Epic rivalries: captivating tennis fans and driving the sport forward

Epic rivalries: captivating tennis fans and driving the sport forward

The reliability of certain duos to meet in matches with meaning have elevated the profile of tennis for the next generation to continue driving forward.

Yankees-Red Sox. Real Madrid-FC Barcelona. Ali-Frazier. Ohio State-Michigan. Celtics-Lakers. UConn-Tennessee. Whether it’s the presentation of contrasting styles, a mounting narrative with both agonizing and euphoric plot twists, or connecting through influences like geographic proximity and family upbringing, these are a handful of storied rivalries that have repeatedly captivated sports fans on television screens and in arenas.

Tennis is no different. We’ve been mesmerized by the likes of Laver-Rosewall, Connors-McEnroe, Evert-Navratilova, Graf-Seles, Sampras-Agassi, Venus-Serena and Federer-Nadal over the last half century. All have brought variety in personality and approaches, while maintaining dramatic flair and tennis genius on the world stage for extended runs.

Take Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, who over a 16-year stretch, faced off an incredible 80 times (Navratilova edged ahead 43-37). Sixty came with a title on the line, including 14 at the majors. Navratilova offered up an assertive serve and volley tactic built on tremendous hands and court sense. Evert was raised to never miss, challenging the lefty with her pinpoint accuracy and footwork. Their reliability to meet in matches with meaning elevated the profile of tennis for the next generation to continue driving forward, a pivotal quality shared by each of the aforementioned duos.

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For some of these players, outstanding rivalries have gone beyond one fellow champion across the net. McEnroe led Connors 20-14, but actually battled Ivan Lendl two more times, finishing 15-21. The quintessential New Yorker went 7-7 against Bjorn Borg but the two transcended the game by owning their distinct differences, widely known as Fire and Ice.

Federer and Nadal have played each other 40 times (Nadal leads 26-14), meeting in nine major finals (6-3 to Nadal). Nike developed identifiable collections for each superstar, another way to engage fans to pick a side. Yet in recent years, the Swiss and Spaniard have both seen rivalries with Novak Djokovic surpass their number of encounters. Djokovic currently holds 29-27 and 27-23 advantages over Nadal and Federer, respectively.

This golden era of tennis, anchored by Serena and Venus Williams going head-to-head 31 times since their first clash on tour back in 1998 at the Australian Open (won by Venus), has blessed us with countless memories to look back on. At one point, the sisters appeared in four consecutive Grand Slam finals from 2002 Roland Garros to the 2003 Australian Open (Serena swept all four).

As we come to terms with the fact that Serena and Venus, along with the Big 3, can't grace the court forever, it leaves us with one important question: who will emerge to create the next great rivalry in tennis? 

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All matches on Tennis Channel

Monday, 12/14

2000 Australian Open semifinals: Andre Agassi vs. Pete Sampras

2005 Miami final: Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal

Tuesday, 12/15

2003 Australian Open final: Serena Williams vs. Venus Williams

2012 Roland Garros final: Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic

Wednesday, 12/16

2019 Wimbledon final: Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer

2009 Wimbledon final: Serena Williams vs. Venus Williams

Thursday, 12/17

2013 Wimbledon final: Andy Murray vs. Novak Djokovic

2012 US Open final: Serena Williams vs. Victoria Azarenka

2019 ATP Finals, round robin: Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic

Friday, 12/18

1982 Australian Open final: Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova

2016 Roland Garros final: Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray

2017 Miami final: Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal

Saturday, 12/19

1982 Wimbledon final: Jimmy Connors vs. John McEnroe

2005 Wimbledon final: Venus Williams vs. Lindsay Davenport

Sunday, 12/20

Strokes of Genius (Nadal-Federer documentary)

2019 Wimbledon semifinals: Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal

2010 Australian Open final: Serena Williams vs. Justine Henin