Ranking the Top 5 Wimbledon Performances of the Last 10 Years

Matt McGladrigan@@mattmcgladriganFeatured ColumnistJuly 5, 2014

Ranking the Top 5 Wimbledon Performances of the Last 10 Years

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    The green (or now more dusty brown) grass courts of SW19 at the All England Club have seen some extraordinary contests as part of Wimbledon 2014.

    We've seen stunning upsets by the likes of a 19-year-old Aussie known as Nick Kyrgios and the feisty Frenchwoman Alize Cornet, who downed the "King of Clay" Rafael Nadal and "Queen of Tennis" Serena Williams respectively.

    But who has produced the most breathtaking performance at the Championships in the last 10 years?

    We want drama. We want a performance of sheer audacity, precision and power. We want the utmost courage and passion; a display that seemingly defied belief and nature and is still remembered today by many.

    Let's run through the top five spectacles then... 

Honourable Mentions

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    Before we embark on our journey through the elected top five performances, let's consider some barnstormers that just didn't quite make the cut but deserve a delve back into the past to recall.

    Right back on the edge of our 10-year threshold, in 2004, a little-known Russian 17-year-old stunned the tennis world when she out-powered the might of defending champion Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final.

    Maria Sharapova, who won that match in straight sets 6-1 6-4, has since become one of the most famous female athletes in the world.

    She's a brand ambassador for Porsche; she owns her line of sweets, wittingly named "Sugarpova." She also has five Grand Slam titles to her name, recently triumphing at Roland Garros for a second time.

    But back in 2004, no one had barely heard of her and she swept the woman who was going for three Venus Rosewater dishes on the trot off the court. However, as we know, Serena doesn't take losses too well and she has lost to Maria only once since that day (and that was later in 2004 in Los Angeles).

    Moving on in time, there have been some incredible moments just recently. In 2012, Yaroslava Shvedova, of Kazakhstan, won all 24 points in the opening set of her match against Sara Errani, thus winning a "golden set."

    Even more extraordinarily, the BBC's Sue Barker states in that video that Shvedova, in recording that feat, broke her own WTA record of 23 straight points, which she set in Memphis in 2006. She commented after the match:

    Today I laid a golden egg.

    The year of 2013 (famous for another particular tennis moment that we may see later on) also brought some startling performances.

    No one will forget Sergiy Stakhovsky serve-and-volleying his way to a stunning second-round victory in four sets over the seven-time champion Roger Federer.

    Similarly, Rafael Nadal was wiped off the court in the first round by Belgian Steve Darcis. There was also that epic semi-final between Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro, which lasted four hours and 43 minutes (the longest semi in Wimbledon history).

    But here we go then, these ones are even better...

No. 5: Andy Roddick Edged out by Roger Federer in 2009 Final Thriller

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    Roger Federer has beaten up a lot of players at Wimbledon over the years, but none more so than big-serving American Andy Roddick.

    The pair faced off in back-to-back finals in 2004 and 2005, with the Swiss master winning both. In 2009 we saw a rematch.

    You simply cannot give more than Roddick gave that day. In a match lasting four hours and 16 minutes—setting a Grand Slam record for the longest contest, in terms of games played—the perennial bridesmaid lost his serve once. ONCE.

    Unfortunately, it was at the most crucial moment: serving at 14-15 in the fifth set. Federer took his sixth Wimbledon crown, breaking Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slams, with a 5-7 7-6 7-6 3-6 16-14 in a match of outstanding quality and endurance.

    Inevitably, Roddick was visibly distraught at the loss. He sat in the chair after the match with his baseball cap bowed to the ground.

    After years of Federer just neutralising his rocket serve with a chip return deep into the court, Roddick finally found ways of holding his serve effectively in that final. But still that one service game he lost was bad enough to defeat him.

    This battling performance by the three-time Wimbledon finalist, now working for Fox Sports, has been chosen because Roddick gave everything he had and arguably played the greatest tennis of his career in this match. But sometimes you have to hold your hands up and say that someone else is better than you.

    Another reason for selection is the character that Roddick showed post-match (3:24:00 onwards).

    After chanting Roger's name, the Centre Court crowd followed suit for Andy and he rose from his chair to acknowledge them all. Then BBC's Sue Barker spoke to him, suggesting that on days like that final, tennis can be a cruel sport. Roddick responded: "No, I'm one of the lucky few that gets cheered for."

    Roddick then joked during the champion's on-court interview. After Federer told Roddick not to be too down after the loss and that he'd been through a tough final loss the year before (to Rafa), the American said: "But you'd won five times before."

    Whilst he didn't lift the famous golden trophy that year, Roddick became a champion for many people with his performance in front of 15,000 on that Centre Court Sunday.

No. 4: Lukas Rosol Sends Shockwaves Around Wimbledon, Stuns Nadal

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    Two sets all against French Open champion and two-time Wimbledon winner Rafael Nadal. You're sat in the locker room, waiting for the Centre Court roof to slide shut and go back out for a one-set shootout.

    What must Lukas Rosol have been thinking at that moment? Nadal had just levelled the match, with the Czech starting to get nervous and make unforced errors.

    That delay came just at the right time for Rosol. It allowed him to regroup and it halted the Spaniard's momentum. Also, the indoor conditions that followed for the fifth set suited the massive, flat groundstrokes of the then world No. 100.

    The thud of that ace on match point, and the roar that followed from the crowd, reverberated around Wimbledon Park. Rosol had taken out the great Rafa in five sets, 6-7 6-4 6-4 2-6 6-4, in the second round of Wimbledon 2012.

    This performance by Rosol gets the nod above Roddick for sheer audacity alone. That someone ranked at 100 could ruthlessly smash Nadal off Centre Court was just outrageous. It just about outdoes Steve Darcis' upset of the clay-court king in 2013 for drama, as Rosol had to hold his nerve incredibly well, after being taken into a fifth set.

    This one will be remembered for a long time to come as one of the biggest upsets in Wimbledon history.

No. 3: The Combined Performance of John Isner and Nicolas Mahut

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    At the start, we said we desired a performance that defies belief. If it's possible, this contest in 2010, this survival-of-the-fittest battle, did more than that.

    How does 70 games to 68 in the fifth set even happen?

    This first-round match between American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut took place on Court 18 at Wimbledon 2010. As the commemorative plaque shows, it lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes, being played over three days.

    It broke pretty much every record there ever was. After about three hours' play on the first evening, the match was tied at two sets a-piece. By the end of the second day, it was 59 games all. Isner finally triumphed the following day, winning 70-68 in the deciding set.

    All the fans who had squeezed into every nook and cranny of Court 18, umpire Mohamed Lahyani, the line judges, the ballboys and girls, the groundsmen, and the two gladiators themselves struggled to comprehend what they had just been a part of.

    Isner fell to the ground in celebration, and when he rose from the grass, his face bore the happiest, most relieved and most tired grin in tennis history.

    ESPN revealed after the match that, after the second day of play, Andy Roddick went out and got "an assortment of takeout food for Isner and his coach, including pizzas, chicken and mashed potatoes."

    This gets positioned at No. 3 because it was a combined performance of monumental endurance, pushing both of their bodies beyond any limit. The crowd were even chuckling when the umpire, who had an increasingly dry throat, called out the score after each game.

    This match will always be remembered and the length will surely never be beaten.

    Isner stated after:

    This one's obviously going to stick with me probably the rest of my life, really. But I hope it doesn't define my career. I think I have what it takes, you know, to do some really big things in this game. The four biggest tournaments of the year are the Grand Slams. I have probably a good seven, eight years left to try to make a good run at 'em. So hopefully this won't be the thing that I'm most remembered about.

    Unfortunately, John, four years on, it's safe to say it will be.

No. 2: Andy Murray Wins Wimbledon 2013

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    July 7, 2013 and 17.3 million people in the UK are glued to a screen, gnawing away at their nails and perched up on their seats. The home favourite is points away from destroying a 77-year curse.

    40-0. Three championship points. Even Ivan Lendl is flickering with nerves. Those chances come and go, and we are back at deuce. It is unbearable; Novak Djokovic is now earning break-point chances, but they are somehow being swatted away by a man who can barely move a muscle in his body through pressure.

    Now, advantage the server. Another championship point. "Any point will do," Boris Becker ironically asserts on the BBC commentary.

    Serve, then a looping return from Djokovic, which a few of the crowd think is going long, but it drops in. Cross-court forehand and a backhand into the net.

    Andy Murray is the Wimbledon champion.

    The Centre Court Crowd, the squashed thousands on Henman Hill/Murray Mound and the rest of the UK erupt; the shadows of Fred Perry are wiped out.

    Murray's performance in the 2013 Wimbledon final, in beating the top seed Novak Djokovic in straight sets 6-4 7-5 6-4, epitomises all those qualities that we wanted in the opening slide.

    BBC's Andrew Castle summed it up perfectly (3:31 in):

    You simply cannot give more. A performance of supreme control, power, touch and, most of all, resilience. We've known he's a champion, but to come through that, with strength of character again and again, he demonstrates it and he deserves this victory.

    That unbelievably dramatic final game of the match must have weighed down like a five-set match on Murray's shoulders. Every single point was penetrating the emotions of the crowd.

    It's a title that can never be taken away from him, however the future unfolds. Andy shattered 77 years to pieces and is a Wimbledon champion.

No. 1: Rafael Nadal Finally Usurps Roger Federer on Grass in 2008 Final

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    "This is the greatest match I've ever seen," said John McEnroe, and the vast majority of people who know a little about tennis still agree to this very day.

    Roger Federer had won the title for the past five years (2003-2007), beating Rafael Nadal in the previous two finals. The final in 2007 wasn't a bad match either (the Swiss maestro winning that one in five sets). But it was a drop in the ocean on 2008's spectacle.

    In four hours and 48 minutes, the longest men's final in Wimbledon history, the match had everything.

    After rain delayed the start, Nadal stunned the defending champion by taking the opening two sets, both 6-4. But Federer hit back by taking two tie-break sets to force a fifth.

    The fourth set tie-break, in particular, was extraordinarily dramatic. The Spaniard surged into a 5-2 lead yet Federer pegged him back to 5-5, then missed a forehand on set point to leave things level at six points at the changeover.

    Nadal earned a championship point with a stunning forehand passing shot at 7-7, but the Swiss responded with a sumptuous backhand pass down the line to make it 8-8. Then Federer's serve and forehand took over to claim the set with the next two points.

    Nadal finally triumphed 9-7 in the fifth set, when Centre Court was virtually in darkness. It was a spectacular match between two outstanding rivals. The classy, graceful, cardigan-wearing artist Federer against the rugged, powerful, yet very humble competitor Nadal.

    The crowd were urging the two stars to battle, fighting one another with chants of "Roger" and "Rafa." Back then in 2008, the coaches, families and friends of the two players were sat in the same box, on rows next to each other. One row would rise for one point; the other for the next point.

    To dethrone Federer, Nadal had to raise his level. What he'd done in the two previous years (2006 and 2007) hadn't been enough.

    The Mallorcan "King of Clay" held his nerve to fend off the fightback of the Swiss hero, producing some incredible tennis never seen before by the tennis world.

    This performance by Nadal (and Roger more than played his part, too) hits the top spot in our rankings because not only was it highly dramatic and intense, it also demonstrated the belief that the Spaniard had that he could win the match.

    He'd lost the past two years and Federer had all the momentum going into the fifth set. But Rafa found a way to win and that competitive spirit is why he now has 14 Grand Slam titles.  

    Let's hope we have a fourth instalment of a Roger-Rafa Wimbledon final to come before they both put their feet up...