The Most Memorable Matches in Wimbledon History
Wimbledon and the All England Club have fostered more than their share of unforgettable moments.
A surprising result, a historic occurrence, a touching moment or sheer tennis excellence can etch a particular match into your memory.
Selecting the 12 most memorable Wimbledon matches obviously is a subjective assignment, with debate inevitable.
We tried to avoid having any player included in more than one of our choices. Steffi Graf is the only player listed twice, and she is the central character in neither.
Here is our countdown of the 12 most memorable Wimbledon matches.
12. Venus Williams vs. Lindsay Davenport, Final, 2005
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Venus Williams' 4-6, 7-6, 9-7 victory over Lindsay Davenport in the 2005 final lasted two hours, 45 minutes, making it the longest women's final in Wimbledon history.
However, it wasn't just the match's length that made it memorable.
Davenport was the No. 1-ranked player in the world at the time, and Williams, despite having won Wimbledon in 2000 and 2001, had slipped all the way to No. 16. She was seeded No. 14 for Wimbledon and became the lowest-seeded female player to win it.
Davenport let a 4-2, 40-15 lead slip away in the third set of the taut match, and she had to leave the court soon thereafter because of a back injury. Not long after Davenport returned, she had a match point at 4-5 on Williams' serve. Williams saved it with a blistering backhand down the line and went on to win.
11. Goran Ivanisevic vs. Tim Henman, Semifinals, 2001
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Goran Ivanisevic was the lovable long shot. Tim Henman was the hope of all England.
Ivanisevic's 7-5, 6-7 (6-8), 0-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 victory over Henman in the 2001 Wimbledon semifinals took three days to complete and will take much longer for Britons to forget.
Ivanisevic was ranked 125th in the world at the time and needed a wild-card entry just to get into Wimbledon that year. He would become the first unseeded player to win Wimbledon when he beat Patrick Rafter in the final.
But it was his semifinal victory that will be remembered in Great Britain. Henman was trying to become the first Briton since Bunny Austin in 1938 to reach the Wimbledon final, and the British fans lived and died with every Henman point at the All England Club. Henman's bio on the ATP website states that "he carried the weight of British expectation for a decade."
Henman was in position to give his country what it craved when play was halted by darkness the first time. Henman had won the third set at love to take a 2-1 lead in sets, and he held a 2-1 lead in the fourth set when play was suspended.
But it was not to be.
Ivanisevic pulled even on the second day, then finished Henman off in the third.
Many who had been waiting in line for hours to buy tickets for the final packed up their sleeping bags and went home when they learned their countryman would not be in the title match, according to a CNN story.
Henman played in the Wimbledon semifinals four times, but never got to the final.
10. Margaret Court vs. Billie Jean King, Final, 1970
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In the 1970 final, both players competed with injuries. Court played with an ankle problem that required an injection of pain killers, and King had a knee ailment that would need surgery a few weeks later, according to excerpts from the book Great Sporting Rivals.
But that did not prevent them from playing extraordinary, compelling tennis. Even though it was just a two-set match, it is still the longest women's Wimbledon final in history in terms of games played (46).
King saved the first match point against her at 6-7 of the second set, and, at 9-10, she saved two more match points after trailing 15-40.
On her seventh match point, Court finally won the match. She went on to win the U.S. Open to complete a Grand Slam in 1970.
9. Henri Cochet vs. Bill Tilden, Semifinals, 1927
At age 34, Bill Tilden seemed to be cruising to his third Wimbledon title, having won the event the only two previous times he had played in it.
Tilden was breezing past semifinal opponent Henri Cochet, a 25-year-old Frenchman, 6-2, 6-4, 5-1, for what appeared to be another lopsided victory.
Suddenly, everything changed as Cochet decided to go for winners on virtually every shot.
"I made 17 points in a row, so I decided perhaps I should fight," Cochet said later, according to a Sports Illustrated report.
Cochet won six straight games to win the third set and won the match 2-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3.
Cochet went on to win the final over Jean Borotra in five sets. In fact, Cochet lost the first two sets in each of his final three matches of the 1927 Wimbledon.
8. Pancho Gonzales vs. Charlie Pasarell, First Round, 1969
The fact that Pancho Gonzales' 22-24, 1-6, 16-14, 6-3, 11-9 first-round victory over Charlie Pasarell in 1969 was longest match in Wimbledon history to that point is only part of the reason it is placed here.
Gonzalez was 41 years old at the time, and it had been 21 years since he won his first Grand Slam singles title at the 1948 U.S. Championships. He had coached Pasarell, who was 16 years younger than Gonzales
Gonzales lost the first two sets, virtually giving away the second set because he was angered the match was not suspended after one set because of darkness, according to a BBC account. Gonzales' behavior brought boos from the crowd.
But the excitement increased the next day, when the aging Gonzales fought off seven match points against him, twice rebounding from 0-40 deficits, according to a report in The Guardian.
At both 4-5 and 5-6 in the final set, Gonzales dug himself into 0-40 holes, only to serve his way out of both triple-match-point situations. Pasarell's final match point came at 7-8, when Pasarell hit a lob out.
Gonzales summoned the strength to win the final 11 points of the match and claim the win.
Gonzales got to the Round of 16 before losing to Arthur Ashe in four sets.
7. Lori McNeil vs. Steffi Graf, First Round, 1994
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The fact that Steffi Graf became the first defending women's Wimbledon champion to lose in the first round is not the only reason her 7-5, 7-6 loss to Lori McNeil was memorable.
McNeil was 30 years old, six years past her career-high ranking of No. 9 and eight years past her previous best showing in a Grand Slam event when she got to the semifinals of the 1986 U.S. Open.
More significant was the fact that her father, Charlie McNeil, a former All-Pro defensive back for the San Diego Chargers, had committed suicide five months earlier. She and her father had been close, according to a Sports Illustrated article.
"That's probably the greatest loss I'll ever have," McNeil told Sports Illustrated after beating Graf. "I think about him. I always think about him."
McNeil had left the tour for six weeks starting in late March to deal with the grief.
Graf, meanwhile, was the No. 1-ranked player in the world. She had won the past three Wimbledon titles and five of the past six.
She had won 21 straight matches at Wimbledon. But Graf could not handle the strong serve-and-volley game of McNeil, then ranked No. 22, or the two rain delays that turned the match into a five-hour affair, according to the Los Angeles Times.
McNeil's victory became more significant when she advanced all the way to the semifinals before losing to eventual champion Conchita Martinez, 10-8, in the third set.
6. Arthur Ashe vs. Jimmy Connors, Final, 1975
Arthur Ashe's 6-1, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 victory over Jimmy Connors in the 1975 final became etched in memory for several reasons.
In a historical sense, it was significant because Ashe was the first (and still only) African-American male to win a Wimbledon singles title.
From a personal perspective, it resonated because they were not friends. Two weeks earlier, Connors had announced a $5 million libel suit against Ashe for Ashe's criticism of Connors' refusal to join the U.S. Davis Cup team, according to ESPN.com.
However, the most enduring aspect of the match was the surprising outcome and the clever strategy Ashe used to achieve it.
Connors was an overwhelming 3-20 betting favorite, according to the ESPN.com article. In fact, he was a 9-10 favorite to win in straight sets.
Ashe, then 31, was in the Wimbledon final for the first time, making it as the No. 6 seed following a five-set victory over Tony Roche in the semifinals. The 22-year-old, top-seeded Connors had not lost a set en route to the final and had lost only six games while beating Ken Rosewall in the 1974 Wimbledon final.
But against Connors, Ashe took the pace off his shots, relying on angles and finesse to frustrate Connors' powerful groundstrokes.
The upset was the high point of Ashe's career. He put an exclamation point on it afterward when he said, according to an ESPN.com report, that Connors had put about 70 percent of his errors "into the middle of the net. He hardly ever put the ball beyond the baseline -- that's a sign of choking."
5. Suzanne Lenglen vs. Dorthea Lambert Chambers, Challenge Round, 1919
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The 40-year-old Dorthea Lambert Chambers had won seven straight Wimbledon titles when she played her 1919 challenge-round match against Suzanne Lenglen, who was 20 years old and playing her first grass-court tournament.
At the time, the defending champion (Chambers) was automatically placed into the championship match against the winner of the main draw (Lenglen).
The king and queen of England were part of the huge crowd for this much-anticipated title match between the staid defending champ and the brazen, young, short-skirted French challenger, according to Sports Illustrated. It was also the first Wimbledon tournament since 1914 as the event was not held during World War I.
Chambers was on the verge of winning the taut match when she had a double match point at 6-5, 40-15 in the third set. Lenglen staved off the first match point by hitting a lucky volley off the wood, then hit a backhand winner to save the second, according to the Oxford Dictionary.
Lenglen eventually won 10-8, 4-6, 9-7, beginning a run of five straight Wimbledon championships and a total of six.
4. John Isner vs. Nicolas Mahut, First Round, 2010
The fifth-set score of 70-68 is almost incomprehensible. The 138 games and the eight hours and 11 minutes consumed in that set alone eclipsed all records for any previous match in history. That set had to be suspended twice by darkness.
By the time John Isner had completed his 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7-9), 7-6 (7-3), 70-68 victory over Frenchman Nicolas Mahut in the first round of the 2010 Wimbledon, they had played a match that lasted 11 hours and five minutes.
The marathon so intrigued the world that, when the match was suspended for the second day with the two tied 59-59 in the fifth set, it stole attention from the World Cup, according to USA Today.
The tennis itself was not enthralling, as play was dominated by serves. Mahut had 103 aces in the match, a remarkable number, but still 10 fewer than the 6-foot-10 Isner had.
However, the sheer length of the match made it memorable.
Mahut published a book about the match, The Match of my Life (La Match de Ma Vie), according to the USA Today article recounting the match.
The two players, who barely knew each other before the match, became good friends
"Without that match we would never talk to each other," Isner said, according to the USA Today article. "We would just be two guys from different countries trying to beat each other out."
3. Steffi Graf vs. Jana Novotna, Final, 1993
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Although Steffi Graf won the match, 7-6, 1-6, 6-4, for her third straight Wimbledon title and fifth in six years, it was Jana Novotna and her touching moment with the Duchess of Kent afterward that made the match particularly memorable.
The eighth-seeded Novotna had upset Martina Navratilova in the semifinals, and she was serving at 4-1, 40-30 in the third set against the top-seeded Graf in the final.
"I thought I was out of it," Graf said afterward, according to the Baltimore Sun.
With a chance to go up 5-1, Novotna double-faulted, lost that game and never recovered. After Graf held serve to close the gap to 4-3, Graf broke serve again in the eighth game, when Novotna double-faulted three more times. Graf then won the final two games to close out the match.
"I was very happy in the first few seconds after winning the match," said Graf, according to the Sun. "And then I saw her."
Novotna was devastated. When she accepted the runner-up trophy from the Duchess of Kent, Novotna could no longer control her emotions and began sobbing. She collapsed into the arms of the Duchess, resting her head on the Duchess' shoulder as they embraced in front of a packed Centre Court crowd.
2. Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer, Final, 2008
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A Perfect Storm of events coalesced on July 6, 2008, to create, in some minds, the greatest match ever played.
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer had already developed an appealing rivalry, and Federer had dominated Wimbledon, having won the previous five Wimbledon titles in a row, His epic five-set victory over Nadal in the 2007 final heightened the anticipation for their 2008 meeting.
They responded with four hours and 48 minutes of classic tennis, the longest final in Wimbledon history. Adding to the splendor of Nadal's 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (6-8), 9-7 victory was that it ended at 9:16 p.m., in a shroud of darkness.
"Last year’s emotional tussle immediately took its place among the best Wimbledon finals, but this five-set classic — played on a rainy, gusty day — was better yet," the New York Times reported.
Federer fought off two match points against him in the fourth set, and the match was twice interrupted by rain. But the caliber of the tennis never waned. Federer finished the match with 89 winners—and still lost.
"This is the greatest match I've ever seen," John McEnroe said, according to The Telegraph.
1. Bjorn Borg vs. John McEnroe, Final, 1980
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Some matches had more sustained tennis excellence than Bjorn Borg's 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16-18), 8-6 victory over John McEnroe in the 1980 final. However, the 34-point, fourth-set tiebreaker trumps all challengers for its 22 minutes of riveting, memorable entertainment.
Long-time New York Times tennis writer Neil Amdur was enthralled by Rafael Nadal's 2008 victory over Roger Federer.
"But," he wrote in the New York Times in 2011, "after watching chunks of the 3:53 McEnroe-Borg final at an HBO screening, I am tempted again to reaffirm its place as the sport’s single most compelling piece of court magic."
The match had plenty of intrigue simply because of the contrasting styles and personas of the participants. They also were the top two seeds, acknowledged as the best players in the world at the time.
However, the match reached another level in the seemingly endless tiebreaker.
McEnroe, who had survived a double match point against him earlier in the fourth set, fought off five more match points in the tiebreaker.
Borg, meanwhile, survived six set points against him in the tiebreaker, which included five side changes. Finally, on McEnroe's seventh set point, Borg netted a volley, ending a tiebreaker that had lasted only five minutes less than the entire first set.
Borg's resilience in winning the fifth set, 8-6, added to the match's lore, but did not match the compelling tiebreaker as a memorable experience.