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For Garry Emmons, it's men’s singles tennis. Hands down. Photos, left to right: Rafael Nadal, of Spain; Novak Djokovic, of Serbia; Lukas Lacko, of Slovakia; and Roger Federer, of Switzerland. (AP)

For sports fans, this is a special time of year, our magic hour. Baseball’s pennant and wild-card races are heating up. The NFL and college football seasons are kicking off. Basketball and hockey are just over the horizon.

Almost as much fun as watching sports is arguing about them. In that amicably contentious spirit, here’s a question: What sport, at its elite level, offers the most demanding all-around test for an athlete?

In addition to the “majors,” a host of other sports – boxing, gymnastics, or track and field’s decathlon, to name a few – can all lay claim to aspects of athletic excellence and rigor. But for my money, no sport can be considered among the most demanding unless it involves a moving object like a puck, shuttlecock, or headless goat (see the Afghan sport of buzkashi) that an opponent can also possess, vie for, or direct. That’s because such sports not only require exceptional hand-eye coordination (or foot-eye, in soccer) but also because a player must factor in the speed and movement of the ball  – or object — while being pressured by an opponent, a unique kind of duress that elevates sports that have it above those that don’t.

A moving ball is central to another premier event at this time of year, in a sport often overshadowed by the major professional leagues: the U.S. Open tennis tournament, now underway in New York. To my mind, the excellence of Messrs. Djokovic, Federer, Murray, Nadal, and a few others — when added to the already daunting structure of the game — makes the elite level of men’s singles tennis the most demanding competition in the world. Of all sports, it requires the greatest variety of athletic skills, levels of physical fitness, and reserves of mental stamina. Its top players meet a broad array of performance standards that in toto are seldom if ever required of other athletes — supremely gifted though they may be — in other sports.

Let’s look at the elements of “most demanding.”

Almost as much fun as watching sports is arguing about them.

Ted Williams once said the most difficult thing in sports is hitting a baseball. Tennis players wield racquets, not bats, but they must return 120 mph serves and hit hundreds of fastballs, change-ups, and slices for hours while constantly in motion, not dug in and awaiting a pitch delivered to their strike zone. Advantage: tennis.

Another requirement of any fully rounded sport should be physical fitness. While most sports require a high level of fitness, unlike tennis they also offer rest during half-times, intermissions, and substitutions. Furthermore, as The Wall Street Journal recently reported, most sports feature lots of standing around: Actual on-field action amounts to only 18 minutes per contest in baseball and 11 minutes in football.

By contrast, matches in men’s singles tennis may last three or four hours, and are without the prolonged respites of other sports. Soccer players may cover several miles or more during a game, but much of that is coasting while not directly involved in the action — and then there’s rest at half-time. Tennis players cover as much as two miles during a single match, all quick reactions and directional shifts, while hitting hundreds of shots, each of which requires total concentration or else the point can easily be lost. Since a handful of points won or lost can be the difference between victory and defeat, and since there are no teammates to make up for one’s lapses, the mental demands of tennis are unrelenting.

In my book, no sport equals elite tennis for the combination of strength, coordination, fitness, agility, and mental toughness it requires.

It’s true that tennis players don’t have to absorb the body blows present in some other sports. (But remember that with 11 minutes of actual football action halved by offensive and defensive platooning, a player is exposed to only a few minutes of contact per game.) To be persuaded of the pounding and exhaustion incurred during a lengthy, top-flight tennis match, look no further than Andre Agassi’s graphic testimony in his memoir “Open.”

After winning their classic 5-set final at the 2006 U.S. Open, the veteran Agassi finds himself and his youthful challenger, Marco Baghdatis, alone in the dressing room while their trainers are momentarily absent. Lying on adjoining training tables, both men are exhausted and in agony, Agassi from a congenital back condition and Baghdatis from cramping all over his body. As Baghdatis moans in pain, Agassi writes,

“I turn to see Baghdatis extending his hand. His face says, we did that. I reach out, take his hand, and we remain that way, holding hands, as the TV flickers with scenes of our savage battle.”

In my book, no sport equals elite tennis for the combination of strength, coordination, fitness, agility, and mental toughness it requires. Ice hockey, with its speed, physicality, fitness, and hand-eye demands, finishes a close second. But at the top of the heap, it’s the game that outgrew the country club, with guys in short pants and love on its scoreboard, that breeds the sports world’s most complete athletes.

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  • capemh

    “As a general rule of thumb, the ball, when it
    crosses the opposite baseline, is going at about half that (initial
    impact) speed,” says Brody, co-author of a new book, The Physics and Technology of Tennis.
    That still means the returner has only about a half second to react and hit the ball. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/2003-02-24-ten-hardest-tennis-return_x.htm
    And a baseball player has less than half a second to react.
    The one thing that tennis lacks is physical courage in facing their opponent. No tennis player ever was seriously hurt from taking a hit from a tennis ball.

    • jon

      it’s because they’re not trying to hit each other genius

    • Nick

      When returning a serve or any other shot in tennis it is not going to be directly at you like it is in baseball so guessing when to swing in tennis is not an option at all. You have to move then react when to swing. So comparing swing timing is not comparable. And of course no one really gets hurt by a tennis ball because tennis players are quick enough to get out of the way and like Jon said they are not trying to hit each other. Any response capemh?

  • karensutton

    Garry – please look back into your book for water polo for this superlative. Perhaps not equal in length of play but certainly as grueling and requires an unparalleled amount of “strength, coordination, fitness, agility, and mental toughness”.

    • Nick

      I agree with those last attributes but water polo is played with other team members while tennis is by yourself or 2 people in doubles

      • exercise science

        I would like to see a tennis player try to swim for that amount of time…and get pulled and pushed in the pool and See what happens

        • Francine Whu

          that’s a bad argument. having any athlete play a different sport would be a challenge– regardless of the sport.

          • exercise science

            but if you’re that well rounded like the article says the tennis players would perform better at other sports than athletes from other sports trying other sports.

          • Spazz

            EXACTLY FINALLY SOMEONE HAS SENSE

        • AweSports

          i was a international tennis player and i also went to state for swimming plus my parents were swim coaches… Tennis > swimming…. water polo was a sport we did for fun :)

          • exercise science

            Did you play pro waterpolo?

          • luke

            Tennis players wouldn’t be able to succeed at water polo right away just like water polo players wouldn’t be able to succeed at tennis right away. That’s just a fact because that’s not what they’ve trained their entire lives for. But I’d love to see you argue that a water polo player could pick up a racquet and be better at tennis than if a tennis player jumped in the pool and played water polo. I respect the difficulty of water polo, but It’s about the sport with the best ALL AROUND athletes, not necessarily the toughest sport to play. If that was the case, I’d say a fighting sport over both tennis and water polo.

          • Jorge Sepulveda

            Sorry Luke but straight up just tough to do would go to ultramarathoners. “Karnazes has run 350 nonstop miles” need I say more??? ;-)

        • GlobalSportsSS

          Hey “exercise Science” and I would like to see a water polo player even trying to HIT ONE BALL, not even running changing direction and doing everything else just hitting ONE BALL from a pro, we can see what happens, ill tell you right now, a pro tennis player can go in the water get “pushed pulled etc..” and still be at a decent level in water polo if they know how to trhow the ball with their hands (which they probably have the strength to do so from hitting the tennis ball a million times during a match… (not saying they could be at the same level as a WP pro of course not, just saying they could do a FAR better job than a WP pro trying to play tennis), if you dont believe me, try it yourself…. Tennis players are athletes my friend, they have an athletes body also, so dont just use that comment cause it makes me sick ” I would like to see a tennis player try to swim for that amount of time…and get pulled and pushed in the pool and See what happens” pshhh please, please, as I said probably not as good as a WP pro but BY FAR they would be better than a WP pro trying to play tennis.

        • SportsFan

          Your can’t compare two athletes of two diferent sports, a swimmer could never reach the level of intensity of a tennis player in a tennis match, same with the tennis player in a swimming pool.

      • Spazz

        tennis players have an excuse for everything and none of them are showing me how they are better athletes just bigger babies

        • Jose

          ya exactly Nadal is just a baby…

  • Adam Sinclair

    Did this guy just claim tennis players are better atheletes than Soccer players?

    • Nick

      What is your claim that soccer players are better athletes then tennis players?

      • exercise science

        No Im saying you have no quantitative proof to say tennis players are the best all around athletes. Are there any studies that proves it?? Best max VO2, best lactate threshold? Best coordination, best speed, best strength? Best endurance?? How do you measure that tennis players are best? then Ill believe you What tests have you used in order to say that?? I feel like personnal opinion about sport skills even from an expert is not enough….I know tennis is a though sport, but do we need to say that its the hardest sport…Im far from convinced.

        • Jorge Sepulveda

          I think the way they are describing this is if an athlete from one sport played an athlete from another, the tennis players would do better at the other sport relative to the athlete from the other sport would do at tennis.

          • Spazz

            come wrestle me with a hand tied behind my back i bet you dont score a point on me. While if you use a pitching machine and slowly threw a tennis ball at me i could hit it back over the net no problem especially in a couple of tries. dont say well try at a pro level i just said id wrestle you with one arm and you wudnt score a point. im talking a basic level so again try this tennis players can do any sport argument its super si

    • Daniel

      Well do soccer players use their arms?

      • futbol fan

        Goal keepers do… a lot! and in dual contacts. Can tennis players all pass a ball, do tricks with it, if so it is because they have ‘soccer background’ that might actually help them because of the leg coordination…in their own sport. WHen does tennis background ever helps a soccer player at their sport??

        • Robert

          the this-helps-that argument doesn’t really work, since you could argue that if someone’s sport DIDN’T help them at the other sport, it makes the original one tougher to master cause it has said skill, but you could also argue that it means that the original sport is better cause it conditions the athlete more.

          otherwise, things like Crossfit and Track and field would be the best arguments, since all athletes workout. upper body strength and coordination certainly matters a lot in soccer, but it can’t come close to the precision needed for tennis
          sport toughness vs another is always a weird argument, but again, the argument here is all-around, not necessarily better

          • exercise science

            Can u be a pro crossfit?? which sports are included in this argument?? hahah alright running is present in a lot of sports… and see are marthanonien included because Im sure as hell thats one of the hardest sport out there… as well as cross country skying… they are doing miles faster than you and I for hours!!!

          • Robert

            well nowadays you can be a pro crossfitter haha

            I’d agree that marathon running and distance running is insanely hard, but sprinters would probably be better at taking on other sports. Does that mean sprinters are better athletes? I’m not so sure about that.
            the whole argument is tough based on these definitions.

          • exercise science

            true that!! Im ready to just go watch the premier league’s game with a beer, have fun debating!

        • GlobalSportsSS

          mmmm by the same reason? by footwork? mmm yeah did I mention by footwork? excuse me but it is easier that a tennis player hits a ball than a soccer player to hit a tennis ball with a racquet I can assure you that 100% if you don’t believe me, please go ahead and try it…. u’ll be amazed.. please go on..

    • Robert

      All around is a different superlative than better.

      Certainly, football players can run faster and push more weight, but the combination of skills and competition amongst 1 position versus a variety leads to the all-around argument.

      Soccer players certainly would have better distance endurance than tennis players, but the movement-coordination of upper and lower body would have to other sports like tennis and hockey.

      I have my reservations about this claim overall, but soccer has some pretty specific skills that make the sport and athletes phenomenal, but all-around is a tough claim.

      • Jesus Christ!

        You are completely correct

    • GlobalSportsSS

      Yes he did, it is true, swallow it and stay quiet!

    • SportsFan

      By far my friend

    • futbolfan

      Its funny because I have never played tennis in my life and tried and was alright at it for a beginner, I have only played high level futbol all my life. My friend who always played high level tennis tried to play soccer with us and couldnt pass the ball or defend, or read the play to make a proper run!!
      Tell me tennis is thougher.. pfff

    • steph

      yup he did. its a joke. he didn’t really giver a proper arguement either, probably doesnt know anything about the game

  • NatyP

    Boxers. Hands down. No other athlete is as conditioned, has more endurance and more skill and agility than boxers. Not to mention the mental strength and discipline it requires.

    • exercise science

      Boxing is a pretty though sports!! Crazy sport to be honest as you put your body at so much risks and boxer’s nose are at high risk. I would like to see a boxer play rugby or football though and see if they could manage the sport specific skills.

  • Michael Goldberg

    Soccer. Fitness, speed, skill, finesse, coordination, smarts.

    • Luketheww

      Teammates, coasting, minimal hand eye coordination required. Totally different mental game. One on one, winner takes all. No clock to hide behind, you have to earn every point. Tennis has all of soccer’s requisites, and many more.

      • Nick

        Agree!!

      • Robert

        Im amazed you didn’t mention diving.

  • SanDiegoBruins

    Hockey players for the above stated reasons plus they have to be tough as nails.

  • DebLB

    I heard Garry make this argument on WBUR as I drove to work this morning, although the points were in a different order. Right off the bat he made the claim for MEN’S singles tennis as the sport with the best all-around athletes. How could you let him on the air to promote such discrimination against women? And only hours after Serena Williams won her 5th US Open title.

    • RogerFedererFanGOAT

      Probably because women’s tennis players, especially the elite females, do not play matches anywhere near intense as the men’s players. It has nothing to do with discrimination. Serena dominated most of her opponents and was often on court for roughly an hour, whereas Djokovic’s semifinal match versus Wawrinka lasted over four hours. The best of three set matches on the women’s side are simply nowhere near as grueling physically or mentally as the best of five set matches on the men’s side.

    • Luketheww

      Back when Seles and Graf, or Naratilova and Evert were playing you may have had a case. But women’s tennis is in an obvious lull, and it shows the different type of athletes that women’s tennis is comprised of. Many women’s tennis players compare to women’s basketball players in body composition- hardly the same thing as the supple and wiry strength that most of the top male players have.
      Seles and Graf have similar body types to the top men of today. Serena and Wozniacki do not. It’s not the same sport.

    • fanofrafa

      This contest between men and women tennis players has already happened. Men are stronger in general, no contest…

  • kthomas

    I play lots of hockey and tennis. I say that tennis is the hardest because you have to be able to do a overhand serve well. Hockey is close because you have to learn to skate well, but I see lots of kids that look pretty good at skating. I see very few kids that have a advanced serve. Same things for adults. As far as the best athlete I ever saw I would say it’s Pavel Datsyuk. He has the hands of McEnroe does it on skates (can he learn to serve?).

    • doubtful

      So based on your personnal experience about two different sports you think you can say hands down which sport has the best all-around athletes??

  • tony

    hmm…how come you never hear about a tennis player excelling in multiple pro sports?!?! Give Deion, Jim Brown, Bo Jackson and others their credit!!

    • jon

      because most tennis players bodies are so worn out after a 10-15 year career that they can’t manage to put themselves into strong enough physical or mental shape to compete at a high-level again.. although I’m sure they could excel at other sports if they tried

      • Robert

        i’m in support of tennis being one of the difficult sports to succeed in, but it requires such a unique and dedicated commitment that when I’ve seen some of these guys (not all) play different sports has been laughable (even some of my friends that have tried to go pro)

        Even if John Isner tried to play PRO basketball, it would be laughable (he could probably play well in the CBA or foreign leagues) but there’s no way he put in the hours to play in the NBA, given how many hours he had to dedicate to tennis.

        However, I personally think it’s a testament to tennis being HARDER because it requires such a commitment that you can’t play other sports full time and have enough hours to be pro in tennis.

    • Nick

      Tennis players at the top of their game do not have time to try excel at other sports or else they would not be able to compete with the best guys in tennis anymore. The game requires so much time and improvement even for the top guys they could not risk trying to excel
      At other sports

    • Robert

      To be honest, I think this argument personally boosts the difficulty of being pro in tennis. (I LOVE BO JACKSON and Deion tho, don’t get me wrong). However, it kind of shows you that certain sports can be learned without 100% dedication to that single sport. No ATP Top 100 learned tennis at a late age while playing other sports with the same dedication. A lot of them were good athletes in other sports (Andy Roddick- Baseball and Basketball; Nadal and the rest of Europe & S.America – futbol; Mardy Fish- Basketball, etc) and ultimately sacrificed that sport in order to dedicate themselves to tennis.

      That being said, Tracy Austin was invited to represent the US in the Olympics for the 100m dash.

  • Guest

    Many tennis players do have some type of soccer background and some of the most accomplished in today’s game decided between tennis and soccer. With the new game of faster ball speeds, footwork and agility has played a key role in the success of all the top players. The footwork in soccer translate to the tennis court.

    Article on Nadal:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/19/sports/19iht-tennis.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

  • Jonah

    The author gives the impression that a tennis match is non-stop action, which could not be further from the truth. There are small breaks after each point that last 10-30 seconds, similar to the break between plays in a faster-paced football game. There is a long break every two games as the players change ends and the TV cuts to luxury car commercials. There is an even longer break every seven games when the balls are changed out.

    Tennis surely demands a high level of physical fitness, but is not even close to the most demanding sport in the world on the body. Basketball, Soccer, Wrestling, and Boxing are all more demanding. Basketball demands similar fitness, more explosiveness, and more strength. Soccer demands more fitness and more speed. Wrestling demands more strength, explosiveness, and similar conditioning. Boxing demands more of everything.

    I love tennis, but no sport that you can play into your 80′s can possibly be the world’s most demanding. Tennis athletes are not near the world’s best.

    • Luketheww

      Basketball, soccer, wrestling and boxing don’t have non-stop competition 11 months out of the year.
      Just because 80 year olds can play mean it’s not the hardest at the professional level. That’s a very weak argument.

    • Fanofrafa

      You are not a tennis player — or a serious one — or you would not have written
      most of this. Players in their 80′s play at a different level silly! As far as the “luxury car commercials” I think I can rest my case…

    • Nick

      The article is about elite tennis players not tennis players in their 80′s idiot. Also tennis matches can last around 4 hours with about 2-3 hours of actual playing time so even though there are breaks for rest, they are very very short and they have really focus on the next point while catching their break. So even though they are not physically hitting the ball during these breaks it is still very crucial during the match.

      • Stephen

        This point probably won’t go over well since the majority of people who read this will likely be tennis fans, but where do you get the number “2-3 hours”? Because in the article the author cites a source for his comments on the play time in both baseball and football. The same source says that in a three-hour match of tennis you would see just over half and hour of tennis. Now that’s still twice baseball and three times football, but it’s pretty far from 2-3 hours. Really the author should include this in his article since the way it currently reads implies that tennis is essentially without breaks — but this article was published before the Wall Street Journal published theirs about tennis so it is obviously an excusable omission. Still, an interesting point (I thought).

        Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323932604579053172340374060.html?mod=WSJ_article_outbrain&obref=obinsite

    • Daniel

      Well being a competitive tennis player, I will disagree with every single thing you said. First, started with the breaks between serves. I invite you to go sprint at full speed for say 35 seconds with a medicine ball swinging it every 3 seconds. then take a break. see how fast you wear out. Second thing, when they change balls, it is during a changeover, so there is no long break. Third of all, all of the sports you mentioned have a time limit except for wrestling and boxing. Even then, the longest wrestling match EVER is 125 minutes. The longest tennis match was 11 hours. Boxing same thing. Soccer and basketball has this thing called subs. When they are tired, they signal it to their coach, and they are subbed out. Tennis players who play when they are 80 do not bend their knees and dont do anything correctly. Otherwise, they would simply collapse. And basketball players dont have an 11 month season. So therefore, please check your facts before sending out bulls**t mesages to the readers of this blog.

  • Chris

    until you play competitive tennis, you cannot understand the level of mental strength, agility, etc, etc, it takes. Plus, tennis has the most variables than all other sports. raquets, strings, tension of the strings, wind, sun, temperature, humidity, etc all affect tennis alot more than one who doe snot play at a proffesional level can understand. yes, soccer, basketball, hockey, boxing, all require fitness and mental strength and smarts, but no sport is harder to master than tennis because of all the factors that are taken into account for every match.

    • Nick

      Very good point!!!

    • exercise science

      That is a good point, that you have to take all of it into account like (wind humidity, …., but dont you think you have to do so for golf as well, however I do not see anybody claiming that golf has the best all around athletes. I am just saying that you cannot use this argument to say that tennis has the best all around athletes.

      And I am pretty sure that it influences the play in soccer and football which are outdoor sports. And dont they stop the play in tennis when it starts raining too much?? As suppose to soccer and football where it just keeps going and playing in heavy rain is a lot harder, when your shoes and clothes are filled up with water,you weigh a lot heavier the ground is not as stable.

      • AweSports

        French open u play in the rain……

        • doubtful

          That is one tournament out of how many?? Football and soccer you can also play in the snow.. does tennis do that too?

          • Jorge Sepulveda

            Yeah actually I’ve played on courts that were partially frozen and its fun until you slip and damn near break your neck. The day when soccer and football players play on concrete without cleats in the snow you can use that as a relevant example. It’s not that they CAN’T play in it, its that for them to do so would be DANGEROUS. Please understand the difference.

          • yomama

            ya obviously it would be way more dangerous for them since they have to deal with physical contact, i.e. tackling.

          • Jorge Sepulveda

            Dangerous doesn’t mean its a better sport… or else base jumping kind of trumps that now doesn’t it?

          • kevin

            They did play on concrete except they called it astroturf. Its a joke to think tennis has the best all around athletes. Pretty sure there are NFL players that could have played professional tennis had that been the sport they grew up on; however I’m positive there has never been a tennis player that could have played professional football.

          • austin

            i dare you to say nadal wouldn’t be a sick runnningback. or del potro a tight end. or monfils one of the most talented receivers or d-backs in the game. get real man.a there’s also a reason that federer, although unassuming in appearance, absolutely destroys on the tennis court. he has daft skill and an unbeatable winning psyche. you show me a football player who can keep their cool for an entire game.

          • lena

            football players have guts lol you will never find that in tennis haha

          • Bob

            You’re so sorely mistaken in that respect.

          • 1234

            No football player has ever have to step up on match point when the match is on the line and if you make one mistake you lose the match without hope f a teammate to bale you out. Don’t say that tennis players don’t have guts just because they don’t have to tackle anyone (which would actually be easier in pressure situations due to adrenaline). A whole tennis match is a balance between risk and reward which is more mentally taxing than any fottbal player has ever gone through. You could maybe argue a quarterback goes through that kind of pressure but he still has a wide receiver to possible bale him out if he makes a mistake.

          • Qtr234

            That’s actually the stupidest comment I’ve ever read. Ever.

          • lena

            Tennis players are the best all around athletes!! Mentally, Physically, they fight their own battle without 7 plus other players helping. I’ve watched some of the men’s matches played for 6 hours straight without taking a 15 minute break and that is enough to prove it. Can you do that?

          • metalhead83

            Tennis isn’t the only sport where you have no teammates to help you.

      • AweSports

        FYI u also play on different surfaces that demand more than just grass fields…. clay, hard (which is more demanding on your joints) grass (u try to change directions without wearing cleats on grass and still be in a full sprint without falling) carpet… with the exception of different kinds of clay, grass, hard courts….

      • GlobalSportsSS

        omg you are kind of an ignorant….. this is done (no play in the rain) mainly because of the security of the players (mainly), in tennis you do so many changes side to side, not like in soccer or football where is mainly straight and you have cleats in a somewhat good length of grass (in tennis it is illegal to wear to wear cleats not only because the advantage the player will have but also because when they play on grass courts, the grass is probably less than half the length than the one in a football or soccer field, what does that mean? you have less support in the ground since you dont have were to clinge AND I repeat with no cleats) plus there are more surfaces, how do you think they will play if the clay is totally wet (or hard court) they just couldnt play they will slip in every movement (because tennis is the only sport were you require so many changes of direction), you just clearly…. CLEARLY havent played tennis at a respectable level, you dont know what you are talking about and your argument is invalid as well. thank you

        • spazz

          clearly youre kind of an ignorant cuz thts a noun

        • John Moltz

          how about squash? i would argue that squash has even more changes of direction than tennis..

        • hsg

          Lol are you telling me that football doesn’t require change in direction? It is not mostly straight. ever heard of jukes, slants, cutbacks? I doubt any tennis player can change their direction faster than adrian peterson. Also, no sport in my opinion requires more change in direction than basketball. Calling people ignorant doesn’t make you right, just arrogant.

    • doubtful

      Id like to see a tennis player get physical contact every 2-3 minutes in the game and see if he can still play as well.

      • lena

        Absolutely no physical contact in tennis!!

        Tennis is all about “LOVE” and Sportsmanship! Well… except Serena lol

        • Qtr234

          Please, you clearly don’t know anything about competitive tennis. I play on the USTA Junior Circuit, and you will never meet more bratty, lying, cheating, manipulative and flat out rude kids and parents in your life. All that you see on TV is controlled. Those sportsmanship like behaviors are (thankfully) forced, because of media/pr, sponsors and role model reasons.

    • manuel

      how about climbing?

    • Spazz

      main word mental strength WHERE IS THE PHYSICAL STRENGTH>…….. how can one be the best athlete in the world and not be physically strong

    • kevin

      “Plus, tennis has the most variables than all other sports. raquets,
      strings, tension of the strings, wind, sun, temperature, humidity, etc”

      None of which makes them better athletes.

    • Jordan

      And until you play elite hockey you can not underestimate hockey.. Hockey has many different aspects and requires a much faster paced mental aspect then tennis ever will.. and as for variables how about knowing where 10 other people are on the ice at all times 10 living moving things not one ball..you can lose track of one person and in a flash your career is over.. temperature of the pucks, different curves and lie of the stick, different flexes, different skate radius’, temperature of the building (making the ice softer or harder) which to some players changes there skate sharpening to more or less of an edge. Hockey players can spend up to 25 minutes on the ice which yes is substantialy less than tennis but in hockey you cant give up on chasing the ball or choose not to run across in attempt to carry the rally. In my opinion no sport compares to hockey because of all the factors that are taken into account every second.

      • Jordan

        And back on topic of the ACTUAL name of this article “all around athletes” you have to consider balance endurance agility flexibilty speed strength spacial awareness and mental ability My question to all of you is what if we took the worlds top athlete from every sport and ran tests or even took every athlete and swap them to another sport every doing eachothers sport ex. trying to skate stick handle and/or shoot, run a route and receive a pass with defensive coverage, return a tennis serve, score a point 1v1 in basketball and do these all against or with a elite athlete of the other sport name me one athlete that could toss on skates and even skate let alone compete. I have faced 100+ mph serve in tennis and returned it (once ;P) and I am not an elite athlete nor a high level tennis player. Yes I am very biased but it is hard to argue that tennis players are better all round athletes when the demands of almost every category of being classified as an “elite” athlete is higher but im sure you will fire back at me so let me know how! :) ps imo the hardest sport in the world to play is golf…you cant start in a fun league toss a ball around or rally lightly to practice either but now im just off topic :)

        • aaa

          golf is not a sport and skating is a skill just like hitting a topspin backhand. i have played both sports at a high enough level and skating is way easier to learn and master than a top spin backhand. and golfers are athletes? this should not be in the discussion. a golfer can play till he’s 60, and a tennis player can play till max mid thirties. enough said.

  • April Bishart

    This is why there aren’t that many good American tennis players. You need to be a top world class athlete to compete at the top level. Tennis is not as popular here in the U.S. There for we are not getting our best athletes.

  • Michael

    Basketball without doubt. Speed, quickness, agility, strength, endurance, intelligence, concentration, and something tennis payers don’t have to worry about-team play, And nasty defenders. Basketball players will always be our best athletes.

    • geoff

      you don’t think tennis is tough.. try playing even a college match where you have between 20 and 100 spectators heckling you, threatening to beat you up if you win.. whilst youre playing. Top level there are crowds of thousands who may all be cheering for one player.. you don’t think thats mentally tough?

  • Robert

    I’ve always stated this: Individual sports are always tougher. If Floyd Mayweather loses a single match, his career is ruined essentially. You cannot have an off-day. I’ve seen plenty of games where a quarterback, striker, or shortstop had an off-day, or even an off moment in a key play, and their teammates essentially saved them. You don’t get such a benefit in a single-person battle.

    Thus, taking team sports out the equation, I’d say tennis is by far one of the hardest sports to SUCCEED in, having trained with many guys from top-notch D1 schools who said playing Futures (minor leagues essentially) was way out of the question for them, even for guys at Ohio State, UC schools, etc.

    However, having gone through injuries in tennis and playing some rugby, and sprint football (look it up) etc. I’d still have my reservations about calling tennis over fighting sports. Having to deal with all that blood and brain damage, on top of the grueling training and difficulties of making weight, I’d have to say that fighting sports are harder. Tennis is as equally difficult to succeed in but seeing some of these boxers and UFC fighters’ faces makes me have to give it up for them having the hardest sports overall.

    • exercise science

      You are right on that part, the mental battles of tennis are hard, but the real physical battles of fighting sports can be more than challenging because when your body wants to give up, it takes a whole lot of mental strength to go against the odds and come back and fight some more.

  • exercise science

    To be fair, there should be a set of standard physical tests given to different athletes and see which sports does the best or make players from one sport try a different sport at a professionnal level.

    I would be very curious to see Djokovic play football, or Peyton Manning play soccer, or Kobe Bryant play hockey.
    Because you guys are talking like you know each sport, but really have each of you played professional in each individual sport??

    You talk about games a lot but you forget about training. Soccer training can be pretty intense to prepare for those only 11 minutes of contact like you say, so it is all relative, there are a lot of preparation behind each sports.

    The body is prone to shoulder injuries and ankle sprain as well as back pain and elbow injuries in tennis for example which is overuse injuries. The body is exposed to a lot more injuries in football for example due to constant contact. So when you talk about best all around athletes what is your exact definition, it seems to be more qualitative than quantitative, so it is hard to measure and support your statement that tennis athletes are the best all around athlete.

    Another important point, in team sports, each position has specific skills, for example goal keepers in soccer use their hands and have a very rigorous training, diving and stopping shots with their body themselves, not a racquet.
    Rugby players could be pretty high on the list as well for best all around players because do you see how much contact they get and how much they run. It is like mixing futbol and football together!

    • Robert

      I just want to mention that I think seeing Peyton Manning play soccer or Djokovic play football would be HILARIOUS. I think sports like hockey and tennis require such specific training from a young age, that it makes it virtually impossible to be good unless you are dedicated before your teens.
      Tim Duncan didn’t learn basketball until 9th grade, (granted, he’s freakishly tall, but he’s also one of the greatest of all time)
      I’d agree that it’s this definition of All-Around that really needs to be defined for this argument to have any validation.

  • Rob

    Take a look at top flight rugby. Speed, power, and the draining effect of collisions/contact. Okay it’s a team sport, but no commercial breaks, just a 10m half time. Puts them about Football and Soccer players for sure. Could tennis players last as long if they had to take contact all the time?

    • futbolfan

      Yeah I would like to see a tennis player try to be as precise if they got hit every two minutes while they are playing! And rugby seems like a really though sport. Although soccer is too, may be less contact

  • Sport addict

    There should be standards tests with many athletes from different sports, than we would see in a quantitative manner which sport has the best all around athletes.

    It would be interesting to see players from different pro sports play other sports, like Djokovic play football, Kobe Bryant play hockey and Beckham play tennis.

    I think each sport has their particularity and when one mentions tennis has the best all around athletes, one needs to do so with key points that can be measured not just supported with opinions.

    Which sports are to be included, because gymnastics, rugby, fighting sports can be challenging ones.

  • Lbizz

    Tennis is the toughest physical, mental, and most skilled. Tell me another sport that has this many shot varieties (forehand, backhand, volley, serve, service return, half volley, top spin lob, lob, drop shot, swing volleys, and tweeners!) along with backspin/top spin/flat shot variety on all shots. On the serve you have slice, spin, and kick serves. Not to mention hitting on the run and using your dominant and non dominant hand.

    Along with all the shot selection against good players if you just get the ball back short in the court your opponent will hit a winner. Nadal could contribute with his athleticism on the soccer field with practice. Where you can take the best soccer player in the world train them for 10 years and wouldn’t get a game on anyone in the top 1000 in the world atp tour.

    • tdsfs

      Boxing. Pivot. Jab. Cross. Hook. Uppercut. Slip. Turn. Bob. Weave. Parry. Block. Clinch. Cover-up. Shell. Grip. Counterpunching. Push off. Not to mention the countless number of categorizing of each one I just mentioned. It goes on and on.

      • SportsFan

        The thing is ”tdsfs” you can learn all of these in probably 20 minutes, while in tennis you couldn’t even perform any shot at the lowest level in 1 month.

        • TheRoo

          learn to fight in twenty minutes, become a master in a week!

          • Spazz

            lmao thank you

    • doubtful

      So you think Nadal could play with Barcelona, thats possible, but he would have had to play soccer before, because foot skills needs to be learned too, and he might be really athletic, but Id have a laugh watching him play with those guys!

      • futbolfan

        And for soccer, semi-volley, volley, heads, chest, passes, shots, long balls, curved balls, left foot, right foot, outside, inside, heel, soles, fakes… Do tennis players play as well with both hands?? because very good soccer players can kick a ball well with the left and the right foot!

        • Jorge Sepulveda

          Look up Brian Battistone…yes they can if they trained for it. However, since you don’t have luxury time when the ball is going 80mph on a court that is 70 some feet long it is smarter to stick to one hand so you don’t waste precious milliseconds trading the racket from one hand to the other.

      • tom

        Andy Murray and roger federer both had the choice to play professional soccer.. How many soccer players could even have that choice if they wanted?

      • Jorge Sepulveda

        I played soccer longer than I’ve played tennis. Soccer is easy…soccer relies on a team, get on the right team and you always win. Get on the wrong one and you will always lose. Tennis players have themselves to look to out there and when they win or lose they have absolutely nobody else to blame but themselves.

    • Spazz

      Wrestling: neutral,leg shot ( single leg, double, high crotch, firemans carry etc.) arm drags (russian tie), throws (head and arm, lateral drop, belly to back, belly to belly, side, gutwrench reverse gutwrench, so many more moves just from neutral, and so many counters to each of those moves, now referee’s position. Top: ankle pick, “the clamp”, cradle, half nelson, arm bar, much much more, Tilts: one arm, cross, pumphandle a few more, Leg riding: cross ride, full ride, back ride. Bottom: wrist roll, gramby, switch, etc etc so many. All while focusing on hand control and where your hips are and need to be. so again tell me how specific your sport is cuz no other sport is like that….. please attempt to learn those moves and then use them correctly all while someone else i trying to do the same thing to you… complete and utter failure at even a high school level without a years of training.

  • Hugo

    The argument is the best ‘all-around’ athlete. not the quickest, or strongest, or fittest, or most mentally tough, but the athlete who must draw upon all these facets (and many others). I cannot think of another sport, one on one, with no time limit, that involves every aspect of physical prowess (hand-eye, speed, agility, stamina, balance, timing, strength, flexibility etc.) as well as the mental strength required. besides golf i cannot think of a more mentally demanding ball sport (with respect to the contact sports whereby mentally you must be very tough to withstand and continue, these are probably the toughest mentally). To be top 20 in the world of tennis let me tell you what you must do. You MUST start playing before you are 10, by 10 years old rafa would beat most club players. By the time you are 12 you better be training 2-3 hours a day and ONLY playing tennis and by 15 if you aren’t quitting school to train 5-6 hours a day and dedicate your life to tennis then odds become very difficult to become top 20 in the world.

    • Robert

      and to think, you can do all of that, and STILL not make it past the collegiate level.

    • futbolfan

      So you think that Messi had it easier? Do you know how many kids try to become pro futbol players? Most parents tell their kids not to pursue that road. And although a team has more players, the percent that makes it to the highest leagues in the teams in the champions league is very small. Take the number of kids who play soccer at 10 (almost all kids in europe africa and south america and more and more in america and asia, versus the number of pro soccer players in europe in division 1 …

  • Johnny

    Its not even a question that waterpolo is the most demanding sport in every single aspect of the game. The athletes are in significantly better mental and physical shape. Anyone claiming that “tennis” (what a joke) has the most athletic players is downright stupid and/or a tennis player, but those are interchangable anyways.

    • Luke

      The fact that you called tennis players stupid ruins your credibility completely. So in response to that, you’re just bitter because people care about water polo even less than tennis, which is pretty hard to do I might add.

  • Katie

    What I haven’t seen mentioned…with the exception of college tennis, coaching isn’t allowed during play either.. So the few breaks tennis players have they only have themselves to rely on for any adjustments/strategy. Big reason why players, especially junior players struggle. Try being a teenager completely isolated figuring out how to win on your own.. Not easy.

    • Tony Baloney

      “few breaks”??? You mean the 20-30secs they get between every single serve and then much longer between games and sets?? I think this must’ve been published in a tennis magazine to get so many supporting votes. Why do you think tennis has NEVER come up in the conversation before?!?

  • Boxing

    Boxing. Plain and simple. No other sport comes close. You’re stupid if you think it does. The first comment, harder to master, maybe I give it that. But until you run 20 mile days consecutively and do 3 thousand sit-ups a day (and that’s just the light stuff), it’s really hard to compare. The most physically fit athletes, it’s hard to say. But my guess would be boxers. Soccer players, Football players. All athletes need to be fit. But the amount of training to hone your body to withstand someone who wants to kill you – literally is bar none. I respect all athletes though.

    • toombstone

      The difference with boxing is 1/ There is a time limit. 2/ You have a coach in your corner (no coaching in tennis.) 3/ You can dance around the ring and not make any contact. I’ve boxed and played tennis. Tennis is much harder mentally. As far as training; do you really think a tennis player couldn’t run 20 miles day after day, do thousands of sit ups? If you do then you have not witnessed what tennis training is all about.

    • Casey

      Boxing is pretty one dimensional compared to MMA. Boxers are not better athletes than Mixed Martial Artists.

  • Casey

    I would disagree. I would have to say that MMA requires a great deal more of hand eye coordination, strength, agility, knowledge, and mental toughness. I love tennis but top level MMA athletes are the greatest in the world.

  • Manuel

    Not bad, but I believe extreme sports are much more demanding,since the risk is greater the mental strength has to be big, then there’s the physical effort (in climbing for example) you have to use every muscle available in your body, then there’s the exposure to weather, etc. All the sports mentioned in the articles are classic sports, what about the ones that are not so popular? They deserve to be mentioned.

  • Ronaldo

    Just find me another sport where before the match you have no possible idea how long you are going to be out there.. longest tennis match ever recorded 11 Hours 5 minutes… Id like to see another sport do that.. Put it this way.. would nadal give messi a better game of soccer than messi would give nadal at tennis.. hands down!

    • Aly

      Cricket. Do some research.

      • Abi

        uhh…pardon me? The Test match version of cricket (which is the longest version) has a limit of 5 days. And each day they don’t play more than 9 hours a day. After 5 days there doesnt have to be a winner. And of course, in the longer version, the batsman really doesn’t have to score. He can leave every single ball that comes to him, and pass the strike over to the other batsman in the next over. There is no complete dependency on a single player (it is spread over 11 players). Long hours of no play for the Test version. Result is not binary. And only the best matches between the top 5 teams have the intensity approaching that of any pro tennis match.

  • Guest1

    Moreover, the author forgot to mention the fact that a tennis player is not allowed to talk to his coach during the match. The coach only talks to the player before that match and that’s it. During the match the player has to stay mentally strong to follow the coach’s advice and be smart to find the way to turn the match around if things are not working. If a tennis player is losing the match there is no “timeout” or talk to the coach for advice. In other sports the coaches are allowed to talk to their players during the game, give advices on what they are doing wrong, or change the strategy if it’s necessary. A tennis player has to do this by himself. In other words, a tennis player is on the court all by himself.

  • George

    The best all around athletes come from the sport of boxing. They train under the most rigorous circumstances in an attempt to beat their foe. We are talking about exceptional speed, stamina, power, coordination and reflexes all packed in one. You mentioned keeping an eye on an object that moves (like a hockey puck, football, baseball, etc.). Well try keeping an eye on your opponents hands (coming at different angles) while simultaneously keeping an eye on his head movement to land a punch. To me, boxing has THE MOST ELITE OF ATHLETES.

    • Casey

      Nope. MMA.

      • Tony Baloney

        Aaaaahhh good call….hadn’t thought of MMA but still more athletic overall than (pro starting) basketball players??

      • Aly

        Nope. Rowing

  • Hao

    I play tennis, so I have a bias, but I agree that water polo is tough too. I think that the sports that require movement, accuracy, and endurance are the toughest. Water polo, although it’s a team sport, is tough, physical, and my friends tell me, really exhausting. I think is not as physical, but it’s mental and banks on accuracy, endurance, and speed.

  • Squash

    Squash is the most physically demanding at a professional level. The level of fitness required to play squash is incredible where you can easily burn thousands of calories in minutes. As with tennis it required masterful hand eye coordination as well as very quick footwork. I feel that squash tennis and hockey can all easily be argued for but in terms of physical challenges squash is the most intense and has the best athletes.

  • David

    Tennis is brutal! Tennis requires an incredible amount of skill, the ability to co-ordinate every part of your body from the correct footwork patterns to the smallest manipulation of your wrists whilst hitting a moving ball and throwing your body all over the court.
    Next is physical, as its a whole body sport you have to develop every part of your body from both aerobic and anaerobic exercises to power and strength oh and don’t forget its both lower and upper body exercises whilst maintaining good flexibility and agility. Very few other sports have to cover as many different areas of the body in order to compete at a high level and also, take into account tennis doesn’t have an off season, you train and play throughout the year (unless top 8) your body does get punished. Every sport at a high level has a detrimental affect to the body so there’s no need for me to say that tennis players are prone to severe shoulder and hip problems as I know other sports depending on the excessive use of a certain movement will get the same outcome, that’s elite sport for you.
    Next are conditions and as you will know tennis has many different surfaces, which do all have a significant impact physically and mentally. There’s no doubt that the slower the surface (clay/hard) the tougher mentally and physically (strength, aerobic) it is as points last longer and thus affects you mentally, include 40 degree heat and 100% humidity (an extreme but it does occur) then you have a battle on your hand especially mentally, to cope in those conditions are horrible, I’m sure you get the idea. I understand that quicker surfaces are less physically and mentally demanding however it is very minor differences. In some ways you have to have more concentration as generally at the highest level if you lose serve you lose the set and so you have to be extremely focused throughout. You’ll also find as the points are shorter and therefore you need to be more powerful and anaerobic in the points. As you can see for both scenarios that’s why you need to train every part of the body.
    Lets next include the diabolical scoring system. No clock runs out and so you have to do the dirty work and finish someone off, trust me its something which is extremely difficult to do, you can’t relax as that can let them back in, you have to be ruthless throughout or you do not succeed. You can win more points then your opponent and still lose. Lets also take into account that you can win 200 points in a game and still not score on the board as it were, you still get a big fat 0 next to your name, unlike most sports where scoring gets you on the board in tennis you need to score on the important points in order to get on the board.
    Finally mental. This is where tennis really separates itself from the rest, as I’ve touched on before the clock doesn’t run out, you can’t attain an assailable lead and then coast like in a lot of sports, you have to finish your opponent off which mentally takes its toll, this is where choking occurs massively in tennis. The stress that is caused during tennis is immense, if you can imagine a caldron gradually cooking over time with no forms of escape (if you want to win) then that’s what tennis is and you have to deal with it as an individual. The pressure to win certain points as some points are bigger than others is extremely high especially as the match prolongs which is the same for every sport the longer it goes on but a goal is a goal in football (soccer) where as its a lot more specific in tennis, there’s more meaning on particular points and so causes stress. Because tennis doesn’t have a clock, in some cases you can be battling it out for 5 to 6 hours. Also unless your first on in the day you never know when you will play for sure, you have an idea but its very difficult to relax especially when there’s a big opportunity, waiting around also drains you mentally so you have to be smart, that’s tough mentally. As a tennis player you can only receive money if you win, you don’t get a salary like in rugby or football you as an individual have to fight to put food on your table and shelter over your head, oh and if your having a bad day you can’t asked to be substituted for someone else, you as an individual have to fight through and find a way to win. Lets also take into account where the money actually is in tennis which is at the top of the game, the self proclaimed top 100. Money at the lower echelons of tennis is diabolical for the standard that’s being played, to pay to travel, stay in a hotel and attain transport to and from the event, equipment (shoes, string, bags, racquets, grips etc) and on average a restring at an event is at least €10 times that by at least 6 (saying that you make the middle of the week) you can see as a tennis player at the lower ends you are in debt. Now a lot of people will say that if your not good enough then that’s what you deserve but if you take into account there are no teenagers inside the top 100 (mens) and that the average age is 27 then you can also see why tennis is incredibly tough as whilst your plying your trade in order to become a better player for the age of 27 you are constantly losing money and to play under that pressure especially in countries where federations are poor is very very tough. There is no golden ticket to the top, you can’t get scouted and bought to play at the top like in football or rugby, you have to earn your place there, grinding through the ranks. Unlike in swimming where you compete in your strength be it freestyle that’s not the same for tennis, I can’t say to my opponent I only want to hit forehands cross court because that’s my strength, you have to hide your weaknesses best and use your strengths and that’s where the strategic aspect applies. Yes you can say other sports also have much needed strategy but when your on your own trying to figure out how to beat your opponent with no half time breaks and a rule being your not allowed to talk to coaches during the match, throw in all the above with pressure building and conditions then you can see its extremely tough.
    I don’t want to sit here and preach how hard tennis is because I know the dedication other sports such as swimming and gymnastics require and the biased view people have towards their sport however as a little golden rule and I’ll compare it with swimming, if I stopped tennis and pursued swimming professionally, I could be a lot better and higher ranked swimmer than if a swimmer stopped swimming and pursued tennis professionally as the skill level required is so much higher and there is no doubt about it tennis is a lot tougher than any team sport

  • David

    I have played proffessional hockey, water polo, gold, football, soccer and basketball.. however ive never even been able to put a tennis ball back in play.. skill i suppose.

  • C

    Crossfit has the most all around athletes. Case closed.

    • Tony Baloney

      UUuuhhhh….not a sport?

  • Jorge Sepulveda

    I love tennis and for the most part I agree but I still am always amazed at what Gymnasts can do with their bodies. Complete strength and stamina right down to the very core muscles. I’m a tennis player and I’ve played damn near every sport and I tell you that I stuck with tennis because its the one I’ve found most challenging with its combination of mental as well as physical aspects.

  • SuperToad

    Formula 1

  • Kevin

    No mention of rugby. Look at any of those guys and you’ll see well rounded requirements of speed, strength, endurance, finesse, durability etc.

    The only real way to test this is to have an elite athlete from one sport crossover to another one. Something tells me that the hockey player could pick up a racket a lot easier than the tennis player can lace up some skates.

  • Ya Boi

    Just because it is a hard sport to master doesn’t make them the best all around athletes.

    Sure tennis players are strong, but they can’t jump very high. Sure they are agile, but they still can’t compete with actual FAST athletes. Sure they have great focus and coordination, but it’s limited to the confines of a (very) small court and simplistic game. Lastly, yes they are mentally tough, but being a top athlete requires big time physical toughness. Frankly, I don’t see many of the top tennis players holding their own in a fight with an average drunk at a bar…haha… They all just seem like softies, maybe thats just me.

    • Mongols

      What are you talking about? Physical toughness has nothing to do with a drunken bar brawl.. It’s more like playing a continuous sport on your own for 5 hours straight using almost every muscle in your body.. How many other sports in the world have had one match continuously last 13 hours.. And most matches played in weather with 100% humidity and 40 degrees heat.. May I add tennis is not a sport where you can just be taken and put at the top like most others including football and soccer.. Once you finish your junior career you go back to square one and have to play all over the world to reach the top again whereas in other sports you can have one good season for a college team and be taken straight to the nba or nfl.. Tells that’s not tough..

  • Jeffrey Race

    Having played soccer, baseball, beach volleyball, triathlon, basketball, windsurfing, running – tennis is without a doubt the most difficult sport to master. Two dozen different strokes, tactical decision making on every shot made in less than one second, tremendous physical demands, rock solid mentality and confidence, no coaching, no substitutions, miles of stop-start-turn-twist-jump-lunge-bend-sprint-sidestep. It’s all on you – the player. Three hours long matches or more. Not putting any other sport down, but tennis is THE ONE.

  • Tony Baloney

    Absolute bboollsshiitt. Basketball is by far the most demanding all around for strength, stamina and skill. Friggin tennis players get a 20-30sec break after every single serve and even longer between sets….garbage.

    • Aly

      This is where again, I say rowing. One 2000m race is comparable to playing two basketball games back to back.

      • Tony Baloney

        Rowing? ROWING?!? #1) Not a sport. #2) Incredibly limited in its variety and scope of measurable athleticism.

        • Abi

          The International Olympic Committee disagrees with you on point #1

    • Neel

      Basketball players do really nothing. They stand around most of the time. They also have teammates to back them up if they make a mistake. They have a clock that runs down, while tennis does not. They also have a 15 minute break after only playing for 30 minutes. Tennis players get 3 minutes max between sets. Since when do you need to be strong to put a ball in a basket? You’re very clearly biased in your arguments.

  • Tony Baloney

    “Best all around athletes” means most athletic – not whether one individual athlete could compete in another sport. Who cares if Nadal could do water polo??? How is this so complicated? Tennis is NOT even in the conversation. Think of what are the standards of athleticism are and it just comes down to which pro athletes have the highest cumulative scores in those measurable events like decathletes or something. Decathletes have to be the greatest athletes but it’s not really a sport. My vote is starting NBA players.

  • Aly

    Rowing. I’ve competed in tennis, soccer, basketball, swimming, track, and softball, and none of them come close to the demands of rowing. Sorry everyone, your sport is our training….

    • Tony Baloney

      #1) Not a sport.

      #2) Incredibly limited in its variety and scope of measurable athleticism.

  • josh

    Forgive me for asking but why hasn’t anyone mentioned anything about badminton? It’s similar in many ways to tennis, and as i’ve played both, I’d say the force needed to hit a birdie across a badminton court is around the same as hitting a tennis ball. Not saying badminton is harder…just wondering why badminton wasn’t even up there..

    • Tony Baloney

      Jeeziss.

  • Red

    This article, along with any of the comments to this article, is not going to change everyone’s minds on this matter. Everyone is going to be protective of the sport that they compete in, or are the biggest fan of. What I would say, however, is that so many people underestimate the difficulty of tennis. They don’t realize that there is no time limit, which can lead to 5+ hour long matches. They don’t take into consideration the fact that, in addition to running long distances with short spurts of extreme energy, tennis players use even more energy to hit the ball as hard as they can (the average groundstroke of a professional men’s tennis player is in the 60-70 mph range, with all-out winners usually being up in the 90′s) once they get there. Also not taken into consideration is the fact that one minor mistake (i.e. hitting the ball too late/too early, hitting the ball with the racket head too high/too low, hitting the ball with the racket face turned too much towards the ground/towards the sky, etc.) results in the loss of point. The mental aspect is probably the most overlooked aspect of tennis. There is no one out there with you telling you what your next move should be, what your opponent’s weaknesses are, or simply to calm you down. You are completely on your own, battling not only your opponent, but yourself. Lastly, people like to comment on the fact that tennis players get “frequent breaks” compared to other sports. These “frequent breaks” consist of a minute and 30 second break between every two games, 25 seconds between points, and 2 minutes between sets. Let’s break this down: since there are no time limits in this sport, the amount of play time varies. Yes, some points may be over in 2 shots, and some games may be over in 2 minutes, which makes these frequent breaks seem pointless. But, how often does this really happen? Points can last up to 20, 50, 100 plus shots! And games can last up to 10, 20 minutes! Play one twenty minute game, and then another, let’s say 5 minute game, and you’ll be happy to get your meager minute and a half break. Oh, and if you’re injured, you get three minutes to receive medical attention. If you still have issues after that three minutes is over, well it sucks to suck. There is no extended timeout period in which you can get longer treatment, unless you want to take the penalty of course.
    Obviously I am biased since I am a competitive tennis player, and I respect all of the rigorous aspects of every sport (except golf, sorry). All I am saying is that tennis deserves a lot more respect and attention than it gets, and people should really look into all of the details before making ignorant comments about how “easy” this sport is. Just because you can walk onto a tennis court and maybe hit three balls in a row, over the net, inside the lines, and at maybe 10 miles an hour, does not make this sport “easy” or less physical, etc. than other sports. I can walk onto a basketball court and shoot free throws all day, and maybe make a three pointer every once in a while; and I can walk onto a soccer field and pass the ball and shoot a goal, but that does not mean that these sports are easy, and nor do I think they are. Tennis is a great sport that is challenging on many levels, and, unfortunately, also destroys your body ;-) If you want to see proof of all of this, go watch any grand slam match between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal (not including this years U.S. Open final; Djokovic was off). That’s crazy fitness there.

    • Tony Baloney

      Tennis is not even in the conversation. Your bias is clear.

  • Ivan Yalooz

    If MMA is considered a “sport”, then being a prison guard should also be considered a sport. And to all you tennis nuts who think your sport is so challenging…have you ever watched pro Ping Pong? Now THAT’s a “sport” that’s the most grueling by several orders of magnitude!

  • Meep

    I think parkour would be the correct answer. You’re challenging yourself by pushing yourself to do new stunt (if you’re freerunning) and the most important point is that you’re in your natural environment. We were born to move this way and parkour trains and refines our natural abilities of coordination, balance, agility, efficiency, our mental capability, and everything that a true athlete has.

  • Spazz

    this is one of the most biased articles ive read in a while. clearly a tennis player didnt write this (sarcasm). Just by claiming that the sport requires hand eye and foot coordination on top of being aerobic and the pressure of a one on one situation and that there are many enviornmental factors then derive out of that, that tennis has the best athletes. how bout we pin the best athletes in the world up against each other and put them through multiple tests. ANYTHING involving strength, or physical contact a tennis player would fail miserably at. I personally think having physical strength and being able to deal w physical obstacles in your way makes you much more of an athlete than someone who can run back and fourth and hit a ball. If i had to say which sport has the best athletes i’d say wrestlers since they have to be strong, agile, in great shape,a good decision maker under pressure. (actual pressure like if you mess up you get dropped on a matt in front of people not a ball goes past you) Mental strength, knowing technique, implementing tht technique. Changing your technique based off you opponent. i can go on and on. i feel as any person who plays whatever sport they play can write a super biased article about how its the best sport with the best athletes like i just did. BRAVO

    • Neel

      Why is physical contact important in determining the greatest athlete? WHY DOES EVERYBODY SAY THAT-THAT IS NOT A MEASURE OF ATHLETICISM. Look at 300 pound linemen. Just cause they can take a hit doesn’t mean that they’re athletic. The longest wrestling match lasted 125 minutes. Almost every tennis match is longer than that.

  • kevin

    Easy way to settle this ridiculous conversation: Have there been NFL players who could have played professional tennis? Yes. Have there been professional tennis players who could have played in the NFL? No, absolutely not.

  • nabill

    the super humans are at olympic weightlifting. strongest, fastest and some of the most flexible men in the world. that being said all round MMA is jut supreme, rugby guys are beasts too.

  • Brie

    It’s so funny to read all of the comments like, “there’s no contact so how can it be harder than football lol duh.” Everyone has their own arguments, but you have to remember all (well, most) players of every sport have to be in top-notch shape in order to play their sport. There are sports that require you to have more endurance and stamina than others, which would be tennis. Having no break (or a little break) is a fantastic argument because the players are making fast and quick movements that could easily tire someone out in an hour. However, they have to last through (on average) two. I do agree that American Football and Soccer are both incredibly hard, but there is a half time and a lot of it is usually standing around. You also to have incredible mental strength. There are no team-mates to help you make up the mistake that you made, with the exception of a doubles partner. This partner might not be able to make up for your mistake, which can easily frustrate you. This is the same vice-versa.
    I know that this isn’t a very clear cut argument, but what I’m trying to say is tennis is equally as hard (or harder) than any other sport. Also, saying that a tennis player wouldn’t last in a pool is just plain stupid. A player is in top-notch physical condition, so wouldn’t they be able to swim? Saying a tennis player couldn’t last on the soccer field is just as stupid as well. How about a soccer player pick up professional tennis? Have him go up against Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal? That player would just get destroyed on the court. There’s more to just hitting the ball, you know. You have to have a certain grip, there is how you angle your racquet, and so much more. Even thought it may not have contact, well, actually it does. There is contact when the ball hits the racquet, and that counts right?

  • UFC Fan

    What about MMA/UFC? Those guys are all-around best athletes. You need everything to win. You have to be able to be hit, bleed, and fight.

  • MiddleWay14

    How about Hurling or Aussie Rules Football?

    In fact, I’d add a caveat saying that Hurling requires the most athleticism with a bias towards skill and Aussie Rules requires the most athleticism with a bias towards physicality. But if you have not witnessed them in action because you are a culturally-insular American, you should see for yourself:

    Hurling – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmzivRetelE

    Aussie Rules Football – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxhqXzVBen4

  • MiddleWay14

    Other sports which may also qualify might include MMA and Wrestling (MMA especially). Want to talk about hand-eye (and foot-eye) coordination? Imagine having to hit a guy and simultaneously avoid getting hit yourself over and over and over and over again. No one’s body goes through the wringer before, during, and after the competition like those guys’.

  • Joffa Corfe

    Australian Football (AFL) is played over 2 hours and like demands similar precision skills, dexterity, endurance and all-round athleticism possessed by the elite tennis players. What separates it however, is that it’s also brutal tackle sport and it’s played without any protective padding.

    AFL footballers will run 15-20km (10-12 miles) in a game, crashing into each other like NFL or NHL players, while maintaining a high skill level – catching, kicking and passing an oval-shaped ball which bounces unpredictably.

    At the top level, the game is played at a war-like intensity and demands a military-like discipline from it’s players. Players will verbally abuse and physically harass each other non-stop for the duration of the game. Tennis players get upset when a spectator talks loudly during a point.

  • Evan

    Sorry but when I think of the most demanding sport it has to be rugby. While I agree that you have to have good hand eye coordination and endurance. Nothing compares to an eighty minute game of constant movement and brutality. I have not played tennis but after a rugby game your body feels like it does not exist.

  • Rage Dave

    Formula 1 driving duhhh.

  • Johnny Landino

    Coming from a solid tennis player of over a decade who also played college football: Tennis was hands down the more difficult sport to play. It’s not even close. While football required you to be of a different physique in order to be successful, from an all around basis, tennis was not only harder but more physically demanding. Yes, in different ways sure. But as a tennis player, I was able to walk on the football field and immediately earn a college scholarship after one year of playing. The hitting was not as big of a deal as people say it is. You get your bell rung a few times then get used to it. It becomes natural very quickly. As a football player, if I walked onto the tennis court, not only would I get drilled by anybody with any sort of skill whatsoever, the lateral and constant movement over the course of several hours would be a form of exhaustion you probably have never experienced before.

  • Ross

    Obviously none of these commenters has ever boxed (which I did for 12 years). For sheer mental stamina, aka terror, nothing beats boxing: it’s the only sport where your opponent is trying to kill you and he might succeed with his next punch. A tennis match is somewhat like a boxing match—without the physical contact, because tennis players are, essentially, wusses. Whoever said that the hardest thing is to hit a baseball may be right: just look how often the batters miss. How often does a tennis player fail to hit a ball within striking distance? Tennis players take long rests every 2 games—not to mention bathroom and “injury” breaks. So a tennis player runs “2 miles” during a match—soccer players regularly run 10 (even the refs run 6 or 7, which is why you don’t see fat old refs—they have to retire at 45—unlike football or baseball officials).

  • d1inFB&BB

    this is just so bias

  • d1inFB&BB

    you arent taking into consideration, strength, playing with 9-21 other players who can make amazing plays or mistakes that effect that you overcome. Size,Body Control, Explosiveness, Agility, and hand-eye all need to be factored

  • hsg

    This is the first time I’ve heard of a tennis player being called the best athlete. Being athletic isn’t only skill, it has a lot to do with the body too. There is no way you can say the best tennis player in the world is more athletic than Lebron James. This is the definition of athletic “physically strong, fit, and active” so how is Federer stronger or more active, let’s see a tennis player run the court in a full game of basketball.

  • Alex

    Gymnasts are the most well-rounded athletes since they can pick up anything due to them knowing their bodies so well. The only a gymnast cannot do is jump since they rebound.

  • Alex

    Gymnastics produce the most well-rounded athletes, wrestling produces the toughest athletes. This is coming from someone who tried everything from hockey to boxing to soccer and weightlifting.

  • Chris

    watch a real soccer game

  • Shemar

    Really??? 11 minutes if actual contact. You do realize the clock stops after the play is over. Unless it was a run play. And even then if it’s a first down the clock stops until the chains are moved. Football > tennis

  • Gus

    I believe olympic wrestlers are the best all around athletes. Its a combination of strength, agility, coordination, technique, mental toughness especialy with the weight cutting factor, physical toughness. It is truly embrace the grind sort of sport.

  • chris james

    If your including contact sports I’d have to say by far MMA is the sport where you need to be the best all-around athlete. You have to have endurance, strength, power while being able to kick, jump, grab, punch, absorb hits, grapple,wrestle, etc… Not only do you have to operate under extreme pressure but you have to constantly think, adapt and understand your opponent and often fight through minor injuries while getting punched and kicked in the face. Training for this sport must be absurd.

    Non-contact sports… I’d say basketball athletes are the best all-around athletes because you have to be strong, fast, tall and athletic (minus centers whom are usually just tall). Why I give basketball the edge because these athletes (guards,forwards, some centers) are literally giants and at these sizes shouldn’t have the endurance, speed and strength they have. Your often dealing with 6’8 + athletes that have really high vertical jumps. Basketball players don’t need to have the endurance of tennis or soccer players but tennis and soccer players aren’t usually 6’8+ 215Ib+

    Football would be next because that requires strength and endurance. You don’t need to be huge like 6’8 + basketball players but you need lots of strength and muscle. Offensive players are usually fast, strong and have great hand-eye coordination. Defensive players are usually really heavy, muscular and somewhat athletic.

    Hockey players are very tough and have lots of endurance and magnificent hand eye coordination. They don’t really need to be big or really strong.

    Tennis seems to be a grueling sport as far as endurance and hand-eye coordination. Of course you need to be athletic but you don’t need to jump as high or be as big as a baseball player. Nor do tennis players need to be as physically strong as football players.

  • Patrick KT

    If best athletes is defined from a raw physical specimen perspective, than it has to be players in the NBA or NFL. The combination of power, speed and agility is really unmatched. From a skill perspective, than baseball, soccer, etc certainly ranks up there.

  • Fei

    I beg to differ, if its comparing in terms of sports, i feel Formula One is one sport that is more superior than tennis.

  • jgraye

    Soccer beats tennis hands down. On field action lol. Elite level soccer players are way fitter than tennis players and its not even close

  • Devil’s Advocate

    I’ve never played tennis as anything more than recreation with friends, but I have played my share of football and felt the demands of the sport. Even so, I can understand to an extent why tennis players would be considered most athletic. Besides constant pivoting, calculating (which is mostly subconscious when you’re good, no?), etc., it has to be considered how long a play is in tennis and how long one is in football. Going man to man for a few seconds, physical contact or not, is only a few seconds. Those volleys in tennis can go on for a fair bit of time if I’m not mistaken. Also, those who still ride on about physical contact, the aim in football usually is to subdue, not harm. Sure, you end up with some nasty hits, but that doesn’t equate to athleticism, it’s only a characteristic to the sport (a sport in which you’re equipped with padding as a countermeasure). There are famous runningbacks who attribute their success to their loathing of being hit. Are they less athletic because of it? No, they proved to be more athletic in spite of not being hit. Yeah, so physical contact is irrelevant, as is the running done by less than half an offense inconsistently between downs as they cycle between plays. With the exception of a great drive by a team with a marquee runningback who is consistently handed the ball, an average football player goes play by play, with more than enough rest. Tennis plays volley by volley, and there’s no sitting out a play for another player to take the ball.

  • metalhead83

    Any sport can be hard and challenging, but it’s the athlete that decides to make the challenge to push his/her limits to where they can do anything. In my thoughts, I say that wrestlers are temendrous athletes because they sacrifice their time from everybody else’s, and literally starve, train mentally and physically, to succeed to beat their opponent who knows exactly the same moves as you do. Wrestlers have high endurance, strength, flexibility, balance, etc. I think that wrestling deserves a spot in that area for the best athletes, but like I said, it all depends if the athlete wants to push themselves to their limits.

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