Top 10 Great Men's Singles Wimbledon matches in the open era

There have been many great matches at Wimbledon in the open era and many of them have been finals. Because of the high standard there have been several classic matches that haven't made it to the top 10 (most notably the great Borg-Gerulaitis match of 1977 and the Rafter-Agassi clash of 2001). Who now remembers the Curren v Lewis semi final of 1983? It was seen as one of the great Wimbledon matches at the time. Matches have greater lasting significance if they were part of a great rivalry. Borg and Connors were great rivals and the 1977 final was the best Grand Slam match they played. The 1990 final was the culmination of another great Grand Slam rivalry between Edberg and Becker. Some people thought Nadal and Federer's 2007 final was a classic until they saw the 2008 final. The top two matches both had great crowd participation and this always helps add to the drama.

Judge for yourself the Top 10 Wimbledon matches selected by this website by watching excerpts of the matches.

 

Unrankable Isner v Mahut 2010 first round    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

Like the North-Going Zax and the South-Going Zax in the Dr. Seuss story, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut refused to budge in the most extraordinary stalemate ever seen on a tennis court. It was played on court 18 in front of a few hundred spectators that had queued for ground passes. It was televised all round the world. After the first day the match was suspended due to bad light at two sets all. The following day the two players arrived on court just after two o'clock on a glorious sunny afternoon. Around 9pm the match was suspended at 59 games all in the fifth set. The following day they continued where they left off. Finally at 68-69, Isner managed to break Mahut's serve and the match ended after more than 11 hours. To say that the fifth set was a serving contest is an understatement. Both players served over 100 aces, not to mention how many unreturned serves. There were very few break points in the fifth set. Isner in particular looked like he had nothing left in the tank many hours before the match ended, yet he ended up being the winner. The fifth set alone was longer than any other match in the history of the game. The levels of concentration and stamina of both players were incredible and will never be seen on a tennis court again. Unsurprisingly Isner's ghost lost in the next round easily. If this match doesn't convince Wimbledon to introduce a tie break in the fifth set then nothing will. Whilst this match broke all the records and was front page news all over the world, they set a record that will never be broken. So next time a serving contest goes on and on, everyone will know that even if the fifth set goes to 15 or 20 all, it will never be as long as the fifth set in this match. Instead, it will just be another boring serving contest that ends when one player finally runs out of energy. A fifth set tie break is a much more exciting and fair way to finish the match. The Federer v Roddick final of 2009 would have been a better match if it had finished on the tie break, as would the Ivanisevic v Krajicek semi final of 1998 and countless other matches that take place each year on outside courts. The great matches that have finished on a fifth set tie break at the U. S. Open over the years (such as Connors v Krickstein, Lendl v Cash, Connors v McEnroe and Sampras v Corretja) have been denied Wimbledon so far.

 

1. Nadal v Federer 2008 final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This was the defining match in one of the greatest rivalries in tennis history. Roger Federer was going for his sixth consecutive title. Only Willie Renshaw had won six in a row at Wimbledon in the days when the champion stood out until the challenge round. Rafael Nadal was trying to win Wimbledon for the first time. Players with a clay court game rarely won at Wimbledon, but Nadal was no ordinary player. Time after time he'd beaten Federer in important matches by winning the crucial points. However, Federer's game was tailor made for grass and he'd beaten Nadal in the finals of the previous two years. Nadal won the first two sets but Federer was determined not to go down without a fight. He took the third set on a tie break. In the fourth set tie break Nadal hit an amazing pass to set up a match point on his own serve. Then it was Federer's turn to hit an amazing pass. Federer then took the tie break. Very few players would have recovered after coming so close to winning the title. Nadal's ability to put the past behind him and play every point on its merits was never more in evidence than in that fifth set. Although Federer fought magnificently to hold onto his own serve, he couldn't seem to produce winners on Nadal's service games. Towards the end of the match the TV commentators on the host broadcaster hardly said a word. The same thing had happened towards the end of Connors' match with Krickstein at the 1991 U. S. Open. Eventually at 8-7 Nadal managed to break Federer's serve and as dusk fell held serve to claim a remarkable victory.

 

2. Ivanisevic v Rafter 2001 final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This match was played on the third Monday because of rain. This meant that the crowd had all queued overnight for tickets which were available on a first come first serve basis. The atmosphere in centre court was electric. Pat Rafter and Goran Ivanisevic were both trying to win their first Wimbledon title. Ivanisevic had come close many times before. He was 29 years old and had slipped right down the rankings. He needed a wildcard to enter the event. Then he had beaten Andy Roddick, Greg Rusedski, Marat Safin and Tim Henman. Against Henman, Ivanisevic had been fortunate with the rain breaks, but Henman still had his chances to win in the fourth set tie break when nerves got the better of him. Rafter had beaten Andre Agassi in a classic semi final and seemed at the peak of his form. Ivanisevic led by two sets to one but lost his serve in the fourth set and went ballistic. He blamed the umpire for making some close calls against him and it seemed at that point that he had completely lost his composure. He lost the fourth set but regained his poise in the fifth. Rafter gave it all he could to try and break Ivanisevic's mighty serve, but Goran always seemed to find the big serve when he needed it most. Eventually at 7-7 Ivanisevic broke serve. On the verge of victory Ivanisevic became very nervous, but he did eventually hold serve to win. Ivanisevic was overcome with emotion. He had finally achieved his goal after so many near misses. This was both players swansong. Rafter retired after the U. S. Open. Ivanisevic effectively retired after losing early in the 2002 Australian Open and having shoulder surgery. He did return one final time to Wimbledon (again courtesy of a wildcard) in 2004 and lost early.

 

3. Borg v McEnroe 1980 final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

People still talk about "that tie break" in the 1980 final. It was probably the greatest tie break of all time. Borg led by two sets to one and in the course of the breaker had several championship points, but McEnroe saved them all and eventually took the tie break 18-16. The fifth set was close all the way before Borg finally broke through, winning the set 8-6 and with it his fifth and last Wimbledon title. Now Wimbledon have built a roof over their centre court the BBC won't be able to show that tie break again and again because there won't be any rain delays. Many people can describe all of the points in the last half of that tie break in detail. It's almost as familiar to British sports fans as the final goal in the 1966 World Cup Football final.

 

4. Federer v Roddick 2009 final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This was the match when Roger Federer moved above Pete Sampras to win more Grand Slam men's singles titles than anyone. Andy Roddick hadn't beaten Federer in a Grand Slam. Roddick tried his best and Federer was considerably below par on his groundstrokes. In a serve dominated match, the fifth set was an epic. Both players continued to hold serve comfortably. In the end Roddick was the more tired of the two players and ended up losing his serve at 14-15 to give Federer the match. Although it was a memorable match, it would have been better served by ending on a tie break. There was a similar match in the semis at Wimbledon in 1998, when Ivanisevic overcame Krajicek 15-13 in another serve dominated fifth set.

 

5. Edberg v Becker 1990 final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This was the greatest match between the two great grass court players of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker. It was the third final in a row between the two players and both had one win each. Edberg had also beaten Becker at the French Open in 1989. Edberg began well and took the first two sets without breaking sweat. Then Becker began to find his form and levelled at two sets all. Then Becker led 3-1 in the fifth set. Surely with a serve like his the match was as good as over? Then Becker missed a couple of volleys, Edberg hit a brilliant lob at just the right moment and in no time at all Edberg was serving for the match at 5-4 having broken Becker twice. He held serve to win his second title. The two never met in a Grand Slam event again. It was a fitting finale to a great Grand Slam rivalry.

 

6. Borg v Connors 1977 final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This was a titanic struggle between the two top players of the late 1970s. Jimmy Connors finished his career with eight Grand Slam titles to his name but a man of his shotmaking ability and determination should have won more. One of the main reasons he didn't was because he lost several vital matches against Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon. Connors just didn't quite believe he could beat Borg at SW19, but he had the weapons to beat him as he proved in beating Borg in the 1976 U. S. Open final (on Borg's favourite surface: clay) and then demolishing him in the 1978 U. S. Open final. In this 1977 Wimbledon final Connors battled his way back from 4-0 down in the fifth set to level but then he served a double fault and let Borg back in. Borg, like Pete Sampras and Rafa Nadal, was one of the greatest match players of all time. Borg took the fifth set 6-4 to win his second title. He went on to win five in a row. Connors had to wait until Borg retired before he won Wimbledon again for only the second time.

 

7. Connors v McEnroe 1982 final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This was a clash of the titans. Jimmy Connors had a point to prove. When he won three Grand Slam titles in 1974 in sensational fashion it looked as if he'd dominate the game for years, but going into this final he had won only one Grand Slam title since 1976 and none since 1978. A lot of people were saying Connors wasn't capable of winning Slams anymore. John McEnroe, on the other hand, was at the peak of his form. He'd won three U. S. Open titles in a row and was going for his second consecutive Wimbledon crown. McEnroe established a two sets to one lead but Connors managed to win a close fourth set tie break. Then in the fifth set Connors broke and was rampant. He won the match to take his second Wimbledon title. He then won the U. S. Open and retained his U. S. title the following year.

 

8. Smith v Nastase 1972 final

At the time many believed this was the greatest Wimbledon final ever, even better than the great Crawford-Vines match in 1933. Stan Smith was the reigning U. S. Open champion and was at the top of his game. Ilie Nastase was the same age as Smith but was yet to win a Grand Slam title. Nastase was known for clowning around and losing concentration, but in this match he managed to keep his mind on the job. Smith serve and volleyed while Nastase preferred to stay at the baseline. At 5-6 in the fifth set Nastase served at 40-0 and Smith hit three brilliant returns. He then won the game to take the match. Smith never reached the heights again. During the next year Nastase won two Grand Slam titles but they were the only two he won. A man of his shotmaking ability should have won more.

 

9. Djokovic v Del Potro 2013 semifinal    

Wimbledon 2013 proved to be a vintage tournament with major upsets from the start, but also big name clashes in the latter stages. Juan Martin Del Potro had done little at Grand Slams since his spectacular victory at the 2009 US Open, where he beat Nadal and Federer back to back. At Wimbledon 2013 he was back to his best. Del Potro's flat hit powerful groundstrokes were whizzing past Djokovic, who veered towards defence. Djokovic had two match points in the fourth set tie break but Del Potro fought back to level at two sets all. Djokovic managed to finally win the fifth set 6-3. Djokovic is very tough to beat (only Nadal, Federer and Murray had managed to beat him at Grand Slams since Wimbledon 2010) but Del Potro came very close.

 

10. Agassi v Ivanisevic 1992 final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

Andre Agassi had been runner up in three Grand Slam finals. Agassi was a terrific clouter of a tennis ball, but could he string enough winners together in a Grand Slam final? Goran Ivanisevic was playing his first Grand Slam final. The big serving Croat had already shown signs of a wayward temperament. He had played brilliantly to reach the Wimbledon semis in 1990 (where Becker beat him) but the following year had completely self destructed against the unknown British player Nick Brown. Ivanisevic knew that he had his best shot of winning a Grand Slam title on the grass of Wimbledon. Agassi had only recently grown to love playing on grass. After losing early at Wimbledon in 1987 he had stayed away from the tournament for three years but finally returned in 1991. In that tournament he had shown promise but lost in the quarter finals against David Wheaton. Agassi had proved he was a real contender when he'd beaten three times champion Boris Becker in five sets in the quarters and thrashed the veteran three times champion John McEnroe in the semis. Ivanisevic had beaten twice champion Stefan Edberg in the quarters and Pete Sampras in the semis. The final lived up to all expectations. It went to a fifth set. At 3-3 Agassi saved several crucial break points. Serving at 4-5, Ivanisevic began the game with two double faults. Two big serves followed, but a brilliant pass by Agassi set up a match point. Ivanisevic hit a volley into the net and Agassi collapsed as the enormity of what he'd just achieved begun to sink in. It proved to be his only title at Wimbledon. Ivanisevic had to endure almost a decade of heartache before he finally won the event in 2001.

 

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