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By Kim Douglass
(March 2, 2011) Being called the "best" in any sport is a high honor. In the world of tennis, many have used this title time and time again when mentioning the careers of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, and Roger Federer. But the one who gets to stand above them all with, science by his side, is Jimmy Connors.

Given the GOAT by a study published this month in the scientific journal PLoS ONE,  Built by Northwestern University Statistical Physicist Boffin Filippo Radicchi, he ran all the matches played by professional tennis players between 1968, the start of the open era, and 2010.

Built similarly to the data system used by Google for ranking web pages, Radicchi pulled digital data from thousands of matches as well as the Association of Tennis Professionals website.

Under his system, players are quantified by importance and ranked with a "tennis prestige" score. This score is given by a player's competitiveness, the quality of his performance and number of victories.

"In this particular ranking system, it's more important to win a single match against a very good player than many matches against not-so-good players...Players who have yet to retire are penalized with respect to those who have ended their careers. Prestige scores strongly correlate with the number of victories, and active players haven't played all the matches of their careers yet" explained Radicchi.

top 30 rank:
1. Jimmy Connors   11. Boris Becker         21. Mats Wilander
2. Ivan Lendl            12. Arthur Ashe           22. Goran Ivanišević
3. John McEnroe     13. Brian Gottfried       23. Vitas Gerulaitis
4. Guillermo Vilas    14. Stan Smith            24. Rafael Nadal
5. Andre Agassi       15. Manuel Orantes    25. Raul Ramirez
6. Stefan Edberg     16. Michael Chang      26. John Newcombe
7. Roger Federer     17. Roscoe Tanner    27. Ken Rosewall
8. Pete Sampras     18. Eddie Dibbs          28. Yevgeny Kafelnikov
9. Ilie Năstase          19. Harold Solomon   29. Andy Roddick
10. Björn Borg          20. Tom Okker          30. Thomas Muster


"One of the reasons Jimmy Connors ranks on top is because he played for more than 20 years and had the opportunity to win a lot of matches against other very good players." 

According to  Radicchi's calculations, Federer has 39 quality victories. Nadal has just 21, while Connors had 178 points.
"I'll run this algorithm again in 10 years and see if the ranking is still the same," he says.

 

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