Fifth best player on the ATP tour in the Open era – Ivan Lendl
While ranking all of these players was difficult in the context of if they should be on the list and where they should be, number 5 might be the most difficult. Players I wanted to include but didn’t (hint: they won’t be among the next four players either) are Andre Agassi (he achieved a career Grand Slam but was very inconsistent earlier in his career) and Bjorn Borg (he won 11 majors but only on two surfaces). I wasn’t even a huge fan of Ivan Lendl because he seemed so robotic, but one cannot argue with his success.
He also made himself into a greater player. Like any top athlete, he was definitely born with great skill, obviously. But once you reach a certain level of top-end tennis, everyone you play against was born with immense skill. The part that separates great from very good is the will to win and to be mentally tougher than one’s opponents.
Lendl did win eight majors (two Australian Opens, three French Opens, and three U.S. Opens), but he didn’t win his first until 1984, though he had turned pro in 1978. The knock on Lendl was that he couldn’t overcome his demons and win a major. But he ended up winning two each in 1986 and 1987.
Lendl also held the number 1 ranking for the fourth-most weeks in the Open era (268) and he was able to overmatch his greatest rival, John McEnroe. Mind you, I am a huge McEnroe fan, but by the end of the 1980s when Lendl and McEnroe played I expected Lendl to win most of the time. Because Lendl was the better player and made himself into being better than almost anyone.