The Greatest Rivalries in Tennis History

Sam BlumCorrespondent ISeptember 2, 2011

The Greatest Rivalries in Tennis History

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    Every major tournament starts out the same; 128 men and women all battling to become the champion.

    Throughout the two weeks racquets are broken, dreams are crushed, careers are made, and exciting upsets capture the fans' hearts. Yet no matter how much excitement occurs, or how different the path seems to be, the final day of the tournament usually features the same names.

    Over the past six years, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have dominated the men's side, while players like the Williams sisters are usually around on the women's. While it may become somewhat repetitive to see the same names, it is always great because the quality of tennis is so high, and it only fuels the inevitable rivalry that occurs when one's place in history is on the line.

    Looking back at the past couple of decades, we reflect on some of the greatest rivalries in the history of tennis. (Note: they are in no particular order).  

Martina Navritalova vs. Chris Evert

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    The number of times that these two played each other was absolutely unprecedented: they faced off a total of 80 times over the course 15 years.

    They were usually huge matches, as well, with 60 of them coming tournament finals. In 14 grand slam final matches Navratilova took 10, including the five times they played at Wimbledon. Overall, Navratilova won 43 and Evert came out ahead in 37.

    Martina fared better on the grass courts with her serve and volley style, while Evert did most of her damage to Martina on the clay courts. 

Andre Agassi vs. Pete Sampras

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    Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras were two of the best American players ever to set foot on a tennis court. However, when they did so at the same time, Sampras definitely was the better one.

    The two met in five grand slam finals, four of which went Sampras' way. Their rivalry spanned 13 years in which they played 34 times. Sampras won 20 of the matchups.

    In Agassi's book, he describes that when facing Pete he would usually state, "always Pete" in an exasperated manner. You can't really blame him though...

Serena Williams vs. Venus Williams

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    What better rivalry than sibling rivalry?

    These two women have been two of the most dominant players in the game since coming up in the late 1990's. They first met in 1981, but finally played their first competitive match in 1998 in the round of 64 at the Australian Open. Venus won in straight sets.

    Overall, in their 23 meetings, Serena holds a 13-10 lead. She also has a 6-2 lead in Grand Slam finals.

    They had a stretch from 2002-2003, where they met in four consecutive grand slam finals, with Serena winning in every one. Currently, the sisters are still some of the best on tour. However, both have recently been battling injuries and sickness, as they continue to fight in the latter stages of their tennis careers. 

Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal

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    Although Roger Federer is considered by most to be the best player of all time, the only possible reason for doubt is because of his Achilles heel: Rafael Nadal.

    They first met in 2004 and since then have played 25 times with Nadal winning 17 total, including a lopsided 7-2 record in Grand Slam matches (6-2 in GS finals).

    Nadal owns the Swiss machine on clay courts, with a 12-2 record. Clay is Nadal's best surface, and they have played 14 of their 25 matches on clay, which might be one reason for the disparity (on other surfaces Federer is 6-5).

    That being said, Federer is still the second-best clay court player in the world, and a 12-2 record is pretty remarkable.  

John McEnroe vs. Bjorn Borg

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    In just three short years these two met a staggering 14 times, with each player winning seven matches.

    They played in four grand slams; McEnroe won three. They played twice in the Wimbledon final. Each one once. In 1980, they played a five set epic in which Borg won 8-6 in the 5th set. In 1981, McEnroe defeated Borg in four sets after dropping the first.

    Their rivalry was interesting because  of their contrasting temperaments. Borg was a much more smooth and relaxed player, while McEnroe could always be seen up at the umpires chair complaining. 

Monic Seles vs. Steffi Graf

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    Even though they played just 15 times in 10 years, six of their matchups were in Grand Slam finals. They each won three, even though Graf won the head-to-head battle, 10-5.

    Graf was the overall better player in her career with 22 slams victories, but Seles had quite a career herself. She won her first ever Grand Slam at the young age of 16, and would have likely had a much more successful career had she not been stabbed by an obsessed, mentally challenged Steffi Graf fan while on court in Germany in 1993.