FEATURE: Five must-see tennis documentaries to rival Being Serena

As HBO’s Being Serena hits our screens, we look at five other must-see tennis documentaries.


“What would I do without you? You… you complete me!”

The bigger movie buffs among you will no doubt recognise the above from The Dark Knight, spoken by the Joker to his sworn enemy Batman.

It’s remarkable how many sporting rivalries in real life follow the same principle,and Unmatched takes us through the story of perhaps the very best one: Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.

Polar opposites in terms of image and upbringing, Unmatched tells the story of a decades-long on-court rivalry that belies a lifelong friendship.

Describing the relationship, Navratilova said: “I don’t think either of us would have lasted as long without the other,” while Evert added: “It gave us inspiration and a lot of incentive to work harder and try to continue to improve.”

McEnroe/Borg: Fire & Ice

Speaking of great rivalries, it’s possible that McEnroe and Borg is the defining tennis rivalry.

Unlike Navratilova and Evert, there was never a friendship bubbling away beneath the competition, just quiet genuine distaste for each other.

Borg’s cool and emotionless demeanour was completely at odds with McEnroes’s passion-fuelled court-side tantrums, and the resulting rivalry was stuff of legend.

HBO’s brilliant recount of the rivalry, featuring extensive interviews with both men, is absolutely unmissable for tennis fans whether you lived it or not.

This is what they want

The backdrop for This is what they want is  the 1991 U.S. Open, when Connors so famously, at the age of 39 played past five challengers, through an epic contest with Aaron Krickstein, and all the way to the semi-finals before being stopped by Jim Courier.

However, it’s a lot more than that. It’s a forensic look at how characters like Connor used force of personality to reshape their sports into dramas capable of satiating the thirst of modern audiences.

In the words of the director: “This was during the first golden age of professional tennis, the late 70’s/early 80’s, when Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and, of course, Jimmy Connors made the game feel less like a country club pastime and more like a hard-nosed, full contact sport. They made it the marquis event it remains.

“Each of those three men made an impact on us. Borg for his cool, McEnroe because he was cool and Connors because he just refused to give in to his opponents, the umpires, the tournament referees or, even, to any notion of politeness and civility.”

Arthur and Johnnie

Arthur and Johnnie, the third in our list from ESPN’s brilliant 30 for 30 series, is really more a human story than a tennis, or sporting, one.

Tennis fans today remember the incredible legacy of Arthur Ashe. We even hear his name every year since the centre court at Flushing Meadows is named in honour of him. His influence on the game, and the world, is undeniable.

However, would it have still been the same had his development as a tennis player been interrupted by serving in the army in the Vietnam war? Almost certainly not.

The reason we will never know is little brother Johnnie who, after returning from his own tour of duty in the conflict, volunteered to serve another in place of Arthur.

Arthur and Johnnie gives us a first person account of the remarkable tale.

Facing Federer

A behind the scenes look at the Masters Tour from 2004, shortly after a young Roger Federer had started to dominate the game.

What is so engrossing about this one is that, at the time it was made, no one knew just how brilliant the Swiss star was going to become.

That makes it a window into the perceptions of the past, a snap-shot of history before the real story was known.