grasp. A veritable force on any service the Queenslander didn’t though excel at tennis alone. She was/is both a gifted cricketer and golfer and could have easily turned pro at any of these sports.
In fact, the premise of Australia’s love of all sports and its impact on tennis is something we will touch on later.
On the men’s circuit, the most recent ‘big name’ was Lleyton Hewitt, who managed to snag two Grand Slams, albeit over a much longer career, one that spanned 18 years. The man from Melbourne played a high-energy and muscular game which saw him triumph at both Wimbledon (2002) and Flushing Meadows (2001) and were it not for playing in an era that straddled the reigns of Sampras and Federer, he could have won more.
Colorful Characters and Grand Slam Winners
It seems that if you are an Australian who cannot bag multiple Grand Slam titles, you can still make an impact on world tennis.
Nick Kygrios needs no introduction given his prodigious talent combined with a volcanic temper, while Pat Cash in the 1980s brought a unique style to the game with his trademark ‘chequerboard’ headband and being the first to climb into the player’s box when winning his only slam (Wimbledon in 1987).
Then, in the 1990s came Pat Rafter – otherwise known once as the ‘sexiest man alive’ – oh yes, and world number one in the ATP rankings too!
Aside from being genetically blessed, Rafter won two slams, taking back-to-back US Open titles in 1997 and 1998 while also finishing runner-up at Wimbledon in consecutive years, in 2000 and 2001.
So, while more recent exponents cannot be classed as the greatest Australian tennis players, having failed to really dominate tennis, they did add a certain and always-needed spark to the sport, helping capture column inches and indeed the public’s attention – something which legitimately adds to the fabric of tennis.
But what of the truly great Australian tennis players, who are they?
Top Australian Ladies Tennis Players
With seven majors to her name, it speaks volumes about Evonne Goolagong Cawley’s impact by saying this is only a small part of her impact upon tennis.
Evonne was born into an Aboriginal family and endured poverty in her early years coupled with racism as she traveled globally to play tennis in the 1970s. Despite such adversity, she rose to the pinnacle of world tennis, securing seven Grand Slam titles with only the US Open evading her grasp, despite four finals in New York. Nonetheless, she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1988.
Beyond the tennis court, Goolagong Cawley has forged an indelible legacy for herself with a host of awards and ambassadorial roles, most notably one in which she spearheads a charity to encourage Aboriginal children to play sport. And unsurprisingly, Ash Barty has often spoken at length about Evonne’s inspirational presence in her career.
24 Grand Slam Championship Titles
Without question, however, Margaret Court stands proudly as the greatest Australian tennis player (male or female) with a staggering twenty-four Grand Slam championships, winning each one multiple times. Furthermore, the phenomenon from Perth added an additional forty Grand Slam doubles titles to her resume, making her the most prolific winner of ladies’ titles.
Similar to Goolagong Cawley, Court was not simply a trailblazer for tennis, but for her country too.
She became the first Australian woman to win a Grand Slam outside of Australia in 1962 when she took home both the French and US Open trophies. And in her 17-year career, she maintained an unparalleled 91.74% win average with maybe the most noteworthy highlight being Court’s astonishing record at the Australian Open.
Court maintained home dominance by winning the Australian Open for seven consecutive years (1970 onwards) and ultimately eleven times over the course of her entire career.
In the opinion of many, Margaret Court is easily the greatest Australian tennis player – either male or female and quite possibly, a candidate for one of Australia’s greatest overall sportspeople.
The Greatest Australian Men Tennis Players
John Newcombe (7 Grand Slams) and Ken Rosewall (8 Grand Slams) merit special mention despite neither completing the career goal of capturing all four of the game’s biggest prizes.
Newcombe failed to win in Paris while the grass of Wimbledon thwarted Rosewall. Nonetheless, both men paved the way for Australian tennis across the globe and are names still referred to with real reverence today.
But standing at the zenith of Australian men’s tennis are two players who succeeded to win all four slams. And we start with ‘Rocket’ Rod Laver, a man who is still regularly seen at many of the world’s biggest tournaments and the man who lends his name to the Laver Cup.
‘Rocket Rod’ excelled on all surfaces and is in fact the only man to have won the calendar slam twice – in 1962 and 1969, and if that wasn’t enough, he remains today as the game’s leading all-time winner, having amassed a total of 198 career titles.
At 5’8” tall the man from Queensland lacked the type of physical stature we see as a prerequisite for success in today’s game, but he more than compensated for this with a blend of sheer speed, blistering power, and technical brilliance. (For context, the much-maligned Diego Schwartzman is just one inch shorter than Laver).
Laver called time on his 16-year professional career in 1979 with a mesmerizing career win record of 75.8%, and were it not for being banned from playing in Grand Slams between 1963 and 1968, his record could have been even greater. (Grand Slams during this time were restricted to amateurs alone, whereas Laver was a professional throughout this period).
And rising above the ‘Rocket’, in terms of Slams at least, is fellow Queenslander Roy Emerson, who amassed one more Slam within a total of 110 career titles.
Most if not all observers will argue that Laver’s total win count is sufficient to eclipse Emerson’s career record and his extra Slam. And we will leave this argument to your discretion when it comes to lobbying for the greatest Australian tennis player.
However, it is hard to argue against ‘Rocket’ as the greatest male Australian tennis player, especially as Emerson retained amateur status and won slams during the time in which Laver was banned because of having professional status.
Nuances in record aside, ‘Emmo’ as he was known stood at 6’ tall and was renowned for his sublime physical conditioning that helped him adapt and succeed irrespective of the surface.
But, unlike Laver who spread his major wins almost equitably across each slam, Emerson favored his home tournament, winning it six times in seven years – a notable trait in fact among multiple Australian Grand Slam winners, many of whom tended to capitalize on home advantage.
The Greatest Australian Tennis Players – The Future
As we have seen, Australia has produced some sublime tennis players over the years, and even those that failed to dominate achieved great things and captured the imagination of sports fans in general.
But what of the future?
With the retirement of Ash Barty who could have easily gone on to claim more Grand Slam titles, there is no obvious Grand Slam winner coming from within the ranks of current Australian professionals.
Nick Kygrios has the ability but not the mental robustness to triumph in an era where Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz can match his game and surpass his temperament. And while players such as Alex de Minaur and Ajla Tomljanovic are both accomplished, they can often be outgunned by a host of more imposing players.
Ultimately, the biggest issue for tennis in Australia is competing as a sport for the attention of prospective talent. The country is blessed with year-long sunshine and the opportunity to dabble in a myriad of sports.
Cricket, rugby, and ‘Aussie rules football’ all enjoy fervent support and participation while surfing and swimming are a natural fit for many living near the coast. All of this means tennis has stiff competition for attention and quite possibly, in the same way as cricket/golf lost Barty to tennis, is tennis losing the next Margaret Court or Rod Laver to another sport?
Whatever the future holds, we can safely say that Australia has given tennis some stellar talent and hopefully, the next ‘greatest Australian tennis player’ will not only be discovered but will soon come to the fore.
Medical Timeouts in Tennis: What Are the Rules?
Tennis can be a brutal sport to play, especially at the professional level. Performance players put themselves through a lot on the court, fighting for every point tooth and nail. This inevitably leads to injuries, some of which are too painful to treat after a match has finished. In these…Read More
Australian Open Prize Money (A Timeline) 2023
The 111th edition of the Australian Open which took place in 2023 saw the total prize money on offer top $76.5 million AUD ($51 million USD). This saw the men’ champion Novak Djokovic and the women’s champion Aryna Sabalenka pocket a staggering A$2.975 million (USD$1.98). However, the Australian Open had…Read More