Wimbledon 2016 at the SW19 in London is less than a week ago. The third tennis Grand Slam of the year will begin without Rafael Nadal, and with arguably a new generation of talents ready to topple the world order – Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Milos Raonic, Nick Kyrgios, Benoit Paire, Jack Sock, Alexandr Dolgopolov and David Goffin. Thiem reached the French Open semifinals and lost to Djokovic, before defeating Roger Federer twice on grass over two weeks. However, this is still a wishful list, considering Novak Djokovic’s otherworldly form, his pursuit of the Golden Slam, Andy Murray’s return to the top to be accompanied by his reunion with Ivan Lendl and Roger Federer’s love for the greens of Wimbledon.
Over the years, we’ve seen some great matches here – none more so than the 2008 Wimbledon Final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, the 2009 Wimbledon Final between Federer and Andy Roddick, the 2001 final between Pat Rafter and Goran Ivanisevic, the 2014 final between Djokovic and Federer, the 1980 final between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, the 2001 fourth round between Federer and a fading Sampras and the 2010 first round World-Record 11-hour match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut.
But, like we always encounter only in Playstation video games, there’s always a best-of-rivalry wishlist on every fan’s mind. You’d love if someone at his best in one era could face the other at his worst or best from another era.
Here are five such cross-era rivalries we’d have loved to see:
John McEnroe v/s Rafael Nadal
The brash American serve-and-volley legend would have had a tough, tough time against one of the best passers of the modern era in Nadal. Both the left-handers would have given each other a good run for their money, especially considering one’s eagerness to capture the net, and the other’s baseline mastery. Take away the wooden rackets, evolved fitness levels and slower courts, and perhaps Nadal would have met his match even at his peak on the Wimbledon courts between 2006 and 2012.
Ivan Lendl v/s Andy Murray
But of course. Baseline hell. But these players have lost more Grand Slam finals between them than any other male Singles players in history. Since Murray was taken under Lendl’s wing, he won his two Slams – the US Open and Wimbledon, along with the Olympic Gold Medal, and was, briefly, the best player in tennis, even though he was never ranked #1, unlike Lendl – who won far more Slams, but fell short of ‘Hall Of Fame’ status because of his passive temperament on grass and in the big matches. Lendl’s trademark running forehand would have been a handful for Murray, who is considered to be the best returner in tennis right now. And it’d have to be a final, if they met.
Novak Djokovic v/s Pete Sampras
Oh, boy. Just the thought of it. Two legends, a faster surface, booming serves and Djokovic’s ability to control the game at his pace wouldn’t be such a strength anymore. You’d see virtually no rallies, given Sampras’ legendary impatience with baseline strokes, and points would be far shorter than Djokovic’s current rivalry with Murray or Federer. Sampras would probably go down faster than the others, but if he got on top of Djokovic, it would be the Serb’s heaviest defeat ever – given that he passes well only occasionally. But he has no real weakness, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Serb trying to out-volley Sampras outrageously. Either way, what a feast it’d be.
Roger Federer v/s Boris Becker
Djokovic’s coach and mastermind behind three of Federer’s recent Slam final losses, Becker, would be some sight as a 20-year old grasscourt legend with the world at his feet, with a calm Federer on the other side of the net. Boom-boom could just work against Federer, who isn’t as good a returner as others of his era, but mixes it up deceptively more than anyone else. Becker’s disdain for baseline rallies would perhaps work against him, and Federer’s increasing love for the net could put the German master on cold ice for a while. Two contrasting styles, two immense works of beauty on grass in their own ways, two different emotions of elegance, two of the most addictive visual indulgences in world tennis. Genie, where are you?
Andy Roddick v/s Stefan Edberg
The American bridesmaid, forever No. 2 to Federer’s No. 1, failed to win a Wimbledon title despite reaching three finals and a few semifinals. All three times, he lost to his Swiss rival – 2009 was the closest he ever got to having his name engraved on that trophy. He tried, and tried, but remained Federer’s closest grass-court rival for that decade. Poetic justice, then, that he’d face 6-Slam winning Edberg, who won two Wimbledon titles in his time, breaking the Becker and McEnroe stranglehold. Edberg was an all-court player, one of the few of his time, almost winning the French Open final against Michael Chang, too, but would have enjoyed himself thoroughly against Roddick’s high-momentum serve-heavy game. Points would be short and sweet, a throwback to the faster courts and pulsating action of the 90’s.