This week The Tennis Channel is counting down the top 100 tennis players male and female of all time backwards from 100 to 1. I’ll go into later the mindset of tennis journalists that makes lists like these nonsensical but I wanted particularly to talk about one pairing that the tennis journalists always get wrong and that is Stefan Edberg vs. Boris Becker.
On the Tennis Channel list, Edberg is ranked at 25 whereas Becker is ranked at 21. At first, their careers seem exactly the same. Both won six grand slam tournaments Edberg two each of the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open while Becker won the Australian Open twice, Wimbledon three times, and the US Open once. Edberg was also runner-up at the Australian Open three times, The French Open once, and Wimbledon once while Becker was runner-up at Wimbledon four times.
Becker had the lead in their head to head 25-10 although Edberg won three out of four grand slam meetings and the one time he won the year end masters he beat Becker in the final. Becker won more overall master events titles though.
Boris Becker never won a clay court tournament while Edberg won several and was a runner-up at the French Open.
Edberg held the number one ranking for a longer period of time (72 weeks) than Becker (12 weeks) and was considered the best player in tennis for two years (1990, 1991) whereas Becker was just considered the best for one year (1989).
Becker had a better singles record in Davis Cup overall as well as a better record in Davis Cup singles matches against Edberg but Edberg was part of more winning Davis Cup teams than Becker( 5 to 3).
Edberg won the Olympic tennis event (1984) whereas Becker never won the Olympics.
Edberg had a much better junior record too winning all four grand slams in one calendar year whereas Becker didn’t really play that much junior tennis.
The people who compile such lists tend to give a lot of weight to head to head rivalries that occurred at the time of a player’s dominance. It is true Becker had better head to heads against the top players but he also had terrible records against players that were predominantly known for clay court play.
Actually I think head to heads are a silly way to measure a player’s whole career from the perspective of history. Players should be measured against their record as a whole not against each other when it comes to history. Why? Rafael Nadal unless he really keeps it going is likely to end up with less grand slam tournaments won than Roger Federer yet he has a winning record against Federer. However, from a statistical point of view overall, Federer will go down in history as the better player as it should be. One slam wonder Richard Kraijcek and two time grand slam runner up Misloslav Mecir are players with excellent records against the top ten of their times which included some of the greatest players in tennis history but certainly not historically on the same level as multiple winners of grand slams.
Edberg ever so slightly has the better stats, the better record. On any greatest tennis player list, I’d probably put them back to back but I’d also put Edberg first.
There are other faulty placings on the tennis channel list- Mats Wilander who won seven grand slams(including three in the same calendar year 1988) held the number one ranking for 20 weeks, and had a great Davis Cup record is ranked lower than Becker or Edberg (a mistake IMO) as is the ranking of Bill Tilden below that of Jimmy Connors. Tilden had more grand slams (10 to Connors’ 8) and was the better Davis Cup player and more dominant player in his time.
I’ve never seen a more incompetent lot than tennis journalists. Many tennis journalists write from their heart not from their brain allowing favoritism to rule over the science of statistics because tennis is actually a fairly easy game to review. There are four grand slams and how many a player wins comes first in any consideration of a player’s career. There are rankings and Davis Cup and other things like the Olympics. These all add up.
However, tennis journalists often ignore these hard facts to fetishize players they find interesting. I like Boris Becker and he was definitely an exciting player to watch but that shouldn’t count in his place in history. Just the facts please! Tennis journalists too often value the entertainment factor over actual win loss and a player's indisputable record. These days I often completely turn down the volume when watching tennis on TV.