What characteristics define a great tennis rivalry? It is not only about a players’ ability with a racket as there is much more to it. Both players’ rankings positions, the major championships for which they have competed, how their games stack up against one another, their personalities, their equation — all of these variables contribute to the creation of remarkable encounters. The following are some of men’s tennis’ biggest rivalries.
Rod Laver vs. Roy Emerson
For over two decades, the two Australians battled it out, with Laver dominating the competition. They initially met on the senior amateur tour in 1958 and played 32 times before Laver went professional in 1963. For the next six years, until the Open Era started in 1968, the two were unable to play against one other due to Emerson’s continued participation on the amateur circuit. When their rivalry restarted in 1968, Emerson had a 7-6 head-to-head advantage. However, Laver went on to establish his supremacy by winning 23 consecutive matches against Emerson. While their record is highly skewed in favor of Laver, Emerson did manage to defeat Laver in two significant matches — the 1961 Australian Open final and the 1962 French Championship final.
McEnroe vs. Connors
This rivalry is possibly the most tumultuous in tennis history. Years before Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi catapulted the United States of America to the top of the men’s game with their electrifying duels, there were two other Americans who commanded attention. McEnroe and Connors had a lot in common – a never-say-die mentality, a quick temper, a proclivity to take shots at the chair umpire, the capacity to electrify spectators with their antics, and a mutual seeming dislike for one another. Connors led for the first half of their rivalry, but McEnroe surged ahead with 11 consecutive victories between 1983 and 1986. McEnroe leads 6-3 in Grand Slam encounters, however, the two have met in Major finals just once — Connors at the 1982 Wimbledon and McEnroe at the 1984 Wimbledon. One of their most memorable confrontations occurred in the 1984 US Open semi-final, which McEnroe won in five sets en route to his sixth triumph at Flushing Meadows.
Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal
Nadal and Djokovic’s most prolific rivalry throughout the Open Era has had an everlasting influence on the way the sport is played. They are the primary reason tennis has become such a physically demanding sport in recent years. They added an unprecedented level of speed and agility to the game. Certain fundamental characteristics of their games are unique. Djokovic leads their overall head-to-head and Masters 1000 encounters (16-12), whereas Nadal leads their Grand Slam matches 9-6. It’s safe to argue that theirs was the decade’s most intense rivalry. The 2009 Madrid Masters semi-final, the long 2012 Australian Open final, the 2013 French Open semi-final, and the 2018 Wimbledon semi-final are among their most memorable encounters.