What makes a great tennis rivalry? Substance and style, basically.

McEnroe - Borg

McEnroe would later say that he never quite recovered psychologically, nor enjoyed tennis as much, after his old foe walked away - Time magazine

Fire and ice? Or is the 'Federer-Nadal of the early 1980s' a more appropriate metaphor? The later is more appropriate for several reasons. Firstly, it pitted against each other the two best players of that period. From July 1979 to August 1981, Borg and McEnroe traded the number one ranking seven times! Second, their personalities and playing styles were polar opposites, creating an spectacular dynamic. Borg was the stoic and grunt. He won five straight Wimbledon titles with his characteristic defensive play from the baseline, using extreme topspin on his forehand and a reliable two-handed backhand. McEnroe was the fiery and flashy one (both in personality and playing style). He was the ultimate serve-and-volley player. McEnroe takes balls on the rise and hits them as flat as possible in an effort to get to the net as soon as possible to utilize his excellent volleying skills. Thirdly, between them was played out several epic matches, most notably the 1980 Wimbledon finals, which some consider even greater than the 2008 Wimbledon final. The 34-point fourth-set tie-breaker may have been the most thrilling tie-breaker ever played!

Federer - Nadal

Everybody likes to say that Roger Federer is the greatest player of all time because it’s so nice to watch him play but you have got to throw in Nadal's mind as well and that’s the greatest of all time!!! - Rafael Nadal

The main reason why the Federer-Nadal rivalry made it to this list is not a present one, but one that harked back to the heyday of this rivalry. There was a time when Federer and Nadal were the two undisputed ridiculously absolutely dominant players on the men's tour, focusing all the attention on those two and their rivalry. For the 26 Grand Slam events spanning from the 2004 Wimbledon all the way to the 2010 U.S. Open, Nadal or Federer won 23 of them! Federer became the world's number one ranked player in 2004 and held it for 237 weeks until Nadal wrestled it away from him. Nadal then was number one for 46 weeks until Federer regained it again, before Nadal took the top spot back from Federer 48 weeks later. Federer and Nadal have played each other 38 times, with Nadal winning 23 of those. The wins and losses matter less than the fact that they are two of the greatest players in history (in terms of grand slams won which is a very fair criteria) while playing with completely contrasting, and equally stylish, styles. Nadal relies on the ferocious consistency and spin of his ground strokes, and toughness of his spirit, to help him claim 10 French Open championships among his 16 major titles. Meanwhile, Federer entertains with a fluid all-court game that has brought him 19 Grand Slam titles, including seven at Wimbledon.

Sampras - Agassi

Lopsided, but spectacular - Roger So (Rovo intern)

As is the case with this rivalry and the two mentioned above, diametrically contrasting styles and personalities made the Pete Sampras-Andre Agassi competition amongst one of the greatest ever. Sampras was the conservative-behavioured star with the big serve and a superb serve-and-volley game. Agassi was the flamboyant, rather rebellious baseliner with an outstanding return of serve and long blond hair (at least in his younger days). They traded the number ranking back and forth for several years. Sampras had held the spot for 82 consecutive weeks before Agassi replaced him in April 1995. Agassi then held the top spot for the next 30 straight weeks before Sampras got it back in November 1995. Agassi took that very same spot away from Sampras again in January 1996.Over the span of their careers, they played each other 34 times, with Sampras winning 20 of them. They met 16 times in tournament finals, and Sampras won four of their five meetings in Grand Slam finals.

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