The Open Era: The 20 Greatest Grand Slam Matches of All Time

Michael LanichCorrespondent IApril 27, 2011

The Open Era: The 20 Greatest Grand Slam Matches of All Time

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    The Majors, the Grand Slams, The Big Four.  These are some of the names we hear when people talk about the Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and The U.S. Open.

    Throughout the years since the open era began in 1969, we have been witnesses and privy to some of the greatest matches ever witnessed on a tennis court.

    The Grand Slams bring out the best in players.  They are playing for the tiles that will define their career.  These titles can often mean being remembered throughout history and being that guy people struggle to remember that was good, but lost often in the biggest moments.

    These high stakes mean that there are often thrilling matches full of great shots, high drama, and history and legacies at stake as players fight, claw and leave everything on the line to win one of the four biggest honors in all of tennis.

    I've spent a couple of weeks watching videos, doing research and compiling these results.  To be fair, there are plenty of matches that should be on this list but are not.  I had to make some hard decisions.

    There are only three matches on this list that are pre-quarterfinal matches.

    My criteria was a combination of the players who played, sets played, what was at stake and the circumstances involved with each match.  I then ranked them based on what I thought was the best order.

    So, without further ado, here is my list of the 20 greatest grand slam matches of all-time . . .

# 20 Wimbledon Final 1972: Stan Smith vs Ilie Nastase

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     Scoreline: Smith wins 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5

    Stan Smith was one of the top American players, while Ilie Nastase was a sorcerer with a racket and a true showman who liked to play to the crowd and mimic other players.

    In 1972 they played one of Centre Courts greatest matches.

    Playing with wooden rackets, serve and volley was the style of the times.  Each player shooting in looking for the volley and strategy necessary to outmaneuver the other player.

    Nastase broke serve early and took the first set, but undeterred Smith fought hard to take the next two sets 6-3, 6-3.

    The fourth set was a seesaw affair with Nastase basically fighting for his match, until he managed to break Smith and take the set.

    In the fifth set, the tension was extremely high.  Both players made incredible gets, but also some untimely errors that could have won or lost the match earlier.

    With Nastase's match point hitting the net, Stan Smith famously leaped over the net in celebration.  He wasn't the fan favorite, but it was a thrilling win, and Smith who would win a U.S. Open title the following year as well was no slouch with a racket, but Nastase was more charismatic and the crowd responded to that.

    However, despite Nastase's reputation as being "Mr. Nasty", he was gracious in defeat as was Smith in his win.  

    A great Wimbledon final. 

#19 U.S. Open Final 1988: Mats Wilander vs Ivan Lendl

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    Scoreline: Wilander wins 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4

    Ivan Lendl was firmly entrenched as a three-time defending champion at the U.S. Open.  The year before, he had defeated Mats Willander in four mostly tight sets and the match lasted over 4 1/2 hours.

    But 1988 had a different feel to it.  Wilander was on quite a roll.  Already that year he had won the Australian Open in another unbelievable final against Pat Cash, and had also claimed the title at Roland Garros.  It would be the apex of his career.

    If Wilander defeated Lendl in the final, he would become number one and the Czech iron man would be unseated where he had reigned for 159 consecutive weeks.

    Their rallies went well beyond the normal amount.  There were many 20, 30, and 40 stroke rallies that left both players(even Lendl) out of breath, yet gearing up for another.

    The first set was a tight affair as both players held serve.  With Wilander up 5-4, Lendl was on serve and hit three aces before a bunch of errors and timely hitting by his nemesis gave Wilander the first set.

    Lendl fought back and managed to take the next set 6-4 after a warning from the umpire broke Wilander's concentration.

    In the third set, Wilander broke Lendl early and kept his cool as he served it out 6-3.

    The fourth set appeared Wilander's as he broke Lendl to go up 4-3, but promptly gave it back and would eventually lose the set 5-7.

    The fifth set would be the first since Borg and McEnroe's great match here in 1980.  Wilander would break Lendl in the middle of the set, and after a backhand from Lendl hit the net, it was over.

    The mighty Czech was down and out and Wilander's magical year of 1988 saw him win three major trophies, with this one possibly his most savored given the man across the net.

#18 Australian Open Final 1988: Mats Wilander vs Pat Cash

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    Scoreline: Wilander wins 6-3 6-7 3-6 6-1 8-6

    It was the strategic Swede vs the spectacular athlete in Aussie Pat Cash. The hometown Hero, Cash had lost a year ago to Stefan Edberg in five thrilling sets at the Australian Open.

    This final would be the first at Flinder's park(renamed Melbourne Park)

    The first set was a relatively easy one for Wilander as a clearly nervous Cash couldn't keep a serve or a ball seemingly in play and Wilander takes the first set easily 6-3.  The second set seemed to be going the same way after Wilander went up 3-0, but then a rain delayed saved Cash who came out seemingly much calmer, and fought back with some inspired play to take the set in a tie-break 7-6.

    With this momentum and a clearly rattled Wilander, Cash waltzes by with the third set 6-3, but Wilander is a great champion who has already won 4 major titles.  Finding reserves of steely resolve.  Coupled with Cash's seemingly lapse of concentration and the match swings back in Wilander's favor with an absurdly easy 6-1 set win.

    The fifth set fittingly had both players at the top of their game until at 6-6 Cash wilts under the pressure and loses serve, while Wilander serves the match out at love for the title.

    It would be the fifth major title for Wilander, and he would go on to have a landmark year by winning an additional two that year(Roland Garros, U.S. Open) 


#17 Wimbledon 1st Round 2010: John Isner vs Nicholas Mahut

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    Score Line:  Isner wins 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68

    • Longest match by time and games: It took 11 hours and 5 minutes of playing time, and required 183 games.
    • Longest set by time and games: The 5th set took 8 hours and 11 minutes of playing time, and required 138 games.
    • Longest play in a single day: The first 118 games of the fifth set, played on 23 June 2010, lasted 7 hours and 6 minutes. This time is longer than the entire Nelson-Hepner match (below) and all other matches in tennis history.
    • Most games in a single day: 118, on the 23 June.

    As you can see above, this match was indeed one for the ages, and it's like will undoubtedly never be seen again.  While some may be aghast that it doesn't hold a higher ranking on this list, it's because it was a first round match who's winner went to . . . the second round.  I doubt you will ever see any other first round matches on a list like this and you shouldn't.  Part of what makes a great match is what's at stake.  The match, plus the fact that it's Wimbledon are what puts this squarely on my list, but no higher.

    While there were certainly a fair share of great shots in the match, what stood out most was that it was a clinic on serving.  John Isner had more aces(113) in this match than the next highest man on the list had in the entire tournament.  A testament to the towering American's ability to paint the lines with the best of them.

    To go into great detail about this match would take, well much longer than I'm willing to spend here, so I'm just going to skirt the events of the match.

    The match started on June 23, 2010 and after four sets, the match was halted due to darkness.  The two played most of the next day until the match was halted again at 59-59 in the fifth set.  

    Both players were so exhausted and hungry, they reportedly consumed boxes of pizza, chicken wings, and mashed potatoes while taking ice baths and getting massages.

    On the third day, both players resumed play before Isner with is fifth match point at 69-68, won with a down the line passing shot, after almost an hour of play.

    .

#16 U.S. Open QF 2001: Pete Sampras vs Andre Agassi

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    Scoreline: Sampras wins 6-7(7), 7-6(2), 7-6(2), 7-6(5)

    The two had met many times over the course of their stellar careers.  Sampras was on his way out, while amazingly, Agassi was having a career resurgence unlike any other in which he would win more titles in the second half of his career than he did in the first half.

    After the match, Sampras would go on to say that Agassi had never hit the ball better, and Agassi would say that Sampras had never served better or been in a better zone.

    Neither player managed to break the other's serve in the entire match.  Amazing given the talent of the two players at hand, especially Agassi who's serve was never a weapon on par with Sampras's own.

    Sampras would hit 25 aces to Agassi's surprising 18.  

    At one stretch, both players went 22 straight games without a break point.  

    Agassi fell behind early in the first set, but fought back to take a surprising first set, but then after that Sampras was just too good.  He had to defend three break points in the second set, but after that it was lock down mode.

    While awaiting the tie-break in the fourth set, both players received a standing ovation from the crowd that was well earned.

    After Agassi netted a forehand to end the match, Sampras celebrated and both had warm words and compliments at the net.

#15 Roland Garros 4th Round 1989: Michael Chang vs Ivan Lendl

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    Scoreline: Chang wins 4–6, 4–6, 6–3, 6–3, 6–3

    Ivan Lendl was number one.  He had just won the Australian Open and was a three time winner of Roland Garros.  Michael Chang was a skinny, 5'9" speed demon and only 17 years old at the time.

    Lendl came out strong and before long had a two sets to love lead over Chang, plus a break of serve to start the third set.  Everything was falling into place for another title at Roland Garros.  Then things changed.

    Chang would break back and storm to take the third set 6-3.  In the fourth set he would get a severe case of leg cramps.  Despite the cramps he managed to win the fourth set 6-3, and even thought about retiring in the fifth set up 2-1, but decided to lay everything out on the line.

    Still suffering from leg cramps, Chang did everything he could to faze the normally emotionless Lendl.  He hit moon shots to slow down points, went for more outright winners, and served underhand.

    As time went on Lendl became more irate, even arguing with the head umpire at one point.The tactics worked however as Lendl, by then completely psyched out, double faulted on match point.

    The match happened to take place a day after the massacre at Tiananmen Square.

    7 days later, Chang would win another great five set match against Stefan Edberg to win his one and only major title.  

#14 U.S. Open 2nd Round 2006: Agassi vs Baghdatis

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    Scoreline: Agassi wins 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 7-5 

    Agassi in many ways was in no shape to play.  Having back pains that would level a normal human being, Agassi required anti-inflammatory injections after every match, and would spend hours the next day just getting his body moving  to prepare for the next match.  All of this while suffering through excruciating pain, oh and one of the best matches of his career in the last tournament of his career.  It would be his final W in the record books as well.

    From Agassi's back flare ups to Baghdatis suffering through leg cramps towards the end of the fifth set, we managed to see some of the best tennis either player may ever have played(Agassi) or will play(Baghdatis) and it was a thriller like few others.

    The match started out looking like Agassi was going to win in straight sets as he took the first two sets 6-4, 6-4 despite some stellar play from Baghdatis.

    But Baghdatis would not be deterred.  He upped his level of play and broke Agassi in the third set.  With some amazing down the line backhands, and flat laser-like shots, the third set was his.

    The fourth set was where the match really took off.  Both players ripping winners and serving aces, it would only be topped in drama by the fifth set if not topped by form.  Baghdatis broke Agassi's serve to go up 6-5 and promptly served out the set to tie the match at 2 sets all.

    The fifth set was an unbelievable display of pain, guts, amazing shots, and high drama played out against the backdrop of 20,000 fans.

    First, Agassi's back began to flare up, and after getting broken in the first service game, it all looked lost for Agassi until in the middle of the set both of Bagdatis's legs began to cramp severely.

    Somehow he managed to stay upright after a few minutes, and still hit winner while barley able to move. In fact there was a point where both  moved like elderly men well over 70 despite being at least half that age or less.

    When Agassi won the match, both players knew they had been part of something special.


#13 U.S. Open Semi-Final 2010: Novak Djokovic vs Roger Federer

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    Score Line:  Djokokvic wins 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5

    It had been a tough year for Novak Djokovic.  Spending much of the year in frustration with a serving motion which had been unwisely altered by short-lived coach Todd Martin, Djokovic's first serve percentage in most matches was lucky to be above 50%, even on his best days.  This more than anything contributed to the funk that Djokovic had been in most of the year, his Wimbledon SF not withstanding.

    Having nearly bowed out of a match against fellow countryman Victor Troicki while down 2 sets to 1 early in the U.S. Open, Djokovic ultimately prevailed and went on a tear which culminated on a loss to Nadal in the finals in four sets.  However, the match he played beforehand was magnificent.

    Everyone wanted and expected another classic Federer/Nadal final.  Djokovic had been playing well in the tournament, but was hardly thought of as being a man who would threaten Federer on this day.  How wrong we were.

    In between sets of extraordinary tennis in which Federer won those sets were great chasms of disappointing play from the mighty Swiss.  It all culminated in the fifth set as both players turned up the heat and played possibly one of the best fifth sets ever witnessed on a tennis court.

    Both players were simply out to bludgeon one another to death with screaming forehands.  Both held serve in that critical fifth set.  Trailing 5-4, Djokovic saved 2 match points with two of the biggest forehands I have ever seen him hit.  In fact I didn't think he was capable of hitting a forehand that hard.

    After holding serve, Djokovic broke Federer's serve and then held his own which culminated with a 22 stroke rally that ended with a Federer backhand wide.  

    Djokovic finally defeated a fully health Federer in slam play and earned his title shot which he would go on to lose in four sets to Rafael Nadal.

#12 Wimbledon Final 2007: Rafael Nadal vs Roger Federer

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    Scoreline: Federer wins 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-2

    A year later, their final at this same venue would be heralded as the greatest match of all-time and deservingly so, but their finals encounter at Wimbledon a year earlier was by no means incomparable.

    Surprisingly in their first Wimbledon encounter in the final in 2006, despite losing Nadal managed to take a set off of Federer at the height of his powers.  It was a disappointing loss, but hardly would compare to this encounter which would be devastating for Nadal.

    Both players traded sets, with Federer winning some tight tie-breakers.  The drama of the match lifted considerably when Nadal broke Federer twice to take the fourth set easily 6-2.  Many people thought that the impossible might actually happen on this day.  That Nadal would somehow win his first title and dethrone the mighty Swiss nemesis and friend.

    Alas, it was not mean to be on this day.  Much like Federer would disappear mentally in the fifth set of his encounter with the swashbuckling Spaniard a year and half later in the finals of the Australian Open, Nadal would do so in the fifth set here.  

    But Nadal HAD his chances to win.  At one point at 2-2 in the fifth set, Nadal held two breaks points with Federer serving 15-40.  A break would most likely have ended the match in Nadal's favor, but a tight Nadal knowing what this win meant watched an ace go by and shanked another ball before Federer aced out the game.

    Demoralized, Nadal watched as the match slipped away and Federer picked up a fifth Wimbledon trophy for his case at home.

    Throughout the match, play was unbelievably high.  This wasn't the same Nadal who played a year earlier and lost the first set 6-0.  Nadal was much improved and it showed.  

    Maybe the writing was on the wall.  Maybe Federer knew that if he didn't win on this day, Nadal would and Nadal's time was coming.

    It was an unbelievable match that any fan of tennis should see at least once.

#11 U.S. Open QF 1996: Pete Sampras vs Alex Corretja

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    Scoreline: Sampras wins 7-6 5-7 5-7 6-4 7-6

    Have you ever seen Pete Sampras so desperately weak and dehydrated that he literally vomited in the back of the tennis court?

    If your reading this and shaking your head no in wonder, it's probably because you have never watched his oft-mentioned quarter final match against Alex Corretja in 1996.

    It featured Sampras at  the height of his powers.  Against him was Alex Corretja, primarily a great clay court player, but who's game managed to translate well to the hard courts.

    The match last well over 4 hours, and featured some amazing rallies.  Corretja would hit 90 winners including 25 aces while Sampras would hit 74 winners

    Each set was extraordinarily tight.  For the first half of the match, Sampras was physically fine but the hot and humid conditions began to take their toll as much as the man across the net.

    After going down two sets to one, Sampras managed to eek out the fourth set after breaking Corretja, to even the match at 2-2.

    The fifth set showcased Sampras as a man who barely moved on most balls.  His energy was spent only on his serve.

    In the eventual tie-break, Sampras finally vomited.  He was so dehydrated that it would take two liters of intravenous fluids to revive him after the match.

    After receiving  a time warning, Sampras managed several impressive aces, but Corretja kept coming and at one point held a match point which Sampras saved at the net with an amazing stab volley winner.

    Sampras fought back to take the lead in the tie-break in between dry heaves before Corretja double faulted to give Sampras the win.  Both players helped one another off of the court.

    It was an iconic win for Sampras and an equally great loss for Corretja. 

#10 Australian Open Final 2009: Rafael Nadal vs Roger Federer

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 01:  Rafael Nadal of Spain consoles Roger Federer of Switzerland during the trophy presentation after his men's final match during day fourteen of the 2009 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on  February 1, 2009 in Melbourne
    Scott Barbour/Getty Images

    Scoreline:  Nadal wins 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-2

    Somehow, some way Rafael Nadal made it through.  After battling tooth & nail against unlikely semi-finalist Fernando Verdasco to get to the final.  Sadly it had taken everything out of him to do it.

    On the other side, Roger Federer had breezed through his semi-final with ease, and was well rested with an extra day to prepare for the final.  For many, the end result was a question of when Federer would win the match, not if he would win the match.

    The match turned out to be another match showcasing two men who simply bring out the best in one another.  Each trading body blows throughout the match.

    However what stood out most in the match was Nadal's willingness to push himself to the  limit and beyond physically.  At a point where most players would simply have been happy to make it to the final, Nadal could not or would not stop.

    Offsetting Nadal's physical limits were Federer's serving woes.  Despite serving well throughout most of the tournament, Federer first serve percentage stayed in the low fifties for the match and certainly provided Nadal the chances needed to take advantage in opportune moments.

    The match was filled with some of the best shots of the tournament, highlighted by one in the fourth set that must be seen to be believed.  The two greats traded sets like they traded blows, but through it all, Nadal never stopped coming. 

    It's that motor that keeps running no matter what that broke Federer in the fifth set.  Looking across the net at his greatest rival and knowing he would no collapse, stop, or give up.  Knowing that he would never quit and the tension from the situation Federer was in must have been the killer combo.

    Nadal prevailed and won his first Australian Open.  He deserved it.  Combined with his semi-final against Verdascoe, they should also go down together as one of the greatest physical/endurance performances in tennis history.

#9 Roland Garros Final 1999: Andre Agassi vs Andrei Medvedev

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    Scoreline Agassi wins 1-6 2-6 6-4 6-3 6-4

    Andre Agassi was done.  At 29 years old, he was ancient by the standards of tennis.  But all of that changed on one fateful day.  Already down 2 sets to love against Andrei Medvedev, a rain delayed gave Agassi's coach Brad Gilbert the chance to explode into Agassi in the locker room and give a now famous speech that gave Agassi the motivation to go out and do the unthinkable, nay the impossible.

    He won the match.  And thus the reinvention/rebirth of one Andre Agassi who was by that point no failure on the court.  A late career renaissance that would begin in Paris, where he completed his career slam, and give him an additional 4 slam titles over the second half of  his career. 

    The match itself was unbelievable in it's drama and essentially a tale of two halves.   In the first two sets of the match, Medvedev was on fire.  He ran Agassi around the court like a rag doll.  Agassi meanwhile came out somewhat flat and it showed.

    After Gilbert's great speech, Agassi came out and began one of the greatest comebacks in the history of tennis.  He became more aggressive, and in the end did to Medvedev what had been done to him in the first half of the match.

    It was a thoroughly entertaining and amazing match to watch and should certainly be on any list of the greatest matches.

#8 Australian Open Semi-Final 2005: Roger Federer vs Marat Safin

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    Scoreline: Safin wins 5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (8-6), 9-7

    One is a towering Russian, who's ability and potential were off-the-charts, but so was his penchant for exploding on court and self-destructing.  The other was a recently corronated number one with far more majors to his name already and who's potential was similarly off-the-charts.  So it's fitting they played in the semi-finals of the Australian Open in 2005, and boy was it an affair to remember.

    Watching this match was essentially watching a combination of serving extraordinare, and pummeling shots from each player.  Safin with his mighty serve, and blistering ground strokes, while Federer's own excellent serve, combined with the mighty forehand, and technical proficiency was a sight to behold.

    Back and forth the war raged.  Momentum shifted as often as I have ever seen it on a tennis court.

    Federer won the first set with a break of serve. Both players were easing into their battle and it was not without it's inconsistent level of play.

    The second set saw Safin the winner after some uncharacteristic errors by Federer.  By this point however, both players level was better.

    In the third set, both Safin and Federer were ripping winners, and aces at an incredible rate.  Both players were simply at the height of their play, yet Federer broke Safin's serve to win the set and go up two sets to one.  Things looked like they would work out for Federer.

    The level of play continued in the fourth set and into the tie-breaker.  At one point Federer held a break point but Safin won the point on an amazing lob that Federe could not return.  Safin would win the tie-break and the set.

    Things go even better if possible in the fifth set.  With the match and probably the trophy on the line, Safin and Federer was outmaneuvering one another for vicious winners, and net play.

    At 8-7 in the tie-breaker, both players had their chances, but Safin's victory came on an inside out forehand that Federer got back, but which Safin hit for a winner in the open court.

    It was the end to a thrilling match who's level of play overall can be matched by very few other battles in the open era.

#7 Roland Garros Final 1984: John McEnroe vs Ivan Lendl

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    Scoreline: Lendl wins 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5

    It was 1984.  John McEnroe was in the midst of one of the greatest seasons of all-time.  While Borg was gone, another great would emerge in Ivan Lendl.  A man who made it to and lost more finals than he ever won.  On this day at Roland Garros in 1984, he would not lose and more than that he would do the unthinkable.

    Like Agassi a decade and a half later, Lendl would come back from two sets to love down and win the match.  A match that at one point looked all but inevitable in it's conclusion would slowly, yet surely slip from McEnroe's fingers and he would never win the title.

    Everything started out so well.  McEnroe was his same intense self, but he radiated a sense of confidence that Lendl simply could not shake.  Before long McEnroe was up two sets to love and the outcome looked grim for Lendl.

    Then it all changed.  McEnroe lost his cool at a cameraman who was making noises behind him.  Like a small crack that just opens the floodgates, Lendl would wiggle his way into the match and although the match was incredibly tight for the rest of the way, as each set went by it felt more like Lendl's match to lose.

    McEnroe could never capture the magic of the first two sets, and it probably goes down as his greatest loss, because while Wimbledon was perfectly suited to his style and game, clay was not.  That he was up two sets to love and lost must still haunt him at times, over 25 years later.

#6 Australian Open Quarter Final 2003: Andy Roddick vs. Younes El Aynaoui

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    Scoreline: Roddick wins 4-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4, 21-19

    It was a match filled with grit and determination.  Two players seemingly headed in different directions career-wise.  Andy Roddick was the hot up-and-coming American player who seemed a shoe-in for multiple major titles, while Younes El Aynaoui at nearly 31, was nearing the end of a good career, but one that wasn't very memorable.  He would hit a career high of 31 in the world in 2003, and this match would go down in some ways as his greatest achievement.

    Roddick, then young and much more aggressive with his shots, came out somewhat lethargic against the older player across the net and subsequently lost the first set.  They would trade the next thee pressure-filled sets before the gem in the fifth. 

    While Roland Garros and the U.S. Open have fifth set tie-breakers, Wimbledon and the Australian Open do not.  You have to win by two games.  Thus one of the greatest fifth sets ever ensued.  It would take too long to even describe it, so let's just say that there are few that could compare.

    In the end, the young pup Roddick eventually prevailed, and the match would stand as the longest until it  was beaten by another match of this list(Nadal vs Verdascoe).  Still, at 4 hours and 59 minutes, both players walked off of the court hand in hand knowing they had done something truly special that day, and indeed they did.

#5 Wimbledon Final 2001: Goran Ivanisevic vs Patrick Rafter

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    Ivanisevic wins 6–3, 3–6, 6–3, 2–6, 9–7

    It wasn't a tennis match.  At least it didn't FEEL like a tennis match.   It felt like a football match as the crowd chanted and cheered at every point.

    Patrick Rafter was in the midst of the best part of his career which happened to be nearing it's own end, while Croatia's Goran Ivanisevic was hoping to capture his first Wimbledon title after 3 attempts already.  Sadly those attempts included getting past Andre Agassi once and Pete Sampras twice.

    Ivanisevic would go on to become the first wild card to win the title in the tournament's history, but getting there was a feat of epic proportions.

    Both players traded sets like they traded blistering groundstrokes.  There were some spectacular winners, mixed with many nervous errors.  Either player would hit a couple of winners, but then give it all back with less-than-wonderful shots that went sailing wide or long.

    Through it all were fist pumps and volcanic eruptions of emotions as both players fought incredibly to win the title each wanted to win the most.

    In the end if was Ivanisevic who would go on to win.  It wouldn't come easy as he would miss three match points, but still dug deep enough to claim his trophy and one of the greatest finals in history.

#4 Australian Open Semi-Final 2009: Rafael Nadal vs Fernando Verdascoe

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 30:  Rafael Nadal of Spain plays a forehand in his semifinal match against Fernando Verdasco of Spain during day twelve of the 2009 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 30, 2009 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Ca
    Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

    Scoreline: Nadal wins 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (1), 6-4

    It was the semi-final that nobody saw coming.  In a way, Spain's Fernando Verdasco was lucky to even be there.  In the fourth round, he was down two sets to one against Britain's Andy Murray who would eventually go on to have a break-out year.  With a combination of an increasingly stable game and fitness due in part to help from Andre Agassi and Gil Reyes, Verdasco stormed back to take out Murray, then take down 2008 finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in four sets to set up his clash against Nadal.

    It should have been easy.  For years Verdasco was Nadal's punching bag.  He never once beat Nadal, and everyone, probably including Nadal himself did not expect a tough match, and never the all-time classic it would become.  Instead, Nadal found himself against a Rottweiler who thought he was a pup, who finally realized he wasn't.  At least for one match.

    Nadal was playing at the time, his highest level on a hard court until his title run at the 2010 U.S. Open.  Both players came out playing extremely well.  Verdasco kept hitting winners  and shots that looked impossible.  Nadal's defense was unbelievable.  Eventually Nadal won 7-6 in the tie-break of the first set.

    Feeling that he was just that close to winning the first set, Verdasco lifted his level and leveled the match at one set all.  Both players in the third were playing all-out.  The tennis reaching it's zenith in the tie-breaker in which Nadal won.

    Verdasco had to falter right?  He had to crumble, but he didn't.  Much like the Murray Match, Verdasco steeled himself and scraped and clawed.  Nadal did the same.  Both players trading body blows and upper cuts.  Verdasco gave a jaw-breaking uppercut by winning the tie-breaker in the fourth set  in amazing fashion.

    The fifth and final set played out mostly the same as the rest, except Nadal finally broke through Verdasco's serve and won the match on a double fault by Verdasco, and made it to his first Australian Open final.

    Some stats of the match:

    The match lasted 5 hours and 10 minutes. 

    Verdasco hit over 85+ winners but made nearly as many errors.

    Verdasco hit 21 aces.  Nadal hit 12.

    Nadal won 193 points to Verdasco's 192. 

    It was that close.

#3 Wimbledon Final 2009: Roger Federer vs Andy Roddick

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    Scoreline:  Federer wins 5-7 7-6 (8-6) 7-6 (7-5) 3-6 16-14

    It had been this way for years.  Andy Roddick, although talented and undoubtedly a great player, nevertheless, rarely beat Roger Federer.  In fact, Roddick in many ways was Roger's punching bag, especially in major finals.

    Not this day.  Maybe Roddick finally had enough.  He had to know that heading into his latter twenties, he would have less opportunities to win the title he has contested most, and lost than any in his career.

    For the first time in years Roddick started flattening out  his backhand and began pummeling Federer's own backhand.  Together with his serve, the match became a feast not so much for unbelievable shot making, but for two players at the top of their serving game.  Each player served exceptionally well even by their own high standards.  Federer ended with 50 aces, and Roddick had 27 of his own.

    That Roddick played so well must have surprised Roger who is one of the few players who can pick up Roddick's serve fairly well. 

    The match went back and forth.  Each player pushed to their ultimate limit.  In a match that Roddick must revisit every night in his nightmares, he failed on several occasions to break Federer in pivotal moments in the match that would have probably ensured victory.

    In the end it ended as probably the third greatest match ever on centre court.  For Roddick, it was just another reminder that despite a stellar career, it just happened to coincide with Federer and Nadal's era.  For Federer, it redeemed 2008 to some degree.  There simply was no place he wanted to break the record more than at HIS house.

#2 Wimbledon Fina 1980: Björn Borg vs John McEnroe

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    Scoreline: Borg wins 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7, 8-6

    Borg knew it was coming.  A rival finally worthy of being on the same court as him.  In that person was a player who was the exact opposite of himself.  While Borg was taciturn, cool and quiet, McEnroe was the other extreme.  He was brash, and outspoken.  He took all opportunities to argue with umpires and linesmen on calls he thought were wrong.  But despite the differences in personality and playing style, the talent between the two was equal.

    They had fought long hard battles time and time again with the great swede coming out the winner in the biggest matches, however all of that would change in 1981 when McEnroe would take him down at the Åll-England club in 4 sets.  That meant that 1980 Wimbledon final went to Borg, and it would taken everything he had.  All of his toughness, guile, and steely resolve to take down the attacking American in McEnroe.

    The highlight of the match was the 4th set tie-breaker.  A total of 34 points were played making it one of the best, if not the outright best tie-breaker ever.  Each player saved multiple set(Borg) or match(McEnroe) points before McEnroe ultimately prevailed 18-16 to close the set.  Borg however would go on to win the fifth set and the match by losing only 3 points on his serve.

    The drama of the match was ridiculously high with the Nadal/Federer match from 2008 possibly matching or succeeding it.  It's why both matches are hailed so much and compared often.  Each had lefties, each had different personalities and styles, and each had a younger gun trying to take down the multiple times defending champion.

    Borg however was the winner on this day, but each man's career was forever changed because of this match.  If you won, you won and if you lost, well in some respects you still won and McEnroe did on this day.  He won at least some amount of respect from a crowd that were not the biggest fans of the biggest mouth on tour.

    On this day however, Borg was the better player by just the slightest margin.  On this day, Borg had to know that he was lucky to hold that beautiful trophy again.  In some ways, he had to know that his run would most likely end soon at the All-England Club.  And it did one year later.

#1 Wimbledon Final 2008: Nadal vs Federer

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    LONDON - JULY 06:  Rafael Nadal of Spain poses for photographers with the Championship trophy after winning the men's singles Final match against Roger Federer of Switzerland on day thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England La
    Ian Walton/Getty Images

    Scoreline: Nadal wins 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7

    In a way, what can I say that hasn't already been already seared into our minds and memories.  For those who were there or watched it live on t.v., it may never be topped for as long as we live.  It's the consensus "greatest match of all-time" by many critics and fans alike.

    Drama literally dripping off of every single frame as I watched it on our hdtv at home, I squirmed, exhaled sharply, groaned, and cheered all in equal measure.  Had I been in my twilight years, it's possible that hospitalization would have been required after the match.

    Nadal stunning Federer and everyone watching by racing out to a two sets to one lead.  Federer clawing and scraping his way back to even the match before Nadal finally broke Federer and served out the match to win 9-7 in the fifth; all of this culminating in near twilight.

    What happened between the first and last point of the match was greatness wrapped in a pure perfection wrapper.  Each player upping his level, and each player failing to take advantage  of many of the opportunities the other presented.  Federer's continual failure to break Nadal's serve even with multiple break points available, and Nadal's failure to end the match much earlier in the 4th set with two match points.

    In the end, as twilight began to fade into darkness, Nadal did something impossibly hard.  With Federer starting the 5 set serving, Nadal's only chance of winning the match meant breaking Federer's serve(which hadn't been done since the second set) and then hold his service games to win.

    Serving at 7-7, Federer finally relinquished his serve,  and Nadal needed only to hold his serve to win.  Besides one last ridiculous backhand return winner, Nadal served (and volleyed) masterfully.  Federer, sensing the end, put his last forehand into the net and the reign was over.  Nadal won.

    I don't know if there ever will be a more dramatic, high quality level match that combined every single aspect needed to create literally, one for the ages.  Is it better than McEnroe vs Borg in 1980?  Only by a shade, but then, Nadal was better only by a shade that day and it made all of the difference.

    These two created an unforgettable day, but despite being each other's greatest rival, you have always had the sense that each player supremely respects the other man across the net.  I think that if Federer was ever going to lose his crown, he'd have wanted Nadal to take it on that fateful day and that's precisely what happened.

    In many ways, words simply do not do the match justice.  For anyone who has not watched the match, I urge you to stop whatever you are doing and find a copy to watch.