In the second part of this series looking at the Greatest Wimbledon Finals of the Open Era, we look back at five more fabulous finals.
#15- 2000: Pete Sampras vs Pat Rafter 6-7(10-12), 7-6(7-5), 6-4, 6-2
The first Wimbledon final of the new millennium was one of record significance. Pete Sampras, one of the most dominant forces ever to take to Centre Court, was in search of a record equalling seventh Wimbledon title and a record breaking thirteenth Grand Slam singles title.
His opponent for the final was the two-time US Open champion Pat Rafter, who was making his first appearance in a Wimbledon final. Rafter was a heavy underdog against the man who had won the last three Wimbledon titles, but despite this, there was nothing to separate the two players in the first set, as it went to a tie-break. Much like the set itself, the tie-break failed to produce a conclusive winner as the pair traded blows and the score read 10-10, however, after Rafter landed a point on his serve, Sampras double faulted to give the Australian the first set 12-10.
The second set also failed to produce a break of serve, again going to a tie-break, but this time it was Sampras who would emerge victorious, rallying from 4-1 down to take it 7-5 and levelling the match.
The crowd at Wimbledon would have to wait until the fifth game of set three, after two hours and elven minutes of play, for the first break of the match. The break went to Sampras, giving him a 3-2 lead in the set, the rest of which went on serve as Sampras took it 6-4.
After holding his serve to go 2-1 in the fourth set, Rafter would not win another game as Sampras dominated, winning the next five games. Sampras’ serve was on devastating form, only facing two break points the entire match, none of which led to a break of serve. As the sky began to darken Sampras served out the match, taking the fourth set 6-2, to claim his thirteenth Grand Slam singles title, making him the most decorated male singles player of all time. His record would last until a certain Roger Federer beat Andy Roddick at Wimbledon in 2009, a match that makes a later appearance on the list.
#14- 1982: Jimmy Connors vs John McEnroe 3-6, 6-3, 6-7(2-7), 7-6(7-5), 6-4
Two years prior to Connors’ slaughter at the hands of McEnroe, the two American southpaws met in the 1982 Wimbledon final, but this match would not be so one sided.
Despite winning the Championship in 1974, Connors was becoming known as the nearly man at Wimbledon, having made at least the semi-finals in the last five tournaments. His chief tormentor at the time had been five-time Wimbledon Champion Bjorn Borg, but Connors, as well as the rest of the players, were given a big boost when Borg withdrew from the tournament.
Things looked to be going well for Connors in the first set, as he took a 3-1 lead. But McEnroe rallied back, winning five straight games to snatch the set 6-3. Connors regrouped in the second set as he broke the McEnroe serve, he then closed out the set 6-3 to level the match.
Yet again, in the third, Connors seemed to be in control, as he served for the set at 5-4, however, consecutive double faults meant that Connors had once again blown a set lead as McEnroe broke to make it 5-5. Both players held serve as the third set went to a tie-break, in which McEnroe’s serve was on devastating form, as he won every point on his serve, to take it 7-2.
Things began to heat up in the fourth, as Connors appeared to spit in the direction of a line judge who failed to call a McEnroe serve long. The set yet again went to a tie-break, but this time, after a string of fantastic points including an amazing net exchange, Connors claimed the tie-break 7-5.
In the final set, Connors seemed to be in inspired form as he broke the McEnroe serve in the third game. The set continued on serve and at 5-4 Connors was serving for the match. Connors celebrated every point like it had won him the tournament as he brought up three match points. At the second time of asking Connors fired down a first serve which McEnroe failed to return, giving him his second Wimbledon title, his first for eight years. McEnroe would have to wait two years for his Wimbledon revenge against Connors, but it would be worth the wait.
#13- 1970: Margaret Court vs Billie Jean King 14-12, 11-9
The 1970 Wimbledon ladies’ final between Margaret Court and Billie Jean King was one of both firsts and lasts. Tennis had only been professional for two years and this was one of the first finals to be televised in colour. It was also the last Wimbledon that was played without tie-breaks, perhaps largely due to the nature of this epic.
Despite concluding in straight sets, the 1970 final contained a record number of games for a ladies’ Wimbledon final at the time. Coming into the match, the pair had multiple Wimbledon titles to their names already, but Court was yet to win one in the Open Era. To add to the pressure on Court, she had also won the first two Majors of the year and was on track to complete the Calendar Grand Slam.
King had the early advantage in the first set, serving for it at 5-4, but Court rallied back and after a brilliantly placed lob broke the King serve to level the set at 5-5. There was nothing to separate the two for the next fourteen games, as the first set stood at an incredible 12-12. Court managed to scrape through a large amount of King pressure to hold serve and take a 13-12 lead. In the very next game, the Australian blasted through the King service to break and take the first set 14-12 in an incredible ninety minutes.
The second set was much the same, the two players unable to break away from each other, with Court coming closest to finishing the match at 6-7, but King saved the match point to level the set at 7-7. The pair continued to trade games, but at 10-9, Court brought up two more match points on the King serve. Yet again King rallied back and brought the game back level, but after a number of match points, eventually Court capitalised on her sixth to get the break and the Wimbledon title.
The significance of Court’s victory did not stop with the Wimbledon title alone, as a few months later she also won the US Open, becoming the first woman of the Open Era to claim the Calendar Grand Slam.
#12- 1985: Boris Becker vs Kevin Curren 6-3, 6-7(4-7), 7-6 (7-3), 6-4
In 1985 the tennis world greeted a new superstar, as seventeen year old Boris Becker became the youngest ever male winner of a Grand Slam, as well as the first German and unseeded male winner of Wimbledon.
His opponent in the final was the number eight seed, Kevin Curren, who that very tournament had become the first man to beat both John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors at the same Grand Slam. Curren was understandably favourite for the final, but Becker started the better of the two winning the first three games of the match. The rest of the set went with serve as Becker closed it out 6-3.
Set two was a much tighter affair, with both men failing to gain a break of serve as it went to a tie-break. After dominating the early stages of the tie-break, Becker let go of the lead as Curren won five consecutive points to take the breaker 7-4.
In the seventh game of the third set, Curren picked up a break of serve, the first since the second game of the match (this would be Curren’s only break of the Becker serve) to lead the set 4-3. But the young German came roaring back to immediately break the American’s serve in response. The two yet again traded service games, as they set up another tie-break. This time Becker didn’t let the lead slip as he bested Curren 7-3.
Becker broke Curren straight away at the start of the fourth set to perhaps signal Curren’s demise as he had struggled with the Becker serve all match. At 5-4 Becker was serving for the match and his serve was as devastating as ever. A huge ace gave Becker the match, as he became the youngest male winner of a Grand Slam.
# 11- 1995: Steffi Graf vs Arantxa Sanchez Vicario 4-6, 6-1, 7-5
The 1995 Wimbledon Final between Steffi Graf and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario is perhaps best known for producing one of the greatest games ever seen in a ladies’ Wimbledon final. But before we get to the eleventh game of the third set, we mustn’t forget that the previous two sets produced some incredible tennis of their own.
Graf and Sanchez Vicario were the top two seeds in the tournament that year and there was a lot of anticipation for the final. Graf was a five-time champion already, while Sanchez Vicario was in search of her first Wimbledon title.
Things started well for the would-be champion, as she claimed the only break of the first set to take a 4-3 lead. The Spaniard then held her nerve to serve out the opening set 6-4.
In the second set Graf seemed to have gained control back of the match, as she broke Sanchez Vicario twice to comfortably win the second set 6-1.
Most of the court side commentators believed that after such a one-sided set Graf would continue her domination and win the match with ease. Graf looked to have confirmed these theories when she broke Sanchez Vicario in the third game of the set, however, Sanchez Vicario came back in the very next game to level the set at 2-2.
Over the next six games there was nothing to separate the two players, they appeared to be evenly matched; perhaps nothing personified this more than the eleventh game of the third set. On Sanchez Vicario’s serve the two players traded break points, game points and deuces over an astonishing game, which took up nearly 20% of the whole match. After thirteen deuces, on her sixth break point, Graf gained the crucial break of serve. As the match clock ticked onto two hours, Graf stepped up to the baseline to serve for the match.
The previous game looked to have taken its toll on Sanchez Vicario, as Graf breezed through her service game to win her sixth Championship. The third set played out between these two gladiators is often considered one of the best sets ever seen in ladies’ tennis at Wimbledon, helping it easily make it onto the list.