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Coral’s 10 greatest individual sports rivalries as Rosberg and Hamilton lock horns

Robbie Purves and Sam Barnard | September 13, 2016

10 greatest individual sports rivalries

Throughout the history of sport there have been some gripping rivalries that add to the drama of elite sport.

Some are born out of personal hate, while others were built on mutual respect and the drive to win, but all of them captivate fans’ attentions.

With Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton neck and neck in Formula One’s leaderboard, the German 3/1 with Coral to win the Championship, a pair who have differences both on and off the track, Coral writers have cracked their heads together to compile a list of the greatest individual sports rivalries…

John McEnroe v Bjorn Borg (tennis)

Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe enter Centre Court for a final that wowed spectators.

Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe enter Centre Court for a final that wowed spectators.

The battle of fire and ice as some called it, saw two styles clash in some of the history’s greatest tennis action. McEnroe brought his fiery temperament, while Bjorg remained ice cold in a rivalry that saw the two legends split the 14 encounters they had 7-7.

Opposite in temperament, but equal in skill, the rivalry was cut short by Borg’s surprise retirement at the age of 26, but before he made the decision, McEnroe managed to end Borg’s streak of five consecutive straight Wimbledon titles with a victory in the 1981 final, avenging his loss in the 1980 final to Borg.

Larry Bird v Magic Johnson (basketball)

Both Larry Bird and Magic Johnson retired legends of the game and created one of the most fearsome rivalries between the Celtics and Lakers.

Both Larry Bird and Magic Johnson retired legends of the game and created one of the most fearsome rivalries between the Celtics and Lakers.

This rivalry started early, in 1979 Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores met Magic and his Michigan State Spartans in the NCAA title match. The two were then drafted by the NBA’s most successful franchises, Bird moving to the Boston Celtics while Johnson headed to California with the Los Angles Lakers.

Bird and Johnson met three times in the in the NBA Finals (1984, 85 and 87) with the Lakers claiming two wins. From 1980, the Boston and Los Angeles won combined to win eight of the following nine titles.

The pair’s rivalry was built on mutual respect and remain close friends to this day.

Tonya Harding v Nancy Kerrigan (ice skating)

US figure skater Tonya Harding took her rivalry with Nancy Kerrigan to new lows.

US figure skater Tonya Harding took her rivalry with Nancy Kerrigan to new lows.

Many rivalries threaten to turn ugly, but none more so than this notorious clash. In 1994, in the run up to qualifying for the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics, Harding’s main ice skating rival Kerrigan was attacked.

Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt, hired Shane Stant to break her rival’s right leg so couldn’t compete. Stant struck Kerrigan and only bruised her, she went on to win Silver and had the last laugh. Harding finished eighth, disgraced and pleaded guilty.

Muhammad Ali v Joe Frazier (boxing)

The pair fought in an enthralling trilogy, culminating in the "Thrilla in Manila".

The pair fought in an enthralling trilogy, culminating in the “Thrilla in Manila”.

This was one of the most iconic rivalries in the history of sport. Ali and Frazier met three times in an enthralling trilogy, the first two encounters saw the fight go the gruelling 15-round distance, while the last was stopped before the final round by Frazier’s corner.

Frazier’s win in the first bout was Ali’s maiden career loss, while the third meeting, the “Thrilla in Manila” in 1975, lived up to the build up and went down as one of the greatest fights in boxing history.

Jack Nicklaus v Arnold Palmer (golf)

Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer dominated 1960's golf and finished 1-2 in Majors four times.

Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer dominated 1960’s golf and finished 1-2 in Majors four times.

Many credit this rivalry as the reason why golf became a huge mainstream sport. The birth of their lasting competition came in the 1962 US Open, at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania.

The Golden Bear overcame a three-shot deficit to force an 18-hole playoff with Palmer. Nicklaus beat his opponent by three shots in the playoff for the first of his 18 majors. On four times during their careers, the pair finished 1-2 in Majors.

Pep Guardiola v Jose Mourinho (football)

Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have renewed their rivalry, but who will come out on top this season?

Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have renewed their rivalry, but who will come out on top this season?

There is no doubt that these two don’t get on. From the eye gauging of Guardiola’s staff, to Pep’s infamous expletive filled rant, their rivalry has been eventful.

Mourinho has knack of winding people up and was brought to Madrid to break Barca’s monopoly on La Liga and did it typical fashion, irritating rival fans and managers.

Now, both in the Premier League, we have seen the return of a more civilised rivalry. But for how long?

Mourinho is 9/2 to win the Premier League outright in his debut Manchester United season.

Niki Lauda v James Hunt (Formula 1)

Niki Lauda and James Hunt had a spectacular rivalry on the track, but respected each other off it.

Niki Lauda and James Hunt had a spectacular rivalry on the track, but respected each other off it.

In their early careers, the two shared a flat, but would go on to become huge rivals.

Sometimes rivalries are made off the track or pitch, but this one was gripping from the moment the two switched on their engines.

Hunt was very much enjoyed the playboy lifestyle, while Lauda was more disciplined. The two went head to head from 1973 to 1979 in a period that saw themwin four Championships.

Cristiano Ronaldo v Lionel Messi (football)

No two footballers have dominated the game more than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, collecting each of the last eight Ballon d'Or awards.

No two footballers have dominated the game more than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, collecting each of the last eight Ballon d’Or awards.

Though not always in direct competition like Ali and Frazier, the two never fail to miss a chance to land a blow on the other. Both players have regularly broken the 50 goal barrier in a single season, and have scored over 500 goals each in their careers for club and country.

The pair have won each of the last eight Ballon d’Or awards and continuously push each other on, compounded by the fact they play for bitter rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona. During his time in Spain, Ronaldo has lifted two Champions League crowns and managed to move to another level of performance, only Messi is on.

Ronaldo himself attributes some of his remarkable talent to Messi making him train harder: “I think we push each other sometimes in the competition, this is why the competition is so high.”

Messi’s Barcelona are favourites to win the Champions League this term at 3/1.

Phil Taylor v Michael van Gerwen (darts)

Van Gerwen is catching up all-time great Taylor in head-to-heads and Major trophies.

Van Gerwen is catching up all-time great Taylor in head-to-heads and Major trophies.

There is no doubting that Taylor (4/1 to win the inaugural Champions League of Darts) is greatest darts player in history, having claimed a ridiculous 86 Major titles across the BDO and PDC – including 16 World Championships.

Rivals have been and gone, with Raymond van Barneveld perhaps being the biggest threat to The Power, but there is only one man who has come anywhere near the Englishman in terms of consistent quality – Michael van Gerwen.

Since crashing onto the world scene in 2012, the Dutchman has claimed 17 Major trophies in the PDC, to add to his 2006 BDO World Masters crown, and has been involved in numerous battles with Taylor.

Mighty Mike has in fact dominated Taylor in the last two years, though his elder nemesis has got the better of him in events such as the World Cup of Darts and Sydney Darts Masters in 2016 and leads 29-23. The duo’s rivalry is making them and even others below them produce astronomical averages and nine-darters on a regular basis once thought impossible many years ago.

Steve Davis v Alex Higgins (snooker)

Higgins (left) and Davis (right) pictured after the former won the 1983 Coral UK Snooker Championship trophy 16-15.

Higgins (left) and Davis (right) pictured after the former won the 1983 Coral UK Snooker Championship trophy 16-15.

It is no coincidence that snooker’s golden era began in the 1980s when ‘Nugget’ Davis and ‘Hurricane’ Higgins were around, fiercely going toe-to-toe on numerous occasions.

The professional and composed Davis was the polar opposite to rebellious maverick Higgins, and it sure provided great viewing and reading on and off the baize throughout their careers.

Northern Irishman Higgins won their first ever battle at the 1980 World Championship, but Davis well and truly got his revenge as he became a six-time world champion – four more than his rival.

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