Just a few suspenseful hours remain until the Gentlemen’s Wimbledon final. More than any other grand slam, the Wimbledon final has produced some epic encounters that could feature as the greatest sporting events of our time. Here is a look back at the open era matches that we consider the greatest, both for their quality of play and sheer drama.
This was a great match, though it was not the quality of tennis that made it qualify for our top ten list. It was the sheer tension and the overwhelming sense of nerves in the crowd that gave this match so much drama. Andy proved the previous year at the Olympics that he could beat Novak on Wimbledon’s grass. After finally getting the grand slam monkey off his back by winning the 2012 US Open, Andy was the favorite in this match. The only question was whether he could hold himself, and a whole nation, together after 77 years of heartache at Wimbledon. With the crowd cheering and the intensity ramping up with every point, Andy ultimately did deliver that desperately desired win. Even though the match was straight sets, Andy looked absolutely shattered at the end, the product of carrying the weight of a nation on his shoulders over the two weeks, and indeed for a whole year since his previous final defeat to Roger Federer.
This match was particularly special because due to renovations of the Wimbledon complex, the tournament and the final were played without a roof or even the upper tier of the stadium. It was also special for the quality of play between two absolute tennis legends. The previous year in 2007, Rafael was beaten convincingly in the final, however by 2008 he had fully discovered his grass court game, and was a real championship contender. More than ever before, Nadal used his sliding serve to great effect and was more comfortable taking the return of serve early. The Spaniard had the better of the first four sets and only very clutch tie-break play from Federer had kept the Swiss in the match. At 2-2 in the fifth Rafa had two break points, but from that moment on Roger played what was in my opinion the best and most special tennis of his entire career to retain the Wimbledon title.
This was The Queen’s Jubilee year at Wimbledon, and the British crowd was treated to a hometown victory when Virginia Wade won the ladies singles crown. The gentlemen’s final saw an epic marathon encounter between two household names and former champions. Bjorn Borg was the defending champion, while Jimmy Connors had contested two previous titles with a 1-1 record. Borg was coming off a fantastic five set semi-final against Vitas Gerulaitis while Connors had beaten a young John McEnroe. The match was as much a physical duel as anything else. Two players with a similar game style, incredible two handed backhands and incredible athleticism. In the end Borg prevailed thanks to greater physical strength and endurance in what was at the time one of the longest Wimbledon finals in history.
This match is on the list because it is, in my opinion, the best individual final performance and biggest butt-kicking between two Wimbledon champions. After losing the 1982 final to Connors, McEnroe was livid. After choking away the 1984 French Open to another intense rival, John was even more furious. All that frustration and disappointment came out in a world of hurt for Connors during this epic match. It was not even like Jimmy played badly; he had beaten Lendl in the semis and was in good form. Unfortunately, Connors came under the barrage of a genius. Every shot McEnroe hit in the absurdly short 1 hour 20 minute final was pure gold. Connors was left dumbfounded and flabbergasted as winner after winner flew by him.
This match was perhaps the most personally intense Wimbledon final in history. Whether it is true or not, Connors and McEnroe at the time appeared to simply loathe each other. Connors, perhaps the most competitive tennis player of his generation, would do anything to win and actively sought ways to get under McEnroe’s skin. They met twice before at Wimbledon, both times in the semi-finals, and both matches were confrontational. This final was brilliant. Connors’ serving and volleying backed up his always strong return and baseline play. The match hinged on a couple of key points in the 4th set tie-break, won by Connors, and the momentum carried him to the epic 5th set win.
After losing two previous Wimbledon finals, a US Open final, enduring a long losing streak against his top rival and after not reaching a grand slam final in three years, the pundits gave Roddick no chance to win this match. However, with an improved net game and the commitment to playing the aggressive red line tennis that allowed him beat Andy Murray in the semi-final, A-Rod took Federer to the absolute brink. After being up a set and squandering a 6-2 lead in the 2nd set breaker, fans could be forgiven for expecting the American to crack. He held firm though, and did not relinquish his serve until 14-15 in the 5th set. Federer himself hit 50 aces in the match, in what was a particularly significant title as it took him to 15 grand slams titles, passing past Pete Sampras for the most major championships of all time.
Edberg and Becker met in three straight Wimbledon finals. The first two years were matches where one player was not at his best and the 1989 final was a particularly lackluster one-sided affair. The 1990 final however was a classic. Becker started the match as if half asleep. Later revelations in his autobiography would reflect that he was in fact struggling with sleeping pill usage, to which he attributed to his slow start. Down two sets to love, he stormed back with some outrageous shot-making and typical Boom-Boom bluster. The fifth set seemed like the culmination of their Wimbledon history. Eventually a double fault from Boris handed over the break and Edberg served it out in classically calm fashion. This match also produced my personal favorite Mens’ trophy presentation at Wimbledon was when Boris begged Stefan to just allow him to place his hand on the cup for a second, just to remember how it felt. Ironically, despite two more final appearances, he would never lift it again!
After rain had disrupted the end of the second week, the 2001 final spilled over into people’s Monday. The emotion for all the competitors in the semi-finals was very raw. After a decade of dominance by Pete Sampras, any of the four contenders (Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Pat Rafter and Goran Ivanisevic) were deserving of intense public support. The final matchup was finally set when an inspired Rafter broke Agassi to win the fifth set in their semi, and the rain conspired to cool Goran’s temper just as he was about to explode and give Henman the match. Finals ticket holders were forced to use their stub for the Sunday finish of the semi-finals and therefore the final was open to the queuing public. The result was a stadum full of Aussies who dub themselves “The Fanatics”, and downright passionate Croatians. The atmosphere was unlike anything ever seen before on the grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis Club. Even more special, the match itself lived up to the hype energy. Rafter was amazing; at 7-7 in the fifth he hit the best drop volley I have ever seen, however still was broken. Goran serving out the match was the most dramatic and emotional service game I have ever seen.
This match had so many parallels with the 2008 Federer – Nadal match. It featured the two best players of their era, who could not be more contrasting in both playing style and personality. McEnroe firmly believed he was the best player in the world, but Borg as the 4 time defending champion had the mental edge. McEnroe always said that he had too much respect for Borg to engage in his normal outrageous antics, so he knuckled down with fierce intensity. The highlight of this final was the fourth set tie-break where McEnroe saved five championship points to eventually win 18-16. Any normal competitor would have been distraught, however Bjorn held strong, never lost his ice-cool demeanor, and somehow emerged the stronger of two as the fifth set wore on. This match was the turning point in their rivalry. McEnroe got revenge the following year at Wimbledon and also went on to win the 1980-81 US Open finals against the Swede.
There may be some recency bias, however for me this is the greatest Wimbledon final of the open era. This match had it all! It was a clash between the two rivals who transformed the sport. It was the king versus the challenger. The aggressive all court player against the ultimate counter-puncher and defender. The theatrics and drama were second to none! Roger coming back from the brink. Rafa holding his nerve. Uncle Toni gave possibly the most famous tennis pep talk after rain halted play early in the fifth set and Rafa had squandered a match point. Like other famous moments in life, I will always remember where I was during this match. I watched on a clubhouse TV in Granby, Quebec during a rain delay at a challenger event, alongside every other tournament player glued to the TV. Even after the rain stopped, the tournament officials were purposefully slow to dry the courts so that everyone could see the conclusion of the match! It will remain in my memory forever, as I’m sure it will in the minds of tennis fans across the globe. That is the power this sport has over tennis fans, and why these Wimbledon finals offer the potential of an absolutely epic occasion year over year.
I hope you enjoy the finals tomorrow where Andy Murray will be hungry for a second Wimbledon championship over first time finalist Milos Raonic. We will be glued to the televisions ourselves as history is made once again. Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter for our insight and updates.