“The journey is what matters, they say.” That’s what I wrote near the end of the entry for Martina Navratilova in our 50 Greatest Players of the Open era countdown. No player of the last five decades traveled farther, as an athlete or a person, during the course of her career than Martina.
Looking back at the process of creating our list of legends (to view all fifty entries, go to tennis.com/OpenEra50), the same phrase came to my mind: “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” By now, most tennis fans understand that the debate over who is the GOAT—the Greatest of All Time—has its limits. How can we compare players who swung wooden racquets to those who use today’s souped-up frames and strings? How can we make major titles the No. 1 criteria for greatness, when players like Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall were banned from playing them in the 1960s?
But deciding who deserves to be called the mythical best-ever isn’t what makes these debates worth having. If you’re a longtime fan like me, the reward comes when you rediscover what made these half-remembered geniuses in tight shorts and Ted Tinling dresses special.
“Ah, how could I forget Hana Mandlikova?” I asked myself as I watched a YouTube clip of the Czech virtuoso gliding gracefully to net and carving a different shot with every stroke. Researching Mats Wilander’s career led me to his somehow-forgotten pinnacle, his five-hour win over Ivan Lendl in the 1988 US Open final; seeing Wilander parry and probe, advance and retreat, before finally finding a way past his nemesis made for riveting viewing 30 years later. Writing about Arantxa Sanchez Vicario left me happily immersed in the under-appreciated women’s game of the 1990s, when bitterly-contested clashes—between Sanchez Vicario, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Gabriela Sabatini and Navratilova—were a monthly occurrence. Sanchez Vicario came up short in many of those epics, but the passion she brought to each of them is what shines through today.
TENNIS Magazine Senior Editor Ed McGrogan discusses origin of #OpenEra50: