Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Federer, Nadal and Djokovic make up the three best rivalries of the Open Era

For fans of any sport, it is normal to think that they grew up in the "golden era" of that sport. It frequently happens that older people look back on the "good old days," while younger people tend to not care about what happened before they were born.

Being fully aware of this phenomena, I try to look at the different eras of tennis as all being entertaining, exciting, and memorable each for different reasons. And what makes the current era of men's tennis so great is that it contains the greatest rivalries tennis has ever seen. In fact, I'm claiming that the three greatest rivalries that tennis has ever seen belong to this era.

The last decade of tennis has been characterized by the dominance of the "Big Four," but three in particular have established themselves among the all-time greats: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. All three of them rank in the top 10 of just about anybody's list of the greatest male tennis players of the Open Era, and since June of 2005, at least two of them have been ranked in the top four in the world.

The best part about these three is that unlike other greats whose peaks only overlap for a few years, Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer have been the best three players in tennis for the last eight years, starting with the 2007 US Open.

As a result of the extended amount of time that their careers overlap, their rivalries have had more time to develop, creating the most storied and competitive rivalries that played out on the biggest stages. Those are the three main criteria for determining a great rivalry: large sample size, maintained parity throughout the series history, and importance of the matches played.

The rivalry between Djokovic and Nadal certainly has all three of those. The two have already played a record 44 times and neither of them have turned 30 yet. On top of that, thejr head-to-head series is nearly even with Nadal holding a slight 23-21 edge. Djokovic's 21 wins against Nadal is the most wins by any player against the same opponent without leading the series history.

The rivalry between Federer and Nadal is still considered by many to be the greatest of all-time. Though they have only faced off 33 times, which still ranks eighth all-time, the rivalry has a record eight meetings in Grand Slam finals. The rivalry includes three of the best five-set matches in tennis history with the 2007 and 2008 Wimbledon championships along with the 2006 Rome final, which is widely considered the greatest non-slam tennis match ever.

The third rivalry is the most competitive of them all, with Djokovic and Federer each claiming 20 wins in their 40 encounters. Although they have only met in three slam finals, they tied the record of Nadal and Djokovic for most meetings in slams at 13. Many fans will say that today's rivalries lack the fire and passion of rivalries of decades past, but that isn't the case with this rivalry.

The other great rivalries of the last 47 years that some might argue would be ones like John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, but those two met a total of just 14 times. Others might mention Agassi and Sampras, who had more total meetings than Federer and Nadal with a much more even series history, but the American pair met half as many times in grand slam finals and lack a great five-set classic.

What we have right now with the three current rivalries is something tennis has never seen before and will likely never see again. The three combinations of rivalries created by Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer are the three greatest tennis rivalries of the last half-century.

Here are some statistical lists for greatest rivalries of all time:

Most meetings in a rivalry
1. Nadal/Djokovic 44 (23-21)
2. Federer/Djokovic 40 (20-20)
3. Lendl/McEnroe 36 (21-15)
4. Becker/Edberg 35 (25-10)
5. Lendl/Connors 35 (22-13)
6. Sampras/Agassi 34 (20-14)
7. McEnroe/Connors 34 (20-14)
8. Nadal/Federer 33 (23-10)
9. Djokovic/Murray 27 (19-8)
10. Edberg/Lendl 27 (14-13)
10. Federer/Hewitt 27 (18-9)

Most meetings in Grand Slam finals
1. Nadal/Federer 8
2. Nadal/Djokovic 7
3. Djokovic/Murray 5
3. Lendl/Wilander 5
5. Sampras/Agassi 4
5. Federer/Roddick 4
5. Borg/Connors 4
5. McEnroe/Borg 4
9. Federer/Djokovic 3
9. Lendl/McEnroe 3
9. Becker/Edberg 3
9. Federer/Murray 3
9. Lendl/Becker 3

Most meetings in grand slam tournaments
1. Nadal/Djokovic 13
1. Federer/Djokovic 13
3. Nadal/Federer 11
4. Lendl/McEnroe 10
5. Lendl/Wilander 9
5. Sampras/Agassi 9
5. McEnroe/Connors 9
8. Djokovic/Murray 8
8. Federer/Roddick 8
8. Borg/Connors 8
8. Five more with... 8

Most meetings in finals
1. Nadal/Djokovic 22
2. Nadal/Federer 20
2. Lendl/McEnroe 20
4. Becker/Edberg 19
5. Sampras/Agassi 16
6. McEnroe/Connors 15
7. Djokovic/Federer 14
8. Borg/Connors 13
8. Lendl/Becker 13
10. Djokovic/Murray 11
10. Laver/Rosewall 11

1 comment:

  1. Have a great urge to express my fears (as a huge Novak fan) that he was always been put aside, like he does not deserves to be become one of the legends. Even now, when is truly the best, you can find bad critics reviews full with Djokovic. The iron-will man has many times proved to us how great he is (as a player and as a person).
    Have to point out that there is one fact that I agree with the critics…Nadal poor performance due to his recent injury is definitely effecting Novak ranking as a tennis legend. Until Nadal returns being the old one, no one will approve Novak results.
    Best of luck with this blog, definitely posses great potential!!!