Physicist Filippo Radicchi of Northwestern University said he conducted the analysis to show how complex analysis can reveal interesting facts in statistical data, a Northwestern release said Tuesday.
Radicchi ran a computer algorithm, similar to the one used by Google to rank Web pages, on digital data from hundreds of thousands of matches, using date from the Association of Tennis Web site.
He quantified the importance of players and ranked them by a "tennis prestige" score determined by a player's competitiveness, the quality of his performance and number of victories.
"In this particular ranking system, it's more important to win a single match against a very good player than many matches against not-so-good players," Radicchi said.
"One of the reasons Jimmy Connors ranks on top is because he played for more than 20 years and had the opportunity to win a lot of matches against other very good players, he said.
Ivan Lendl was second behind Connors in the rankings, followed by John McEnroe, Guillermo Vilas and Andre Agassi.
Radicchi, a life-long tennis fan, said he expects current greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, currently ranked at No. 7 and No. 24 respectively, to eventually move up in the rankings if they face tough competition and continue to win matches.
"The rankings are a snapshot of who is at the top at this time," Radicchi said. "Players who have yet to retire are penalized with respect to those who have ended their careers. Prestige scores strongly correlate with the number of victories, and active players haven't played all the matches of their careers yet."