Wimbledon’s rivalries

The Chris Evert-Martina Navratilova rivalry spanned 80 professional matches from 1973 till 1988, including nine meetings at Wimbledon, the most matches between any two players at The Championships following the abolition of the Challenger round.

Over their 12-year Wimbledon rivalry, Evert and Navratilova met in five finals and four semi-finals with Navratilova in front 7-2. Unlike many of sports great rivalries, Evert v Navratilova was built on friendship and mutual respect. After Navratilova had beaten Evert in the 1987 semi-final, a match many suspected would mark Evert’s final Wimbledon appearance, Navratilova told the press:

“After the match, I had tears in my eyes, and it wasn’t for me winning. It was for Chris losing. I really wished that she could win this tournament one more time. I would have been almost as happy if she could win it as I am if I win it. At 5-4 in the third set, I thought about our friendship, and I thought, ‘God, you’re crazy to think about it.’ I’d be so happy to win, but I’d be so sad for her. It actually overwhelmed me, because I didn’t expect to feel that much.”

Evert added: “If Martina wasn’t playing, I wouldn’t have anybody to talk to in the locker room. All these younger player say we don’t talk to them. Martina is the only one I talk to, the only friend I have. No, I’m just kidding….We’ve played so many matches, we’ve seen other players come and go, but we have been the two constants.”

Navratilova 7-2 Evert
1976 semi-final Evert 6-3, 6-0
1978 final Navratilova 2-6, 6-4, 7-5
1979 final Navratilova 6-4, 6-4
1980 semi-final Evert 4-6, 6-4, 6-2
1982 final Navratilova 6-1, 3-6, 6-2
1984 final Navratilova 7-6(5), 6-2
1985 final Navratilova 4-6, 6-3, 6-2
1987 semi-final Navratilova 6-2, 5-7, 6-4
1988 semi-final Navratilova 6-1, 4-6, 7-5

Evert also features for a second time on our list of rivalries having played Billie Jean King five times at Wimbledon between 1973 and 1982. The other rivalries that stand at five matches are Serena Williams v Venus Williams and Steffi Graf v Jana Novotna.

The Williams sisters have met in four finals and one semi-final with Serena holding a 3-2 advantage.

V. Williams 3-2 S. Williams
2000 semi-final Venus 6-2, 7-6(3)
2002 final Serena 7-6(4), 6-3
2003 final Serena 4-6, 6-4, 6-2
2008 final Venus 7-5, 6-4
2009 final Serena 7-6(3), 6-2

Some of you suggested the Navratilova v Graf rivalry, but they only met three times. In fact, Graf’s greatest Wimbledon rival, in terms of matches played, was Jana Novotna – the two players met fives time with Graf holding a 100% record.

Graf 5-0 Novotna
1987 R16 Graf 6-4, 6-30
1990 quarter-finals Graf 7-5, 6-2
1993 final Graf 7-6(6), 1-6, 6-4)
1995 semi-final Graf 5-7, 6-4, 6-2
1996 quarter-final Graf 6-3, 6-2

Wimbledon plays only a minor part in some of the other great tennis rivalries. The tennis historian Robert Geist has tried to log every match played between the Australian greats Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall. The current best guess is the two met 141 times on the professional circuit and in the Open era, with Laver leading 75-66. But they never met at Wimbledon.

John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg played 14 times across their great rivalry and finished with seven wins a piece, but only two of those matches took place on the grass at Wimbledon. Jimmy Connors had a longer-running rivalry with both McEnroe and Borg. He played both of them on four occasions for a 2-2 record against the Superbrat and 0-4 against the Ice Man.

McEnroe 2-2 Connors
1977 semi-final Connors 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4
1980 semi-final McEnroe 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
1982 final Connors 3-6, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4
1984 final McEnroe 6-1, 6-1, 6-2

Borg 4-0 Connors
1977 final  Borg 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4
1978 final  Borg 6-2, 6-2, 6-3
1979 semi-final Borg 6-2, 6-3, 6-2
1981 semi-final Borg 0-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-0, 6-4

The same was true for Pete Sampras v Andre Agassi. The two leading players of their generation met just twice at Wimbledon, in 1993 and 1999, with Sampras 2-0. Sampras’ most frequent opponent was Goran Ivanisevic, who he played and beat 3-1.

5 Comments

  1. santiago
    Posted 7 October, 2009 at 2:27 am | Permalink

    what about Edberg-Becker, or Lendl-Becker? Great matches.

    Greetings.

  2. annika
    Posted 8 October, 2009 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    Wow, this is a really interesting tidbit of tennis history. Was really astonished by the Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall statistics. And that they never met at Wimbledon.

  3. Posted 9 October, 2009 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Probably the greatest rivalry of ‘modern’ times must still be the Borg vs McEnroe rivalry of the early ’80s. Although they played eachother just twice at Wimbledon, their first encounter in the 1980 Final was the closest final of the modern era (including the 2008 Nadal vs Federer final, in my opinion).
    As Borg and McEnroe finished with 7 wins apiece in their career rivalry, I assume that most of Borg’s victories came in the earlier encounters, whereas McEnroe rose to dominence later in their head-to-heads. After his victory against Borg in the 1981 final, McEnroe went on to crush Borg in the US Open final of the same year, which ‘encouraged’ Borg’s premature retirement from competative tennis.

  4. Posted 15 December, 2009 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    I think in today’s Generation most exciting rivalries at Wimbledon is Federer Roddick rivalry.Because,they played 4 match at Wimbledon.All of them won by Federer.They played 2003 Semifinal and 2004,2005,2009 Final at All England Club.
    After this Federer Nadal Rivalries at Wimbledon is also interesting.They Played 3 Successive Final at All England Club between 2006 to 2008.
    One interesting Fact is that in past 6 year between 2004 to 2009 only 3 player(Federer,Roddick,Nadal) can able to reach the Final at Wimbledon.

  5. jacques
    Posted 19 March, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    I believe the most compelling rivalry will be Federer-Nadal which showcases the two best grass court players of their generation and all the more remarkable with the versatility of Nadal’s game. We know Nadal is the best on clay and to see him adapt his game to grass and hard courts is truly amazing. I hope he is over his growing pains with his knees and can regain his form.


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