Wimbledon 2011: The All-Time Top 15 Memorable Moments
Imagine your first view of the great sport of tennis being the Wimbledon final in 1980. Staring transfixed, the intensity of the gamesmanship between the seemingly impassive Bjorn Borg and the obviously impassioned John McEnroe heightened as the match progressed through five sets.
The ebb and flow of the action and the tension under the surface became almost unbearable as the players fought to hit lines with each racket stroke and each ball placement. Borg paced the baseline like a cat while McEnroe exploded to the net, fighting to keep his fierce temper in check.
It was like drinking divine Dom Perignon for the first time. I have been a tennis fan ever since.
Over the years, as a tennis aficionado and an historian of the great game, I have witnessed some great moments on court, some matches whose effect cannot be aptly summarized in a mono-syllabic hurrah.
Over the years some players remain fixed in your memory frozen in anger, joy, sadness or defeat. By the same token, some matches never die because the debate over them never ceases.
Everyone, of course, has their own favorite moments, predicated by those players they choose to watch.
These are mine. While I have not witnessed them all, I have read and studied about the great sport of tennis. Each marks a turning point or a moment that lingers long after it should.
There were so many to chose from but these are my top 15 Wimbledon moments.
15. Rod Laver Wins the First Open Era Wimbledon Trophy: 1968
In 1968 Rod Laver defeated countryman Tony Roche 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 to win the first Wimbledon Championship of the Open Era.
Beginning in 1968, tennis professionals could compete in grand slam tournaments. Until that time only amateurs could participate at the major tennis venues: Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open.
After years of dispute, tennis moved forward allowing the best male players to compete against each other. There were no longer separate professional and amateur divisions.
With the win at Wimbledon in 1968, Laver became the No. 1 ranked player in the world.
The match against Roche lasted one hour. It is amazing how fast a match can go it you don’t towel off after every point.
Laver won $4,800. Some players today spend that much on dinner and a movie for themselves and their entourage. Look how far the sport has come in 40 years.
Rod Laver played in both the Amateur Era and the Open Era of tennis. Over the course of his career, he won the Wimbledon title four times, in 1961-1962 and then again in 1968-1969 as the Open Era in men’s tennis began.
Throughout his career, Laver played in 11 Wimbledon championships. But this win was symbolic in celebrating the beginning of the modern age in men's tennis.
14: Steffi Graf on Her Way to a Golden Slam: 1988
After winning the Australian Open in January and the French Open in June of 1988, Steffi Graf captured the title on Centre Court at Wimbledon, ready to do battle at the 1988 Summer Olympics and at the U.S. Open.
Graf was more than halfway home to winning her Golden Slam in 1988.
At Wimbledon, however, the German had to get past Martina Navratilova, the woman who had won this championship eight times and who had never lost on Centre Court during the finals at the All-England Club.
The 19-year old Graf, however, was coming of age. She took the number one ranking as well as the Wimbledon title from Navratilova, now age 31.
After starting slowly and losing the first set, Graf came back strong and overpowered Navratilova in the final two sets, winning 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 as Martina faded gently into that good night.
Navratilova was trying to win her ninth Wimbledon title. Winning it would have allowed her to slip past Helen Mills Moody for the most single titles at the All England Club.
During her career Navratilova had won six Wimbledon titles in a row, which remains a record no one has yet equaled.
Graf, Navratilova soon realized, was not the typical baseline player. The German attacked her opponents, playing with power and aggression aided by a wicked whipping forehand. The German could hit a winner from anywhere on court and her speed made it impossible to get shots past her.
As the No. 2 seed looked on standing in the shadows, Graf celebrated her victory, posing for photographers, enjoying her well-earned time in the spotlight.
Navratilova recognized her joy. She had been there. Now it was her turn to be the runner-up.
13. Arthur Ashe Makes a Definitive Statement at Wimbledon: 1975
When Arthur Ashe found himself in the finals of Wimbledon in 1975, he was just about to turn 32 years of age.
Ashe would meet a man heavily favored to win the final match, Jimmy Connors, who was 10 years his junior as well as the defending Wimbledon champion.
There was no way to win against Connors playing the game the way Jimmy liked to play it. Instead, Ashe kept Connors constantly guessing with off-speed stuff and acute angles.
Ashe won in four sets, 6-1, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4, playing very smart tennis.
The victory gave Ashe his first Wimbledon title and his third Grand Slam win overall––but more than that, the victory made him the first black male player to win the Wimbledon championship.
It was an historic win for the sport, paving the way for all races to be accepted and respected in the great game of tennis.
After Ashe left tennis, he became a great ambassador for the sport, besides serving as the United States Davis Cup Captain.
12. Roger Federer Defeats Pete Sampras on Centre Court in the Fourth Round: 2001
If you were lucky, you were there at the inception, when the first moments of brilliance blossomed. The teenage phenom from Switzerland sporting a bandana, his long hair swept back in a ponytail, bit at his lower lip, serving, dancing along the baseline on Centre Court.
The young challenger waited, seeing the ball as if in slow motion––coiled, poised on the balls of his feet, ready to move forward if the grizzled champion on the other side of the net returned the ball short.
From time to time the champion’s serve cracked, blasting through the court, ricocheting off service lines, often beyond the teenager’s ability to lay a racket on it.
Roger Federer’s serve surprised Pete Sampras. Not its speed, but its placement and Federer’s ability to disguise its path, using the same service motion regardless of where the Swiss decided to send the ball. His angles, his depth and his movement all worried the defending champion
Sampras, whose seemingly languid movements around the court belied his quickness, would turn 30 shortly. The seven-time Wimbledon champion met Federer, 19, on Centre Court at Wimbledon––marking the debut of the man from Switzerland on these esteemed grounds during the fourth round in 2001.
Coming into Wimbledon, Sampras had won 31 consecutive matches on the green lawns at the All-England Club and he had lost only one match in his last 57. Sampras symbolized Wimbledon––it was his home court, the place where he felt his most invincible and could deliver the best his game had to offer.
The knock on Federer coming into this match was his inability to do well in the big moments––at the four slams. Coming out of the juniors, Federer was touted to be the next best and greatest. So far, the Swiss failed to live up to his billing and that troubled him, making him try too hard and go for too much.
With Sampras serving at 5-6, for a chance to even the fifth set at 6-6, the American fell behind 15-40. Federer, continuing to see the ball well, rifled back a Sampras serve for a winner, taking the set and the match 7-6 (9-7), 5-7, 6-4, 6-7 (2-7), 7-5.
As Federer fell to his knees, allowing his emotions finally to surface, Sampras sagged at the full impact of his defeat at the place where he’d enjoyed his greatest victories. The American would never win another championship at Wimbledon.
11. Margaret Court Defeats Billie Jean King in Her March to a Grand Slam: 1970
This match in 1970 featured two of the greatest women ever to play the game. Their 1970 final remains one of the best ever contested at Wimbledon because the quality of play was first-rate with unrelenting, fast-paced action.
The ladies served and volleyed, using every inch of the court. Neither player would give an inch during the entire match. They battled it out for two hours and 28 minutes, both wishing to add that Wimbledon trophy to their mantles, already filled with tennis' top prizes.
As the match progressed King and Court both fought against each other and also against lingering injuries. To give herself time, King began lobbing effectively in the second set, trying to pull Court off the net where the Aussie executed well-placed winners to corners King could not reach.
In the first set, King had several opportunities to put the Aussie away, but Court would not go. The Aussie flatly refused to lose this match. On her sixth match point Court secured her victory, winning the contest 14-12, 11-9 in two and a half hours.
After winning Wimbledon, Court would go on to win her Grand Slam that year, making her only the second of three women to accomplish that feat.
Maureen Connolly Brinker preceded Court in 1953 and Steffi Graf would follow her winning her grand slam in 1988.
After coming so close in previous attempts, Court finally did it all in 1970.
10. Navratilova and Evert Meet for the First Time on Centre Court: 1978
Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert faced each other 60 times in the finals of tennis tournaments with their 1978 Wimbledon confrontation ranked as one of their very best.
Evert started strong but Navratilova regained her confidence and fought back to win a scintillating match 2-6 6-4 7-5. It was a seismic shift in women's tennis.
In the late 1970s, a new rival to Evert was pushing her way onto the tennis scene—Navratilova. The young lady from Czechoslovakia made her way rapidly to the top of the women’s game, where she inevitably met Chrissie.
At first, Evert dominated their matches. Navratilova, frankly, did not like losing to Evert. It got under her skin and motivated her. It pushed Navratilova to lose weight, get in shape, hire a coach, and go after the American.
Evert was smart, and her play reflected her intelligence. She possessed a powerful two-handed backhand, one the best in the game. If you ventured to the net, Evert had the ability to pass you on either side.
With excellent speed and footwork, she used her entire arsenal to defeat Navratilova early in their rivalry. Eventually, however, Navratilova became the dictator with her fast-paced serve-and-volley style of play.
Navratilova's rise paralleled the advancement of John McEnroe, who overcame Bjorn Borg’s dominance on the men’s side.
Consider this: Borg and McEnroe played each other 14 times in their great rivalry. Evert and Navratilova played each other 80 times from 1973 to 1988.
It wasn’t until 1978 that Navratilova won her first Grand Slam title. She defeated Evert at Wimbledon and took over the No. 1 ranking.
From that point on, there was no stopping Navratilova as she won this title nine times in her career.
Evert was no longer the dominating force in women's tennis.
9. Andre Agassi Wins His First Grand Slam on Centre Court at Wimbledon: 1992
In 1992 Andre Agassi won his first grand slam tournament at the All England Club. Unable to contain his emotions. the American accepted the win with tears of joy spilling down his face.
Agassi collapsed face down onto Centre Court at Wimbledon.
The American had just won Wimbledon, his first Grand Slam title after withstanding a five-set ambush of power serving from the eighth-seeded Goran Ivanisevic in the final.
After appearing in three grand slam finals prior to this one in 1992, Agassi finally found victory just as it appeared he never would.
Ironically it came on grass––a surface Agassi had avoided since 1988. He said that he did not like the "dress code" restrictions in place at the All England Club.
After seemingly spurning the Wimbledon grass, American Andre Agassi showed the tennis playing world that you could win on grass playing primarily from the baseline. He did just that in dispatching Croat Goran Ivanisevic 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4.
On his way to the final, Agassi had dispatched Boris Becker and John McEnroe. Ivanisevic had to get by Pete Sampras to earn his spot in the Wimbledon final in 1992.
It was an epic final. During the tournament the 6-foot-4 Croat served 206 aces which set a grand slam record. In his match against Agassi, Ivanisevic alone managed 37.
For Agassi, the name of the game was patience. The American knew that Ivanisevic could blast the ball past him if the serve landed in.
Agassi had to take wait, taking advantage when the opportunities arose. While the Croat was the best server on court that day, Agassi was the best returner. The American used that ability to win sets two and three.
With 16 break points in the match, Agassi was able to break the Ivanisevic serve in the first game of sets two and three, hanging on to win both.
Ivanisevic played brilliant serve and volley to take the fourth set 6-1. It all came down to the fifth set. When Agassi looked up, he had earned a championship point on the Croat's serve, up 5-4. Ivanisevic was serving to level the match at 5-5.
When the Croat's shot fell into the net, Agassi had won the championship, dismissing his demons.
The Wimbledon title was the first of eight the man from Las Vegas would win in his career and it was indeed, the sweetest.
8. Boris Becker Stampedes the Favorites at the All England Club: 1985
In 1985 Boris Becker stunned the tennis world. The 17-year-old Boris Becker, a virtual unknown, exploded onto the scene at Wimbledon unveiling a powerful serve, endless exuberance and boyish charm.
The Wunderkind quickly became a star.
By defeating Kevin Curren in the final, Becker became the youngest male Grand Slam singles champion (17 years, 7 months).
Becker was also the first unseeded player to win the title as well as the first German to triumph on Centre Court.
During every round of the tournament, the German was expected to cave in to better players––to finally lose. But Becker never did.
In the final Becker scored 21 aces to Curren's 19. In a match whose highlight reel sparkled with Becker diving for volleys and baseline shots, Becker spent half of the match caked in dirt.
In the end Becker proved to be too much for Curren who had earned his way into the final defeating some very prominent top seeds like John McEnroe in the quarterfinals and Jimmy Connors in the semifinals.
Becker dominated the final from beginning to end overpowering the No. 8 seed from South Africa, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 in three hours and 18 minutes.
A new centre court hero was born that day. Becker would go on to win twice more in 1986 and again in 1989.
But no match again quite equaled the German's first appearance at the All England Club in 1985.
7. Wnning His 6th Wimbledon, Federer Battled Roddick for the 3rd Time: 2009
Wimbledon 2009 was like two old gunslingers facing off outside the saloon in Dodge City. Only this time the bullets were serves coming at each other well in excess of 100 mph. Federer served a career-high 50 aces against Roddick, who is far better known for his big serve game.
On this day Roddick, who had lost to Federer in two previous finals, was not going to be denied. He never flinched during the entire match until the very last game when the American finally lost his serve. Until that moment, Roddick had held serve without fail. Federer won 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 16-14 in four hours and 16 minutes.
At 77 games, their match was the longest men's Grand Slam final in the history of the game. The final also produced the longest fifth set in Grand Slam history.
With the win Federer claimed grand slam number 15, surpassing Pete Sampras, who had won 14 during his long illustrious career. It also returned the No. 1 ranking to the Swiss who lost it to Rafael Nadal in 2008, after losing to him in their epic 2008 Wimbledon final.
Roddick hung on for dear life through each and every point in the fifth set, trying to stay in the match. He was serving from behind.
In game No. 30 Roddick need to hold serve to level the fifth set at 15-15. But the American fell behind, just as he had on several occasions during the match. Serving at deuce, Roddick misfired on a forehand, giving Federer a championship point.
After failing to convert on six previous chances, Federer broke Roddick's serve as Roddick shanked the ball on a forehand. Federer took the final set 16-14.
In addition to Federer's 50 aces, one short of Ivo Karlovic's record-setting 51, the Swiss had 107 winners with 38 unforced errors. Roddick scored 27 aces, with 74 winners and 33 unforced errors.
It was a high quality match with eye-popping shots and incredible serving.
As Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver watched in the stands, Federer stood holding his sixth Wimbledon trophy along with another fistful of tennis records.
6. Venus Williams Wins Her First Wimbledon Championship: 2000
In order to make her way into the finals of Wimbledon 2000, Venus Williams, age 20, first had to defeat her younger sister Serena in the semifinals. That was not easy to do for the elder sister.
In 1999, to the astonishment of the tennis world, Serena Williams had defeated her older sister to win the U.S. Open in 1999––making the younger Williams sister, Serena, the first to win a grand slam title.
After Venus won her Wimbledon title, it was the first time that two sisters had each won a grand slam championship in tennis history.
There was little doubt in anyone’s mind at the beginning of the 21st century that the Williams sisters would become forces to be reckoned with in women’s tennis for a long time to come.
Venus dispatched her younger sister in straight sets in the semifinals, creating the blueprint for a dominating Venus Williams game on grass.
Venus would go on to win five Wimbledon championships including her triumph in 2000.
In the finals, the elder Williams sister won the title, defeating defending champion, Lindsay Davenport 6-3, 7-6. Venus became the first black woman to win the women’s trophy at the All England Club since Althea Gibson accomplished it in 1958 and 1959.
The promise of a future champ of women’s tennis emerging from the public courts of Compton, California came to fruition in that moment on Centre Court when Venus lifted the winners plate for all the world to see, smiling, rejoicing in her hard-fought victory.
5. Jana Novotna’s Awful Collapse: 1993
It was one of those moments you could not bear to watch; yet, you couldn't turn away.
It was like watching a skier in free flight tumbling through the air in slow motion, trying right herself in order to land upright rather than on her head. The crash rushed to its inevitable conclusion.
Everyone sat watching in transfixed disbelief.
Jana Novotna came in as the No. 8 seed at Wimbledon in 1993. She had been on a tear throughout the tournament, ripping through the opposition. The woman was a brilliant tennis tactician, held back, most felt, only because of her fragile psyche.
Novotna found herself in the Wimbledon final, facing Steffi Graf, the No. 1 seed. Playing a tight first set, the Czech lost it in a tiebreak. But Novotna came right back, applying pressure, breaking the Graf serve multiple times to win the second set 6-1.
In the third and final set, Novotna was up 4-1, ready to take it 5-1 with one more point––when she seemed to forget how to play tennis. She lost that service game on a double fault, a missed overhead and an errant return.
She could not contain her forehand, then her backhand failed her. She could do nothing else the rest of the set as Graf came back to win the final set 6-4.
Because of the Czech’s disintegration, Graf captured her third straight and fifth overall women’s championship at the All England Club.
The moment we all remember, however, is at the trophy ceremony when Novotna wept on the shoulder of the beautiful and tender-hearted Duchess of Kent, who did her best to console the heart-broken Czech.
4. Martina Navratilova Plays Her Final Singles Match at Wimbledon: 1994
At age 37, Martina Navratilova felt right at home on the grounds at Wimbledon.
Probably no player in the history of the tournament was more entitled to own a piece of Centre Court real estate than the legendary Navratilova.
In 1993 Navratilova entered the final against Conchita Martinez hoping to win her 10th Wimbledon title in singles.
But the much younger Martinez outgunned Navratilova, winning in three sets 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.
Typically, the Czech-American charged the net winning 22 of 34 points there. But her serve seemed to desert her on the day and she was plagued with double faults.
Then too, Navratilova could not seem to quell the effect of Martinez’s powerful backhand passing shots.
On a day when most felt Martinez would cave in under the pressure, she did not.
The Spaniard held her nerve and it was Navratilova who folded, watching her young rival win her first Wimbledon crown.
In a gesture of regret and memory, Martina grabbed a few pieces of grass on her way out. Navratilova announced her retirement from singles play shortly thereafter.
A legend passed out of the spotlight that day.
3. Isner Battles Mahut in the Longest Match in Wimbledon History: 2010
At one time tennis historians talked about the longest match in men's tennis. It happened in 1969 when the great Pancho Gonzalez battled Charlie Pasarell for five hours and 12 minutes over two days. It was a first round contest.
But then in 2010, American John Isner and France's Nicolas Mahut engineered an epic three-day battle at Wimbledon in a first-round contest scheduled on Court 18.
Finally, Isner prevailed 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7-9), 7-6 (7-3), 70-68, ending the match that would not die.
The first-round contest, which was twice suspended because of darkness, lasted 11 hours, five minutes —with the fifth set alone taking 8 hours, 11 minutes.
Needless to say, this unending match obliterated a number of records. Isner finished with 112 aces, and Mahut had 103—both totals eclipsing the previous high of 78 aces.
As a result of the daily phenomena unfolding on Court 18, the world took note, tuning in to see who would finally win this match.
While the publicity was great for the All England Club, it did nothing for the two men who were simply trying to win a first-round match.
Isner and Mahut were both effectively losers in this match because recovering from the rigors of a 3-day roller-coaster ride was impossible.
Both men were set back physically after the conclusion of their scintillating match.
But it is a match no one who witnessed it will ever forget. Hopefully, it will never be topped!
2. The Iceman Cometh, Bjorn Borg vs John McEnroe in an Epic Five-Set Final: 1980
The Wimbledon final in 1980 became a battle of epic proportions––good versus evil; or cool versus hot. Opposites repelled each other across the net when the unflappable Swede and his baseline game denied hot-headed John McEnroe and his superb serve and volley.
The match spun on its axis tilting toward one conqueror—then the other.
McEnroe’s hair seemed to expand during the match, held in place by a bright red headband. The world knew all about McEnroe, having seen his histrionics either live or in replays.
For all the world, McEnroe was a boy and Borg was a man—at least on the surface. It showed itself in demeanor, in poise and in movement. McEnroe seemed petulant and self-absorbed. He appeared to pout. He was America.
Borg appeared larger than life, smooth and seemingly unfazed by the score that tipped against him as he lost the first set 6-1. He was European like James Bond.
The second set was equally impressive as Borg tightened his game and McEnroe lost his edge. Borg squared the match at 7-5 in the second set. Then the Swede sailed through the third, winning 6-3.
Borg earned a break at 5-4 in the fourth set after McEnroe volleyed into the net. It looked like the match was over. Borg, however, proved himself to be human and he choked, allowing McEnroe back into the match.
Thus began the most talked about tie-breaker in the history of tennis. It took 22 minutes, just five minutes less than the entire first set.
The crowd, as well as the entire viewing audience, was held in anguished suspense throughout the tie-break. There were several amazing shots blistering the court’s browning and barren surface as momentum see-sawed between the two equally-matched opponents.
Match points and set points alternated throughout the tie-break in agonizing repetition with no let up of tension.
Finally McEnroe served his way into history. He watched stunned as Borg netted a forehand volley. McEnroe took the tiebreak 18-16 and the fourth set 7-6.
Most players would have caved in after such a disappointment but not Borg. His powers of concentration remained supreme. Borg lost the first two points on his serve in the fifth set but quickly reverted and dominated on his service games losing only one more point while serving at 77 percent in the final set.
McEnroe fought brilliantly against this all-out assault but finally lost the fifth set as Borg won 8-6, falling to his knees.
The Swede had won his fifth consecutive Wimbledon crown. But even in his exhilaration, Borg realized just how close he came to losing.
1. Federer vs. Nadal in a Final Not Soon to Be Equaled: 2008 Final
It was the longest men's final in Wimbledon history, lasting 4 hours and 48 minutes, and rain interrupted the five-set epic twice. In the end, the number two seed, Nadal, won his first Wimbledon championship, 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (8-10), 9-7.
Exhaustion and total release followed for Nadal while Federer could feel nothing except inexorable sorrow at this loss.
Nadal took the first two sets with seeming ease 6-4, 6-4. Federer, however, after the rain interruption, regrouped, winning the next two sets in tie breaks.The fifth set saw both men scrambling for every point utilizing every ounce of ability and skill.
It was nerve wracking for all that witnessed it; but the quality of the men's play and their level of tennis only increased with the pressure. As the games progressed, it appeared like the two players were in a different world––shadows in the fading light as each point became a matter of life and death.
The loss prevented top-ranked Federer from winning his record sixth consecutive Wimbledon title.
When a sport is lucky enough to possess two superior champions in the same era, the times they meet and battle each other for that top spot produces some of the greatest moments the sport can experience.
In 2008 this was abundantly clear as Nadal defeated Federer in a match that neither player deserved to lose. They not only battled each other, they battled their own inner demons as well as the elements.
The Nadal-Federer rivalry had been building since 2005 when Nadal rose to the No. 2 ranking. Early on the Majorcan reigned only on clay. Federer owned tennis on grass and the hard courts. Even though Federer could rise to meet Nadal in clay court finals, it took Nadal a while to meet Federer on surfaces other than clay.
Nadal, however, had made the Wimbledon final in 2006 and 2007. But it was not until 2008 that Nadal could finally secure a win over the great Federer on the Centre Court the Swiss felt was his own.
The win marked the end of the Federer domination in men's tennis and the ascension of Nadal to the top of the men's game.
The rivalry between the two men continues today as well as the sportsmanship the two share. It was a momentous occasion for both men in the Wimbledon final in 2008 but they never forgot the other man standing along side. The heroic dignity each man displayed was humbling.
How much it meant to Nadal that day was exemplified by his reaction as he climbed all the way to his box hugging and celebrating.
The match was a surreal experience for those who witnessed it and surely must have been for the players as well.
It was the first Wimbledon title that Nadal won as well as the first final Federer lost.