The Top 5 Greatest Rivalries in Tennis
Watching Venus and Serena play each other in the fourth round of Indian Wells this past week reminded me about the many great rivalries in tennis. Since then, I’ve been thinking about my top five. After a few days of deliberation, here they are!
5. Navratilova vs. Evert (36-25)
Back in the day, Evert was considered America’s sweetheart of tennis and Navratilova was painted as her ungraceful antagonist. Nothing could be further from the truth. Evert was no sweetheart, she was a tough and relentless competitor. Navratilova brought a new standard for fitness and professionalism to the sport. In my opinion, without Navratilova, the women’s game would not exist as we know it today. That being said, without a player like Evert embracing and successfully adapting to Navratilova’s standards, the public may not have embraced the new era of women’s tennis either. Give these two ladies props for giving us the modern women’s game. Check them out going at it at the 1981 US Open semifinals.
4. Sampras vs. Agassi (20-14)
These two guys couldn’t be any more different. Sampras brought a modern take on the classic serve and volley style of Rod Laver, while Agassi’s flashy groundstrokes and persona showed us how exciting tennis could be. Sampras was always focused, consistent and clinical, while Agassi could walk into a grand slam unseeded and win it – like at the 1994 US Open. Although Sampras got the better of Agassi in this rivalry, their matches were electric and must-see TV throughout the 90s. Here’s one of their amazing points.
3. Nadal vs. Federer (23-15)
We are all too familiar with this rivalry since it has been going for almost 14 years and will probably go another two or three. Who knows, maybe another ten! These two guys are not from this earth. One would think Nadal holds the edge in this rivalry, but upon breaking it down one realizes that the overall number doesn’t tell the whole story. Because Nadal is the greatest clay court player that ever lived, Federer has only been able to win two matches of their 15 disputed on that surface. Taking clay out of the clay equation leaves you with Federer leading their head to head by 13-10. Their match at the 2008 Wimbledon Final is widely considered the greatest match ever played.
2. McEnroe vs. Borg (7-7)
If it wasn’t for the Williams’ rivalry having the exquisitely interesting sister dynamic, this would be my number one rivalry. Much has been written about these two. McEnroe was temperamental and loud, but uncannily crafty and artistic with his game, while Borg was cool, calm, collected, and super fit. These two were also really interesting and cool personalities off the court, and the world took notice, as they rose to fame and celebrity status reserved for movie stars. One of their defining moments in their rivalry came at the 1980 Wimbledon Championships, where they played a fourth set tie-break for the ages.
1. Serena Williams vs. Venus Williams (17-12)
We have to thank the tennis gods for giving us the Williams sisters. The tennis world has never seen two siblings, who have both reached number one, and won numerous grand slams between each other, play each other with such consistency. This rivalry has already spanned 20 years! Granted, Serena overall is the better player, and history will show she is the greatest women’s player that ever lived. Having said that, she by no means dominated her sister in this rivalry. Venus got the better of Serena in the first few years, then Serena dominated Venus the next few, and the last ten years has been pretty competitive, with Venus notching a win at Indian Wells this last week. Here’s a throwback Serena – Venus point from the 2001 US Open.