Worst Behaved Tennis Players in History
In team sports, athletes who behave poorly can have their misdeeds covered up by teammates. In individual sports, there is no such cover. And no sport produces more bad behavior than tennis, where the best players often act the worst. In some cases, those actions define careers.
From modern-day bad boys to the "Superbrat" of the early 1980s to a female star who once told an official to "walk the other way" if he ran into her off the court, these are the most obnoxious and worst behaved tennis players ever.
15. Stefano Tsitsipas
Born: Aug. 12, 1998 (Athens, Greece)
Career earnings: $19.4 million
Grand Slam singles titles: None
Bottom line: The public began to catch on that Stefano Tsitsipas was possibly not the golden boy he'd been portrayed as over the first part of his career during a five-set win over Andy Murray at the 2021 U.S. Open. The Greek star's extended bathroom break seemed to sway the match, and afterward, other players questioned whether Tsitsipas was receiving coaching during the breaks.
Tsitsipas showed he wasn't just entitled but also mentally weak during a match at Wimbledon in 2022, when he lost to Nick Kyrgios and accused the Aussie of being a "bully" after the match, because Kyrgios wanted Tsitsipas disqualified for hitting a ball toward fans in the stands.
Both players were fined, although Tsitsipas received the larger fine for unsportsmanlike conduct.
14. Maria Sharapova
Born: April 19, 1987 (Nyagan, Russia, Soviet Union)
Career earnings: $38.7 million
Grand Slam singles titles: 5 —Australian Open (2008), French Open (2012, 2014), Wimbledon (2004), U.S. Open (2006)
Bottom line: Maria Sharapova's $38.7 million in career earnings pale in comparison to what she's made off the court — reportedly close to $300 million with endorsements.
But Sharapova's behavior on the court throughout her career was bizarre to the point, we think, of being categorized as bad. Her over-the-top grunting borders on screaming and seems performative. Nothing bothered us as much as her pre-serve ritual, which included talking to the wall and staring down her opponent. It's just a lot to deal with.
Sharapova also failed drug tests multiple times over her career and was suspended for four years after a failed test in 2016, although it was later reduced to 15 months.
13. Guillermo Vilas
Born: Aug. 17, 1952 (Mar del Plata, Argentina)
Career earnings: $4.9 million
Grand Slam singles titles: 4 — Australian Open (1978, 1979), French Open (1977), U.S. Open (1977)
Bottom line: Guillermo Vilas' record for most consecutive clay-court victories stood for over 30 years until it was broken by Rafael Nadal in 2006.
Vilas showed he was one of the all-time haters in tennis history afterward, accusing Nadal of stuffing his schedule with easy matches to break the record and disparaging the mark because it took Nadal longer to do it.
It's been widely thought that Vilas should have been ranked No. 1 for seven weeks in 1975 and 1976. The controversy was big enough that Netflix made a documentary about the slight in 2020 called "Guillermo Vilas: Settling the Score."
Maybe it's better he wasn't.
12. Serena Williams
Born: Sept. 26, 1981 (Saginaw, Michigan)
Career earnings: $94.5 million
Grand Slam singles titles: 23 — Australian Open (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2017), French Open (2002, 2003, 2015), Wimbledon (2002, 2003, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016), U.S. Open (1999, 2002, 2008, 2012-14)
Bottom line: Before we get into the reasons why Serena Williams made this list, it's worth pointing out that she doesn't just have a career Grand Slam. She has a triple career Grand Slam and is just one French Open title away from a quadruple Grand Slam, meaning she's won all four of the Grand Slam events at least three times in her career.
So when you win that much, there aren't a lot of opportunities for things to go bad. But when they go bad with Serena, it's nuclear. In one of the worst examples of sportsmanship in tennis history, Serena lost the 2018 U.S. Open final to Naomi Osaka in straight sets after being given a game penalty for receiving coaching from the stands.
The reaction from Serena still makes us cringe. Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, later admitted he was coaching her from the stands with hand signals.
11. Andre Agassi
Born: April 29, 1970 (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Career earnings: $31.1 million
Grand Slam singles titles: 8 — Australian Open (1995, 2000, 2001, 2003), French Open (1999), Wimbledon (1992), U.S. Open (1994, 1999)
Bottom line: Andre Agassi's reputation as a badly behaved player went by the wayside toward the end of his 20-year career, when he transitioned into the role of an elder statesman and left behind the bad boy persona of his youth.
Early in his career, Agassi was as much of a pain to deal with as anyone who ever stepped on the tennis court. He earned the Prix Citron award as the most disagreeable tennis player to deal with in the entire world in 1989 and 1991, and the award was given to "Team Agassi" in 1990.
Agassi's biography also revealed some bad behavior that went beyond the pale. He admitted he played high on crystal meth in the late 1990s.
10. Martina Hingis
Born: Sept. 30, 1980 (Kosice, Czechoslovakia)
Career earnings: $24.7 million
Grand Slam singles titles: 13 — Australian Open (1997-99, 2002, 2016), French Open (1998, 2000), Wimbledon (1996, 1998, 2015), U.S. Open (1998, 2015, 2017)
Bottom line: It's impossible to deny Martina Hingis a spot among the greatest female tennis players of all time. She won seven Grand Slam singles titles over her career. What's even more amazing is her final Grand Slam title, winning doubles and mixed doubles at the U.S. Open in 2017, came 20 years after her first Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open in 1997.
None of that can cover up the fact that she's also super racist, possibly homophobic, and once said Steffi Graf was "past her prime" before losing to her in the 1999 French Open final when Hingis was the No. 1 seed and Graf was the No. 6 seed. Hingis actually had to be convinced to stay on the court for the trophy presentation by her mother.
Hingis has also retired three times in her career — the second time after a positive drug test for cocaine in 2007.
9. Lleyton Hewitt
Born: Feb. 24, 1981 (Adelaide, Australia)
Career earnings: $20.8 million
Grand Slam singles titles: 2 — Wimbledon (2002), U.S. Open (2001)
Bottom line: You might go so far as to say that Lleyton Hewitt walked so that fellow Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios could run, passing the torch from one badly behaved generation of Aussies to another.
If we're having to pick between the two, please believe we will take Kyrgios every day of the week. That's because not only did Hewitt spend the majority of his career heaping abuse on officials, but he's also said some pretty racist stuff in the past.
8. Andy Roddick
Born: Aug. 30, 1982 (Omaha, Nebraska)
Career earnings: $20.6 million
Grand Slam singles titles: 1 —U.S. Open (2003)
Bottom line: When Andy Roddick mercifully retired from tennis in 2012 — almost a full decade after his lone Grand Slam singles title — it brought to an end over a decade of unrelenting hype for a player who did little to back that up.
Few players in tennis history put umpires through the withering verbal abuse Roddick did, or came up with as corny of insults as Roddick. His go-to diss was that he liked to question the intelligence of the officials. At the 2008 Australian Open, Roddick was disputing a call and yelled "Stay in school, kids, or you'll end up an umpire."
Roddick was essentially the tennis version of NBA point guard Chris Paul — continually coming up short in pressure situations and continually berating refs. What amazing legacies.
7. Jeff Tarango
Born: Nov. 20, 1968 (Manhattan Beach, California)
Career earnings: $3.7 million
Grand Slam singles titles: None
Bottom line: For someone who never got above a No. 42 ranking over his 11-year career, it speaks to just how badly behaved Jeff Tarango was on the tennis court that he's being included on this list.
Tarango's bad behavior on the court goes back to the 1970. In Andre Agassi's autobiography "Open," he accused Tarango of cheating during a match in 1978, when Tarango was 10 years old and Agassi was 8 years old.
Tarango's most infamous moment came at Wimbledon in 1995, when he walked out in the middle of a third-round match after several disputes with umpire Bruno Rebeuh. If that wasn't weird enough, Tarango's wife slapped Rebeuh twice.
6. Bernard Tomic
Born: Oct. 21, 1992 (Stuttgart, Germany)
Career earnings: $6.2 million
Grand Slam singles titles: None
Bottom line: Bernard Tomic gets such a high place on this list for his utter lack of respect for the game of tennis. At one point, he disclosed he only gave "50 percent effort" toward his career and also has been accused, over and over, of tanking matches.
If only it ended there.
Tomic's list of misdeeds is too long to list here, but "Tomic the Tank Engine" has done a little bit of everything when it comes to bad behavior, including trying to have his father thrown out of a stadium mid-match.
5. Jimmy Connors
Born: Sept. 2, 1952 (Belleville, Illinois)
Career earnings: $8.6 million
Grand Slam singles titles: 8 — Australian Open (1974), Wimbledon (1974, 1982), U.S. Open (1974, 1976, 1978, 1982, 1983)
Bottom line: Jimmy Connors' style of play made him one of the most famous tennis players of all time — an eight-time Grand Slam singles champion who seemed like he might fight everyone in the stadium were he to lose a match.
Connors' approach to the game also made him not-so-well liked in certain corners. He's one of the few players to be booed at Wimbledon." If I won, I won," Connors once said. "And if I lost, well, I didn't take it so well."
Even for his era of play, Connors' actions on the court went beyond the pale. He famously flipped off a referee during a match and, on multiple occasions, would put his tennis racket between his legs during a match in a grotesque manner. Not fun.
4. Ilie Nastase
Born: July 19, 1946 (Bucharest, Romania)
Career earnings: $2 million
Grand Slam singles titles: 2 — French Open (1973), U.S. Open (1972)
Bottom line: Ilie Nastase owns a special place in the pantheon of bad behavior. He's the only player to receive both the Prix Orange (most agreeable) and Prix Citron (most disagreeable) awards in the same year, which tennis journalists gave to him in 1982. While Nastase was one of the great players of his era, he was also a menace both on and off the court.
Nastase's bad behavior has continued past the end of his career. In 2017, he was banned from the Fed Cup and Davis Cup for two years because of his abuse of officials during a Fed Cup match. The same incident earned Nastase a ban from the ITF to appear in any official capacity until 2021.
Around the same time, Nastase had a day for the ages in his native Romania, when he was arrested for driving drunk twice in one day — first in a car, then on a scooter.
3. Marcelo Rios
Born: Dec. 26, 1975 (Santiago, Chile)
Career earnings: $9.7 million
Grand Slam singles titles: None
Bottom line: For years, international tennis journalists would give out a pair of awards at the end of the season — the Prix Citron for most disagreeable and the Prix Orange for the most agreeable players they covered throughout the years. While Rios never won a Grand Slam title in his career, he won the Prix Citron five times, including four consecutive wins from 1996 to 1999.
One of the truly awful people to ever play pro tennis, Rios once ran over one of his personal trainers with his jeep, pushed one of his wives from a moving car, punched a taxi driver and the police officers who came to arrest him in Rome, and almost single-handedly tanked the 2003 Davis Cup for Chile after he urinated on a group of men in a bathroom during a training session in Ecuador.
Steer clear of this dude.
2. Nick Kyrgios
Born: April 27, 1995 (Canberra, Australia)
Career earnings: $10.9 million
Grand Slam singles titles: None
Bottom line: When it comes to bad behavior on the tennis court, Nick Kyrgios is a once-in-a-generation type of player.
Kyrgios has refused to play the role of the standard, elite pro tennis player throughout his decade-long career and has little to show for it in the way of titles or comparative money earned by his contemporaries. Kyrgios, who went pro in 2012, passed the $10 million mark for career earnings at Wimbledon in 2022. Stefano Tsitsipas, who went pro in 2016, passed the $20 million mark at that same tournament.
Kyrgios' history of epic meltdowns and trash talk is already legendary — and too long to list here in totality — but seemingly peaked at the 2019 Cincinnati Masters, when he was fined a total of $113,000, despite not making it past the round of 32. The amount of fines was an ATP record.
1. John McEnroe
Born: Feb. 16, 1959 (Wiesbaden, West Germany)
Career earnings: $12.5 million
Grand Slam singles titles: 7 — Wimbledon (1981, 1983, 1984), U.S. Open (1979-81, 1984)
Bottom line: Few athletes in professional sports history have exhibited bad behavior in the field of play/on the court like John McEnroe, who became as famous for his temper tantrums as for his stellar play on the tennis court.
The seven-time Grand Slam singles champion was the author of one of the most famous phrases in sports history "You cannot be serious!" after he yelled it at a referee during Wimbledon in 1981. It was also the name of McEnroe's 2002 autobiography, which made it to No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list.
McEnroe had two lengthy suspensions in his career, for three weeks in 1984, which is largely considered his best season, and for two months in 1987 following an outburst at the U.S. Open.
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