The greatest tennis rivalries

Great rivalries can do amazing things – sell a sport globally, drive fan interaction wild and also raise the skill level of the athletes to the next level.  The below rivalries in tennis helped these players raise their game and  dominate tennis during their era.

John McEnroe Vs Jimmy Connors

The 80’s was the first era of stardom in tennis and it had 4 very different men dominating the game, each with very different styles and characters, those me were called Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors and together they dominating mens tennis for a long period of time.  The two biggest characters were the Americans, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.

Nearly every match became a highly entertaining pantomime – shouting at the umpire and lines people, arguing, trash talk and of course racket smashing.  But don’t let the entertainment value fool you, there was amazing tennis too.

They met 34 times during their 14-year rivalry and McEnroe leads the head to head 20 – 14.  Jimmy Connors holds the record for most ATP singles titles won at 109, 8 of those were Grand Slams, while McEnroe won 77 singles (7 Grand Slam singles titles) and 78 doubles titles; this remains the highest men’s combined total of the Open Era.

A rivalry in terms of drama and theatrics hasn’t been seen in mens tennis since, however Nick Kyrgios is doing a fine job these days!

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Martina Navratilova Vs Chris Evert

This is definitely the most prolific rivalry in tennis, Navratilova and Evert have played each other a staggering 80 times!  And 60 of those were in tournament finals.

Evert was at her best in the 1970’s, where she won three majors against Navratilova. But the Czech – American always played at her best in major finals, leading Evert 10-4 on head to head.  Overall, Navratilova leads 43-37.

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American, Evert would go on to win 18 Grand Slam singles championships and three doubles titles, while Navratilova won 18 Grand Slam singles, 31 major women’s doubles titles (an all-time record), and 10 major mixed doubles titles.  Navratilova was also world No. 1 for a total of 332 weeks in singles, and a record 237 weeks in doubles, making her the only player in history to have held the top spot in both singles and doubles for over 200 weeks.

It is very unlikely that either mens or women’s tennis  tennis will see such a prolific rivalry again.

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Serena Williams Vs Venus Williams

The battle of the super siblings!  The Williams sister have faced off 30 times in professional tournaments, most recently in the 2018 U.S. Open, with Serena leads their head-to-head 18–12.

Both Williams sisters have been ranked World No. 1: Venus for a total of 11 weeks, beginning in February 2002; Serena for a total of 316 weeks, beginning in July 2002.

Venus has won 49 singles titles over the course of her career, and Serena has won 72, her most recent in Jan 2020.  Serena has the edge and is the GOAT of women’s tennis, winning 23 Grand Slam singles titles, the most by any player in the Open Era,

The two sisters remain very close personally.  They have won 22 titles playing doubles together, including 14 Grand Slam titles and 3 Olympic gold medals.

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Andre Agassi V’s Pete Sampras

Agassi and Sampras dominated mens tennis throughout the ’90s, and it really was a magnificent time for the game.  Agassi was probably the first tennis super star, and both he and Sampras where big drivers for the growth of tennis globally throughout that period.

They met each other 34 times with Sampras winning on 20 occasions.  They faced off in five Grand Slam finals with Sampras winning four of them.  Sampras was never as great from the baseline as Andre Agassi was, but he didn’t need to be, the American’s 14 major titles say it all.  He won 64 career titles in total.

Andre Agassi won 60 career tournaments, the majority coming on hardcourt.  Agassi also won Olympic gold in 1996 and is only one of seven men to win the four major titles on all surfaces.

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The Big 3 – Federer / Nadal / Djokovic

It’s amazing to think that Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, between them,  have more or less completely dominated mens tennis over the past 20 years.  What they have achieved is simply astounding, having 3 players this dominant in the ATP Tour has never happened in the history of tennis and isn’t likely to happen again.

The big 3 have won the last 12 majors in a row and they are all 32 +. But the shining statistic is this – Federer (39), Nadal (33) and Djokovic (32) have won an and an incredible 57 of the 67 majors since the 2003.  Since Wimbledon 2003, only 11 of 67 majors have been won by men not named Federer, Nadal or Djokovic. Of those 11, Murray and Wawrinka account for six.

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Right now 39 year old Roger Federer is the GOAT in tennis with 20 majors and holds the all time record with 310 weeks at world No. 1, including 237 consecutive weeks at the top of the ATP rankings, the most of any player.  He is also way ahead in terms of ATP titles with 103, while Nadal sits at 85 and Djokovic at 79.

In terms of top level rivalry, it’s hard to see this ever being replicated in any sport again.

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