In tennis there are rivalries that are inflaming crowds, fans and media: today the Big Three Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are the great rivals of this era. There is strong competition between them, but there is also respect.
Respect, however, does not mean friendship. Not always at least. Federer and Nadal are two tennis players with an antipodal style, who created memorable challenges. If on the court they are rivals, off the court they have a relationship of esteem, respect and, although their lifestyle is different, in a sense friendship.
It was like in the past also for John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. Novak Djokovic certainly has a cordial relationship with Rafa and Roger, but it is difficult to talk about a friendship between the Serb and the Swiss and between the Serb and the Spaniard, considering also how the crowd reacts, for example, to the challenges between Djokovic and Federer.
Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras are two other examples of great rivalry on the court. They competed 34 times in their career (Sampras leads 20-14) and their challenges were enthusiastic (we must remember the quarterfinals of Wimbledon 1993, the semifinal of the Australian Open 2000 and the quarterfinals of the US Open 2003).
Were their friends out the court? There have been many statements, even after their careers, like in their charity matches. In his autobiography Open, Agassi said that Sampras was a cheapskate! But Agassi, in a subsequent interview, said about Sampras: "For me, he is a rival and a friend."
What is the best example of friendship and rivalry today? Certainly the one between Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki. The American and the Dane are great friends out the court, but rivals when they play against. This year at Auckland WTA they will team-up in the doubles.
Two rivalries that were strong both on and out of the court? Billie Jean King and Margaret Smith and John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl. Two rivalries that went beyond the tennis court.