8 Greatest UK-US Tennis Showdowns

With the US Open set to close today with a dramatic showdown between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, the British Embassy takes a look back at some of the most epic tennis clashes between Brits and Americans.

1. Serve me up, Scotty

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Tennis, or in Klingon “SuD baS moQ,” is popular around the world and even in space. It is advisable to use a racquet rather than your head though.

2. Ward, Whitman, and Davis vs. Black, Gore, and Ropert-Barrett—The First Davis Cup Match, 1900

Wikimedia Commons / Via commons.wikimedia.org

By 1900, tennis had won popularity on both sides of the Atlantic. Dwight Davis, a recent Harvard graduate, seeing tennis’ potential to promote international relationships, organized the first International Lawn Tennis Challenge between the United States and the British Isles. The two teams competed in singles and doubles matches at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston, competing for a trophy Davis bought with his own money. The Americans took the championship 3-0 in a stunning (and somewhat embarrassing) defeat for the Brits.

By 1904, the tournament had expanded to include other international men’s teams, and eventually became known as the Davis Cup, in honour of Davis’ trophy. The Davis Cup grew further to become the world’s largest annual international team competition in sport: in 2013, no fewer than 130 nations entered. Inspired by the Davis Cup, an international women’s tournament, called the Fed Cup, began in 1963.

3. Perry vs. Budge—US Open, 1936

The 1936 US Open final pit together two tennis legends- Fred Perry from the UK and Don Budge from the US. Budge came from humble beginnings in Oakland, CA, as the son of a Scottish immigrant. Although he had already won the championships twice, Perry’s similarly modest upbringings were out of step with the rarefied atmosphere of the Wimbledon finals. In 1936, Perry defeated Budge to take his third title. Later that year at the US Open, the two had a rematch. Perry continued his winning streak by defeating Budge. It was the last time a British male won a singles Grand Slam title until Andy Murray won the US Open in 2012 and Wimbledon in 2013. Budge went on to win the 1937 Wimbledon title, becoming the only American male to win all four Grand Slam titles in a single year. Perry moved to the US in 1938, became a naturalized US citizen, served in the US Air Force, and started a clothing line. In 1940, the two rivals became doubles partners, playing against former US superstars Bill Tilden and Billy Richards.

4. Gibson vs. Mortimer—French Championship & Wimbledon, 1956 & 1958

Althea Gibson and Angela Mortimer became rivals in 1956, when they faced off in the final of the French Championships. Following a tough match, Gibson beat Mortimer, the reigning champ, and became the first person of colour to win a Grand Slam title. Gibson went on to win the 1957 Women’s Wimbledon and US Open. Mortimer, who was partially deaf, came back to win the 1958 Australian Championships. The two champs faced off once more later that year at Wimbledon, where Gibson took the championship again. Mortimer finally won Wimbledon in 1961.

5. Cox vs. Gonzales—British Hard Court Championships, 1968

Throughout the early 20th century, tennis was a professional’s game. That changed in 1968, at the British Hard Court Championships in Bournemouth, England. It was the first time amateur and professional tennis players competed against each other, and it ushered in the “Open Era” of tennis. The event proved that amateurs could be as good as the pros—especially when Mark Cox, a 24-year-old British amateur, defeated Pancho Gonzales of Los Angeles, CA after an intense 2 ½ hour match. Cox left a legacy that broke down barriers and allowed amateurs and pros to compete against each other in events such as the US Open.

6. Wade vs. Evert—Wimbledon, 1977

Brit Virginia Wade and American Chris Evert were both groundbreakers in the world of women’s tennis. Wade won three Grand Slam singles championships and four Grand Slam doubles championships, and is the only British woman in history to have won all four Grand Slam tournaments. Evert enjoyed similar success, winning a total of 18 Grand Slam singles championships and three doubles titles throughout her career.

In 1977, the two greats faced off in the semi-final at Wimbledon. Evert was the reigning champion, but Wade had national pride on the line—Wimbledon was celebrating its centennial that year, and Her Majesty The Queen, herself celebrating her Silver Jubilee, was in the crowd. Despite the intense pressure, Wade defeated Evert and won the Wimbledon final, receiving the trophy from the Queen. Wade was the last British player to win Wimbledon until Andy Murray’s victory in 2013. Wade’s winning streak against Evert would be short-lived, however—she never defeated the American again.

7. McEnroe vs. Wimbledon Officials—Wimbledon, 1981

American John McEnroe was as famous for his temper-tantrums as he was for his wins (although his headbands and wild hairstyle were pretty epic too). Dubbed “Superbrat” by the British press, McEnroe let his fury fly at officials when calls did not go his way. In 1981, McEnroe fought a line-call at Wimbledon, screaming at umpire Ted Jones: “You cannot be serious… you are the pits of the world.” He had a point deducted. Later, for good measure, he also swore at the tournament’s referee. For this outburst, McEnroe was fined $1,500 and was nearly thrown out of the tournament. He went on to win the title. However, the All-England Club did not award McEnroe honorary membership- a standard practice for new winners. In retaliation, McEnroe refused to attend the traditional champions’ dinner that evening. He told the press: “I wanted to spend the evening with my family and friends and the people who had supported me, not a bunch of stiffs who are 70–80 years old, telling you that you’re acting like a jerk.” The honour was eventually accorded to McEnroe after he won the championship again. Ironically, McEnroe would go on to become a much-loved part of the British tennis establishment, and now serves as a Wimbledon commentator for the BBC.

8. Stephens vs. Robson—Australian Open, 2013

This might be the next great tennis rivalry to look out for. At 18 and 19 respectively, Laura Robson of the United Kingdom and Sloane Stephens of the United States have long tennis careers in store, and are likely to meet each other on the court more than a few times. They have become good friends, But they didn’t let that dampen their competitive spirit when they faced off against each other at this year’s Australian Open. “We’re turning into the Fed-Nadal rivalry”, Stephens said after winning the match. Stephens went on to defeat first-seeded Serena Williams. She also enjoyed a good run at this year’s US Open, and has become the only teen in the Top 20 Women’s Tennis Association rankings. Robson is currently ranked #1 in the British women’s tennis rankings, and has made it into the main draw of every Grand Slam title. Playing alongside Andy Murray, she won Silver in the mixed doubles at the 2012 London Olympics.

9. Westmacott vs. Todd—British Embassy Washington, 2013

UKinUSA / Via Flickr: ukinusa

In 2013, the Embassy acquired a ping pong table from a departing member of staff. The Ambassador, Peter Westmacott, decided to inaugurate this new addition by challenging NBC’s Chief White House Correspondent, Chuck Todd, to a friendly match. It was an exciting and hard-fought game, with each man competing for the honour of his country. The score? We could tell you, but we’d have to kill you.

10. BONUS SHOWDOWN: Wenlock vs. Mandeville, 2013

Following their success organising the London 2012 Olympics, mascots Wenlock and Mandeville faced off at table tennis in August 2013. Their skills were pretty impressive, given their lack of depth perception.

11. Mittens vs. Fluffy?!

We look forward to continuing the transatlantic rivalry with many more GREAT matches between the Brits and our American counterparts. Above is a dramatic (and Buzzfeed-friendly) interpretation.

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