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Ranking the 9 Most Epic Rallies in Tennis History

| June 16, 2022 11:43 am PDT
Best Tennis Rallies text centered with novak djokovic and marin cilic to left, roger federer and bjorn borg to right

If you’re not familiar with the term, a tennis rally is a series of back-and-forth shots between the players which ends when one of them scores a point. Usually, rallies last up to four shots, with only a small percentage having 10+ exchanges.

In fact, according to a recent study, more than two-thirds of all rallies at Grand Slam tournaments see only between one and four shots. When it comes to those with double-figure shots, they account for only about 10% of all rallies.

However, there were some rallies that saw the players exchange shots dozens of times. Those instances are now considered the best rallies in tennis history. If you’d like to learn more about those, you’re at the right place. I will now present you with the nine greatest tennis rallies of all time, plus one honorable mention.

Jean Hepner vs. Vicki Nelson-Dunbar (1984)

The crowd at the 1984 Virginia Slims tournament witnessed a marathon duel between Jean Hepner and Vicki Nelson-Dunbar. The match lasted six hours and 31 minutes in total, which makes it one of the longest tennis matches in the history of women’s tennis.

Even more importantly, the Hepner vs. Nelson-Dunbar match saw the longest rally in tennis history. The two women sent the ball over the net 643 times during a rally that lasted 29 minutes.

Bjorn Borg vs. Guillermo Vilas (1978)

The 643-stroke rally between Jean Hepner and Vicki Nelson-Dunbar holds the record for the longest shot exchange in the history of the sport.

However, the reason why this match isn’t remembered globally – you can’t even find any decent footage of it on YouTube – is that it was played in Round 1 of a non-major tournament.

If you’re wondering what’s the longest tennis rally in a major tournament, it’s the one that happened in the final of the 1978 French Open.

The all-time Grand Slam record for the longest rally was set by Bjorn Borg and Guillermo Vilas, which saw the two exchange 86 strokes. Even though it’s considered one of the best tennis rallies on record, the action doesn’t tell the whole story.

Despite struggling to win the point in question, Borg had no problems outplaying his opponent. He won the French Open Final 3-0 in sets.

Gilles Simon vs. Gael Monfils (2013)

Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils spent nearly five hours on the court in Melbourne during their third-round match at the 2013 Australian Open. The match finished after midnight local time, with Simon winning 32 (6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 1-6, 8-6). What happened in the marathon match was a mini-marathon – a 71-shot rally.

It remains the longest rally in a Grand Slam tournament in the 21st century, but if you thought it was a nerve-wracking rally, you’re wrong. Most of it saw the two exchanging casual shots without actually going for the jugular. In fact, the point was won by Simon only after Monfils made an unforced error.

Bryan Brothers vs. Kevin Krawietz/Andreas Mies

On their road to winning the 2019 Delray Beach Open – their 117th career title – the Bryan twins defeated the Kevin Krawietz/Andreas Mies duo 7-6(5), 7-6(3).

No surprise there really, as they were massive favorites before the start of the match. In fact, some tennis betting sites were giving odds as short as -357 before the duel. What was surprising is that the match saw one of the most memorable rallies in the history of men’s doubles.

At 5-5 in the first set, the American twins had a 30-15 lead in points, but their German rivals had no intention of giving up. Instead, they fought back, making a 28-shot rally which saw all four of them make some fascinating moves.

The Bryans won the point after their opponent tried to make a spectacular between-the-legs shot, missing the opposition baseline by an inch.

Marin Cilic vs. Vasek Pospisil (2018)

Standing at 6’6, Marin Cilic is an imposing figure in the tennis universe, famous for the speed of his serves. When he hits the ball with the racket, it travels as fast as 146.0 mph. That said, making the return of serve is always difficult against the towering Croatian.

Not everyone’s afraid of him, though. In 2018, Vasek Pospisil decided to play Cilic’s game at the Miami Open. Rather than going into a defense mode against Cilic’s serves, Pospisil decided to fight back.

Trailing 5-6 in games and 0-40 in points in the second set, the 6’4 Canadian managed to save three match points. What he did next is what became one of the most memorable tennis moments of the decade.

Pospisil took Cilic on a 33-shot ride before hitting a running forehand pass to take the set into a tiebreaker. What this means is that he practically survived 16 brutal shots by Cilic in a row.

He did manage to take the match to a tiebreaker, but that’s where his journey ended. The Croatian beat him 7-4 in the decisive tiebreaker.

Marcel Granollers vs Nicolas Mahut (2018)

Even though Nicolas Mahut has never won a singles title at a Grand Slam (he did win all four majors in doubles), he will be remembered as one of the tennis greats.

The main reason is that he was one of the participants in the longest tennis match in history. Dubbed one of the greatest tennis matches ever, his clash with John Isner at the 2010 Wimbledon lasted 11 hours and five minutes.

Another time when Mahut engraved his name in tennis history was in 2018 when he represented France at the Davis Cup. His opponent in the group stage of the cup was Spanish player Marcel Granollers.

The two put on a real show for the fans, exchanging 84 shots in what’s now considered one of the greatest tennis rallies of the century.

Roger Federer vs. Lleyton Hewitt (2005)

“Probably one of the best points I’ve ever played,” – this is what Roger Federer said about the 45-shot rally with Lleyton Hewitt at the 2005 Indian Wells.

Even though he lost the point, the Swiss player still regards it as one of the most epic tennis rallies of his career. The rally made the crowd go wild, while also making Federer go into a beast mode. That’s when he switched to the top gear, eventually beating Hewitt for his second title at the Indian Wells.

From there, Federer’s career went upward, with the Swiss becoming one of the greatest players of all time. Hewitt, meanwhile, saw his performances start to fade around that time. Actually, the final of the 2005 Indian Wells he lost to Federer was the last time he reached the final at a big tournament (either ATP 1000 or a Grand Slam).

Novak Djokovic vs Rafael Nadal (2013)

The clash between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in the US Open Final of 2013 is considered one of the great tennis battles of the century.

The betting favorite triumphed in the end after nearly three and half hours of play. Nadal, whom most tennis betting apps labeled a -152 favorite before the match, ended up winning 3-1 in sets.

Still, the Spaniard wasn’t as dominant as the final score would make you think. At least, not before the final set in which he destroyed his jaded opponent by 6-1 in games.

So, what made Djokovic exhausted? One of the decisive moments of the match happened in the second set when the two played a truly epic rally.

The ball traveled from Novak’s to Rafa’s racket and the other way around for a total of 54 times, making it the longest rally in a Grand Slam final. What’s interesting is that wasn’t the only marathon rally of the match. In fact, the duel was full of exciting moments on both sides of the net.

Novak Djokovic vs Rafael Nadal (2012)

If I had to choose the very best tennis rally, I’d go with this one. Once again, the protagonists are Djokovic and Nadal. This time, the match in question is the 2012 Australian Open Men’s Singles Final.

Unlike their 54-stroke rally in the 2013 US Open Final, this one wasn’t as long. However, when it comes to tennis rallies, it’s not just about quantity but quality as well – the 2012 Djokovic-Nadal rally is probably the most intense exchange ever.

The two traded brutal blows throughout the night, with the match finishing only after five hours and 53 minutes. That makes it the longest Grand Slam Final of all times.

The match was packed with historic moments, with the highlight being the 31-shot rally that literally destroyed the two players. When the point finished, Djokovic fell on his back, while Nadal had to stumble over to the sidelines to pull himself together.

Honorable Mention: Simone Frediani vs. Daniele Pecci (2017)

The Guinness World Record for the longest tennis rally is the one produced by two amateur players from Italy – Simone Frediani and Daniele Pecci.

The two set the record in 2017 after hitting the ball over the net 51,283 times in a row. Their record-breaking endeavor lasted from 6:23 a.m. until 7:00 p.m., with players wearing backpacks with water to keep themselves hydrated.

It’s a bit of a marvel to go back and recall some of the most amazing rallies in tennis history. Doing so doesn’t exactly help you bet now that the matches are over, but brushing up on tennis history – and analyzing matchups – is a big part of being a successful bettor.

If you’re interested in gaining a greater edge, keep the investigating going by checking out our detailed guide to betting on sports.

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Zarko Naric
Zarko Naric

Zarko Naric – the World's Greatest Sportswriter, according to his grandma.

Zarko started writing for GamblingSites.com in 2019, covering sports like soccer, tennis, and basketball,  as well as some more niche sports like cycling, for example.

In addition to writing news, picks, and blog pieces focused on sports, Zarko’s also been covering politics, TV/music contests, and so on.

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