By 'Prestige Score,' Connors Is Tops
FEBRUARY 28, 2011
Monday night's tennis exhibition at Madison Square Garden includes four all-time great players: Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl. But the best player ever won't be there.
No, we're not talking about Roger Federer. Or Rod Laver. Or Rafael Nadal. Jimmy Connors, the cantankerous American who played top-level tennis until he was 39 years old, is, according to a new study, the greatest of all time. Lendl finished second. In a major upset, Ilie Nastase finished ninth, in front of Bjorn Borg and Boris Becker.
The study, published this month in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, discards traditional methods, such as weeks at No. 1 and Grand Slam titles. Instead, it analyzes all matches played in men's tennis since the beginning of the open era, in 1968, and awards each player a "prestige score" based on matches, especially victories, against quality opponents.
"What's really important is not to win many matches, but to win matches against other good players," says Filippo Radicchi, a statistical physicist at Northwestern University who authored the study.
Connors won 178 quality matches, more than any other player. By Radicchi's measure, Federer has 39 quality victories. Nadal has just 21. However, Radicchi notes that his method favors retired players, because the historical stature of current pros has yet to be determined. "I'll run this algorithm again in 10 years and see if the ranking is still the same," he says.
See the ranking...
While I don't get into arguments of "best ever", I find this statistical analysis intriguing on many levels.