Connors Is No. 1 Again

Don't call me "Jimbo"

Jimmy Connors is the greatest player ever. And don’t just take his word for it: science now says so, too. A study out this month in PLoS ONE, a journal published by the Public Library of Science, makes the case that Connors is the best player of the Open Era based on the amount of quality wins during his career. It’s been dubbed a “prestige score” and nobody over that time period earned more of it than the one and only, James Scott Connors. Here’s a look at the top 10:

1. Jimmy Connors

2. Ivan Lendl

3. John McEnroe

4. Guillermo Vilas

5. Andre Agassi

6. Stefan Edberg

7. Roger Federer

8. Pete Sampras

9. Ilie Nastase

10. Bjorn Borg

(Go here for the full study)

The study’s author, Northwestern University physicist, Filippo Radicchi, allows that Connors’ longevity and remarkable consistency (top 10 ranking for 16 straight years) are the primary factors for his standing at the top. The formula is designed to judge players based on their total results; whether his best day was better than that of another player from a different era remains pure conjecture. He also admits that current players suffer from not having their, or their peers, full body of work. Meaning there’s a good chance that when Federer and Nadal (curiously No. 24) retire, they will move up the list.

Using mathematic algorithms to quantify an athlete’s “value” has become a cottage industry for sports geeks. They’re ripe for discussion and undoubtedly more fun to construct than a typical physics dissertation; but rarely do they pass the eyeball test. Just look at the top 10: Agassi is better than Sampras? It’s unlikely Agassi’s own wife believes that. Vilas ahead of Borg? Even if you’re willing to ignore the large disparity in Grand Slam titles and weeks at No. 1, Borg was 17-5 against Vilas. That’s better than the 17-8 record Federer owns over Hewitt. Is there any conceivable way to give Rusty the edge in that match-up?

Besides not punishing for losses, the study really stumbles, though, further down the overall list and in other supporting data. For example:

In the top 30 rankings Brian Gottfried (13th), Eddie Dibbs (18th), and Harold Solomon (19th) are all ahead of Mats Wilander (21st). Only their mothers – and evidently misguided mathematicians – could possibly believe that.

In terms of prestige on the hard court careers, Brad Gilbert (11th) earned more clout than Jim Courier (12th) and Boris Becker (16th). Which Brad is certain to tweet about.

Besides the hugely debatable top spot in grass occupied by Connors, Tony Roche (7th), and Phil Dent (14th) are both ahead of 5-time Wimbledon champion, Borg (15th). And that flushing sound you hear is the last of the study’s credibility.

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