Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tennis Trivalries

This week, there was plenty of big news coming out of the Roger Federer camp. First he announced that he will be having another kid. Also Stefan Edberg will be joining Federer's team. With Edberg coaching Federer, he rejoins the tennis world along with Ivan Lendl (coaching Andy Murray) and Boris Becker (coaching Novak Djokovic) reigniting the some of the greatest rivalries of the 1980's.

Many people say men's tennis is in a golden era right now, because of what has been called the "Trivalry" between Federer, Djokovic, and Rafael Nadal. However, Becker, Lendl,  and Edberg also made up an exciting trivalry. This got me thinking about all of the greatest trivalries in tennis history and where the current trivalry fits in historically.

Lavallcombe - The first trivalry of the Open Era was between a trio of Aussies. John Newcombe, Rod Laver, and Ken Rosewall made up that trivalry. Officially, they played 46 matches against each other, but that doesn't count the hundreds of times they played before the Open Era. In the Open Era, they contested four grand slam finals, meeting nine times in slams and 16 times in WCT tournaments.  Rosewall's win over Laver in the 1972 Dallas WCT final was one of the best matches in Lavallcombe. Rosewall won 7-6(5) in the fifth set after losing the fourth set in a tiebreaker. The trio also made up a Davis Cup team, which played a huge role in bringing titles to Australia, including in 1973, which was the country's 15th title in 24 years.

McConnorg - The next trivalry spanned over three decades, going from the late 1970's to as late as 1991. This was between Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and Bjorn Borg. They played each other 71 times, which included several of the all-time greatest matches in tennis history. In 1980, McEnroe and Borg met in both the Wimbledon and US Open finals, producing some of the most memorable five-set epics in tennis history. Connors also had his share of epic encounters with his rivals. He played five five-set matches against McEnroe, which includes the 1980 US Open semifinal that was determined by a fifth-set tiebreaker. McConnorg combined for 26 grand slam titles and occupied tennis' top ranking for 547 weeks.

Bendlberg - The three coaches also are three of the greatest players in tennis history. Edberg, Lendl, and Becker played each other 83 times, including 35 times between Edberg and Becker, which was the record before last year. Of the 83 meetings, 39 were in finals, which includes seven grand slam finals. However, some of their best matches were outside the finals. In the 1985 Australian Open semifinals, Edberg defeated Lendl 9-7 in the fifth set. In their final meeting, they had the benefit of a tiebreak, when Edberg again defeated Lendl in the 1992 US Open quarterfinals. The three players completely dominated their era with 336 combined wins against their peers in the top 10.

Courassi - This is another trio of countrymen. The 1990's were dominated by players from the United States. In particular, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, and Pete Sampras. The Americans met 66 times on tour with over half between Sampras and Agassi. In fact, most fans wouldn't have considered Courier part of any trivalry, but since this post is about trivalries, I added him in. And he was part of some amazing matches and even had a winning head-to-head against Agassi. Sampras also had two of the best matches of his career against Courier. In both the 1995 Australian Open quarterfinals and the 1996 Roland Garros quarterfinals, Sampras came back from two sets down to beat Courier. The rivalry between Agassi and Sampras, however, ranks as one of the best in tennis history. The pair played 34 times, including nine times in slams and in four grand slam finals. In total, the trio had 26 grand slam titles and spent 445 weeks at No. 1.

Fedalovic - So where does the current trivalry between Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal rank? For me, it is the best of all of them. Not only are they the three greatest players to be part of a trivalry, but they consistently meet on the biggest stages in the sport. Here are the numbers: 101 meeting, 15 grand slam finals, 32 meetings in any round of a slam, and 48 finals at any tournament. Each rivalry within the trivalry has to rank as one of the top 10 rivalries in tennis history. Each rivalry has met at least 10 times in slams and 30 times in total. The three players have fought each other for the top ranking in the game for the last 514 weeks and counting. They also have 36 combined grand slams and 396 wins against top 10 players. Also since Djokovic first reached the top three in 2007, only three other players have been able to crack into the top three, and only one reached the top two. We haven't even begun to talk about the incredible matches between these players.

In 2012, Djokovic and Nadal met in the Australian Open final in a match that took almost six hours to complete with Djokovic finishing on top 7-5 in the fifth set. Then this past year, Nadal defeated Djokovic 9-7 in the fifth set at the Roland Garros semifinals on his way to a record-setting eighth title in Paris. In both 2010 and 2011, Djokovic and Federer met in the US Open semifinals, and both times,  Djokovic saved two match points to defeat Federer 7-5 in the fifth set. Then there is the rivalry between Nadal and Federer, which is widely considered the greatest in tennis history, which includes what is widely considered the greatest match in tennis history. In 2008, Nadal defeated Federer 9-7 in the fifth set of the Wimbledon final for his first title at the most prestigious event in tennis. The trivalry continues to dominate tennis today with all three players still in the top 10 and 14 of the last 16 slam titles.

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