The Greatest Rivalries in Tennis HistoryDecember 18, 2015
Mats Wilander, the eight-time Grand Slam champion, believed Novak Djokovic to be Rafael Nadal's obstacle on his way to reclaim the top spot in the men's tour. The year 2015 marked the first time that the Spaniard didn't win a major trophy and a ATP Masters 1000 tournament. (One must go back to 2003, when the Nadal was about to become the greatest player on dirt.) Toni Nadal, Rafa's uncle, was willing to step down as coach if necessary. The nine-time French Open champion wouldn't consider such a thought. Wilander may not have thought of Roger Federer, who made a recent announcement. Stefan Edberg, who was part of his coaching team for two seasons, won't join him next year. The Swiss hired Ivan LjubiÄiÄ‡ instead. This would make the Djokovic-Federer rivalry more exciting.
Djokovic and Federer played 44 times, winning 22 matches apiece. The Swiss accounted for three of the Serbian's six losses this season, which was a remarkable feat. It happened in the best-of-three format. Federer must win the first set against Djokovic if he wants another major trophy. He must prevail in three or four sets. A strong first serve would make it possible, and LjubiÄiÄ‡ was known for it. Fans will find out if this move will pay off. (Federer will defend his Brisbane International title.) The personal aspect must be taken into account, as not a few observers suspect Djokovic's dislike of Federer. The Swiss is hardly a gracious loser.
This leads us to the greatest rivalries in tennis history. It was all about records, so there was drama now and then. Let's take a look:
Chris Evert and Navratilova. It was hard to believe that these two good friends were fierce rivals on the court. Evert had the upper hand during the 1970s until Navratilova dominated Wimbledon. The Czech was almost invincible in 1983-84, achieving a non-calendar Grand Slam along the way. Evert was stung by her loss to Navratilova in the finals of the 1984 US Open, prompting her to take a sabbatical. She won the Australian and French Open afterward. The two showed class off the court.
Steffi Graf and Monica Seles. Serena William would attest that the two don't talk to each other in the locker room. It was far from the current atmosphere in the tour. (Flavia Pennetta was surprised at the tweets and calls from her peers after winning the US Open.) If a deranged fan didn't stab Seles in Hamburg (in April 1993), then she might have won more Grand Slam titles. (Seles dominated the women's tour, winning seven out of the nine major tournaments from 1991 to 1993.) Graf might not have won 22 Grand Slam titles, but she managed to play her A-game now and then.
Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. The duo have 22 major trophies between them, as they were part of a generation of Americans who dominated the men's tour during the 1990s. Everyone thought it was fine between the two, until the exhibition match at Indian Wells five years ago. Everything wasn't forgotten. Yet.
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