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The Players Of The Decade

Roger Federer© Getty ImagesRoger Federer's perseverance paid off as he won Roland Garros on his 11th attempt to complete the career Grand Slam.

Take a look back at the best five players and best doubles team of the past decade. Performances between the years of 2000 to 2009 only have been considered.

1. Roger Federer

Roger Federer, possibly the greatest player ever to grace the game, has dominated men’s tennis since the turn of the millennium, winning a record-breaking 15 Grand Slam titles. In July 2003, at the age of 21, the Swiss delivered on his early promise by capturing his first major crown at Wimbledon.aspx">Wimbledon. What followed in the next six years has been truly remarkable.

The Basel native went on to win a further five Wimbledon.aspx">Wimbledon titles, including five successive victories between 2003-07. Since 2004, his dominance at The All England Club has only been interrupted by arch rival Rafael Nadal in an epic final in 2008 that was hailed as one of the greatest matches ever. Federer also exerted his dominance at the US Open, where he won the title five times in a row between 2004-08, with his run finally ending against Juan Martin del Potro in a five-set thriller in the 2009 final. He won three Australian Opens in 2004, ’06 and ’07 and completed the set at Roland Garros this year, defeating Robin Soderling to become the sixth man in history to win the career Grand Slam.

Federer has been a near constant at the top of the South African Airways ATP Rankings. He first clinched the top spot on 2 February, 2004 and would stay there for a record 237 consecutive weeks before being dethroned by Nadal on 18 August, 2008. The right-hander reclaimed top spot on 6 July, 2009 and at the end of the season was crowned ATP World Tour Champion for the fifth time in six years – becoming only the second player (Ivan Lendl in 1989) to reclaim the year-end South African Airways ATP Ranking after losing it for a year.

2. Rafael Nadal

NadalIn recent years, Rafael Nadal has emerged as the strongest challenger to Federer’s dominance and has established one of the most gripping rivalries in the history of men’s tennis with the Swiss. The Spaniard, who proudly displays the silhouette of a bull’s horns on his tennis shoes, has been the undoubted King of Clay in the past five years. Of the Spaniard’s 36 tour-level titles, 25 have come on his surface of choice.

The Mallorcan’s clay-court dominance has been at its zenith at Roland Garros, where he first made his debut in 2005. He won his first 31 matches at the clay-court major, capturing four successive titles, before his run came to and end at the hands of Robin Soderling in the fourth round this year. But it is not only on clay that the left-hander has excelled. He became the first Spaniard since Manuel Santana 1966 to win Wimbledon.aspx">Wimbledon when he dethroned five-time champion Federer in 2008 and won his first hard-court major at the ‘09 Australian Open, once again defeating Federer.

The Manacor native, who has the following of a rock star, became the first Spaniard in the history of the South African Airways ATP Rankings (since 1973) to finish as ATP World Tour Champion in 2008 and has featured in three of his nation’s four Davis Cup triumphs.

3. Lleyton Hewitt

HewittThe feisty Australian burst onto the scene in the late '90s, becoming the youngest winner on the ATP World Tour when he won his home-town title in Adelaide at the age of 16 years, 10 months in January 1998, and was the man to beat as the new millennium rolled in.

With his famous cry of “Come On!” punctuating his every success and donning a back-to-front baseball cap, Hewitt won his first Grand Slam title at the 2001 US Open, signalling a changing of the guard as he dismissed Pete Sampras in the final. That same year, he became the youngest player (20 years, eight months) and the first Australian to be crowned ATP World Tour Champion in the history of the South African Airways ATP Rankings. The following year he held aloft the Wimbledon.aspx">Wimbledon trophy after defeating David Nalbandian and once again went on to finish at ATP World Tour Champion. (Federer is the only other player to finish ATP World Tour Champion multiple times this decade.)

The right-hander, also a runner-up at the 2004 US Open and ’05 Australian Open, has been a Davis Cup stalwart and is Australia’s most successful singles player. He was part of Australia's 2003 Davis Cup title-winning team.

4. Andre Agassi

AgassiAndre Agassi retired in 2006 but his impact early in the decade guaranteed him a place in our Top 5 list. Agassi won three Australian Opens in 2000, ’01 and ’03 and in May 2003, at 33, he became the oldest player in the history of the South African Airways ATP Rankings (since 1973) to hold the No. 1 ranking. Agassi also won seven of his record 17 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles during the decade, including the Cincinnati crown at 34. Agassi, who at 35 pushed Roger Federer to four sets in the 2005 US Open final, also finished in the year-end Top 10 for six consecutive years between 2000-2005.

Agassi’s legacy extended far beyond the tennis court, however. From the beginning of his career as a brash showman, Agassi had always been one of the game’s highest-profile players, but in the 2000s he consolidated his growing reputation as a statesman. Who could cheer against a 33-year-old legend who could still beat the best that the new generation had to offer? He also became arguably the biggest sporting philanthropist on the planet, raising tens of millions of dollars for the foundation that provides funding for his charter school, the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, which provides free schooling for underprivileged children in Las Vegas.

5. Andy Roddick

RoddickAndy Roddick has faced the full weight of America’s expectation throughout his career, as he looks to emulate the success of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, and the charismatic Texan has unblinkingly embraced the task. Consistently strong results at the highest level have seen the 27 year old finish in the Top 10 of the South African Airways ATP Rankings for the past eight years; Roger Federer is the only other player to have accomplished that feat. Roddick has won 27 tour-level titles, including winning at least one ATP World Tour title each year for nine years in a row.

The standout season for Roddick was 2003, when he won his first Grand Slam title – fittingly on home soil – at the US Open, defeating Juan Carlos Ferrero in the final. Later that year, he became the youngest American (21 years, three months) to claim the crown of ATP World Tour Champion in the history of the South African Airways ATP Rankings (since 1973).

The following year, Roddick suffered the first of three heartbreaks in the Wimbledon.aspx">Wimbledon final, all at the hands of Roger Federer, but led the United States to its first Davis Cup final (l. to Spain) since 1997. He realised his life-long dream of winning the Davis Cup three years later as the United States defeated Russia.

Doubles Team of the Decade: Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan

BryansDynamic American doubles duo Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan have, without doubt, been the best doubles team of the decade. Since winning their first ATP World Tour title at Memphis in 2001, the twins have gone on to amass 56 tour-level titles between them, the fourth-best tally in the Open Era. They are just five wins behind all-time leaders Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde and, at 31, look likely to top the Woodies' mark, perhaps as early as 2010.

The charismatic Californians, whose trademark celebration is a chest bump, have won seven Grand Slam doubles crowns, beginning with Roland Garros in 2003 – the same year that they became the first brothers to finish ATP World Tour Doubles Champions, a crown they have earned five times in the past seven years. In 2005, they became the second team in 50 years to reach the final of all four Grand Slam championships in the same year and completed the career Grand Slam a year later with their first victory at Wimbledon.aspx">Wimbledon. Also key players in the United States' Davis Cup team, they clinched the Cup for their nation in 2007 with victory in the doubles rubber over Russia.

Not content with dominating the doubles scene in the decade, the Bryans have also wielded their musical talents by forming the Bryan Bros. Band and released their first album, “Let It Rip” – featuring the vocals of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic -in 2009.

Honorable Mentions

Pete Sampras: Sampras’ outstanding career was winding down as the decade began. His record six consecutive year-end No. 1 finishes and 12 of his 14 Grand Slam titles came in the 1990s. But the American did win his seventh Wimbledon.aspx">Wimbledon title in 2000 and, after finals defeats in 2000 and ‘01, Samprashe won his fifth US Open title in 2002. Sampras won just three of his 64 career titles in the decade.

Marat Safin: Safin won 14 of his 15 career titles in the decade, including his stunning US Open title win (d. Sampras) in 2000 and the 2005 Australian Open (d. Hewitt). After his seven-title haul in 2000, Safin looked as though he could become the dominant player of the decade. But he would win just seven more titles in the next nine years, and none in the near four-year period after his Australian Open triumph and his retirement late this year.

Gustavo Kuerten: Guga had a huge impact at the start of the decade, winning his second and third Roland Garros titles in 2000-2001. In 2000 he became the first South American to be crowned ATP World Tour Champion when he beat Agassi and Sampras in the semi-finals and final of the-then Tennis Masters Cup (now Barclays ATP World Tour Finals) in Lisbon. He won 11 titles in 2000 and ’01, but just four titles after that as a hip injury robbed him of many more good years.

Nikolay Davydenko: One of the hardest workers and most consistent players on the ATP World Tour, Davydenko has reaped the rewards by winning 19 ATP World Tour titles since 2003 and recording five year-end Top 6 finishes in the South African Airways ATP Rankings. The Russian has an impressive 19-5 record in ATP World Tour Finals and, showing that he is ever-improving, clinched his biggest title to date at last month’s Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. The only notable absentee from his glittering array of silverware is a Grand Slam title.

David Nalbandian: The Argentine is worthy of an honorable mention on account of finishing in the Top 10 of the South African Airways ATP Rankings for five consecutive years between 2003-07 and reaching the 2002 Wimbledon.aspx">Wimbledon final (l. to Hewitt). The former World No. 3 has won 10 ATP World Tour titles and on top form has always been able to trouble the world’s best players. In 2005 he rallied from a two-set deficit to defeat Roger Federer and win the-then Tennis Masters Cup and also claimed back-to-back ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles in Madrid and Paris in 2007. But, like Safin, many tennis fans believe Nalbandian should have won more titles in the decade given his immense talent.

Juan Carlos Ferrero: Before the arrival of Rafael Nadal, Juan Carlos Ferrero was the man to beat on clay. In a four-year span at the start of the decade, the Spaniard’s clay-court credentials included the 2003 Roland Garros title (d. Verkerk), a runner-up finish (l. to Costa) at the clay-court major in ‘02 and two semi-final efforts in ’01 and ‘00 plus three ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophies. The right-hander peaked at No. 1 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings on 8 September, 2003 and proved his versatility by also reaching the US Open final (l. to Roddick) on hard court that year. However, hampered by injuries, the Spaniard suffered a let down in following years and endured a title drought of more than five years before hitting back in 2009 with victory in Casablanca.

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