In the final part of this series looking at the greatest Wimbledon finals of the Open Era, we break into the top five and look at some more iconic finals. While the order of these matches could be debated, these were the five that I had locked in when this series first began, and for me, no matter the order, are undoubtedly the best Wimbledon finals of all time.
#5- 2005: Venus Williams vs Lindsay Davenport 4-6, 7-6(7-4), 9-7
The 2005 ladies’ final at Wimbledon saw a repeat of the 2000 final as two former champions, Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport locked horns.
Despite neither player having won a Grand Slam for four years, you would never have guessed it by the quality that both brought to Centre Court that day.
Davenport was the number one seed in that year’s Wimbledon and was looking to avenge her 2000 final defeat to Williams. Williams, while only being the fourteenth seed that year, had come into fantastic form, not dropping a single set on route to the final. Despite this, it seemed as if Williams was struggling to find her rhythm in the early exchanges, as she succumbed to the first break of the set and found herself 3-1 down. Double faults and unforced errors continued to creep into the Williams game as she went down another break. While Davenport went on to serve out the first set, it was not before Williams had a slight resurgence, breaking the Davenport serve to make her serve for the set a second time.
Williams was not able to fully capitalise on this brief turn in form come the second set as the scores read 5-5. In-fact, it was actually Davenport who seemed to have taken the initiative as she got the first break of the set to lead 6-5, serving for the championship. It seemed as if this adversity had kicked Williams into gear as she produced her best game of the match, breaking Davenport to love and taking set two to a tie break. Williams continued this form into the breaker, which she won with relative ease to take the final into a deciding set.
Much like with its’ two predecessors, the initiative in the third set was taken by Davenport, who got the first break to lead 4-2. But it seemed Williams played her best tennis when she was behind, as she immediately broke back to level the set. However, Davenport would come within one point of the title as she led 30-40 on the Williams serve at 4-5. After a huge backhand winner Williams saved the championship point and went on to level the set 5-5. Despite fighting the majority of the deciding set on the backfoot, Williams finally got the break she was looking for and was serving for the match at 8-7. Williams did what Davenport could not and held her nerve, taking the decider 9-7. At 2 hours and 45 minutes, it was (and still is) the longest Ladies’ final in Wimbledon history.
#4- 2009: Roger Federer vs Andy Roddick 5-7, 7-6(8-6), 7-6(7-5), 3-6, 16-14
The 2009 Wimbledon final was one of record significance even before the two gladiators took to centre court. A few months prior to the final, Roger Federer had finally conquered Roland Garros and completed a career Grand Slam, and by doing so, equalled Pete Sampras’ record of fourteen major titles. When he met Andy Roddick in the Wimbledon final that year, he was hoping to go a step further and win his fifteenth.
Federer had already beaten Roddick twice in Wimbledon finals, in 2004 and 2005, and it was expected that the Swiss maestro would do so again. Despite these assumptions it was Roddick who got the only break of the first set, as he took it 7-5.
Roddick had been a set up in their 2004 encounter, but Federer had gone on to win the match in four sets, it was not seen as anything to panic about. However, when the second set went to a tie break, and Roddick led the breaker 6-2, it was starting to look concerning for the five-time champion. But remarkably Federer won six points in a row, snatching the set from right underneath Roddick’s nose.
Much like set two, there were no breaks to speak of in the third and it again went to a tie break. This time it was Federer who took control, and despite a spirited Roddick come back, Federer saw out the breaker 7-5. It looked as if Roddick had let the match slip away from him, but in the fourth game of set four he broke Federer’s serve for the second time in the match to lead the set 3-1. Federer was unable to break Roddick in return and he saw out the set 6-3 to take it to a decider.
In an incredible fifth set, neither player was able break the other as the score read 14-14. After Federer held his serve to make it 15-14, Roddick was serving to stay in the match for the eleventh time. In a tight game, in which fatigue was clearly beginning to play a factor, Federer brought up match point after Roddick sent a forehand long. After Roddick mis-hit another forehand, Federer broke Roddick’s serve for the first time in the match and claimed his record fifteenth grand slam. The match contained a record number of games for a final (77) and with the fifth set also breaking the record for the most games in a single set in a grand slam final, the 2009 Wimbledon final was truly record-breaking.
#3- 2019: Novak Djokovic vs Roger Federer 7-6(7-5), 1-6, 7-6(7-4), 4-6, 13-12(7-3)
Taking the bronze medal is the 2019 encounter between two of Wimbledon’s most successful male champions, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. A repeat of both the 2014 and 2015 finals, both of which saw Djokovic triumph, the 2019 final would be memorable for a number of reasons.
Throughout set one, the two players were as evenly matched as could be, with only one break point being faced the whole set. It was to be decided by a tie break. Federer took initial control to lead 5-3, but it was Djokovic who turned the set around, winning four straight points to take the opener 7-5.
In response to this disappointment, Federer produced one of the finest sets of tennis seen at that year’s Championships as he obliterated Djokovic 6-1. Federer won 100% of points on his first serve and only made four unforced errors the whole set.
Things seemed to have returned to an even playing field in set three as another tie break was required. Yet again, it was Djokovic who triumphed, this time 7-4. Despite having not faced a single break point, Federer found himself one set away from losing the final.
Once more Federer responded to tie break disappointment with a fantastic following set, breaking the Djokovic serve twice to lead 5-2. Ironically, Djokovic would get his first break points, and break, of the match as Federer was serving for the set. This would make little difference as Federer easily served out the set at the second time of asking, 6-4, taking it to a deciding set.
Both players traded breaks midway through set five, but neither could stay ahead of the other for long. At 7-7 Federer got what appeared to be the crucial break as he led 8-7, serving for the match. At 40-15 it looked over for Djokovic as Federer brought up two championship points. But the defending champion was not one for making it easy for his opponents, as some fantastic returning saved the match points and gave him the return break. Djokovic continued the rest of the set on the back foot, saving further break points at 11-11. After Federer held his own serve, the fifth set went to a newly introduced tie break that came into play when the final set scores read 12-12.
As was the pattern of the match, it was Djokovic who showed his resolve and mental fortitude on the big points to better Federer in his third tie break of the match, this time 7-3, to win his fifth Wimbledon crown. At 4 hours and 57 minutes it was the longest men’s final in Wimbledon history.
#2- 1980 Bjorn Borg vs John McEnroe 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7(16-18), 8-6
Occasionally in sport, two athletes come along whose names become synonymous with each other. Perhaps no rivalry encapsulated this more than that of John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, ‘Fire and Ice’. Borg had won the last four Wimbledon titles and McEnroe was making his first appearance in a Wimbledon singles final. McEnroe had developed the reputation of being somewhat of a ‘bad boy’ and was booed as he entered Centre Court for the final, Borg on the other hand was roundly adored.
Despite the hostility of the crowd, McEnroe blitzed Borg in the first set. The champion appeared to be quite a way off his best, as he struggled with the angles McEnroe was creating with his serve, and the young American took it 6-1.
The second set would be a much tighter affair, but with Borg leading 5-6, McEnroe was serving to stay in the set. After a fantastic passing shot, Borg brought up two set points, and at the second time of asking, the champion clinched the much-needed break to take the second set 7-5.
Borg continued this form into the third set, breaking McEnroe straight away and storming to a 3-0 lead. The rest of the set went with serve with Borg triumphing 6-3. McEnroe appeared to have lost his way since the first set and Borg looked certain to win his fifth consecutive Wimbledon.
The title looked all but secured when Borg broke McEnroe to lead 5-4 and led the following game 40-15, with two championship points. But after a pair of magnificent passing shots, McEnroe had snatched those match points away from Borg. Another incredible backhand winner from McEnroe broke the Borg serve, and after consecutive holds, the fourth set would go to a tie break.
What followed is often regarded as the greatest tie break in history. Over the next 34 points, the two players exchanged match points and set points (five match points for Borg and seven set points for McEnroe), in an incredible battle. Eventually it was McEnroe who triumphed 18-16 after 22 minutes, taking the match to a deciding set.
Including the five in the tie break, Borg had had seven championship points in the match, was the Ice Man beginning to melt? Despite the squandered championship points, Borg remained cool throughout the fifth set, but there was still nothing to separate the two players as they were tied at 6-6. However, after Borg held serve to lead the fifth set 7-6, he brought up two more match points on the McEnroe serve. This time, after a magnificent backhand pass, Borg was able to capitalise on his eighth championship point and claim his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title. McEnroe slumped to his chair, inconsolable. But as we well know, he wouldn’t have to wait long for his revenge.
#1- 2008: Rafael Nadal vs Roger Federer 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5-7), 6-7(8-10), 9-7
Similarly to Borg and McEnroe, another pair of tennis players whose names would become synonymous with each other locked horns in the 2008 Wimbledon men’s final. Like all great rivalries Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were polar opposites, one was the King of clay, while the other God of grass. The pair had enacted the same routine over the past two years, with Nadal beating Federer at Roland Garros, and then Federer getting revenge at Wimbledon a few months later. In 2008 Nadal had again bested Federer in France and the World was desperate to see what Wimbledon had in store.
Having narrowly missed out on Wimbledon glory in the last two years, Nadal was desperate to get his hands on the coveted trophy. Things started well for the challenger as he got the only break of the set, claiming it 6-4.
In set two, it appeared that Federer had taken back control as he stormed to a 3-0 lead. However, Nadal had adapted his game to better suit grass, and he won six of the next seven games to thump Federer the rest of the set, again taking it 6-4.
At two sets to love down, it appeared that Federer’s remarkable run at Wimbledon was about to come to an end. But while both players produced astonishing tennis at times, there were no breaks to speak of, the set would be decided by a tie break. In a back-and-forth breaker it was the champion who managed to keep his head above the water, prevailing 7-5.
In the fourth set, yet again neither player was able to gain the crucial break of serve as the crowd on Centre Court was treated to yet another breaker. Nadal appeared to be in the home straight when he took a 5-2 lead, but Federer rallied back winning four consecutive points. However, after Nadal saved a set point, Federer sent a forehand long and Nadal had championship point. Federer saved the first, but soon had to defend a second when Nadal crushed a signature forehand passing shot down the line. On Nadal’s second championship point, Federer hit one of the shots of the tournament as he thundered down an unbelievable backhand passing shot. An inspired Federer went on to win the next two points and take the tie break 10-8.
Questions surrounded whether Nadal would be able to put the disappointment of the last set behind him when the two players took their place on court for the start of the fifth and final set.
Much like its two predecessors, both players struggled to gain the edge over the other as the scores read 7-7. But as Federer stood at the baseline to serve, it was Nadal who would get the first break since the second set to lead 8-7, serving for the match. Nadal brought up his third championship point, but another amazing Federer backhand kept the match alive. However, Nadal would not have to wait too long for his fourth match point, and this time he snatched it with both hands after Federer planted a forehand into the net. Nadal fell onto his back in relief as he handed Federer his first defeat at Wimbledon since 2002. With the London sky beginning to darken, a new tennis star shone bright as Nadal conquered Wimbledon for the first time.
It was a difficult decision between the 2008 and 1980 men’s final for the top spot on this list, but after John McEnroe declared 2008 “the greatest match I’ve ever seen”, I believe the decision was made for me.