Tennis has been transformed over the last five decades by TV, money, technology, equipment, fashion and politics. But through all of that, the players have remained at the heart of the game. As part of our golden anniversary celebration of the Open era, Tennis.com presents its list of 50 best players—the Top 25 men and the Top 25 women—of the last 50 years. You'll be able to view the entire list in the March/April issue of TENNIS Magazine.
(Note: Only singles results were considered; any player who won a major title during the Open era had his or her entire career evaluated; all statistics are through the 2018 Australian Open.)
15. John Newcombe
Years played: 1960-1981
Titles: 34 (per ATP website)
Major titles: 7
When he took center stage in 1967, “Newk”—the nickname is as bluff and blunt as the man—was a new, more colorful tennis star for a new, more colorful tennis age. That year he won his first Wimbledon title, in the first final from the All England Club to be broadcast in full color. The charismatic, and thus far clean-shaven, 23-year-old Australian fit the swinging London scene to a T, a fact that wasn’t lost on the game’s new pro-tour promoters. Later that year, Newcombe, who also won the title at Forest Hills, was signed up by one of those promoters in the States. Seeing him walk away from the amateur game was too much for Wimbledon officials. Soon after, they announced that the tournament would welcome professionals for the first time in 1968. Tennis was Open, in part because of Newcombe.
That development was a double-edged sword for Newk: yes, he would be paid for his work, but he would also have to do it against the world’s best players—namely, his countrymen Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall, who quickly re-ascended their thrones. But Newcombe would still win six more Grand Slam titles, reach No. 1 in 1974, and—literally—trademark his famous handlebar mustache. He was as successful as a brand as he was as a player.
It all started with his powerful, intelligent on-court presence. Newcombe relied on a heavy serve, a hooking, “buggywhip” forehand, and one of the strongest forehand volleys in history. Famous for his tactical acumen, Newk’s always-careful match preparation belied his party-animal image.
Newcombe helped kick off the Open era, but he was really the last of the amateur Aussie legends, whose determined yet fun-loving approach to competition still defines what it means to be a sporting gentleman.
Defining Moment: Newcombe’s decision to turn professional in 1967 helped usher in the Open era, but by 1970 he hadn’t cashed in with a major title. Could he measure up to the old pros? That summer at Wimbledon, he proved that he could when he beat Roy Emerson and Ken Rosewall, each in five sets, on his way to the championship.
Watch: John Newcombe wins 1975 Australian Open title
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