Five tennis rivalries of the Open Era that stand out

  • Aastha Sharma, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Jun 27, 2015 11:22 IST

Any sporting event evokes a lot of emotions from the players as well as the spectators. These emotions reach their crescendo when we have arch-rivals facing each other.

Tennis being an individual sport, a match between rivals showcases not just the players’ mental and physical fitness levels but also their individual personalities and approaches to the game. Most experts also say that such rivalries are essential for an athlete to discover his true potential.

With Wimbledon 2015 starting on Monday, here are five of the fiercest rivalries that the tennis arena has witnessed since the Grand Slam Era began.

1. Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe

If one had to use a single word to describe a match between these two players, it would be ‘epic’. When Borg and McEnroe played, it was like watching 'Ice' play 'Fire'. In all their clashes, tennis always emerged the winner.

They met fourteen times with both of them accumulating seven wins each. It was McEnroe who brought Borg’s winning streak in 1981 to a screeching halt, shortly after which Borg retired.

The 1980 Wimbledon final is widely regarded as one the greatest Borg-McEnroe clash. The fourth set tie-breaker was a 22-minute battle, which McEnroe eventually won. At this point the score was 2 sets apiece and Borg had to fight hard to take the final set and the tournament.

2. Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras

This was another battle of extreme opposites – Sampras’ playing style was extremely refined, restrained and elegant; on the other hand Agassi was the quintessential rebel child with a handful of tantrums thrown in.

Interestingly, their rivalry began when both played on the junior circuit and continued long past retirement (even their charity matches showed visible signs of friction). Through 1989 to 2002, Agassi and Sampras came face to face a total 34 times, with 20 of these matches going in Sampas’ favor.

Their US Open quarterfinal encounter in 2001 is said to be the greatest match played by the two champions. The 3 hour 33 min long match was definitely some memorable piece of tennis theatre. Sampras clinched the match with the score line an astonishing 6-7 (7-9), 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-5)

3. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal

Even though Novak Djokovic’s rise in the recent years has cast a bit of eclipse on the Federer – Nadal rivalry, it is still widely considered to be the “THE greatest tennis rivalry of all time.” For quite a few years, Nadal seemed to be the only tennis player around possessing the power to beat Federer even when FedEx was at his sublime best.

The duo has met a total of 33 times and Nadal leads the tally 23-10 (9-2 in Grand Slams). The rivalry became a decade-old in 2014.

Many top tennis analysts consider their 2008 Wimbledon final to be the greatest tennis match EVER played. Nadal, then world no. 2, prevailed over Federer who was the top-ranked player at that time in a marathon 4 hour 48 minute match. The match is a little controversial though as the last set was played in near-darkness.

At the end, the score line read 6–4, 6–4, 6–7(5-7), 6–7(8-10), 9–7 in Nadal’s favor.

4. Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal

It might not be an exaggeration to call the Djoker vs Rafa rivalry, as they are lovingly called, to be the most important rivalry in tennis today. It is also the most prolific, with as many as 44 matches having been played between them as of now.

Many of their matches are considered to be absolute gems, such as the 2009 Madrid Masters Semifinal and 2013 French Open semi-final, but their 2012 Australian open super-marathon match is regarded as the best played by many. Clocking at 5 hours and 53 mins, it is the longest Grand Slam final match in the history of Open-era tennis.

After innumerable unforgettable volleys, it was Djokovic who finally held on to win in the nail-biting contest.

Both Djokovic and Nadal were so drained at the end of the match that chairs were given to them during the presentation ceremony.

Even a score line as great as 5–7, 6–4, 6–2, 6–7 (5-7), 7–5 would be unsuccessful in highlighting the superiority of the tennis which was showcased.

5. Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe

The two greats faced each other a total of 36 matches and out of these Lendl came out on top 21 times. Any rivalry that consists of the fiery John McEnroe is bound to have some sizzle and this great rivalry was no exception.

Out of all the times the two faced off, the 1984 French Open final is considered to be the best. To give a little background, McEnroe had been flying high throughout 1984 and was the odds were clearly in his favour as he Went into the final.

On the other hand was Ivan Lendl, all of 24 years in age, had yet to win a major tournament.

McEnroe breezed through the first two sets in less than an hour. It was only in the third set that he faltered a bit. That was enough for Lendl to regain his composure. He went on to win the third as well as the fourth set. With the match now level, McEnroe lost the fifth set too (on his own serve!) paving way for a Lendl win which is still remembered as one of the greatest turn arounds in sporting history.

The score line hence read an astonishing 3–6, 2–6, 6–4, 7–5, 7–5 in Ivan Lendl’s favour.

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