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Web Exclusive/Magazine Extra | Jun 9, 2009 | 5654 views

Whatever You Can Do, I Can Do Better

Great Sporting Rivalries That Changed the Sport

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ndre Agassi vs. Pete Sampras (Tennis)
They were polar opposites, not unlike Federer and Nadal. They traded world No. 1 rankings throughout Whatever You Can Do, I Can Do Betterthe ’90s, and faced off in 34 matches. Their rivalry was often accompanied with a smile after the match. Their last match up? The 2002 US open in which Sampras won and then famously retired. But rumours are the Titans will butt heads once more this year.

Ayrton Senna vs. Alain Prost (Formula 1)
Never has there been a rivalry so bitter in Formula 1. Though Senna and Schumacher could have been big, the Brazilian died in a heart wrenching accident that changed the face of Formula 1 forever. The sport was then forced to re-introduce driver aids and the Grand Prix Drivers’ association was re-formed which has since advocated the “safety first” principle which has dominated the sport.
In 1988, Senna joined Prost at the McLaren team and their heated rivalry soon became a dangerous one. They’ve pushed one another into pit walls, forced their way past in corners, and even collided in 1989. Senna was known as the fastest man, while Prost was the smartest. The on-track rivalry continued until 1993, but despite a hostile Grand Prix, Senna and Prost actually embraced. Senna was killed in at the San Marino Grand Prix a year later.

Senna raises Prost's hand after Prost had raced his last Grand Prix
Image: STR New / Reuters
Senna raises Prost's hand after Prost had raced his last Grand Prix
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Arnold Palmer vs. Jack Nicklaus (Golf)
When Nicklaus entered the scene, Palmer was the unquestioned “King” of the game. And he was wildly popular, as one of the first golfers to appear on TV. But Nicklaus soon proved to have more skill, and the rivalry between the two reached its pinnacle at the 1962 US Open at Oakmont. Jack Nicklaus overcame a 3 shot deficit toArnold Palmer to ultimately force a playoff, and beat Palmer 71 to 74.

Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell (Basketball)

There were only nine NBA teams for most of the ’60s, so Chamberlain and Russell squared off an incredible eight to 12 times a season. Russell’s Celtics always won, but Chamberlain was clearly the superior player with his offensive magic and strength. Try this on for size: in 1961-62, Wilt averaged 50.4 points per game, but the Celtics still beat the Philadelphia Warriors a depressing 8/12 games.

Former world chess champion Bobby Fischer gestures during his match against his archrival Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union
Image: Ivan Milutinovic / Reuters
Former world chess champion Bobby Fischer gestures during his match against his archrival Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union

Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier (Boxing)
They fought three times, each fight more nail-biting than the one before. Their opener at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1971 is dubbed the fight of the century. Frazier won, by the way. But Ali didn’t give up. In the rematch, Ali dominated, and in the third fight - The Thrilla in Manila - he destroyed Frazier.

Bobby Fischer vs. Boris Spassky (Chess)
America’s Fischer dramatically confronted the Soviet Spassky on the chessboard at the tail-end of the Cold War and at a time when the Soviet Union had long held a stranglehold on the game. Fischer was a strident critic of the USSR style of playing, which often ended in a draw. After a month-and-a-half-long game, and 40 moves, the eccentric Fischer won, becoming the first American to become world champion in almost 100 years. And dethroned the East.  

Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova (Tennis)
The physically powerful and outspoken Navratilova was the perfect foil for the feminine but overwhelmingly ambitious Evert. Though at first they seemed evenly matched, Navratilova increasingly dominated Evert on the court over time. Evert didn’t give up, but ambition eventually lost out to strength. 

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