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The Greatest Rivalries In Tennis

A look back at some of the greatest rivalries in the history of tennis. From the early days of the sport, right through to modern day, tennis has been littered with exceptional rivalries. We take a look back at some of the best.

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Federer vs Nadal

You can't talk about that Borg vs McEnroe tiebreak without talking about that Federer vs Nadal tiebreak. As if trying to recreate the 1984 final, Nadal and Federer produced one of the greatest tie-breaks of all time in the fourth set of the 2008 Wimbledon Final, with Nadal failing to capitalise on match points. Like Borg before him though, Nadal regathered his composure to win the 5th set and claim the Wimbledon title. Today the head to head stands at 23 to 15 in Nadal's favor, and the Spaniard has won 6 of their 9 Grand Slam Final meetings.

Borg vs McEnroe

You can't talk about this rivalry without talking about that tiebreak. Borg and McEnroe played out one of the most tantalizing Wimbledon finals of all time in 1980 when Borg came back from losing 7 match points in the 4th set to claim the titles in a thrilling 5 set dual. The pair only played a total of 14 times, taking 7 wins apiece, but the sheer drama and electrifying tennis mean Borg and McEnroe make number 2 on our list.

Evert vs Navratilova

When you've played someone 80 times, including 14 Grand Slam finals, it's pretty safe to say you've got a rivalry going on. Ever and Navratilova were dominant throughout the 70s and 80s, sweeping up trophy after trophy. The overall head to head is very tight, with Navratilova leading 43-37, but it was in the big matches where Navratilova shone through. Of the 14 Grand Slam finals the two played each other in, Navratilova came out on top 10 times, however the two are tied when it comes to Grand Slam singles titles with 18 each.

Djokovic vs Nadal

These two have been battling it out since 2006, when Djokovic broke into the big time. The pair have played 53 times since then, and once again, Djokovic leads the way. Djokovic has won 28 of their match ups vs 25 for Nadal. Each have 4 victories over the other when it comes to Grand Slam finals though, and it's very likely that this rivalry will see plenty more classic matches in the future. Djokovic currently sits number 1 in the world ranking, closely followed by Nadal at number 2.

King vs Court

Billie Jean King and Margaret Court were the big names in women's tennis in the 60s and 70s and they battled out 6 Grand Slam finals between them. Australian, Court tended to come off best in there battles, amassing a 22-10 record against Billie Jean as well as wining 4 of their 5 Grand Slam finals meetings. Billie Jean King would go on to win 12 Grand Slam singles titles, Court, an incredible 24.

Graf vs Seles

This was a rivalry that had unbelievable potential, but due to an unfortunate incident never quite reach its peak. In the early 1990s, Seles had challenged the dominance of Graf, creating a rivalry that looked set to dominate women's tennis. At its peak, Seles defeated Graf in the 1992 French Open final, however, in 1993 Seles was tragically stabbed, putting her out of the game for over two years, and her career never quite returned to the same heights. The pair only met 15 times, with Graf leading the rivalry 10-5 but based on the unbelievable tennis they managed in the first few years of their rivalry, they have earned a spot at number 6.

Agassi vs Sampras

The great American rivalry of the 1990s and early 2000s. Agassi and Sampras couldn't be more contrasting in their styles both on and off-court, but the contrasts made for some unbelievable tennis. Sampras largely had the better of the rivalry, amassing 14 Grand Slam titles to Agassi's 8, and leading the head to head 20-14. In fitting style, the last meeting between the two came in the 2002 US Open final, a match that Sampras won before announcing his retirement.

Rosewall vs Laver

Rosewall and Laver's rivalry was played out largely before the Open Era of tennis, where Grand Slams became open to professional tennis players. This meant that the pair only met twice in Grand Slam events, with Rosewall coming out on top in the 1968 French Open final and Lave getting revenge in the 1969 French Open final. Laver's victory in the French Open would help him on his way to achieving the Grand Slam in 1969, winning all four Grand Slam events. Laver finished his career with 11 Grand Slam titles to Rosewall's 8, but there is no telling how many titles these two could have picked up if Grand Slam events were open to professionals throughout their career. In the end, it is estimated that Laver won the head to head 89-75, but both men will go down as tennis greats.

McEnroe vs Connors

The numbers of this rivalry might not be the most eye-catching, McEnroe led the head to head 20-13, but there was some serious animosity in this rivalry. As we discovered in our list of Tennis Meltdown, these guys had some serious bust-ups that spanned the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The pair only played each other in 2 Grand Slam finals, with each winning a Wimbledon title at the other’s expense.
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Federer vs Djokovic

These two men need no introduction. The Swiss and Serb have been dominating men's tennis as part of the Big Four for ages now. Although Federer is widely considered to be the greatest player of all time, his head to head record against Djokovic is not favorable. The Serb leads Federer by 25 wins to 22 and 3 wins to 1 in Grand Slam finals. Federer might be 37-years-old now, but it seems like there is life in this rivalry yet!

Laver vs Emerson

Another incredible rivalry that spanned 20 years and saw 67 meetings between the two players. Laver led the head to heads with a 49-18 record, but things were much tighter in the Grand Slams, where Laver led 7-2, but just 3-2 in finals. The pair were largely equals for the early part of their rivalry, but entering the 70s Laver took control and won an incredible 23 matches in a row against Emerson. Nevertheless, Emerson managed to rack up 11 Grand Slam singles titles.

Graf vs Navratilova

While this might not be either of these players most well-known rivalries, it was one of the most evenly matched rivalries in tennis. These matchups came towards the end of Navratilova's singles career, but that didn’t stop her from splitting the head to head 9-9. Navratilova also had the edge in Grand Slam matches 5-4 but it was Graf who came out on top in the Grand Slam finals with a 4-2 record.

Lendl vs McEnroe

John McEnroe was such an incredible character on court in an era that was full of big characters. This led to plenty of bust-ups and some of the greatest rivalries in the sport. Between 1980 and 1992, one of those rivalries was against Czech machine, Ivan Lendl. Lendl tended to get the better of this rivalry, coming out with a 21-15 head to head record. Lendl also held the advantage when it came to Grand Slam times, winning 7 of the pairs’ 10 meetings and coming out on top in 2 of their 3 Grand Slam finals.

Clijsters v Henin

The two Belgians contested a wonderful rivalry between 1998 and 2010 that produced some outstanding tennis and riveting competition. For such a small nation with no previous tennis pedigree, it was quite an achievement to have two players right at the top of the women’s game for so long. This rivalry was extremely closely contested, with Clijsters edging the overall head to head 13-12, but it was Henin who had the edge when it came to Grand Slams. Henin led the Grand Slam head to head record 5-3, with a 3-0 record in Grand Slam finals.

Ken Rosewall vs Pancho Gonzales

These guys met an unbelievable number of times between 1957 and 1970, with Gonzales leading their head-to-head record 116-85. Rosewall and Gonzales competed at a time when the Grand Slams were only open to amateur players, so, both being pro tennis players they did not compete on