The Best Rivalries Of The Decade
The Big Four didn't just dominate this decade individually. Their battles against each other also created some of the most compelling storylines throughout the past 10 years.
Novak Djokovic v. Roger Federer (Djokovic leads 21-14 this decade)
The tussle for dominance in Federer and Djokovic’s FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry had been brewing for years, but it appeared that the Swiss had gained the upper hand at the start of the decade. He won four of their five clashes in 2010, but Djokovic’s lone victory in that year's US Open semi-finals created a divide that continues to this day.
The Serbian saved two match points in the fifth set to prevail against Federer, then shockingly replicated the feat the following year as he rallied from two sets down. A dejected Federer reflected afterwards that, “It could be worse. It could be a final.”
Eight years later, Djokovic did the unthinkable once again by saving two match points against Federer in the 2019 Wimbledon final. Their historic match was the first championship clash at The All England Club to use a final-set tie-break at 12-12.
Djokovic’s victory embodied his decade-long trend of prevailing in tight matches against the Swiss. After scoring his first New York comeback against Federer, he went on to win nine of their next 11 matches that went to a deciding set.
Federer is capable of winning quickly against his longtime rival, though. He hadn’t beaten Djokovic in four years heading into last month’s Nitto ATP Finals, but produced a masterful performance to prevail in 73 minutes and score his fastest non-retirement victory against the Serbian.
Their 35 matches throughout the decade topped any other rivalry on Tour in the 2010s.
The contrast in Djokovic and Nadal’s playing styles and personalities has always made their clashes must-see viewing and their compelling matches throughout the decade have made their rivalry one of the greatest of all-time.
Their first FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting of the decade saw Nadal snatch his maiden US Open crown in the 2010 final, but the Serbian quickly shifted the momentum in his favour. They competed in seven tour-level finals from March 2011 to January 2012 and Djokovic won all of them, including three consecutive Grand Slam championship matches.
Djokovic completed the hat trick in a grueling 2012 Australian Open final, which remains the longest Grand Slam final in history at five hours and 53 minutes. Both men were so worn out from the brutal baseline rallies that chairs were brought out for them during the trophy ceremony. Djokovic also defeated Nadal in the title match at the 2013 Nitto ATP Finals.
The Serbian compiled another seven-match winning streak from April 2015-May 2016 and became the second player to defeat Nadal at Roland Garros with his 2015 quarter-final victory. Djokovic is the only player to go toe-to-toe with Nadal on clay throughout the decade, splitting their 14 matches on the surface.
However, there were also plenty of times when Nadal held the momentum. He racked up a pair of three-match winning streaks against Djokovic in 2012 and 2013, including the 2012 Roland Garros and 2013 US Open finals. The Spaniard continues to impose himself against Djokovic and won their most recent meeting this May in the championship match at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia.
Neither player has had a clear upper hand in their rivalry during the past three seasons. With both men continuing to elevate their games, fans can expect more enthralling tussles between Djokovic and Nadal.
The demand for Federer-Nadal matches has continued to intensify. Before their matches even take place at a tournament, fans immediately check the draw to see their projected path to a potential showdown.
Both men traded blows early in the decade, with Federer taking the title match at the 2010 Nitto ATP Finals and Nadal gaining revenge in the 2011 Roland Garros final. But beginning in 2013, their rivalry produced drastic shifts in momentum.
Nadal won all five of their clashes in 2013 and 2014, four of which took place in 2013. The Spaniard used his powerful forehand to attack Federer’s backhand and consistently gain the upper hand in their baseline exchanges.
Federer’s switch to a bigger frame in 2014 would pay dividends. He was far better able to counter Nadal’s relentless attacks to his backhand and hit with greater topspin to take charge of more points. He broke the losing streak against Nadal with his own five-match run and swept all four of their clashes in 2017. Federer's dramatic five-set victory in that year’s Australian Open final that gave him his first Grand Slam title since 2012 Wimbledon.
Although Nadal dominated the Swiss on clay (5-0) and Federer won their lone grass-court meeting (1-0), they remained nearly even on hard courts (Federer leads 8-6). Another epic hard-court battle between them in Australia would be a fitting way to open the new decade.
There are times when a single match can alter the course of a rivalry. For Djokovic and Murray, the 2012 Rolex Shanghai Masters final can be seen as the catalyst for the Serbian’s dominance.
Murray was riding high after defeating Djokovic to clinch his first Grand Slam at the 2012 US Open, but the Serbian responded in Shanghai with one of his greatest comebacks. He broke Murray as the Brit served for the title at 5-4 in the second set, then saved five match points in the second-set tie-break before going on to complete his Houdini act.
Djokovic has since posted a 17-4 record against Murray in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, including winning 14 of their 15 hard-court matches. He also prevented Murray from making a push to achieve a Career Grand Slam by defeating him in four Australian Open finals (2011, 2013, 2015, 2016) and the 2016 Roland Garros final.
Although Murray’s victories over Djokovic have been less frequent, he’s made them count. The Brit prevailed in the 2013 Wimbledon final and the title match at the 2016 Nitto ATP Finals, which was also a winner-takes-all battle for the coveted year-end No. 1 ATP Ranking.
They haven’t squared off since the 2017 Doha final (won by Djokovic), in part due to injuries that have largely prevented both men from being healthy at the same time. But now that they're back to full strength, fans are hopeful that the new decade will see them resume their rivalry.
Numbers can be deceiving. Although Nadal won the bulk of his FedEx ATP Head2Head matches with Murray, his lone stretch of dominance against the Brit took place during a 10-month span at the beginning of the decade.
Their epic clash in the semi-finals of the 2010 Nitto ATP Finals saw Nadal prevail in a third-set tie-break. He rode the momentum to his longest winning streak against Murray (5), prevailing four times in 2011 that included semi-final victories at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open.
Murray adjusted his tactics against Nadal, changing the height of the ball more frequently in rallies and primarily hitting second serves to the Spaniard’s forehand. He broke his losing streak in the title match at the 2011 Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships and has kept pace with Nadal since then, winning three of their past seven matches.
The Brit’s past two victories over his rival have surprisingly come on the clay courts of the Mutua Madrid Open. Murray stunned Nadal in the 2015 final for his first ATP Masters 1000 title on clay and followed up with another win in the 2016 semi-finals.
Nadal and Murray have only played each other five times since 2012 and haven’t met since their 2016 Madrid clash, but they’ve always brought out the best in each other. Another Nadal-Murray clash would still be just as compelling to watch.
Both men traded body blows from 2010-2012. Federer beat Murray in the 2010 Australian Open and 2012 Wimbledon finals, but Murray became a national hero for Great Britain by winning their gold medal match at the 2012 London Olympics. The Swiss handily defeated his rival in round-robin play at the 2010 and 2012 Nitto ATP Finals, while the Brit swept all three of their matches at Masters 1000 events in straight sets.
After losing to Murray in their lone five-set clash in the 2013 Australian Open semi-finals, Federer took firm control and has won their past five matches. The Swiss swept their three battles in 2014, including a 6-0, 6-1 drubbing during round-robin play at the 2014 Nitto ATP Finals. The defeat remains the most one-sided loss of Murray’s career. Murray chalked the losses up to being part of his recovery from back surgery the previous year, but when Federer prevailed two more times in 2015, he simply tipped his hat to the Swiss.
Although they haven’t played in four years, Murray has said that facing Federer again is an opportunity he’d relish. It’s safe to say that their fans would relish it as well.
The duo produced the rivalry of 2012 by facing off eight times. Federer won their first six clashes of that year, which included his two biggest comebacks against the Argentine in back-to-back matches. He rallied from two sets down to defeat Del Potro in the Roland Garros semi-finals, then prevailed in a 3-6, 7-6(5), 19-17 tussle two months later in the semi-finals of the London Oympics. The final set alone took two hours and 43 minutes.
But Del Potro was inching closer to another win against his adversary and broke through in a thrilling title match in that year's Swiss Indoors Basel, then closed out his 2012 season with another three-set win in the Nitto ATP Finals. The Argentine’s pair of victories marked the first time in 10 years that a player had scored consecutive wins indoors against Federer.
Little has separated Federer and Del Potro throughout much of the decade and the pair have split their past 10 matches. Their battles have also consistently gone down to the wire, with 10 of their past 12 matches reaching a deciding set.
Their most recent clash in the 2018 BNP Paribas Open is a microcosm of the gripping drama they deliver. Del Potro let slip a championship point in the second-set tie-break, but saved three championship points with Federer serving at 5-4 in the third set and ultimately prevailed 6-4, 6-7(8), 7-6(2).
Even after their most epic battles, the pair regularly embrace each other at net afterwards and have maintained a warm relationship. The camaraderie and intensity of their rivalry is something that fans will hope to see more of in the new decade.