Of the 21 times they have played each other, the 30-year-old Russian has lost a mind-boggling 19 times.The lop-sided record, perhaps, reveals a ‘mental block’ on the part of Sharapova, which she has written about in a recently released book — Sharapova, mind you, is no ordinary player. 1 and has won five grand slam singles titles; the French Open twice and the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open, once each.”Humour apart, women’s tennis has, over the years, ridden on the back of some great rivalries: Margaret Court versus Billie Jean King, Chris Evert versus Navratilova and Steffi Graf versus Monica Seles.Then there were those who battled against the Williams sisters in the ‘90s, like Martina Hingis, Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport, Kim Clijsters etc.But injuries and early retirements have robbed women’s tennis of some potentially great match-ups.
Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, John Newcombe, Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg dominated tennis till the end of the 1980s.
A Virat Kohli versus Steve Smith or a Messi versus Ronaldo match-up isn’t as intensive or high-stakes as a Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal battle. In one tense Borg-Mc Enroe match, the latter was throwing tantrums after every point, when the Swede called him to the net, hugged him and said, “Relax, John! Let’s enjoy it.” That was respect for each other’s game too.
Great tennis players, therefore, need great rivals to raise their game. Roy Emerson and Fred Stolle, Wimbledon finalists in 19, stayed together, cooked breakfast for each other and then went and fought out the finals, tooth and nail.
Jelena Ostapenko, ranked 47 — won the US Open title.
Brad Gilbert, a former tennis great and TV analyst says, “Serena Williams has wiped out the field.” With her recent break from tennis, interest in the women’s game has therefore waned.
Tennis rivalries are one on one; tactical, psychological and very personal.