Sport needs rivalries. It helps it to function and gain the additional notoriety which makes people sit up and take more notice. In cricket there is the rivalry between Australia and England with The Ashes, in...
Sport needs rivalries. It helps it to function and gain the additional notoriety which makes people sit up and take more notice. In cricket there is the rivalry between Australia and England with The Ashes, in football there is the connection between England and Germany or Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, rugby has Australia and New Zealand with the Bledisloe Cup, the rivalry in baseball could be the Yankees against the Red Sox while basketball could be the Lakers versus the Celtics. Like these other sports tennis too has rivalries, we know that. We have seen amazing rivalries through the Open-era and that is the focus of this blog. While I might have my opinions, so too will all of you, and with that in mind it would be great for you to let us know which rivalries in tennis have stood out the most in your mind. Rivalries capture the imagination. Matches between two players who have built up a series over the years make people sit up and take notice but some of those rivalries have gone beyond being another fascinating match. They could be classified as “events”. Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert had the most enduring rivalry the sport has ever seen. They played a staggering 80 times during a 15 year period. Their first match was in 1973 in Akron, Ohio, and Evert won, in fact she won their first six matches. The last time they played was in Chicago in 1988 and Navratilova won, she won their last three matches. The head-to-head ended 43-37 to Navratilova. During their battles they played amazing finals at the Grand Slams; Evert had the only double bagel (1981 final in Amelia Island) but Martina has a run of 13 straight wins. Phenomenal! From a similar time there was the series between John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. Their personalities added to the drama on-court. It was almost like a scene from an old western movie – the guy with the black hat was “the baddie” and the one with the white hat was “the goodie”. You can guess who was who but that was the McEnroe, Borg rivalry. The two Wimbledon finals they played remain among the most talked about matches ever, especially THAT Wimbledon tiebreak back in 1980. What was so stunning about their official rivalry was that it ended 7-7. McEnroe won their first (Stockholm 1978) and last matches (US Open 1981). A bit of fireworks is added to a rivalry when the two opponents are at loggerheads with one another; they don’t get on, off-court. It wasn’t so long ago that McEnroe voiced his concern at the friendliness of the rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He made it clear that he totally disliked Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl which only added to the battles they engaged in, just like Connors and Lendl didn’t get along. Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi had monumental battles and it quite possibly jarred Pete that Andre actually managed to gain a career Slam, something Sampras never did as stunning a career as he had. They were friendly but there was also a bit of an edge to their friendship. One thing’s for sure they didn’t trash one another like McEnroe did with some of his foe. Pete and Andre ended with Sampras leading 20-14 and arguably the highlight match of their series was the 2001 US Open semi-final which Sampras won in four tiebreaks. Who remembers watching that match? Venus and Serena Williams certainly have a rivalry going. They have played 23 times and its 13-10 to Serena but their rivalry is quite possibly the toughest of all because they are sisters. The whole sibling thing. What they have to do to get up for matches they play against one another is quite something and for my money the best match they played against one another was not at one of the majors, it was in fact in Bangalore, India and Serena won. Right now the sit-up and take notice rivalry, THE event rivalry, is between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. People come out of the wood work to watch these two gladiators go at it. So often the tennis played is breath-taking. It’s spell binding and mesmerising and for my money no other battle series, except maybe McEnroe-Borg, comes close to matching them. They’ve played 28 times and Nadal leads the series 18-10. He won their first match in Miami in 2004 and almost exactly eight years later, this year at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells they squared off in the semis in their most recent match and Federer won. However, the two Wimbledon finals they played in 2007 and 2008 are priceless classics with the 2008 match being a theatrical performance that is regarded as the greatest tennis match ever played. Federer and Nadal are the epitome of a rivalry and I would defy any sport to challenge what they have provided. Who agrees and who was there to witness those Wimbledon finals? What’s your verdict on greatest rivalries? There are so many other ones that could have been included like Margaret Court and Billie Jean King or Boris Becker and Michael Stich and also from now Nadal and Novak Djokovic or Federer and Djokovic. We are seeing another one starting to develop and that’s between Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka which certainly has an element of cattiness and maybe one for the future would be Bernard Tomic against Ryan Harrison or Alexandr Dolgopolov. Which two players do you think will create battles that will have fans queuing up to catch a glimpse of history? It’s all pretty fascinating isn’t it, especially with the most important part of the tennis calendar now upon us?