10 Best Male Tennis Players in the 1990s
No one would ever say that tennis is the most popular sport around, but to fans, the thrills and the spills of the sport consistently have fans coming back for more. Tennis hit it’s peak in the late 1970s through the 1990s, and to fans, the ups and downs of the game and the personal lives of the players created their own private soap opera.
Personal lives aside, the men of 1990s tennis are some of the best known players in the history of tennis. In fact, as the popularity of tennis has waned over the past couple of decades, the names of the men of 1990s tennis still are fairly well known, and in some cases, are still household names.
As with any sport, tennis fans had their favorites, and they enjoyed the sport for many reasons. In the 1990s, there really was something for everyone when you consider the styles and speed of the players. The cast of characters that made up tennis in the 1990s also had fans on the edge of their seats wondering what some of these men would do next.
The US dominated tennis in international competition throughout the 1990s. In fact, American men won Wimbledon seven times in the 10 years that spanned the decade. However, there are a number of other players that certainly belong on the list of the best male tennis players in the 1990s, and you can see them all by reading, below:
10. Stefan Edberg
Today, Stefan Edberg is known as the coach of Roger Federer, one of the top modern players, but throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Edberg was one of the best in his own right.
Edberg, from Sweden, began as a junior player in the 1980s, and his illustrious career spanned the decade well into the 1990s. He is a former world number 1 professional player in both singles and doubles tennis, and he won a total of six singles Grand Slam titles, and three doubles Grand Slam titles between 1985 and 1996. Additionally, Edberg was part of the Swedish Davis Cup team, and won the title four times, and also won the Masters Grand Prix.
Edberg is a proponent of the serve-and-volley tennis style, and is possibly the greatest at this style of all time. Throughout his career, he was consistently ranked in the top 10 for a decade, and for nine of those years, he was ranked in the top 5. He is part of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and though he was not known for his power, as other men on this list are, his less powerful serve gave him an advantage over his competitors because he could get to the net faster for the volley. His signature shot was his one-handed backhand, and it is considered one of the best and most effective of the late 1980s and 1990s.
These days, Edberg is the coach of fellow Swede Roger Federer, who grew up watching Edberg play, and saw him as a hero, eventually following in his footsteps.
9. Jim Courier
Jim Courier also deserves a spot on the best male tennis players of the 1990s, and throughout his career, he won four Grand Slam titles; two at the Australian Open and two at the French Open. Courier also holds the distinction of being the youngest male to have made it to the finals of all four of the singles Grand Slam tournaments. Additionally, he won a total of five titles in the Masters 1000 series, and is the last man, as of 2016, to win both the French Open and Australian Open in the same year.
Courier turned pro in 1988, and won his first major tournament in 1991at the French Open. There, he beat Michael Stitch and Stefan Edberg to make it to the finals. There, he beat Andre Agassi, who was his former roommate at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. In that same year, he went to the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, and played in the US Open where he defeated Pete Sampras and Jimmy Connors before ultimately losing to Edberg in the final.
By the time Courier was 22, he had reached the finals of all Grand Slams, which is a record still in place, today. He also was the first player since the great Rod Laver to reach the finals of the French Open, Australian Open and Wimbledon in a single season. This was not matched until Roger Federer did it in 2006.
Throughout his career, Courier won 23 singles and 6 doubles titles, and spent 58 weeks as the number one male tennis player in the world in 1992 and 1993.
8. Todd Martin
At his peak, Todd Martin was ranked as the number 4 male tennis player in the world. Martin, who played for Northwestern for two years before turning pro, won his first title in Coral Springs, FL, and after pairing with Robert Van’t Hof as his coach in 1994, he reached the finals of the Australian Open before losing to Pete Sampras. Martin also made it to Wimbledon in 1994, but he lost once again to Sampras in the semifinals.
Martin became a member of the 1995 Davis Cup winning team, and made it to the finals of the Grand Slam Cup. He once again made it to Wimbledon in 1996, but lost in the semifinals. He has admitted, since, that he choked during this match, and this started a string of bad luck that would last almost two years following an injury.
Upon returning to professional tennis in 1999, Martin was able to reach the quarterfinals of both Wimbledon and the Australian Open, and reached the finals at the US Open. He lost the final game at the US Open to Andre Agassi, but his statistics were high enough to rank him as number 4 in the world.
Though Martin was never a household name like his peers Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, he was an extremely successful player who rose through the ranks out of the spotlight. He made almost $9 million throughout his career, and he currently serves as the International Tennis Hall of Fame CEO.
7. Thomas Muster
Austrian Thomas Muster is known as one of the top clay court players of the 1990s, and when he was at his peak, he was known as the “King of the Clay,” though this was before Rafael Nadal came onto the scene. Muster turned pro in the 1980s, but the top performances of his career took place in the 1990s, after a comeback following a car accident where he damaged his knee.
Muster returned to professional tennis in 1989, and his first full year back, in 1990, he won the Italian Open, and he reached the semifinals of the French Open. He also won the Austrian Sportsman of the Year award and the “Comeback Player of the Year.” In the years following, he made it to the French Open, Australian Open and Italian Open, but never made it into any final match. It is said that 1995 was the best year of Muster’s career, and he won a total of 12 tournaments, 11 of which were on clay courts. He also one his only Grand Slam title at the 1995 French Open, where he beat Michal Chang, and he became the first, and only, Austrian to win a singles Grand Slam title.
Muster became the number one player in the world in February of 1996, but the designation of this was cloaked in controversy. Both Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras argued that Muster achieved this designation due to a high number of clay court wins, but in 1995, Muster had beaten Sampras on a carpet court, and Agassi only won hardcourt tournaments throughout the year, so their allegations were largely unfounded.
6. Michael Chang
Michael Chang is also quite deserving to be on the list of the top 10 best male tennis players of the 1990s. He is the youngest player of all time to win a Grand Slam title, which he received after winning the French Open at age 17 and 4 months. Chang is an American who is well known for his speed, and is seen as one of the all time best defensive baseliners. Throughout his career, Chang was in the top 10 of the world rankings, and he peaked at number 2 in 1996.
Chang played in the longest match in US Open history against Stefan Edberg, and played in the 1995 French Open, which he lost to Thomas Muster, the Australian Open in 1996, which he lost to Boris Becker, and then lost to Pete Sampras in the 1996 US Open. In 1997, he was two wins away from unseating Sampras as the number one player in the world, but was stopped by Patrick Rafterin. Chang went to the 1992 and 2000 Summer Olympics, but was eliminated before any of the finals.
Chang retired from professional tennis in 2003, and throughout his career, he won 34 top-tier singles titles. He won more than $19 million in prize money, and was a top ten player from 1992 to 1997, which is a feat matched only by Sampras in the same decade.
Today, Chang is still involved in tennis, and he became the coach of Kei Nishikori, who is the first Japanese player to be ranked in the top 10 world tennis players, as of 2016.
5. Yevgeny Kafelnikov
Yevgeny Kafelnikov is the only Russian on the list of the best male tennis players of the 1990s. During his career, Kafelnikov won the 1996 French Open, the 1999 Australian Open, and is the last man to have ever won both Singles and Doubles tournament in the same Grand Slam, which he did at the French Open in 1996. He also won the gold medal for men’s singles in the 2000 Summer Olympic Games.
Kafelnikov additionally won a number of other championships throughout the 1990s, in both singles and doubles play. He was the runner-up after losing to Pete Sampras in the ATP Tour World Championships of 1997, and also won 7 doubles championships in the 1990s during the ATP Masters Series. He also was part of the winning Russian Davis Cup team in 2000.
He is the only male player to win more than two Grand Slam singles titles, but not won a Masters Series title. He also is known for having the second-best winning percentage against Roger Federer, among those who have played at least four matches against him.
Kafelnikov retired from professional tennis in 2003, and entered the world of professional golfing. He hopes to play for Russia in the upcoming 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. He also worked for Russian TV as a tennis commentator.
4. Patrick Rafter
Patrick Rafter is an Australian tennis player, who was one of the best known Australian tennis players of all time. He was ranked as number one in the world, and won two US Open titles, and was a two-time runner up at Wimbledon.
Rafter became a pro in 1991, and he won his first title in 1994. His breakthrough year came in 1997, and in the French Open reached the semifinals. He ended up winning the US Open in 1997, and defeated tennis stars including Michael Chang and Andre Agassi. He was also the first non-American since Stefan Edberg to win the US Open. The win was enough to push his to the number two rank in the world, second to Pete Sampras.
Rafter’s success continued into 1998 where he won the Canadian Open as well as the tournament in Cincinnati, which he won after beating Pete Sampras. He also ended up beating Pete Sampras in the US Open semifinals.
In the 1999 French Open, Rafter took on a young Roger Federer, who he defeated, and later, met Andre Agassi at Wimbledon, but lost. Rafter held the number one spot in the rankings in 1999 for one week, and then lost in the first round of the US Open due to a bout of tendonitis in the shoulder. He also entered the Australian Open as a double in 1999, won that title, and became one of the handful of modern tennis players to hold both a single and double Grand Slam title.
3. Boris Becker
Boris Becker is a well-known name in the world of tennis, both for his performance in the 1990s, and for currently coaching Novak Djokovic. He is a former number one player, a six-time singles champion, holds 13 Masters Series titles, and Olympic gold medal, and five elite level indoor titles.
Becker went pro in 1984, so by the 1990’s, he was already known in the world of tennis, and his 1990 trip to Wimbledon against Stefan Edberg was his third visit to the grass courts in the UK. Though he lost, he soon went to the Australian Open for the first time, defeated Ivan Lendl, and claimed the number one spot in the world.
During 1992, Becker brought home seven titles, but in 1993, his personal life took a turn, and after a surprising marriage and a number of tax issues, Becker entered into a mid-career slump. He was able to recover from this by 1995, and once again found himself at Wimbledon. This time, however, though he beat Andre Agassi, he lost to Pete Sampras. However, Becker did win the ATP Tour World Championships against Michael Chang.
Though the end of the 1990s was rocky for Becker, his colleagues greatly respected him, and even his rival, Sampras, said that Becker was the best player he had ever played.
Throughout his career, Becker played best on indoor carpet and grass courts, and never won a tournament on a clay court.
2. Andre Agassi
Andre Agassi was one of the most dominant players of the 1990s, and was considered to be one of the best tennis players of all time. He is known to also be the biggest tennis star in existence, and even people who do not follow tennis know his name. Though he had an unorthodox attitude towards the game, he was also one of the most charismatic players, and was the main reason for the popularity of tennis throughout the decade.
Throughout his career, Agassi won eight Grand Slam championships, and was the 1996 gold medalist in the Olympics. He won four Australian Open titles, and is one of only seven men who achieved the Career Grand Slam. He is the only man to win both the Career Grand Slam and the ATP Tour World Championship. He is also the last American to win the French Open, which was in 1991, and the Australian Open, in 2003.
Agassi has a compelling personal story, which was the talk of fans both on the court and in the tabloids. He also suffered from a number of health related issues including sciatica, bone spurs and other conditions. In 1995, he was ranked as the number one player in the world, but by 1997, had fallen to number 141. Though many believed his career to be over, he was able to climb back to number one by 1999.
Today, Agassi runs the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation and the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, a school for at-risk children.
1. Pete Sampras
Like his rival, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras is one of the greatest players in the history of tennis, and throughout his career, he broke and held many records. He holds seven Wimbledon titles, five US Open titles, two Australian Open titles and seven indoor elite titles.
Sampras turned pro in 1988, but it wasn’t until 1991 that he received his first career title. He played in the US Open that year, but was defeated by Jim Courier, and he made it to the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open in 1992, but lost in the semi-finals to Stefan Edberg. He also played in the 1992 Olympics, but he lost in the third round.
The mid to late 1990s was the heyday for Sampras, and this is where he became the tennis great that he is known for today. He took home the Wimbledon title six times in the 1990s, and became the most successful player at Wimbledon of all time.
Sampras is known as an excellent all-around player, but he does have difficulty when playing on clay courts. However, due to his skills, he has won a number of titles on clay, including his Italian Open win. The US Olympic Committee named Sampras the “Sportsman of the Year” in 1997, and he was the first tennis player to receive the honor. Today, Sampras is retired and lives with his family in California where he focuses on his business activities.
The world of 1990s tennis was the last time that tennis was popular throughout the country, and though there are still fans scattered throughout the U.S., the popularity of the sport has waned.
Part of the reason tennis was so popular in the 1990s was due to the players themselves, the harsh rivalries, and the promotion of the sport throughout the world. Some of the greatest male tennis players of all time played during the 1990s, and these men smashed through the stereotypes of the typical tennis player.
Though there are currently big names that play the game, only a very small number are known outside of the world of tennis. This is a big contrast from the tennis players of the 1990s, of which many were known by the general public, regardless of if people were fans of the game, or not.
These men paved the way for the players of today, and many amateurs still look to these men as heroes and legends in their sport. Some of these men fall into line as some of the greatest players of all time, and one or two of them could be the single best player of all time.
The history of tennis has not always been as bright as it was in the 1990s, and it may never get to that point again, until the next great player or rivalry arrives on the scene.