Ranking the Most Dominant Performances in Wimbledon History

Jake Curtis@jakecurtis53Featured ColumnistJuly 2, 2014

Ranking the Most Dominant Performances in Wimbledon History

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    Winning a Wimbledon singles title is difficult enough, but to steamroll the opposition over the course of two weeks represents a different level of achievement.

    Citing the most dominant performances at Wimbledon is not the same as noting the most impressive performances. The prime example is Steffi Graf's run through a star-packed field to win the 1989 Wimbledon title. That might be the most impressive tournament-long performance in Wimbledon history, but it barely made our list of the most dominant performances.

    For our purposes, dominance is defined by the ease with which a player swept away all competition during the tournament. The primary factor in that determination is how one-sided each result was on the way to a title. As such, dominance in one particular match, even if it was the finals, does not automatically translate into a dominant performance over the entire tournament. 

    Some consideration was given to the era, since the breadth of talent is much greater in the Open era than it was previously, and the caliber of competition faced by the player in the given Wimbledon tournament. Also, dominance in the later rounds was given slightly more weight than results in the early rounds.

    Ultimately, though, the quality of the competition and the stage of the tournament played secondary roles in our ranking.

    We selected 14 Wimbledon performances that deserve mention as the most dominant, then ranked those 14.


14. Chuck McKinley, 1963

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    Two factors made it easier for Chuck McKinley to win the 1963 Wimbledon title.

    First of all, many of the game's top players, including Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and Pancho Gonzales, were professionals and could not compete at Wimbledon before the Open era. 

    Secondly, McKinley did not have to face any of the other seven seeded players on his way to the title. Roy Emerson, the No. 1 seed, lost in five sets in the quarterfinals to Wilhelm Bungert, who was McKinley's semifinal victim by a score of 6-2, 6-4, 8-6.

    McKinley then struggled to win the first set in the finals against unseeded Fred Stolle, but rolled through the next two sets for a 9-7, 6-1, 6-4 victory that took just 77 minutes.

    Seven times the No. 4-seeded McKinley had to play more than 10 games to win a set during the 1963 Wimbledon tournament. (There were no tiebreakers then.) However, he won all seven and did not lose a set during the two-week event, one of just four male players to go through Wimbledon without the loss of a set since the elimination of the Challenge Round in 1922.

    McKinley was just 22 years old when he won Wimbledon, but he started decreasing his tennis activity later that year to devote time to being a stockbroker. He died of brain tumor at the age of 45.

13. Steffi Graf, 1989

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    Steffi Graf's consecutive victories over Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova in her final four matches of the 1989 Wimbledon event may be the most impressive run in tournament history.

    The fact that Graf beat Seles 6-0, 6-1 in the fourth round less than a year before Seles won the French Open, then crushed Evert 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals was a testament to how dominant Graf was in that tournament.

    However, Graf is the only female player on this list of dominant performances who lost a set on her way to the title.

    That came in the finals against Navratilova, who was still near the top of her game and would win her final Wimbledon singles title the next year.

    Graf cruised through the first set at 6-1 before Navratilova forced a tiebreaker in the second set. Navratilova controlled the tiebreaker, winning it 7-1, before Graf regained command and rolled through the third set for a 6-1, 6-7, 6-1 victory. 

    That second set against Navratilova was the only set Graf did not dominate in the tournament, and is the reason her 1989 performance is not ranked higher on this list.


12. Fred Perry, 1936

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    Fred Perry is best remembered for being the last British man to win a singles title at Wimbledon before Andy Murray accomplished the feat in 2013.

    What is remembered less is the dominance Perry displayed in winning his third straight Wimbledon title in 1936. He lost only one set in the tournament, and that was in the semifinals to Don Budge, who cruised to the Wimbledon crown the next two years.

    Perry's most memorable match of that event came in the finals, when he blew No. 2-seeded Gottfried von Cramm off the court. In the most lopsided men's finals in Wimbledon history, Perry lost just two games in a 6-1, 6-1, 6-0 victory over von Cramm.

    Von Cramm injured his thigh in the first game of that final, according to a report that appeared in The West Australian newspaper. The fact that von Cramm was limping noticeably through much of the match detracted somewhat from Perry's presumed dominance in the contest.

    "The match for me lasted one game," von Cramm said afterward, according to the West Australian report.

    Perry later moved to the United States and became a naturalized citizen in 1938.


11. Bjorn Borg, 1976

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    Bjorn Borg won Wimbledon five straight times from 1976 through 1980, but his run to his first title at the All England Club was his most dominant.

    Borg was just two weeks past his 20th birthday when the 1976 Wimbledon tournament began, and he was not the favorite. He had lost in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 1975 and was coming off a quarterfinal loss in the 1976 French Open.

    But the No. 4-seeded Borg rolled through the 1976 Wimbledon tournament without the loss of a set, one of only four male players to do so since the Challenge Round format ended in 1922.

    Borg's most impressive victory was a 6-3, 6-0, 6-2 rout of another clay-court player, Guillermo Vilas, in the quarterfinals. Borg had to win a second-set tiebreaker to take his semifinal match in straight sets against Roscoe Tanner, whose big serve caused Borg problems on fast surfaces throughout his career.

    After that 6-4, 9-8, 6-4 victory over Tanner, Borg beat No. 3-seeded Ilie Nastase 6-4, 6-2, 9-7 in the finals. As noted in a video on the ATP website, Borg was probably the underdog in that match because Nastase had played in the Wimbledon finals in 1972 and had beaten Borg in their most recent meeting, albeit two years earlier. Nastase won the first three games of the 1976 finals, but Borg controlled things thereafter.


10. Tony Trabert, 1955

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    Tony Trabert won three of the four major titles in 1955, with a semifinal loss to Ken Rosewall in the Australian Championships preventing him from completing a Grand Slam that year.

    Trabert did not lose a single set while winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships in 1955, and his performance on the grass at the All England Club was particularly dominant. He lost only 60 games in that entire Wimbledon tournament, the second fewest games yielded by a male player who did not lose a set at Wimbledon since the elimination of the Challenge Round in 1922.

    Trabert benefited from the fact that No. 2-seeded Rosewall was beaten in the semifinals by unseeded Kurt Nielsen, who reached the Wimbledon finals for the second time in three years. But Nielsen was no match for Trabert, who had beaten Budge Patty 8-6, 6-2, 6-2 in his semifinals.

    With his power game in top form, Trabert beat Nielsen 6-3, 7-5, 6-1.

    Trabert turned pro later that year.


9. Maureen Connolly, 1954

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    Maureen Connolly won three consecutive Wimbledon titles from 1952 through 1954 and did not lose a set while winning in 1953 and 1954. She lost just 19 games in six matches in each of the latter two Wimbledon tournaments, making it difficult to determine which was more dominant.

    The finals of each tournament proved to be the deciding factor.

    Connolly lost just eight games over her first five matches of the 1953 Wimbledon tournament. However, she received a significant challenge in the finals from Doris Hart, who had won Wimbledon in 1951. Connolly won the match 8-6, 7-5 and went on to complete a Grand Slam that year by winning the U.S. Championships.

    Connolly was slightly more dominant in the later rounds in 1954. She rolled to a 6-1, 6-1 quarterfinal victory over Margaret Osborne duPont, a three-time U.S. Championships titlist who had won Wimbledon in 1947. Connolly completed her run with a 6-2, 7-5 victory in the finals against Louise Brough, who would win her fourth Wimbledon title the following year.

    Sadly, that victory over Brough was Connolly's last match at a Grand Slam event. She was just 20 years old, but a few weeks later she suffered a major leg injury in a horseback riding accident that ended her career. Connolly died at age 34 of ovarian cancer.


8. Roger Federer, 2006

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    Determining Roger Federer's most dominant Wimbledon performance was a chore in itself. He lost just one set each time while winning the titles in both 2003 and 2005, sweeping through the final four rounds without the loss of a set. Federer's 6-2, 7-6, 6-4 victory over No. 2 seed Andy Roddick in the 2005 finals was particularly impressive.

    Nonetheless, Federer's run through the 2006 Wimbledon event stands alone. He had lost a set to a player ranked outside the top 20 in both of his other dominant showings (Mardy Fish in 2003, Nicolas Kiefer in 2005). But he blew through the first six rounds of the 2006 Wimbledon without the loss of a set, and was forced into a tiebreaker only once in those matches.

    Federer's 6-2, 6-0, 6-2 demolition of Jonas Bjorkman in the 2006 semifinals was particularly one-sided.

    "I felt like I played a guy who was near as perfection as you can play the game," said Bjorkman, according to a BBC report.  "He just made it look so easy."

    Federer played two tiebreakers in the final against Rafael Nadal and lost his only set of the tournament when Nadal took the third set 7-6. But Federer was ahead two sets to love before dropping that set, and he won the fourth set 6-3 to close out the match 6-0, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3.

    Nadal had a 6-1 record against Federer before that match, which ended Nadal's streak of victories in 14 consecutive finals.


7. Chris Evert, 1981

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    Chris Evert's best surface was clay, and her seven French Open titles despite skipping the event three times during her prime years are a testament to her invincibility on the slow surface.

    However, her unerring groundstrokes provided her with three Wimbledon titles, and she was unstoppable on the grass at the All England Club in 1981.

    Evert had not won the Wimbledon title in five years when she began her 1981 run, having lost in the finals each of the three previous years. Two of those losses came against Navratilova, who seemed to have surpassed Evert, especially on grass courts.

    Evert had the good fortune of avoiding Navratilova in the 1981 Wimbledon tournament, but that did not detract from her utter dominance.  Evert did not lose a set in the tournament, and she lost more than four games in a match only once, a 6-2, 7-6 third-round victory over Lele Forood.

    Event won her fourth-round match over Claudia Pasquale without losing a game, then squashed No. 10-seeded Mima Jausovec 6-2, 6-2 and No. 7-seeded Pam Shriver 6-3, 6-1. But Evert's most dominant performance came in the finals against Hana Mandlikova, the No. 2 seed who had beaten Navratilova in the semifinals.

    Mandlikova, then 19, had won the French Open a month earlier, beating Evert in straight sets in the semifinals. And Mandlikova's aggressive game seemed even better suited to the fast surface at Wimbledon. But in their first career meeting on grass in the 1981 Wimbledon finals, Mandlikova could not summon the consistency needed to challenge the 26-year-old Evert. Mandlikova committed 31 unforced errors to just eight for Evert, who won 6-2, 6-2.



6. Don Budge, 1938

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    You could question the caliber of competition Don Budge faced in the 1938 Wimbledon tournament, but you cannot question his dominance.

    Budge also overwhelmed the field in 1937, losing just one set (to Frank Parker in the semifinals) in the tournament before crushing Gottfried von Cramm of Germany 6–3, 6–4, 6–2 in the finals.

    However, Budge was even more dominant in 1938, the year he became the first person to capture all four Grand Slam events in the same year.

    Since the abolition of the Challenge Round in 1922, no male player had won Wimbledon without the loss of a set until Budge did it in 1938. Only three men have done it since. Budge lost only 48 games during the entire tournament, and the other three men who went through without losing a set all lost more games.

    Budge crushed the No. 5 seed, Franjo Puncec, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4, in the 1938 semifinals and was even more dominant in the finals, beating No. 2-seeded Bunny Austin 6-1, 6-0, 6-3.  Austin was from England, but playing in front of his countrymen provided little assistance against the onslaught of Budge's all-court game.

5. Helen Wills, 1932

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    Much like Suzanne Lenglen a few years before her, Helen Wills dominated Wimbledon for several years, not just one. Wills' powerful, accurate and consistent groundstrokes overwhelmed the women players of her era. She was the Chris Evert of her time.

    Wills (later known as Helen Wills Moody) never lost a match at Wimbledon from 1927 on, winning the event eight times between 1927 and 1938. She did not play at Wimbledon in 1931, 1934, 1936 and 1937.

    Her most dominant period was 1928 through 1932, as she did not lose a set while winning Wimbledon four times in that span.

    In Wills' case, the chore is choosing her most dominant performance from among several deserving efforts.

    She lost just 18 games in six matches in 1928 and no more than five in any one match. Her results were similar in 1929 (16 games lost, no more than six in a match) and 1930 (19 games lost, no more than five in match).

    However, Wills seemed slightly more dominant in the 1932 Wimbledon event, partly because of the level of competition. She lost just 13 games that year and lost no more than four games in any one match. More significantly, she easily beat two-time Wimbledon champion Kitty McKane Godfree 6-3, 6-0 in the fourth round, then rolled to a 6-0, 6-1 quarterfinal victory over Dorothy Round, who would win Wimbledon in 1934 and 1937.

    Wills finished off the 1932 Wimbledon with a 6-3, 6-1 victory in the finals against Helen Jacobs, who would win the 1936 Wimbledon title and capture four straight U.S. championships from 1932 through 1935. Jacobs led Wills 3-2 in the first set, but Wills dominated from there, finishing off Jacobs in 46 minutes.



4. Jack Kramer, 1947

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    Jack Kramer popularized power tennis with his serve-and-volley game, and his style and talent enabled him to dispatch opponents quickly.

    He was never more overpowering than he was while winning Wimbledon in 1947. Even though he lost a set during the tournament, he seemed more dominant throughout the event than several others who lost none.

    In his seven Wimbledon matches in 1947, Kramer dropped just 37 games, which remains the fewest by any man since the abolition of the Challenge Round in 1922.  The second-fewest number of games lost by a male was 48 by Don Budge in 1938.

    The lone set Kramer lost in the 1947 Wimbledon event was the second set of his semifinal match against Dinny Pails. Kramer then crushed Pails in the next two sets to remove all doubt in a 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 6-0 victory.

    In the finals, Kramer overwhelmed Tom Brown 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 in a match that lasted just 45 minutes, according to an ESPN.co.uk blog.

    Kramer's competition at the 1947 Wimbledon was not particularly impressive. Brown never won a major title and got to the finals of just one other, the 1946 U.S. Championships. Pails had won the 1947 Australian Championships, but Kramer did not play in that event in which 29 of the 32 participants were Australian.

    Kramer had no control over the players he faced, however. He simply dominated all of them.

    Kramer was just 25 years old at the time, but that would be his last Wimbledon as he turned pro in November 1947, well before the Open era.


3. Martina Navratilova, 1983

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    Navratilova was in her prime in 1983. That year she had an 86-1 match record, the best one-year winning percentage for any player, man or woman, in the Open era.

    She was nearly invincible on grass at that time and was known as one of the game's greatest front-runners, able to crush almost any opponent once she got a lead.

    Navratilova, then 26, demonstrated all of those qualities while capturing the 1983 Wimbledon title. While rolling to the fourth of her nine Wimbledon titles (and second in a string of six straight Wimbledon crowns), Navratilova did not lose a set and was never seriously tested.

    She had her toughest match in the first round against Sherry Acker, who pushed Navratilova to a first-set tiebreaker before losing 7-6, 6-3. After that, Navratilova breezed, losing no more than four games in any of her subsequent six matches.

    Chris Evert's surprising loss to Kathy Jordan in the third round made Navratilova's road to the title a little smoother. However, it's hard to image anyone giving Navratilova a difficult time at Wimbledon at that stage of her career.

    Navratilova crushed Yvonne Vermaak 6-1, 6-1 in the semifinals, but figured to get a bit of a challenge in the finals against 18-year-old Andrea Jaeger, the No. 3 seed. Jaeger had been impressive in a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Billie Jean King in her semifinal, and Jaeger had beaten Navratilova at Eastbourne in 1981 in their only previous match on grass.

    However, Navratilova dominated Jaeger in the 1983 final, needing just 54 minutes to complete a 6-0, 6-3 victory. Navratilova lost just nine points in the first set, which she wrapped up in only 15 minutes, according to The Associated Press report that appeared in The Southeast Missourian.

    In a 2008 interview with the Daily Mail, Jaeger said she purposely threw that match against Navratilova. No one other than Jaeger will know whether that is true, but Jaeger never won a Grand Slam singles title, and even at her best, she would have had trouble being competitive with Navratilova at Wimbledon in the mid-1980s.



2. John McEnroe, 1984

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    John McEnroe was an excellent grass-court player with his serve-and-volley game, and 1984 was his best year. In fact, it was one of the best years by any player in the Open era.

    McEnroe had an 82-3 match record in 1984, with two of the losses coming on clay, including his disappointing 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5 loss to Ivan Lendl in the French Open finals.

    Nobody touched McEnroe on the grass at Wimbledon that year, though. He lost only one set, that being a third-set tiebreaker against Paul McNamee in the first round. McEnroe was never in danger of losing that match and finished off the 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-1 victory with a dominating fourth set.

    McEnroe did not lose another set in the tournament and was forced to a tiebreaker only once more. He crushed Bill Scanlon and John Sadri by identical scores of 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 in the round of 16 and the quarterfinals, then took out future Wimbledon champion Pat Cash in straight sets in the semifinals.

    McEnroe saved his best for last, however. Jimmy Connors had won the U.S. Open in 1982 and 1983 and had won Wimbledon for the second time in 1983. He was ranked No. 3 in the world when he faced McEnroe in the 1984 Wimbledon finals.

    Connors did not stand a chance, though, as McEnroe breezed by 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 in the most lopsided of the 34 matches between the two.

    ''That's the best I've ever played,'' McEnroe said after the match, according to the New York Times.

    The finals lasted just 80 minutes, and the four games yielded were the fewest in a Wimbledon finals since Don Budge lost four games in 1938.

1. Suzanne Lenglen, 1925

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    Suzanne Lenglen dominated women's tennis in general, and Wimbledon in particular, for an entire era with her flamboyant style which combined athleticism and finesse. She entered Wimbledon eight times between 1919 and 1926 and never lost a match on the court. She won six titles and withdrew before her semifinal match in 1924 and before her third-round contest in 1926.

    A more significant sign of dominance is that she did not lose a single set on the court at Wimbledon after beating Dorothea Lambert Chambers 10–8, 4–6, 9–7 for her first Wimbledon title in 1919.

    Her task was made easier the next two years, since, as the defending champion, she needed to win only one match in the Challenge Round to claim the title. But she had to go through the entire draw for her next three titles.

    Lenglen had a few tough matches in 1922 but lost only 15 games in her run to the 1923 title, losing no more than four games in any one match.

    However, Lenglen was even more dominant in 1925, when she captured her final Wimbledon crown. She lost just five games over six matches in that tournament, not including a walk-over victory in the opening round. Lenglen lost only two games over her final four matches of that event, including a 6-0, 6-0 semifinal victory over Kitty McKane, who was the Wimbledon champion in 1924 and 1926.

    Lenglen's toughest match came in the finals, when she easily swept aside Joan Fry 6-2, 6-0.

    The one disappointment for the public was that Lenglen never faced Helen Wills at Wimbledon. The two seemed destined to meet in the 1924 finals, but Lenglen withdrew before her semifinal match against McKane, who then beat Wills in the finals.