It’s often said that men’s tennis is deeper and more competitive than it has ever been. And it’s true; the sport has never been played at a higher level. But over the last five years, it hasn’t been the excellence of the ATP as a whole that’s been most impressive. It has been the dominance of the top players despite that depth. Since 2006, we’ve seen three players—Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic—put together seasons that rank among the most gloriously accomplished of the Open era.
Now that the third and perhaps finest of those seasons, Djokovic’s remarkable 2011, is complete, it seems like a good time to look back at where it—as well as Federer’s and Nadal’s best years—fits among the greatest single seasons of the Open era. There’s no right answer, and that’s what makes this parlor game so much fun. Here we present our countdown of the 10 best men’s seasons since the Open era began in 1968.
No. 8: Mats Wilander, 1988
Wilander had never had a season like it, and he never would again. The Swede, who won the French Open in 1982 at age 17, began his career as a clay-court specialist with a two-handed backhand and the willingness to grind for hours. By ’88, he had added a one-handed slice and two Australian Open titles on grass. In January 1988, he put his stamp on the new Melbourne (then known as Flinders) Park hard court by beating Stefan Edberg and local boy Pat Cash in five sets in the semifinals and final of the Australian Open. Wilander faced down another native son when he straight-setted Henri Leconte in the French Open final. (Before the match, Leconte had said he would attack Wilander’s second serve. Wilander’s answer? Don’t hit any second serves. He made 71 of the 73 first serves he hit.) He climbed the year’s highest mountaintop when he ended Ivan Lendl’s three-year run at the U.S. Open. Wilander finished the year No. 1 for the only time in his career.
Check TENNIS.com each day for the next season on the list.
Originally published in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of TENNIS.