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By Rohit Sharma
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In the first part we talked about five of the most talented tennis players of the past decade, who, despite their astonishing achievements, missed the cut for the top five spots in our list. Gustavo Kuerten, Marat Safin and Pete Sampras were some of those names, who only managed to grab spots in the bottom half of the countdown. Today, we discuss the BEST of the BEST, as the competition only gets stiffer with every single rank passing.
5 - Andy Roddick
Picking up the top male tennis stars of the decade was no baby task as we had to take into consideration several factors- number of Grand Slams won, weeks spent at No.1, total title wins, and if this wasn't enough, head-to-head record between players came out as the next available option to grant them a rank. Keeping those parameters in mind, we found American superstar Andy Roddick to be on the fifth spot of our top 10 list. Andy Roddick first broke into tennis scene as a junior when he won both Australian Open and U.S. Open Boy's singles titles to become the No.1 player in the world. Roddick created quite a stir in his debut in a Masters Series event in Miami, where he beat some of the most established players in the circuit before losing to compatriot Andre Agassi. Roddick continued his thrilling form in several other tournaments, most notable of which was the tier-I event in Washington, where he again lost to Agassi in the quarterfinals. With such immense talent, it did not take long for Roddick to win his first ATP title in Atlanta. More success came in the American's way when he captured two more titles in Washington and Houston to become the youngest player to enter the top 20 since Pete Sampras in 1990. The season was highlighted by Roddick's wins over Sampras & Rios (Miami) and Sheng Schalken, whom he beat to reach his first ever Grand Slam quarterfinals. The following year, Roddick added two more titles to his tally and reached the QF of the U.S. Open for the second consecutive year, where he lost to eventual champion Pete Sampras. As a result, Roddick ended the year ranked among the top 10 players in the world. The year 2003 turned out the be the most successful season in the American's career, when he won a whopping six tour titles including two Masters Series wins (Cincinnati & Toronto) and a much deserved Grand Slam at Flushing Meadows, where he beat French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero in the finals. The victory helped Roddick reach the pinnacle of the sport with the yearend No.1 ranking, ahead of Federer and Ferrero. With a major title under his belt, Roddick started the 2004 season with a QF finish in Melbourne, and found his best form on the sunny courts of Miami where he won his third Masters series title. The claycourt season turned out to be quite dismal for the American after which he won his first grasscourt title at the Queen's Club in England. Roddick was seen as the biggest threat to Federer's title defense at Wimbledon and as expected, both players met in the finals at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, where Federer reigned supreme. Roddick maintained his World No.2 status with consistent performance in the next three Grand slams and returned to the finals in 2005, where he again lost his battle to Roger Federer. The year also saw Roddick pick a total of 5 titles in Lyon, Washington, London- Queen's, San Jose and Houston. Roddick then suffered early round exits in the next four Grand Slam events including a shocking 1R loss in New York. However, he regained his momentum at his beloved Flushing Meadows in 2006 where he reached the fourth slam final of his career. His rivalry with Federer continued and saw him lose another match to the Swiss maestro. Roddick only managed to win one title this year at the Cincinnati Masters. The following year did not solve Roddick's problems as persistent injuries kept him out of action for several weeks. Roddick successfully clinched titles in London-Queen's and Washington, but failed to make the final of any Grand Slam event. His best performance that year was a semifinal finish in Melbourne where he again lost to eventual champion Roger Federer. The 2008 season came as a relief for the American who grabbed three titles in Beijing, Dubai and San Jose, thereby becoming one of the most consistent players of the decade. Although, Roddick's only remarkabe result at a major level was his QF finish at the U.S. Open. Roddick did qualify for the ATP Masters Cup at the yearend, however an injury forced him to retire from the Round Robin stages. The year 2009 turned out to be a season of comeback for the American, who hired Larry Stefanki as his new coach and witnessed significant improvement in his game when he made it to the last four of the Australian Open. After a fourth round appearance at Roland Garros, Roddick found his true form at Wimbledon where he beat some of the most dominant stars in the circuit including home favourite Andy Murray to reach the final where he faced long-time nemesis Roger Federer. The championship match exceeded all expectations and turned out to be the longest match in the sporting history. Despite his loss, Roddick earned millions of fans the world over with his grace and candour. Roddick also qualified for the season ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, but withdrew from the championships due to an knee injury.Roddick is considered one of the most successful Davis Cup players in the Open era. His fifth rubber win over Frenchman Mathieu earned him a flawless 10-0 record in tie-winning matches. For his good looks and magnetic personality, Roddick was voted the sexiest athlete in People magazine's 'Sexiest Man Alive' issue in 2003. For his phenomenal achievements in 2003, Roddick was named the ATP Player of the Year.
4 - Andre Agassi
The moment we talk about records and achievements, few names instantly strike our minds, Federer, Sampras, Agassi....! Who else...? Frankly speaking, these men have dominated the sport in such a way that their presence will be felt long after they leave the game. After almost fours years of retirement from professional tennis, American tennis superstar Andre Agassi is still fresh in the memory of tennis fans. For his momentous achievements, eight time Grand Slam champion regales the fourth spot in our list of most successful tennis players of the decade. Although Agassi's career took off in early nineties, he achieved super stardom in 1999 when he claimed two majors at French Open and U.S. Open to finish the year as the No.1 player in the world. The onset of the new millennium brought continued success for the American who won his second Aussie Open crown in Melbourne. Although he failed to win another title during the season, he came close to winning the inaugural Tennis Masters Cup in Lisbon, where he beat some of the hottest players in the circuit including Marat Safin to reach the final. Agassi's semifinal finish at Wimbledon was also one of his best runs during the year. The American began the year 2001 with a successful defense of his Australian Open title, and rocked the U.S. Hardcourt season with back-to-back Masters series titles in Miami and Indian Wells. The rest of the year proved quite challenging for the American who managed only one more title in Washington, along with another SF appearance in at Wimbledon. Agassi's three hour 33 minute U.S. Open QF encounter with arch nemesis Pete Sampras turned out to be a classic as both men did not lose a single serve, yet Agassi lost the match with a 6–7(7), 7–6(7), 7–6(2), 7–6(5) scoreline. The following year brought more disappointments for Agassi, who withdrew from the first Grand Slam of the season at Australian Open. However, the Las Vegan bounced back during the U.S. Hardcourt and European claycourt season and captured two Masters Series titles in Miami and Rome. His third Masters series triumph came later that year in Madrid, along with two more tier-I titles in Los Angeles and Scottsdale, which helped him finish the year as the second ranked player in the world. With the feat, Agassi became the oldest yearend World No.2 at 32 years and 8 months. The season was highlighted by Agassi's U.S. Open final appearance where he lost another battle to compatriot Pete Sampras. In 2003, Agassi won his eighth and final Grand slam tournament in Melbourne. The American's swashbuckling form continued and resulted in record sixth Miami title, also his third consecutive triumph at the Masters series event. With the win, Agassi became the youngest (19) and the oldest (32) champion of the same event. In June, Agassi regained the top spot in ATP Rankings which he held for several weeks, thereby becoming the oldest No.1 in the history of the sport at 33 years. Although, the American added two more titles (San Jose, Houston) to his kitty, he failed to maintain his incumbency at the top spot despite reaching the final of the Tennis Masters Cup, where he lost to Federer. The 2004 season was highlighted by Agassi's record seventeenth Masters Series triumph in Cincinnati, where he beat some of the biggest stars in the sport to lift the winner's trophy. Agassi continued his astonishing form with a surprising final finish at the U.S Open, where he won three five set thrillers to make the championship match. Although he couldn't stop Federer from winning his second U.S. Open title, the runner-up finish helped the American end the year in top 10. The 2006 season, also Agassi's last year as a professional brought a series of injuries forcing him to stay out of action for the most part. Although he had a short yet significant run at the U.S. Open that year which left the tennis champ and fans sobbing during the 8-minute long standing ovation at the huge Flushing Meadows Tennis Arena. For his formidable achievements, Agassi won several awards. His work with the under-privileged children through Andre Agassi Charitable foundation earned him the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award in 2001. Agassi has also been voted the 'Champion of the Champions' in a poll conducted by French Sports newspaper L'Equipe.
3- Lleyton Hewitt
As we close in on finish line of the top ten list for the decade's most influential, most dominant male tennis stars, we find Australian Powerhouse Lleyton Hewitt aptly shining bright at the third spot. The fiesty Australian tennis star first broke into the international scene in 1998 when he beat the likes of Andre Agassi to win the first ATP singles title of his career. With the win he became the youngest winner (17) of the professional tennis event after Michael Chang and Aaron Krickstein in the eighties. Hewitt's mega success began in the year 2000 when he claimed four titles in London-Queen's Club, Scottsdale, Sydney and Adelaide. With his breakthrough performance, he became the first teenager to qualify for the year-ending ATP Masters Cup. The following year turned out to be the most successful season in the Australian's career when he claimed a tour leading six titles. Hewitt started the year with a title defense in Sydney, and continued his success by winning the first Masters series crown of his career in Indian Wells. With back-to-back grasscourt titles in 'S-Hertogenbosch and London-Queen's Club, Hewitt was considered one of the strongest contendors for the title at the All England Lawn tennis Club. Although, title glory was still a few months away at such a level. Hewitt then won the U.S. hardcourt event in Scottsdale to clear his intentions about that year's last Grand Slam. With a win over ATP giants like Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Pete Sampras, Hewitt finally captured his maiden major title in New York, becoming one of the youngest champions at the year's last Grand Slam. The elusive triumph at the season enmding ATP Masters Cup capped a wonderful year for the Australian. Hewitt achieved greater milestones when he successfully claimed his first Masters Series title in Indian Wells. Although a below expectation performance in Melbourne and Paris raised concerns over his ability to claim another major crown. Fortunately for Hewitt, the slam drought was short stretched as the Aussie star won his first ever Wimbledon title with a win over a nervous David Nalbandian in the finals. Hewitt continued his solid form with a win San Jose, however, could not defend his U.S. Open title in New York by losing a nail-biter to American Andre Agassi in the semifinals at Flushing Meadows. The Australian then regrouped himself and won the second ATP Masters Cup in Shanghai by beating Juan Carlos Ferrero in the finals to finish the year ranked No.1 for the second straight year. To the Australian fans' dismay, Hewitt's dismal performance continued at the home Grand Slam in 2003 as well. However, he regained his momentum to successfully defend his Indian Wells crown by beating claycourt specialist Gustavo Kuerten. Hewitt then failed to perform in both Paris and Wimbledon that included a shocking 1st round defeat at the hands of Croat Ivo Karlovic, and as a result lost his No.1 ranking to American Andre Agassi. Hewitt still managed to win another tier-II title in Scottsdale but finished the year outside top 10 for the first time since 2000. The next year brought a mixed bag of success for the Aussie star who managed to win four titles in Sydney, Rotterdam, Washington and Long Island. Hewitt also became the first man in the Grand slam history to have been beaten by an eventual winner in all four slams, losing to Federer in Melbourne, New York and Wimbledon and Argentine Gaston Gaudio in Paris. The highlight of Hewitt's 2004 season was his runner-up finish at the Flushing Meadows, where he received his first bagle in many years from champion Federer. Hewitt came pretty close to winning his first home Grand Slam tournament, the Australian Open when he beat an in-form Andy Roddick to reach the final. However, despite a formidable start, the home favourite lost the four set match to Russian Marat Safin. His only tournament win came in Sydney, where he claimed his fourth title. Hewitt gave memorable performances to reach the semifinals at both WImbledon and U.S. Open but lost to arch rival Roger Federer. As a result, he qualified for the year ending ATP Masters Cup in Shanghai, but later withdrew from the tournament so that he could be with his wife Bec, who was due to give birth. The year 2006 brought a series of disappointments for the Australian who failed to win a title in several attempts, although he finally ended the 17 month drought by winning his fourth Queen's Club title. Two Grand Slam quarterfinal finishes at Wimbledon and U.S. Open helped the Australian climb up in the rankings, although failure to win another title came as an aberration in Hewitt's career. With some consistent results in the second half of the season, Hewitt finished the year in top 20 in singles rankings. The year 2007 turned out to be an injury-hampered season in Hewitt's career who struggled during the first half of the season, and completely missed out the events in the second half including the U.S. Open. 2008 was the first year since 1997 that Hewitt had not won a title. Hewitt returned to winner's circle in 2009 with his win on Houston clay and gave spirited performances in Wimbledon and U.S. Open where he beat in-form players like Juan Martin Del Potro and Radek Stepanek to reach the quarters. Apart from the tour events, Hewitt has also regaled the Davis Cup matches with his brave performances, the best of which we saw in 1999 and 2003 when Australia lifted the winner's trophy. For his formidable achievements, Hewitt won the prestigious ATP Player of the Year award in 2001 and 2002. He was also named the Best Male Tennis Player at the annual ESPY awards in 2002.
2- Rafael Nadal
As we near the finishline of our list of the most dominant men of the decade, we find two of the most outstanding players taking the top two spots. However, no marks for guessing who they really are.....! At No.2 in our countdown is the 'Mighty-Mallorcan', the undisputed 'King of Clay' and the man who beat Roger Federer 13 out of 20 times they met, Yes, we are talking about our very own RAFAEL NADAL. Nadal shot to stardom in the year 2002 when he beat Roger Federer in his first match of the year in Miami. More success followed the next year when he started his 24 match winning streak during the European claycourt season by winning 3 titles including two in Monte Carlo and Rome. These were his first ever Masters series triumphs and had made him the favourite for the maiden Grand Slam title of his career at Roland Garros. After defeating Roger Federer in the semifinals, Nadal then overcame Mariano Puerta to become only the third man in French Open history (others being Mats Wilander in 1982 and Gustavo Kuerten in 1997 ) to win the title in his first attempt. With the win, Nadal earned himself the world number three ranking. Spaniard's success continued during the hardcourt season as well when he captured Masters Series titles in Montreal and Madrid before succumbing to an injury that kept him out of action during the rest of the season. The year 2006 became another successful year for the Mallorca native who beat Federer in Dubai finals to start an emphatic season. He then marched ahead with a record breaking clay court win streak of 53 matches set by Guillermo Vilas by emerging triumphant in Monte Carlo, Rome, Barcelona and then Paris where he successfully defended his French Open title. Following up his wins in Europe, Nadal became the second favouite after Federer for the title at the All England :Lawn Tennis Club, where he handed Agassi his last career Wimbledon defeat before losing the four set championship match to Roger Federer. Nadal did not have any significant results during the rest of the season where he lost to many low ranked players before losing the semifinal match at the year-ending Tennis Masters Cup to Roger Federer. The next year brought a much needed U.S. Hardcourt success for the Spaniard who finally won the title in Indian Wells and successfully defended titles in Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Rome and then Roland Garros where he beat Roger Federer in the final for the second year running. Grass once again turned out to be in favour of the Swiss as he beat Nadal in his first ever five-set match at Wimbledon since 2001. Nadal added one more title to his resume that year with a win in Stuttgart but did not win another tournament that year, with his most significant result coming at the season ending Tennis Masters Cup, where he lost a straight sets semifinal to Federer. The year 2008 turned out to be the most successful season of Nadal's career. Nadal started the year well and reached the semifinal of the Australian Open. After a final finish in Miami, Nadal won four non-consecutive titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Hamburg and French Open, where he handed Federer his worst ever defeat, allowing the Swiss only four games in the final. Then came the match that is considered by many as the BEST Match in Tennis History where Nadal beat Federer in the longest Wimbledon final to become the only the third man after Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg to win back-to-back titles in Paris and Wimbledon. More success followed when the Spaniard captured another title in Toronto along with his Beijing Olympics breakthrough where he won the gold medal. With the help of consistent performance during the European hardcourt season, Nadal became the first Spaniard in the Open era to finish the year as World No.1. Nadal did not play the year ending championship in Shanghai due to tendinitis in both wrists. The 2009 season turned out to be a landmark year for Nadal who won his first hard court Grand slam title in Melbourne after defeating Federer in the five set final. Nadal continued his thrilling form with a win in Indian Wells. More success followed during the European claycourt season where he captured titles in Monte Carlo, Rome and Barcelona before falling to Federer in the final of his home tournament, the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open. The 2009 French Open witnessed one of the biggest upsets of the decade when Swede Robin Soderling beat four time defending champion Rafael Nadal in the fourth round to extend his winning spree to the final where he lost to Swiss Federer. Nadal withdrew from several tournaments including Wimbledon due to tendinitis in both wrists. Nadal could not manage to win another title in 2009 but helped Spain capture their fourth Davis Cup title in 9 years. Davis Cup infact has been a witness to several of Nadal's swashbuckling wins that helped Spain win the title in 2004. For his super successful career, Nadal has won several awards that include the 2008 ATP Player of the Year Award, 2008 ITF champion and the European Athlete of the Year honour.
1- Roger Federer
A huge section of critics, tennis pundits and former and current players consider him the greatest tennis player of all times, some even consider him the finest athlete the sport has ever seen, but for us, the safest bet would be to place him on top of our list of the BEST players of the decade. Yes, we are talking about none ther than ROGER FEDERER....! A name that has ruled the tennis fraternity during the past decade and is sure to achieve new milestones with every single year passing. Federer came into limelight in 2001 when he beat American tennis legend Pete Sampras at a venue that was till then, considered his own backyard, the centre court of Wimbledon. Federer's win over Sampras that year made tennis pundits declare him as the future power to be reckoned with, and their predictions turned out to be extremely true. Federer's all court game helped him win one title after the other, fetching him the No.1 ranking very soon. Federer's first big win came in the year 2002 when he beat some of the best claycourt players to win the Hamburg Masters series title. He won two more titles that year that helped him reach the sixth spot in the rankings by the end of the year. The 2003 season brought a much needed Grand Slam success for the Swiss maestro who won his first title at the All England Lawn Tennis Club by beating Mark Philippoussis in the final. However, the Swiss star could not follow up on his thrilling form and suffered early round losses during the U.S. hardcourt season and the U.S. Open. The Swiss star found revival at big stages when he claimed his first Tennis Masters Cup at the end of the year, which then helped him to finish the year ranked No.2. Federer's first dominant season was the year 2004 when he lifted his second Grand slam title at the Australian Open. More success followed when he claimed titles in Indian Wells, Dubai and Hamburg before losing early at the French Open to Gustavo Kuerten. Federer then rocked the tennis world by successfully defending his Wimbledon title and claiming the third major of the year at Flushing Meadows. Following up his wins at such grand stages, Federer won the Tennis Masters Cup in Houston to finish the year ranked world No.1 for the first time in his career, a ranking that he would hold for the next four years. The next year brought an unusual loss to the Swiss in the semifinals of the Australian Open, where he lost to eventual champion Marat Safin. However, like a true champion the Swiss rebounded to claim titles in Indian Wells, Miami and Hamburg, before falling to Rafael Nadal at the Roland Garros Semifinals. Federer then won his third consecutive Wimbledon title and continued his giant killing form with titles in Cincinnati and Flushing Meadows where he beat a resurgent Andre Agassi in the final. Although, to the the Swiss' dismay, David Nalbandian beat Federer in the final of the Tennis Masters Cup. In terms of title triumphs, 2006 became the most successful season in Swiss' career when he claimed titles in 12 cities including majors in Melbourne, WImbledon and Flushing Meadows and a runner-up finish at Roland Garros. He also retained his title at the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai. Federer's four Masters series triumphs in Indian Wells, Miami, Canada and Madrid took his tier-I titles tally to a whopping 12 victories. The 2007 season brought consistent results for the Swiss who successully defended all his Grand slam titles in Melbourne, New York and Wimbledon. However, a heart-breaking loss in the French Open final to arch rival, and biggest threat Rafael Nadal kept him alluded of the success that was standing in his way of becoming the greatest ever. Federer finished the 2007 seaon ranked No.1 with the fourth Tennis Masters Cup win in Shanghai. Federer suffered his first major setback in six years in 2008 when he lost the semifinals of the Australian Open to eventual champion Novak Djokovic. Federer's loss to Rafael Nadal in the Roland Garros final was his worst ever defeat since 1999. However, the biggest loss of his career came in the final of 2008 Wimbledon, where he lost an epic five setter to Nadal, which was considered by many as the best tennis match in tennis history. Federer also failed to defend his year end Masters Cup title in Shanghai, which saw the rise of a new champion Novak Djokovic. Despite several losses, Federer found his prime form at the U.S. Open where claimed his fifth consecutive title, becoming the first man to achieve the feat. The 2009 season did not change the picture for the Swiss who broke into tears after losing the five set Aussie Open final to arch nemesis Rafael Nadal. Federer suffered some unusual losses to players who had very little success against him in the past. His losses to Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray made some tennis critics to believe that the Swiss' prime is over and that he will not win a major again. But once again, Federer proved everyone wrong when he claimed his first ever French Open title, becoming the sixth man in tennis history to win all four Grand Slam titles. The victory also helped Federer emulate Pete Sampras' all time record of 14 Grand Slam wins. It did not take Federer to surpass the American's record though, when he claimed his sixth Wimbledon title in July and regained the No.1 spot in rankings that had gone to Rafael Nadal in 2008. Federer continued his success with a title at the Cincinnati Masters and reached the fourth major final at Flushing Meadows, where he witnessed the arrival of a future tennis star Juan Martin Del Potro. Federer also lost to the Argentine in the Barclays ATP World tour championships semifinal, held at the O2 arena in London. Despite losses during the American hardcourt season, Federer finished the year ranked No.1 for the fifth time in six years. For his milestone achievements, Federer has been awarded the ATP Player of the Year honour for four consecutive years (2004-2007) and has won the prestigious Laureas Sportsman of the Year award for the same set of years. The year 2009 saw Federer tie the knot with longtime girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec and later become a proud father to twin daughters, Charlene Riva and Myla Rose.
Federer's career has become an epitome of success which very few have been and will be able to achieve. Federer's grace and charm has won millions of hearts around the world. His charitable work for under-privileged children in South Africa and towards the victims of Tsunami in 2005 made him one of the most sought after celebrities in the world.
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