Greatest Tennis Rivalries of All Time, Ranked
The entertaining 2017 Hollywood film "Borg vs. McEnroe" about the personalities and events leading up to the epic 1980 Wimbledon duel between tennis greats Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe raises the obvious question: Was this the sport’s greatest rivalry?
It might well have been, had Borg not retired in 1983 at the ripe young age of 26, depriving tennis fans of who-knows-how-many classic battles between the cool Swede and volatile American in the years that followed. Nevertheless, the Borg-McEnroe rivalry, however abbreviated, easily cracks our list of the sport’s Top 24 rivalries of all time.
But leading our list are men’s and women’s rivalries that endured far longer and featured many more memorable moments, even if they never make it to the big screen (or Redbox).
24. Martina Navratilova vs. Tracy Austin
Career head-to-head: Navratilova, 20-13
Grand Slam tournaments head-to-head: 2-2
Grand Slam tournament finals: Austin, 1-0
Grand Slam singles titles: Navratilova 18, Austin 2
As the 1970s came to a close, Martina Navratilova and Tracy Austin looked poised to challenge Chris Evert atop the women’s game entering the new decade.
Injuries would derail Austin’s career, and Navratilova would go on to supplant Evert as the game’s No. 1 player. But first, Navratilova and Austin produced an impressive rivalry of their own, meeting 33 times over six years, including four times in Grand Slam tournaments.
Their only Grand Slam final meeting came at the 1981 U.S. Open, and it was a classic. After losing the first set 1-6, Austin rebounded to take the crown with tiebreaker wins in the second (7-4) and third (7-1) sets.
Sadly, Austin’s career never was the same after that triumph, and she was out of the sport within a few years.
23. Bjorn Borg vs Jimmy Connors
Career head-to-head: Borg, 15-8
Grand Slam tournaments head-to-head: Borg, 5-3
Grand Slam tournament finals: 2-2
Grand Slam singles titles: Borg 11, Connors 8
We start our men’s countdown with Bjorn Borg’s rivalry against the other great American player of the 1970s and '80s, Jimmy Connors. Borg’s epic battles against McEnroe tend to obscure the fact that he and Connors dominated the men’s game for much of the ’70s.
The two split their four Grand Slam finals meetings, with Bjorg prevailing at Wimbledon in 1977 (a five-set thriller) and ’78 and Connors taking U.S. Open crowns in 1976 and ‘78.
Connors had the upper hand early in their rivalry, but Borg won the final 10 meetings between the two, including a thrilling Wimbledon semifinal in 1981, when Borg rallied from two sets down to pull out the win.
22. Chris Evert vs. Evonne Goolagong
Career head-to-head: Evert, 26-13
Grand Slam tournaments head-to-head: Evert, 6-4
Grand Slam finals: Evert, 3-2Grand Slam singles titles: Evert 18, Goolagong 11
Before Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova took over the women’s game, Evonne Goolagong was as dangerous as any player on the women’s tour.
When the Aussie defeated Evert to win the 1980 Wimbledon final, she became the first mother to accomplish that feat since 1914. And her 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-0 win over Evert at the 1974 Australian Open marked the first of her three consecutive titles Down Under, and four overall.
Evert, on the other hand, tended to get the better of Goolagong when they played on American soil, defeating her in the U.S. Open finals in 1975 and 1976 (Goolagong lost four consecutive U.S. Open finals in all).
Their most memorable match likely was the 1976 Wimbledon final, where Evert prevailed in three stirring sets, 6-3, 4-6, 8-6.
21. Rod Laver vs. Roy Emerson
Career head-to-head: Laver, 49-18
Grand Slam tournaments head-to-head: Laver, 7-2
Grand Slam tournament finals: Laver, 3-2
Grand Slam singles titles: Emerson 12, Laver 11
This rivalry between two Aussies spanned nearly 20 years and their stints on both the amateur and pro circuits. Rod Laver dominated for the most part, but Roy Emerson had his share of triumphs, including Grand Slam final victories at the 1961 Australian Open and 1962 French Championships.
Their head-to-head matchups see-sawed until 1969, when Laver began an incredible string of 23 consecutive victories over Emerson.
Emerson finally snapped the six-year losing streak in their final meeting, a 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 win in Montreal.
Their rivalry would have been even greater if not for the fact that they went five years without playing one another in the 1960s when Laver was a pro and Emerson an amateur.
20. Kim Clijsters vs. Justine Henin
Career head-to-head: Clijsters, 13-12
Grand Slam tournaments head-to-head: Henin, 5-3
Grand Slam tournament finals: Henin, 3-0
Grand Slam singles titles: Henin 7, Clijsters 4
The two Belgians produced one of the more even rivalries on our list, with Kim Clijsters winning 13 of their 25 overall meetings but Justine Henin getting the upper hand in Grand Slam matchups.
Henin prevailed in all three of their Grand Slam finals meetings, the 2003 French Open and U.S. Open and 2004 Australian Open.
Some of their best matches came at the end of their rivalry in 2010. Clijsters won their final three meetings in three sets, including third-set tiebreakers at the Brisbane International and Miami Open.
Their final meeting came at Wimbledon, where Clijsters prevailed 2-6, 6-2, 6-3.
19. Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray
Career head-to-head: Djokovic leads 25-11
Grand Slam tournaments head-to-head: Djokovic leads 8-2
Grand Slam finals: Djokovic leads 5-2
Grand Slam singles titles: Djokovic 14, Murray 3
If not for the fact that Novam Djokovic has produced more storied rivalries against Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, this one may have ranked higher on our list.
Amid the modern dominance of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer, it’s easy to miss that Andy Murray and the Serb great have met in seven Grand Slam finals. They are the only pair in the Open era to meet four times in the Australian Open final.
Their most memorable Grand Slam meeting was the 2012 U.S. Open, when Murray needed nearly five hours to notch his first major title, 7-6 (12-10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2.
The next year, Murray triumphed in straight sets at the Wimbledon final, becoming the first Brit to win in London since Fred Perry in 1936.
In 2016, the two battled throughout the year for the top ranking on the ATP Tour, with Murray prevailing to become the first player other than Djokovic, Nadal or Federer to finish the year No. 1 since 2003.
18. Steffi Graf vs. Gabriela Sabatini
Career head-to-head: Graf, 29-11
Grand Slam tournaments head-to-head: Graf, 11-1
Grand Slam finals: Graf, 2-1
Grand Slam singles titles: Graf 22, Sabatini 1
It’s easy to overlook this rivalry amid Graf’s famous duels with Martina Navratilova and Monica Seles, but it was one of the more enduring in the history of the women’s game.
The two met 40 times during their careers, with Graf clearly dominating, especially in Grand Slams.
But the gritty Gabriela Sabatini will always be able to savor her 6-2, 7-6 (7-4) win at the 1990 U.S. Open final for her one and only Grand Slam championship.
The next year, they staged a classic in the Wimbledon final, with Graf prevailing 6-4, 3-6, 8-6.
17. Bill Tilden vs. Henri Cochet
Career head-to-head: Tilden, 23-12
Grand Slam tournaments head-to-head: Cochet, 4-1
Grand Slam finals: Cochet, 1-0
Grand Slam singles titles: Tilden 10, Cochet 7
The American, Bill Tilden, and Frenchman, Henri Cochet, produced one of the more intriguing rivalries in tennis history.
While Tilden won 23 of their 35 head-to-head meetings, Cochet usually came out ahead in the Grand Slams, winning four of their five meetings. Their only Grand Slam final meeting came at the 1930 French Championships, when Cochet prevailed 3-6, 8-6, 6-3, 6-1.
Tilden, however, won both of their meetings in Pro Slam finals, the 1937 Wembley Pro Championship and 1939 French Pro Championship. The latter was the final, and quite likely greatest, meeting of their rivalry, as Tilden prevailed in a five-set marathon, 3-6, 9-7, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.
16. Lindsay Davenport vs. Venus Williams
Career head-to-head: Davenport, 14-13
Grand Slam tournaments head-to-head: Williams, 5-4
Grand Slam finals: Williams, 3-0
Grand Slam singles titles: Williams 7, Davenport 3
Before the Williams sisters took over the sport, Lindsay Davenport briefly reigned as the top American women’s player in the world.
Not surprisingly, some of Venus Williams' more memorable matches early in her career came against the three-time Grand Slam champ.
Though Williams won all three of their meetings in Grand Slam finals, Davenport finished her career with a narrow edge in their head-to-head meetings.
Their greatest duel came at the 2005 Wimbledon final, when Davenport had a match point before Williams eked out a 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 9-7 victory. It was the longest women’s Wimbledon final ever.
15. Ivan Lendl vs. John McEnroe
Career head-to-head: Lendl, 21-15
Grand Slam tournaments head-to-head: Lendl, 7-3
Grand Slam finals: Lendl, 2-1
Grand Slam singles titles: Lendl 8, McEnroe 7
No one will ever make a movie about the Lendl-McEnroe rivalry, even though it lasted much longer than McEnroe’s duel with Bjorn Borg. This rivalry also marked another passing of the guard in men’s tennis in the 1980s, as Lendl ended McEnroe’s reign atop the sport and went on to carve out his own legacy.
McEnroe’s final Grand Slam title came at the 1984 U.S. Open, when he demolished Lendl in straight sets. But Lendl got revenge in the final the next year with a straight-sets triumph of his own, the first of his three consecutive titles at Flushing Meadow.
Their most memorable match came at the 1984 French Open final, when Lendl rallied after losing the first two sets (3-6, 2-6) to win the final three sets (6-4, 7-5, 7-5) for his first Grand Slam championship.
14. Helen Wills vs. Helen Jacobs
Career head-to-head: Wills, 11-1
Grand slam tournaments head-to-head: Wills, 7-1
Grand Slam finals: Wills, 6-1
Grand Slam singles titles: Wills 19, Jacobs 5
The two Northern California natives dominated and captivated women’s tennis in the 1930s with their "Battles of the Helens." This is the most one-sided rivalry on our list, as Jacobs’ only win over Wills came in 1933 when the latter had to retire with a back injury at the U.S. final.
But their impact on the sport transcended their head-to-head meetings, proving that women’s athletes could capture the public imagination.
Their 1933 meeting at Forest Hills drew 8,000 fans and marked the first loss by Willis in any match in seven years.
Meeting before 19,000 fans at the 1935 Wimbledon final, Jacobs was one point from victory before Willis rallied for a stirring 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 win to capture her seventh Wimbledon crown.
13. Pancho Gonzales vs. Ken Rosewall
Career head-to-head: Gonzales, 116-85
No Grand Slam meetings
Grand Slam singles titles: Rosewall 8, Gonzales 2
These two legends staged one of the most enduring, prolific and entertaining rivalries of the pre-Open era, meeting an estimated 200 times by some accounts. They both competed on the pro circuit at a time when the Grand Slams were open to only amateurs, so they never met on that stage.
Their first meeting in Melbourne in 1957 set the tone for things to come, with Gonzales prevailing in a five-set marathon, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 1-6, 9-7.
Perhaps their greatest match came at the U.S. Pro Indoor in 1964, with Gonzales rallying from two sets down to win 5-7, 3-6, 10-8, 11-9, 8-6.
12. Martina Navratilova vs. Steffi Graf
Career head-to-head: 9-9
Grand Slam tournaments head-to-head: Navratilova, 5-4
Grand Slam finals: Graf, 4-2
Grand Slam titles: Graf 22, Navratilova 18
This rivalry is easy to overlook because each woman got immersed in bigger ones during her career (Navratilova vs. Chris Evert and Graf vs. Monica Seles). The rivalry also took root as Navratilova’s career was entering its twilight while Graf’s was dawning (Graf was younger by 12 years). Nevertheless, the head-to-head matchup stands among the greatest in the history of the women’s game.
The rivalry is marked by how even it was, with the two splitting their 18 career head-to-head meetings. While Navratilova had the edge in overall Grand Slam meetings, Graf won four of their six meetings in finals, including a stirring (with the exception of Navratilova’s double fault to end the match) 6-4, 4-6, 8-6 win in the 1987 French Open for her first major championship.
The highlight of this rivalry may have been their three consecutive Wimbledon finals matches from 1987 to 1989, with Navratilova winning the first year and Graf the next two. Their final Grand Slam meeting, in the 1991 U.S. Open semifinals, was also a classic, with Navratilova prevailing in three gripping sets, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4.
11. John McEnroe vs. Jimmy Connors
Career head-to-head: McEnroe, 20-13
Grand Slam tournaments head-to-head: McEnroe, 6-3
Grand Slam finals: 1-1
Grand Slam singles titles: Connors 8, McEnroe 7
This rivalry that spanned the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s makes our list as much for the intangible qualities as what happened on the court. John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors met in Grand Slam finals only twice (splitting Wimbledons in 1982 and 1984), but together, they became the bad boys of American tennis with their swearing, crotch-grabbing and haranguing of umpires (as well as their distaste for one another). This would be the great American tennis rivalry before Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi supplanted it in the 1990s. And while Sampras and Agassi played more thrilling and meaningful matches against one another, they would never match the pure electricity and volatility that Connors and McEnroe brought to the court in their meetings.
Connors first made his splash in the early ‘70s, with McEnroe emerging later in the decade. Their greatest showdowns would occur in the early ‘80s, after Bjorn Borg had departed from the scene, and Connors and McEnroe briefly reigned supreme.
With McEnroe capturing three consecutive U.S. Open titles from 1979 to 1981 and battling Borg in epic Wimbledon duels in 1980 and 1981, it appeared Connors might quietly recede to Mac’s shadow. But Connors was far from through, stunning McEnroe in a widely overlooked five-set classic to win the 1982 Wimbledon crown. After McEnroe gained revenge by thrashing Connors in three sets at the All England Club two years later, the two produced another classic in the semifinals of the 1984 U.S. Open, with McEnroe prevailing in five sets on the way to his fifth U.S. Open crown.
Although the two never met in a U.S. Open final, they met in the semis at Flushing Meadows four times in all, and most of them were memorable.
10. Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer
Career head-to-head: Djokovic leads 24-22
Grand Slam tournaments head-to-head: Djokovic leads 9-6
Grand Slam finals: Djokovic leads 3-1
Grand Slam titles: Federer 20, Djokovic 13
This is the male version of Navratilova vs. Graf, in the sense that the rivalry can be overlooked by each man’s duels with someone else (Rafael Nadal). Like Navratilova and Graf, Djokovic and Federer largely have battled to a draw during this lengthy rivalry, with the Serb (Djokovic) holding a slight advantage over the Swiss maestro in their 45 career meetings.
Perhaps most noteworthy about this rivalry is that each man is the only one to have beaten the other in all four Grand Slam tournaments. They are considered the top two hard court players of the Open era.
We would have this rivalry even higher on our list had they met in more Grand Slam finals, and the results had been more even on that stage. As it is, Federer’s only Grand Slam finals victory over Djokovic came in the 2007 U.S. Open, which he won in straight sets. Djokovic prevailed in the final of the 2014 Wimbledon (a five-set marathon), 2015 Wimbledon (four sets) and 2015 U.S. Open (four sets).
9. Rod Laver vs. Ken Rosewall
Career head-to-head: Laver, 89-75 (estimate)
Grand Slam tournaments head-to-head: 1-1
Grand Slam finals: 1-1
Grand Slam singles titles: Laver 11, Rosewall 8
This is the only men’s rivalry on our list that took place largely during the pre-Open era of tennis, when the Grand Slams were limited to amateurs. The two Aussies first faced off on the pro circuit in 1963 and would meet an astounding 164 times (at least) over the next 13 years.
By the time the Open era arrived in 1968 — opening the Grand Slams to all comers — the two already were well into their epic rivalry. As fate would have it, they only would meet in Grand Slams twice during their careers, the French Opens of 1968 (the first Grand Slam of the Open era) and 1969. Rosewall prevailed in four sets in ‘68, with Laver winning the following year on his way to a sweep of the 1969 Grand Slams.
Their greatest match probably came in the 1972 World Championship Tennis Tour final, when Rosewall outlasted Laver in a five-set marathon, 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6. If the Open era had arrived a decade or so earlier, there’s no telling how many Grand Slam classics these two would have staged.
8. Steffi Graf vs. Monica Seles
Career head-to-head: Graf, 10-5
Grand Slam tournaments head-to-head: Graf, 6-4
Grand Slam finals: 3-3
Grand Slam singles titles: Graf 22, Seles 9
As great as this rivalry was between the two dominant women’s players of the early 1990s, it could have been so much more, if not for the freak on-court stabbing of Seles by a crazed fan of Graf in 1993. At the time of the stabbing, the younger Seles appeared to have eclipsed Graf atop the women’s game, but her career never fully recovered from the episode that sidelined her for over two years.
While it’s tempting to focus on what might have been, there’s also plenty to savor in terms of what did happen between these two greats. Similar to the Evert-Navratilova rivalry, this one see-sawed, with the two players exchanging periods of dominance. Graf won five of their first seven meetings, but Seles triumphed three of the first four times they met in Grand Slam finals. They met twice more for Grand Slam titles after Seles’ return from the stabbing (the 1995 and 1996 U.S. Opens), with Graf winning both times.
The most scintillating match of the brief rivalry (they met only 15 times total) was the 1992 French Open final, where Seles prevailed 6-2, 3-6, 10-8.
7. Pete Sampras vs. Andre Agassi
Career head-to-head: Sampras, 20-14
Grand Slam head-to-head: Sampras, 6-3
Grand Slam finals: Sampras, 4-1
Grand Slam singles titles: Sampras 14, Agassi 8
As far as all-American rivalries go, this one competes with McEnroe vs. Connors for top billing. Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi both burst onto the tennis scene in the early 1990s, just as Connors and McEnroe faded into retirement, and dominated the men’s game for much of the decade. While Agassi was the flashier of the two and had the easier time achieving celebrity status (helped in part by his off-the-court relationships with Brooke Shields and Graf), the cool, stoic Sampras usually had the upper hand on the court.
With Agassi’s flowing hair, untraditional outfits (which ran afoul of Wimbledon’s dress code) and "image is everything" commercial success, Agassi’s impact on the sport, particularly early in his career, transcended his trophy collection. For his part, Sampras was just a plain tennis great who took individual excellence in the sport to a level that had never been reached by any of his predecessors on the men’s side.
It was fitting that the last match of this storied rivalry came in a Grand Slam final, with Sampras prevailing in four sets in the 2002 U.S. Open. It was the perfect bookend to a rivalry that took flight 12 years earlier in another U.S. Open final won by Sampras.
6. Billie Jean King vs. Margaret Court
Career head-to-head: Court, 22-10
Grand Slam tournaments head-to-head: Court, 6-4
Grand Slam finals: Court, 4-1
Grand Slam singles titles: Court 24, King 12
Like Borg and McEnroe, this rivalry got some love on the big screen in the 2017 film "Battle of the Sexes," though that movie was framed around their matches with self-proclaimed misogynist Bobby Riggs and contrasting views toward the feminist movement in the 1970s.
On the surface, Court had the better of this rivalry, winning 22 of their 32 career meetings and four of their five showdowns in Grand Slam finals (which spanned the pre-Open and Open eras). But King’s triumph over Riggs in the 1973 "Battle of the Sexes" match, shortly after Court had been drubbed by the former men’s great, also shapes the historical significance of this rivalry. The matches with Riggs, and contrasting results, probably loom much larger in history than Court’s dominance over King on the court, including a memorable 14-12, 11-9 in the 1970 Wimbledon final.
Their rivalry also has continued in a sense in the decades since their playing careers ended, with their competing views toward gay marriage and LGBT rights. In 2003, King suggested that the Australian Open’s Margaret Court Arena should change its name because of Court’s derogatory comments about gay and transgender people.
5. Serena vs. Venus Williams
Years: 1998 to present
Career head-to-head: Serena leads 17-12
Grand Slam head-to-head: Serena leads 10-5
Grand Slam finals: Serena leads 7-2
Grand Slam singles titles: Serena 23, Venus 7
Easily the greatest sibling rivalry in the history of any sport, Serena vs. Venus would be higher on our list if not for the fact that it’s been a lopsided affair, with Serena winning seven of their nine meetings in Grand Slam finals. It didn’t start out that way, with Venus winning their first three head-to-head matchups and their first Grand Slam final meeting, the 2001 U.S. Open. But it’s been all Serena ever since on her way to an astounding 23 Grand Slam titles, compared with Venus’ seven.
Still, they’ve both held the No. 1 spot in the world at different times during their long careers and pulled off the impressive feat of meeting in four consecutive Grand Slam finals spanning the 2002 French Open to 2003 Australian Open. Serena won all four of those meetings. The last time Venus got the better of her younger sister in a Grand Slam final was the 2008 Wimbledon, when she prevailed 7-5, 6-4.
4. John McEnroe vs. Bjorn Borg
Career head-to-head: 7-7
Grand Slam tournaments head-to-head: McEnroe, 3-1
Grand Slam finals: McEnroe, 3-1
Grand Slam singles titles: Borg 11, McEnroe 7
Hollywood treatment notwithstanding, this one doesn’t make the list for durability. The two greats met only 14 times total, but four of them were for Grand Slam finals. Like a streaking comet, Borg and McEnroe lit up the tennis world in a way few have before or since. Their contrasting personalities (McEnroe’s fire and Borg’s ice) were as much what made this rivalry unforgettable as what happened on the court.
Of course, the brief Borg-McEnroe rivalry will always be defined foremost by the 1980 Wimbledon final, and more specifically, the legendary fourth set. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s 2008 tilt may have surpassed Borg-McEnroe as the greatest all-around final ever, but that fourth set in 1980 still stands alone. After McEnroe won the first set 6-1, Borg took the next two 7-5 and 6-3. That set the stage for the greatest championship match tiebreaker in tennis history. The brash American somehow fought off five championship points (to add to the two others he withstood earlier in the set) before prevailing 18-16.
But what at the moment appeared like a crushing blow to the Swede’s quest for a fifth consecutive Wimbledon championship turned into a prelude to an equally stirring fifth set. Somehow, Borg regrouped from his fourth-set failure to prevail 8-6, dropping to his knees in what appeared to be equal parts exhilaration and exhaustion upon landing the decisive blow.
The defining match of the rivalry also would be Borg’s only Grand Slam victory over the up-and-coming McEnroe. Incredibly, the two staged another epic five-set duel two short months after the Wimbledon final, this time for the U.S. Open title. This match followed a different script, with Borg prevailing in a tight fourth set before falling to McEnroe in the fifth.
McEnroe next got revenge on Wimbledon’s Centre Court in 1981 with a four-set victory in the finals, ending Borg’s run of 41 consecutive victories at the All England Club. Borg retired from the sport he once commanded shortly after losing the U.S. Open final to McEnroe in four sets later that summer. One can only wonder at the classic duels that might have ensued between these two tennis giants had Borg not stepped away.
3. Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal
Career head-to-head: Djokovic leads 27-25
Grand Slam tournaments head-to-head: Nadal leads 9-5
Grand Slam finals: Nadal leads 4-3
Grand Slam singles titles: Nadal 17, Djokovic 13
This rivalry is one of the most prolific and even matchups in the history of the sport, as these two giants have joined Roger Federer in dominating men’s tennis for more than a decade. It’s difficult to find another period in tennis history where three giants stood almost simultaneously at the top of the game for so long.
With all the attention on Federer and Rafael Nadal over the past decade-plus, it’s easy to overlook that Nadal has faced off with Novak Djokovic 14 more times than Federer, and they were the first men to meet in the finals of all four Grand Slams. While Djokovic has a slight overall lead in their head-to-head record, Nadal has prevailed in nine of 14 Grand Slam meetings and four of seven Grand Slam finals. It doesn’t get much closer than that.
Their meeting in the 2012 Australian Open ranks among the greatest Grand Slam finals of all time, right there with the 2008 and 1980 Wimbledons. The longest Grand Slam final at nearly six hours, Djokovic prevailed in five mesmerizing sets, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5.
So why is this rivalry a notch below Federer and Nadal? It’s a close call, but Federer and Nadal have battled longer, with more Grand Slam final meetings and more total Grand Slam titles. Still, Djokovic’s 13 Grand Slams (the fourth most in the Open era) are nothing to sneeze at.
2. Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer
Career head-to-head: Nadal leads 23-15
Grand slam tournaments head-to-head: Nadal leads 9-3
Grand slam finals: Nadal leads 6-3
Grand slam titles: Federer 20, Nadal 17
Arguably the two greatest tennis players ever, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have reigned atop the game for more than a decade and given fans countless memories during their 38 head-to-head matchups. Imagine if the Borg-McEnroe rivalry had gone on for 15 years instead of three. That gives you an idea of what these two champions have brought to the sport with their sustained excellence.
Their rivalry likely also featured the greatest Grand Slam final in history — greater even than Borg and McEnroe’s 1980 classic. The storyline heading into the 2008 Wimbledon final made one wonder if these two champions could live up to the billing, but somehow they did that and more.
The two already had won 14 of the past 16 Grand Slams and were meeting for the Wimbledon title for the third consecutive year, with Federer looking to top Borg and become the first man ever to hoist the trophy on Centre Court for the sixth consecutive year. After nearly five hours of play that was interrupted by rain delays, Nadal prevailed 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (8-10), 9-7.
What makes the rivalry all the more astounding is that a decade after the Wimbledon classic, they are still staging nail-biting duels, including the 2017 Australian Open final in which Federer prevailed in five sets, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, despite being down two games in the final set.
We can only hope that Federer and Nadal will continue to defy Father Time for a few more years.
1. Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova
Career head-to-head: Navratilova, 43-37
Grand slam tournaments head-to-head: Navratilova, 14-8
Grand slam finals head-to-head: Navratilova, 10-4
Grand slam singles titles: Navratilova 18, Evert 18
These two giants of women’s tennis met an incredible 80 times during their storied rivalry, which spanned much of the 1970s and 1980s. There was a time when you could almost take it to the bank before the first serve of the first match of a Grand Slam tournament that these two would face off in the final. From November 1975 to August 1987, one or the other held the No. 1 spot in the world for all but 23 weeks.
Evert dominated the early years of the rivalry before Navratilova took control in the 1980s, particularly on the grass courts of Wimbledon and hard courts of the U.S. Open. But Evert would get the upper hand one final moment on her favored surface, the clay of Roland Garros in Paris.
Evert won 20 of the first 25 matches between the two, but the pendulum steadily swung in Navratilova’s favor, and by the early 1980s, no one in women’s tennis seemed able to touch her. She reeled off 13 consecutive wins against Evert from 1982 to 1985, and it seemed that their rivalry would end as a one-sided affair.
But Evert was determined to prove she still had something left, and the 1985 French Open final at Roland Garros would go down as one of the great matches of their rivalry. Evert prevailed 6-3, 6-7 (4-7), 7-5 and defended her title the next year with another three-set win. Their final Grand Slam meeting at the 1988 Wimbledon semifinals would be yet another three-set classic, this time with Navratilova coming out on top.
In terms of unequaled dominance of the sport by two players for such an extended period, no rivalry in the history of tennis can touch Navratilova and Evert.
Related: Greatest Men's Tennis Players