Nothing gets the Stadium Court crowd buzzing at Sony Open Tennis like a match between two tennis icons renewing acquaintances in another chapter of their epic rivalries. Luckily for tennis fans the world over, some of the greatest rivals of the last four decades of the sport have faced off on the hard courts of the Sony Open.
Roger Federer’s epic rivalry with Rafael Nadal was born at the Sony, while longtime rivals Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were frequent foes on Key Biscayne. The Williams sisters put their sibling rivalry to the test on Stadium Court often and even the best of the best of the woman’s game in the 1970s and 1980s tussled at the Sony Open.
On Sunday, Nadal and Novak Djokovic will continue their history of classic confrontations with the 2014 Sony Open Title on the line. When it’s all said and done, it will be another in the long line of rivalries that has come to define the Sony Open.
It’s time to look back at the best pairings in tournament history, starting in the 1980s and working our way back to today.
Chris Evert versus Martina Navratilova
In the 1970s and 1980s the rivalry between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova defined women’s tennis and helped usher the game into the modern era. Evert and Navratilova played a whopping 80 times and faced each other in the first ever final of what would go on to be the Sony Open when it was played in Delray Beach. Navratilova took the final 6-2, 6-4; Evert would win her only Sony Open title the following year against a young Steffi Graf.
Ivan Lendl v Mats Wilander
The blistering serve and forehand of the Czech- born Ivan Lendl against the steady groundstrokes and unshakeable nerve of the smooth Swede Mats Wilander dominated men’s tennis in the mid-to-late 1980s – they disputed five Grand Slam finals during that period. And right in the middle of that historic era, the two met at the final at the Sony Open, the only year the tournament was held in Boca Raton, 1986. First seed Lendl outlasted second seed Wilander in four sets after dropping the first. The two played a total of 22 times, with Lendl leading the series 15-7, although Wilander held the edge in Grand Slam finals, 3-2.
Pete Sampras v Andre Agassi
Pistol Pete versus the Andre the rebel. Tennis didn’t get any more riveting in the 1990s than when the two Americans with different games and personalities took opposite sides of the court. In total they played 34 times, with Sampras holding a 20-14 overall edge. But it was all square in Key Biscayne as the two played twice, both in finals, with each taking home the title once. The finals came in consecutive years, 1994 and 1995, with each match going three sets and the winner losing the first set both times. The final in 1994 will forever be remembered for Agassi’s sportsmanship as he gave Sampras an additional hour to recover from food poisoning to ready himself for the match.
Serena Williams versus Venus Williams
The most successful siblings in sports history played four times at the Sony Open, splitting the matches. The first professional final they ever contested against one another took place at the Sony Open in 1999 with older sis’ winning in three sets. They would go on to play in 2002, 2005 and 2009.
Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal
What many believe may be the greatest tennis rivalry of all time, and certainly the biggest current match-up in professional tennis, was born at Key Biscayne with its first two editions taking place at the Crandon Park Tennis Center. A 17-year-old Rafael Nadal shocked the tennis world in 2004 when the two played their first ever match in the 3rd round and the Spaniard won in straight sets over the top seed. A year later, Roger would get his revenge in the final of the 2005 tournament as he came back from 2-sets down to win his first of two Sony Opens.
Rafael Nadal versus Novak Djokovic
When Nadal takes Stadium Court at 2:30 p.m. Sunday he will be aiming to claim his first ever Sony Open. But to get it he will have to take down Djokovic, which he has been unable to do in two prior tries at Crandon Park. The two first faced off at the Sony in 2007 in a quarterfinal match the Serbian won in straight sets. Four years later, they did battle in a classic three-set final that went all the way down to a third-set tiebreaker with Novak winning 7-4. Sunday’s battle will be their 40th overall, with Rafa holding a 22-17 advantage coming in.