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Tennis players of the century

Rod Laver beat out the player who grew up idolizing him, Pete Sampras, as the men's tennis player of the century, and Steffi Graf edged Martina Navratilova as the top women's player in a poll conducted by The Associated Press.

Rod Laver beat out the player who grew up idolizing him, Pete Sampras, as the men's tennis player of the century, and Steffi Graf edged Martina Navratilova as the top women's player in a poll conducted by The Associated Press.

Laver, assembled by The AP, while Sampras received no first-place votes and 39 points.

Bill Tilden, who dominated men's play in the 1920s, finished third with the help of one first-place vote.

Dubbed the "Rocket," Laver is the only double Grand Slammer in history. He won the Australian, French, Wimbledon and US titles in 1962 as an amateur, then repeated the feat in 1969 as a pro.

He attacked the net relentlessly, yet possessed a potent all-around game from the baseline.

Laver won the Australian singles title three times, the French twice, Wimbledon four times, and the US twice.

He probably would have won many more majors but was banned from the Grand Slam events in his prime after he turned pro in 1963. He did not return to the majors until the open era in 1968, then he promptly won Wimbledon for the third time.

Sampras always listed Laver as his favorite player, admiring the completeness of his game, his aggressive style on court, and his gentlemanly demeanor off court.

Although Sampras owns 12 major singles titles, including six at Wimbledon, he has never gone beyond the semi-finals in 10 appearances at the French Open. That failure on clay led one voter to omit him from the top 10 list, while another rated him only No 5.

Bjorn Borg of Sweden and winner of five straight Wimbledon titles from 1976 to 1980, finished fourth, followed by Don Budge, the first player to complete a Grand Slam in 1938.

John McEnroe and Lew Hoad of Australia, tied for sixth place, Roy Emerson and Ken Rosewall, both Australians, tied for eighth, and Jack Kramer finished 10th.

Hoad and Pancho Gonzales, scintillating players in the 1950s who limited their play in majors by turning pro in their prime, each garnered one first-place vote.

In the women's poll, Graf and Navratilova were separated by a point, 52-51, and were followed by Margaret Smith Court - the winner of 24 Grand Slam titles. Billie Jean King, who holds the most Wimbledon titles, with 20 (6 singles and 14 doubles titles) was fourth on the list. Chris Evert was fifth followed by Suzanne Lenglen of France, Helen Wills Moody, Maureen Connolly, Monica Seles of Yugoslavia, and a tie for No 10 between Evonne Goolagong of Australia and Martina Hingis of Switzerland.

Graf, of Germany, retired at 30 in 1999 after her emotional victory at the French Open, her sixth at Roland Garros, and a runner-up finish at Wimbledon, where she had won seven times. She is the only player to complete a Golden Slam - winning the four majors and the Olympics in 1988.

Four voters ranked Graf No 1, one listed Navratilova, a Czech native, as the best, and another put King at the top, in part because of her influence on the game as the founder of the WTA Tour.

The AP panel included six players whose careers spanned six decades: Ted Schroeder, Fred Stolle, Barry MacKay, Pam Shriver, Wendy Turnbull and Virginia Wade. Turnbull and Stolle are Australian, while Wade is from England.

"Ranking players of different eras is completely subjective," said Schroeder, who won the US title in 1942 and Wimbledon in 1949 and has been a keen observer of the sport ever since.

"My selections are based on levels of competition in their respective eras."

Among the surprises in the voting were the low regard the panelists had for Ivan Lendl, who dominated the 1980s with eight major singles titles at the Australian, French and US Open, and two runner-up finishes at Wimbledon. One panelist ranked him No seven, another No 9, and the others left him off their lists entirely.

Andre Agassi, the only man to complete a career Golden Slam by winning the four majors and the Olympic gold, also failed to make the top 10 as he totaled 10 points, with no votes higher than No 7.

Others receiving votes were Jimmy Connors, Fred Perry, John Newcombe, Jean Borotra, Rene Lacoste and Arthur Ashe.

Other women who received votes were Althea Gibson, Maria Bueno, Alice Marble, Tracy Austin, Doris Hart, Helen Jacobs, and Lindsay Davenport.